Why Is Alex Jones So Obsessed With Lesbians?

As a lesbian, I don’t expect straight, white, cis guys to get me or the sapphic set I rep, but it’s still fairly infuriating when they act like they know me/us.

Alex Jones is truly obsessed with mischaracterizing lesbians on his conservative talk show, and this week, the conspiracy theoristwent on a full-on rant about butch lesbians being abusive misogynistic cannibals. The kinds of emphatic claims he spat at his listeners include:

“I’m not blaming all lesbians, but most of these butch lesbians, they want to be the guy smacking the hot chick around. They think that’s manly. A lot of the chicks, they like it. No man will do that to them, and I’m not saying it’s good if a man does that, but some women like it. If they can’t find a man to smack them around, well they found them a girl gonna do it real goodknock them upside their head and have 50 Shades of Grey about the sexy rich guy that’s going to chain you up. Of course, you’re gonna go get chained up one time. They’re gonna put that devil mask or that piggy mask on. They’re gonna say, ‘Now I’m gonna torture you for about six weeks, so start begging for your mommy and your daddy.'”

I’m actually really glad you brought all of this up, Alex Jones. Let me help clarify and correct a few of these misguided ideas you have.

First of all, lesbians were probably the least likely to stan for 50 Shades of Grey because we have way more inspired erotica to invest our time in than some hetero Twilight fan fic that didn’t even have the audacity to cast Kristen Stewart in the movie version. And while many of us do enjoy BDSM, it’s not at all about getting “smacked around” (it’s generally referred to as slapping or spanking, BTW) or some kind of feeling of deserved violence and punishment. There’s a very different motivation for women who enjoy slapping or spanking or generally dominating one another, and it is an intimate act, not one of aggression.

It’s definitely not about one of being “the guy.” Nope, never, not at all. The whole point of sex between women is generally no dudes allowed, so, I guess that’s why Alex Jones is so misinformed. He’s not invited.

Sadly (hilariously?), Alex Jones thinks straight cis men are too sweet and kind to want to engage in anything as uncouth as consensual bondage and submission. They definitely aren’t interested in making women call them Daddy. Meanwhile, straight dudes are out here controlling, creeping on, and full-on assaulting women, abusing the power our patriarchal society affords them when they definitely do not deserve it. (Yeah, yeah, not all men, blah blah blah.)

But back to the lesbiansthe “liberal lesbians” (*raises hand*) that Alex Jones attempts to take to task during several Info Wars episodes as of late.

“They just want to have the guy with the duck’s ass haircut and the James Dean outfit,” Jones says. “They want to be slapping girls around, and statistically it shows it.”

Actually, Alex, here’s what the stats say: 3.6% of lesbian women had experienced intimate partner violence and sexual abuse in their lifetimes and almost a third of them reported have experienced such incidents with one or more male perpetrators. 89.5% of bisexual women reported only male perpetrators of intimate partner physical violence, rape, and/or stalking. So, in all actuality, queer women aren’t the ones you should worry about as a whole.

But let’s say that there are a bunch of lesbians who like getting chained up, wearing masks and getting tortured in dungeons. (Sounds fun!) What they definitely don’t do is some Saw-type shit. But, alas, Alex Jones persists:

“They want to strap you down and take a buzz saw and cut the top of your head off like a pumpkin and pull it off and get a little spoon and go, ‘I’m going to eat your brain now!’” Alex Jones said this on his show. Then he did a (horrific) impression of a brain-eating lesbian saying, “I’m gonna eat your cerebral cortex last! I’ve got power! I love Satan! And I’m gonna suck you dry and I’m going to torture you to death.”

I keep wondering what B-movies he’s seen that have given him this idea, but even the goriest lesbian-tinged zombie flicks are less satanic than Alex Jones’ imaginationand they lack any butches with lesbian triangle haircuts that he seems to think we’re all after. (Not for me, personally, but I’m a sucker for a girl who can pull it off.) We’re way more prone to vampirism than brain eating, TBH, so I think that’s why it’s even more frustrating he can’t get his tropes right.

But, again, he doesn’t even go here.

It was just a few weeks before this tired tirade that Alex Jones, Lesbian Expert, told a story of a lesbian horse trainer who he said was “bossing everyone around” and allegedly hitting on his wife’s 18-year-old niece when they were visiting a horse farm. He demeaned her for “bragging about how she had her son under her control.”

“She was just having kids to have slaves,” he claimed. (Obviously he doesn’t understand how expensive and time-intensive it is for us to get pregnant in the first place and we definitely aren’t in it for the free labor.) He said with disdain that she was “running the women,” to which his guest Gavin McInnes chimed in, “What these butch dykes do is they want to be men, but they end up being a caricature of men. Sort of like a 1950s guy, so they’ll have like a pompadour and sideburns with a little thin moustache and a wife beater, and they’ll come home and go, ‘Hey, where’s my lunch, bitch?’”

First of all, don’t come for Lea DeLaria when she didn’t send for you.

I’m not about to tell you misogynist lesbians don’t exist, but in my experience, they are few and far between and should not be the sole representation for us any more than President Trump is the depiction of manhood.

McInnes, by the way, has his own terrible right-wing show where he once referred to Jada Pinkett Smith as a “monkey actress.” He’s also the co-founder of Proud Boys, which, despite sounding like an all-gay boy band, is actually an alt-right group for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” So, again, he’s probably friendly with tons of queer women and can properly comment on us in the media.

Thanks to him, though, I can illuminate some hard truths for anyone who might still be under the misconception that lesbianism has anything to do with menacting like one, dressing like one, wishing they could be one. And therein lies the problem for Jones and McInnes and straight guys who just can’t stand that women can exist happily without them. They insert themselves however they can, weighing in with inaccuracies that perpetuate terrible myths that lead to misunderstanding and fear, which then add up to violence and inequality, all because guys like Alex Jones don’t think Ellen DeGeneres deserves Portia de Rossi, who I’m 100 percent certain have, respectively, never asked or been asked “Hey, where’s my lunch, bitch?”

Alex Jones is also transphobic because of course he is, and said the Orlando shootings were brought on by the LGBTQ community themselves, so it’s not like I’m expecting him to suddenly stop being a terrible person who uses sensationalism to bring people to his boring, dumb show. But at the very least, I can help him fact check his “statistics.”

Here’s one I came up with in my research: 100 percent of Alex Joneses are full of shit.

Age Play As a Consensual Way To Explore Sexual Dynamics

It seems like everywhere, people are trying to reconnect with their “inner child.” Adults are spending big money on supplies for coloring in coloring books, shelling out hundreds of dollars to sign up for adult preschools and even registering for summer camps.

What if I told you there was a whole community of adults who were building relationships around living authentically as their inner little selves? Littles are age players, a subpopulation of the BDSM/leather community who center child-like joy, wonder, and playfulness in their lives and relationships. Sound intriguing? Then age play and a little identity might be for you!

Age play, like all BDSM, happens only between consenting adults. Age play is not pedophilia. BDSM is not abuse. All actions, and dynamics described within this article take place between legal adults. This can manifest in numerous roles or identities including, but not limited to, consenting adults claiming identities of girls, boys, babies, daddy, mommy, etc.

For some, age play is part of negotiated scenes (think dungeons and play parties). For others, it is a lifestyle identity that is part of how they always relate to a partner or the world at large. Age players may (though not always) be engaged in D/s (Dominance / submissive) dynamics, Big/little (like Mommy/girl or Daddy/boy), or little/little with their sexual and/or romantic partners. Age play can be both sexual and nonsexual, and it can be sweet and rooted in caretaking or be dark depending on the preferences/kinks of the individuals involved.

Age play can be everything from someone calling a partner “daddy” while having sex, or while being spanked in a dungeon, to something more involved and ongoing, like a negotiated dynamic that extends outside of the bedroom. Having a little identity means different things to different people. Some of the easiest groups of age players to find online are ABDL (Adult Baby Diaper Lovers), and Dd/lg (Daddy Dom/little girl), but there are age players of all genders and a diversity of dynamics. For example, I identify as five, and as a boy. There are also “middles” who age play as older ages like pre-teens and teens. (Again, like any other part of the BDSM/Leather community all those involved in these dynamics are over the age of 18, and are legal adults capable of consent.)

I have been involved in queer culture and the leather community for over 15 years. My queer identity and my leather identities developed intertwined, and it wasn’t until years later (perhaps coinciding with the rise of homonormativity and assimilationist politics prioritizing marriage equality in national politics) did I realize that there was a stigma about being a leather person or a little. My daddy and I have been together for 13 years, and much of the work that I do in the world centers around working to destigmatize leather dynamics and more specifically age play. I try to approach life and as many aspects of the world as I can centering my little identity: everything from the shows I watch (cartoons!) and the clothes I wear (cute stuff!), to the vacations I go on (Disney!).

My littleness isn’t a role I can just take off. It’s core to who I am as a person, deeply rooted in the intentional exchange of power that is centered in my relationship with my daddy. My daddy sets rules that keep me safe and healthy like bedtimes and enforced “self” care. Leather and littleness is a way of being in the world, a code of ethics that drives everything from the structure of my family to the kind of art that I make.

Jesbian Bagheera is queer, POC, femme, dandy, leather, and a service little. Bagheera is the creator of the Little Leather Pride Flag and has held multiple leather titles serving as Little Miss Little 2014, and is currently Ms. California Leather 2017.

“The little community is everything to me,” Bagheera tells INTO. “Literally everything to me. It is a family of people that has shown up in solidarity and given me permission to be me. And not hide who I truly am. It has also taught me to face my fears and stand up for what I believe in. And it has shown me what friendship and kindness can be when we are all facing difficult times.”

Bagheera says she gets a lot of pleasure out of being little on a personal level and in her relationships with partners and the leather community.

“I get to be a good helper and do good in the world,” she says. “It really helps the humanitarian in me. It also helps me deal with the day to day stresses of being an adult. And it also helps me be more open and vulnerable with my partners. I truly trust my partners to a deeper level.”

When I talk about age play, the first question people generally ask littles is, “Why?” I always want to respond, “Why not?” For whatever reason, homonormative and heteronormative culture always seems to want to know the reason behind why people feel compelled to live their lives in power dynamics that involve consensually negotiated exchanges of power. Ultimately, I believe there is no such thing as a relationship between two or more people that doesn’t involve a power dynamicit’s just a question of whether that power dynamic is explicitly acknowledged, negotiated, and consented to.

People are drawn to age play dynamics and relationships because they work for them. Some littles use age play as a cathartic tool to heal from abuse; others enjoy the release of control; others just find it fun. Some bigs enjoy caretaking and world building; others are sadists who enjoy consensual SM. Ultimately, whatever reason people feel called to a life in leather and a little identity, people tend to pathologize age players, suggesting that there is something wrong with people who enjoy BDSM. But, a 2013 study first published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed people who participated in BDSM were actually psychologically healthier and happierthan the general population.

Even though age play is a part of the leather community, sometimes age players have struggled to fit into the larger community. Nik Mirage is a radical queer transboy switch who spoke with me about how important his little identity and little community are to him.

“It fulfills me, as it’s a major part of who I am and how I represent myself in the world,” he says. “Sometimes, leather folks don’t understand my mindset but are still attracted to me, and they can’t understand why I can’t just set my littleness aside to engage with them on their level. That’s the main problemthey expect me to change so they don’t have to, and I’m not about that. I know who I am, what I like, and that this is 24/7 for me for a reason: because it has to be.”

Bagheera offers hope about the growth she’s witnessed in the larger leather community accepting age players.

“The acceptance of our play in the public play spaces, as well as non-consensual invasion of space, [is growing],” she says. “Because we have a very distinct type of playsome of it can be sexual and some of it can be light hearteddungeons don’t really know how to create a space for it. Because when people think of dungeons, they think of heavy leather, rubber impact play, and sex. So, to put a little about to get spankings for coloring out of the lines in the middle of that w e don’t really fit in with the status quo. But we are slowly changing that, and slowly educating more.”

Those interested in learning more about age play, and little identities, there are numerous online communities on Fetlife (think kinky social networking site) and Tumblr. There are also books like Lee Harrington’s The Toybag Guide to Age Play.

Bagheera suggests that anyone interested in exploring age play should expect to “communicate, talk, and negotiate.”

“Experiment with friendships first,” she says. “Little headspace can be a very, very vulnerable thing. So I would be gentle and cautious. But also find a local community that is also into littles. See if you can volunteer and help out while getting to know people.”

Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir booksLost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever Afterhave been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com

Header image via Getty

Undetectable=Untransmittable. So Why the Hell Isn’t That Catching On?

2017 has been the year of 1,001 heartbreaks. New attacks on healthcare, human and civil rights, bodily autonomy, reproductive freedom and the dignity of our communities punctuate each week. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been an incredible renaissance for people living with HIV: a growing acceptance of data clearly demonstrating that people with HIV who are durably virally suppressed cannot transmit the virus.

The first time I heard about viral suppression as a means to prevent HIV transmission was on a forum on a popular HIV website, years before Swiss researchers released a consensus statement addressing this topic. I showed the discussion threads to the HIV-negative guy I was dating at the time. Our minds were blown. I had been diagnosed years before, and was newly motivated to get into medical care and start treatment. Suddenly, he took an interest in my labs.

Several years later, I had been appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), when Dr. Myron Cohen came in to a meeting to present early data from the HPTN 052 trial, which already showed that anti-retroviral therapy prevented transmission in 1,763 HIV sero-different couples. I broke down in tears, certain that this was about to be a game changer for me and the estimated 1.1 million other people living with HIV in the U.S.

Except it wasn’t.

For years after the data was published, public health institutions and HIV leaders tried to have it both ways: urging increased investment in medication, but refusing to change the language used to describe transmission risk. This perpetuated a confusing schism: people living with HIV (PLHIV) were simultaneously sexually radioactive while we were mathematically modeled as benign. The data was good enough to shift public health priorities but advancing human dignity of PLHIV was not a priority.

Despite the fact that acclaimed researchers reached consensus on viral suppression as an effective HIV prevention strategy as early as 2008, and that scientific data supporting this conclusion has been available in academic journals since 2011, it’s only in 2017 that the discourse of viral suppression transformed into a tangible opportunity to advance the rights of people with HIV.

This wasn’t for a lack of trying. At Positive Women’s Network – USA, a national membership body of women, including women of trans experience, living with HIV, we know that because we’ve literally been examining this question for years. A survey we conducted in 2013 found that more than half of women living with HIV (WLHIV) who were consistently engaged in healthcare had never been informed by their medical providers that if they were virally suppressed, they were less likely to transmit HIV, though some had heard this information through other sources. We asked the same question again in 2015 and found only modest improvements: 40% of WLHIV had still not been told by their own medical providers that viral suppression was an effective HIV prevention strategy. Levels of internalized stigma and negative body image were distressingly high.

Denying women living with HIV access to accurate information about our bodies, our health, and our sexual and reproductive options is a human rights violation. But it’s nothing new. This country has a long legacy of policing the bodies, sexuality and reproductive freedom of people of color, and the majority of U.S. WLHIV are Black; secondarily, Latinx. Much of the U.S. economy was built on the control of Black women’s reproductive possibilities. And over 30 states still have laws that place people with HIV at risk of prosecution on the basis of their HIV positive status. Thus, women with HIV receive medical care at the intersections of HIV stigma, racial bias, and an ever-diminishing spectrum of reproductive rights.

Reluctance from medical providers and public health officials to share information about viral suppression rests on a complex set of stigmas, but boils down to one basic idea: people with HIV can’t be trusted. We can’t be trusted to take our medications, to care about and protect others, and to tell our providers the truth about our sexual and medical decisions. It’s especially ironic given that people with HIV report protecting their loved ones as a major motivation in sexual and reproductive decision-making.

In 2017, though, we finally reached a tipping point. Following a massive lift by the Prevention Access Campaign, Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes for Health acknowledged that people with HIV who are undetectable cannot transmit HIV. Two months later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed suit a full 6 years after data was published. The Lancet ran an editorial on the U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable) campaign in November. But people with HIV have been knowing (and practicing) viral suppression as a responsible and ethical prevention strategy for years, with limited support from their providers- sometimes facing stigma and discrimination as a result of this choice. It’s a travesty that it took this long for public health and the HIV field to catch up. And have we really? How many HIV and LGBTQ organizations have retrained their staff to make sure they understand the science?

One can’t help but wonder what role racism plays in the field’s apparent distrust of people with HIV. Even today, media coverage on this topic somehow manages to quote only white people’s voices, despite the fact that 63% of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2015 were Black or Latinx, and that nearly 80% of women with HIV in the US are Black or Latinx.

This World AIDS Day, let’s celebrate the advancement of Undetectable=Untransmittable and its implications for sexual and reproductive rights. But we can also allow our hearts to be a little broken that it’s taking this damn long.

Naina Khanna is the Executive Director of Positive Women’s Network -USA and a Public Voices Fellow of the Op-Ed Project.

Here’s Why We Need To Reclaim Queer-Coding In ‘The Lion King’ Remake

There are so many lessons you can learn from Disney’s The Lion King in your formative years: the beauty of old friendships as well as new ones, that facing your fears shows true strength of character, and that self-forgiveness is more constructive than wallowing in guilt. “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble” always reminded me of my father’s stern lessons about regulating my younger, more confrontational side, and when my father passed away in 2016, I watched the scenes of Mufasa’s death to help process my grief.

The Lion King has always been a perfect example of a bildungsroman, and so as we prepare for the excitement of a live-action, majority-black cast for the 2019 remake, I’ve been thinking of how this genre of film might be captured and reimagined through the bodies of black characters. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how Scar is as a fabulous black gay man.

In light of critiques about queer-coded and villainous characters such as Scar, I’ve been forced to consider how he and other similar antagonists present a negative force in the formative experiences of young LGBTQ children. Queer-coding is not so much about explicit sexuality, but about the appearance, expressiveness and gender performance of a character. Typical discussions of Scar’s identity has been framed in negative criticism, touching on his “stereotypical movements and affectations.” His exaggerated facial features are likened to drag makeup, and his slender physique (as compared to the broader, larger Mufasa) is rendered to emasculate him.

As a young gay child I didn’t register any of this explicitlyScar’s “weak” and “effeminate” persona being demonized appear true to my experiences as a queer child navigating masculinity in the playground. I disliked sports, walking and talking with a certain expected bravado, not meeting conventional standards of boyhood. Yet, as a 20 year old man, I absolutely adore this representation of Scar, and have been able to reimagine him as a sort of anti-hero championing resistance to traditional masculinity.

Still, this is no reason to vindicate Disney from responsibility for its problematic representation. There is much to be said about the fact that Scar’s presentation can be reduced to a cowardly, gay man leading a comedic trio comprised of a Black woman, a Latino man and a mentally disabled “liability.”

But I wouldn’t want remakes of The Lion King to simply brush the matter of queer Scar under the carpet. As a Black gay man, the opportunity for further representation within Black cinema, even if through villainy, is something I’m enticed by. But this means complicating the narrative around Scar and framing him within racialized narratives concerning masculinity and queerness. Scar is a selfish character, but his “revolution” promises empowerment to the most marginalized groups, redistributing Pride Rock’s wealth to the creatures which inhabit the “shadowy place.”

But as well as a socialist revolutionary, could Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar also be a queer man?

The new Lion King offers a chance for a nuanced exploration of community relations. As a child I was taught to admire Mufasa and Simba as the idealized forms of macho leadership. This is so reminiscent of the experiences of young Black gay men forced to restrict our gender performance to the highest standards of masculinity. Black gay and feminine men have been long-term pioneers of interrogating and disturbing masculinity and normative gender constructions, often at risk of death, rejection or humiliation. Social media dialogue around the #CareFree movement for Black men have opened up conversations regarding the prizing of idealized Black masculinity over queered and effeminate gender presentation. So when we now go back to watch the polarizing of the masculine and the feminine in Mufasa and Scar’s interactions there is so much more to explore and muse on.

Scar presents a cool challenge to performed masculinity. Mufasa becomes infuriated at Scar’s various sassy remarks, snarling and growling and adopting fighting talk: “Is that a challenge?” With Scar responding “Temper, temper. I wouldn’t dream of challenging you” there is a subtle taming of Mufasa’s masculinity. The intent is for us to view Scar as a coward and Mufasa as great, but as an audience we can reframe this opportunity to view Scar as presenting a more calculated foil to arrogant, masculine leadership. Whether as a “gone-with-the-wind-fabulous” Machiavellian, or a more tempered and cool intellect, there is much that a Black gay Scar could do to further the conversation concerning the treatment and regard of Black male femininity within Black communities.

The Lion King live-action film is anticipated as a future piece of Black representation in cinema. However, in a post-Moonlight world, cinema which reinforces the priority of cis-hetero patriarchal Black leadership should not go unchallenged. Simba and Mufasa will ultimately always be the heroes of the tale, but I would invite embracing a rare opportunity to present a queer, Black villain to the audience, to tell a story about marginalized identities within Black spaces. Because as children internalize negative associations between queerness and villainry, there is a duty to provide some relief from subconscious queer-bashing, and to allow critical reflection on what kind of gender performance is seen as ideal.

A Drag Queen Lyft Driver Is Here to Stop Ride-Sharing’s Big Queer Harassment Problem

I’m in a ride along with a drag queen dressed in a dime-store taxi driver costume and she’s explaining to me why people like the band Phish. Erik Koral, who goes by the name “Erika Simone” professionally, followed the long-running jam band around the country after graduating with a degree in sociology from the University of Santa Cruz.

I tell him that I just “don’t get the whole Phish thing.”

“It’s a lot improvisation,” says Koral, who transitioned from being a Phishhead to working as a music marketer in Los Angeles for nine years. “It’s a lot of risk-taking, and it doesn’t always work. But those magical moments are worth sticking around for. They have a different set list every time, and they play the songs differently every time. One day they’ll play a reggae version of one of their songs, and the next day they’ll play a heavy metal version of it.

“Each show just feels spontaneous,” he adds.

An appreciation for improv is perhaps the best possible job training for Koral’s newest venture: driving a Lyft in six-inch heels. The 42-year-old signed up with the ridesharing company three years ago after shutting down his consulting business, hoping to find a low-stress job while he figured out what was next.

The idea for the aptly-titled “Driving Is a Drag” came naturally. Koral had recently come out as bisexual at the age of 38 and began experimenting with cross-dressing. To explore his gender fluidity, he created his Nina Simone-inspired alter ego, even making a Facebook page for her. After three days on the job, Koral says he had an epiphany: “Holy crap, what if Erika picks these people up?”

Although the character’s name is borrowed from the iconic jazz singer, her personality is all Koral. He describes his creation as a “more caffeinated version” of himself, but after a decade of promoting bands, the self-characterization can’t help but sound like a marketing pitch.

“She is a very loving and accepting drag queen that is very kid-friendly, very G-rated,” he says.

But what’s very clear from riding around in the back of Koral’s cab, which is decorated with a license plate reading “DRAG4LYF,” is that he knows the hustle well. Our first pickup was Donna, a 50-something nurse leaving her shift at Cedars Sinai.

“It’s a special ride today,” Koral announces to the woman standing on the sidewalk as she nervously enters the cab. “You’re now a passenger with Driving Is a Drag.”

Koral has an easy, intoxicating rapport with passengers, his gregarious charm quickly thawing the customer’s initial surprise. The sight of Erikaa six-foot flash of yellow with a Cheshire grinopening a car door isn’t what most people expect when they call a Lyft.

By way of explanation, he tells Donna that he came up with the idea for a drag queen taxi service after reading a Wired article about other themed cabs, including a man who drives around on weekends dressed as Batman and another with a karaoke booth in the back of his car. One cabbie quizzes his passengers on hip-hop trivia, while another picks up riders as The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something creative here,’” Koral says. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Even in casual conversation, Koral never turns off the hype machine. He’s a born self-promoter. Koral tells Donna, who moved to L.A. a decade ago to support her son’s acting career, that his long-term goal is to establish a ride-sharing service for the LGBTQ community. His elevator pitch is to get West Hollywood to sponsor a pilot version of the program that can then be rolled out city-wide.

Many of Koral’s passengers rely on him to be a safe space where they know they won’t face harassment from drivers. A transgender woman calls his number when she needs to run day-to-day errands, like picking up groceries or dry cleaning.

“She felt that she was constantly living in fear for her life,” he tells me in a phone interview. “When I picked her up, I was the best thing that she had seen in years.”

Koral says this is an all-too-common problem in ride-sharing services.

“I’ve heard stories of trans girls standing on the corner or the drag queen getting out of the show late night and being ignored by the driver,” he says. I tell him that when flagging down an Uber near New York’s Union Square, the driver cancelled the ride as I opened the door wearing pink pants and a bow tie.

Last year a gay couplereported being kicked out of their Uberafter sharing a backseat kiss during San Francisco Pride.

“That should not be happening whatsoever,” Koral says.

There’s already precedent for a ride-sharing service that caters to LGBTQ users:Homobiles, a pay-what-you-can service based in San Francisco, was established by former Tribe 8 singer Lynnee Breedlove in 2010. But as is his habit, Koral wants to go bigger. His pie-in-the-sky dream, as he tells Donna, is to start a drag queen party bus franchise, like “Priscilla Queen of the Desert in every major market in America.”

Koral claims that he has experienced firsthand the need for a ride-sharing app that’s for the community, by the community. When he first started driving in 2014, Koral says that he was “scared shitless.” He wasn’t sure whether people would spit at him, beat him up, or kill him.

The vast majority of his customers, Koral says, have loved the idea. They take selfies and share photos on Instagram of the experience. But others have been more reticent. One rider turned him down, asking to get another car. Another time two guys snickered at him in the back seat, quietly making homophobic comments.

“I wanted to say, ‘You’re being highly offensive and get the fuck out,’ but I just stayed close-lipped,” Koral says. “Luckily, it was a short ride. I couldn’t wait for them to get out.”

He once had to kick out a rider who wouldn’t stop massaging his neck from the passenger’s seat.

But Koral says that putting himself out thereand occasionally risking his own lifehas offered an unexpected opportunity to educate passengers about LGBTQ issues. A few months after he started Driving Is a Drag, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans in a widely publicized interview with Diane Sawyer. Riders, he says, suddenly began to ask him a flurry of questions about what it means to be transgender.

“People were realizing there’s a much wider spectrum of gender and sexuality out there than they knew,” Koral says. “A lot of people had no idea that there was a distinct difference between someone that does drag, someone that’s a cross-dresser, and someone that’s transgender.

“There’s just been a lot of generalizations and misconceptions out there,” he continues.

Koral says that he frequently receives emails from former customers who say that his example has inspired them to come out to their parents, and he claims he’s “floored every day” to have had such a profound influence in people’s lives.

But the biggest impact he’s made by driving around as Erika is on his own life.

Growing up, Koral was made fun of by other kids for being effeminate throughout school. He claims he was called “every homophobic word in the book.” As a closeted adult, his personal relationships suffered. Koral struggled as a result of the desires he buried deep inside.

“When that dark secret festers inside of you, good things usually don’t happen,” Koral recalls.

Becoming Erika helped him to live his life authentically for the first time. Koral is currently in a relationship with a bisexual woman, and since driving for Lyft, he has had the opportunity to meet some of his heroesincluding RuPaul.

“Erika allowed me to own the fact that I have these other aspects of who I am and to be proud of it,” he says. “It’s been the most punk rock thing I’ve ever done.”

The Fascinating History of ‘Lesbian’

The vast majority of English speakers would never think twice about the definition of a word like “lesbian.” The term is, at this point, accepted as the correct term for a homosexual woman. Hell, the first letter in LGBTQIA stands for lesbian, and the popular TV show The L Word was basically named after it.

I’ve never particularly identified with the term myself (I prefer queer, thanks!) but I am a woman who mostly dates women, and is married to a nonbinary person who often reads as a woman, so I get called a lesbian quite a bit. At some point, I stopped correcting people, but the term still fascinates and intrigues me. You see, unlike all the other letters in LGBTQIA, lesbian has kind of a weird history. It is unique in that it relates to a specific place. The term literally means “from the Island of Lesbos,” the same way that Californian means “from California.”

Lesbos (sometimes also called Lesvos, or Mytilini, after its capital city) is a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea. It’s been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic, but the name (and the history) comes from Ancient Greece. The island was mentioned in Homeric epics and several myths, then sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, a woman named Sappho was born. She went on to become a great poet. What the historical record shows about Sappho is limited, much of her poetry has been destroyed (some believe intentionally).

What is clear is that she did write about loving women, and women’s beauty, though it is still debated whether the loving relationships she describes were romantic or sexual in nature. Which is to say, Sappho was definitely a Lesbian in the sense that she was from Lesbos, but whether or not she was a lesbian in the sense of being gay is still debated.

In the Ancient Greek world, homosexuality wasn’t considered immoral or weird, and both men and women often carried on same-sex relationships while still entering into respectable heterosexual marriages. Sappho too, may have been married to a man.

Sappho’s work, and speculation about her life, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the Victorian era. Though the material was limited, at that point her personage became specifically associated with female homosexuality. Perhaps some women of the time believed (as some lesbians do now) that her work had been intentionally destroyed, her reputation sanitized, so as not to be a threat to the heterosexual patriarchal order. Fictional accounts of her life filled in the gaps with popular imagination. During much of the Victorian era, the term sapphist was used to describe a woman who loved women. In 1890, the term lesbian was first used in a medical dictionary, though how long it had been in common usage is anyone’s guess.

Lesbian and sapphist were used interchangeably, until eventually lesbian won. Why sapphist eventually fell by the wayside is anyone’s guess. But as with sapphist, the term lesbian served an important role for the women who identified with it: it tied them to the classical era, a time when great art was made and being a homo wasn’t vilified. During a time when sexuality was repressed in general and homosexuality was considered perversion, that may have been a huge comfort for many.

But Lesbos isn’t just a place in ancient history, it is still an island and people still live there.

Gay women from England and other countries started traveling to the island where Sappho lived and died in the 1970s, and the visitors have had a complicated relationship with the locals. Some Lesbians, especially the conservative ones, haven’t been exactly thrilled about their name having a pretty gay definition all over the world. In 2008, some of them even tried to get The Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece to stop using “lesbian” to mean a sexual orientation. It should be noted that the Mayor of Lesbos didn’t support the case.

Despite (or because of) its history, the word lesbian probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, queer terminology is just like the rest of language, it is fluid and constantly changing.

Some young people may prefer terms like queer, as a more general way to say “not straight,” rather than the specific and flowery terminology of lesbianism. And we can’t talk about lesbians without at least mentioning trans-exclusionary radical feminists (or TERFs) who are prominent in some lesbian circles and attempt to keep trans folks out. For both transgender lesbians and the cisgender women who love them, this poses a problem.

My first queer partner once told me that the word lesbian sounded “too old-fashioned, almost like some weird disease.” Since it was once used in a medical textbook, I guess I can see it.

Personally, my hesitation over the word was always about the shaky historical roots. Was Sappho even gay? And even if she was, that doesn’t mean the whole island was. But while I may not identify with a certain island in the Aegean Sea, I definitely identify with gay women who have combed history to look for people like themselves.

My Love For A Region That Doesn’t Love Me

I’ll probably be crucified for writing this, especially when there is currently a gay man in the United Arab Emirates being held in jail for brushing up against two men in a bar, but I’m still going to go ahead and say it: I love the Middle East. Not all of it, but lots of it.

I don’t like the politics or, in some cases, the extremism that exists, but instead, I love the history, culture, food, and environment (even if it proves to be scary at times). I’ve always been a traveler who happens to be gay. Sometimes I’m a gay traveler, but the majority of the time, my main focus of a trip is experiencing life like a local, and when in the Middle East, that doesn’t include (for the most part) gay locals.

I’ve come to realize that no matter where I go, my American privilege expires the moment the airplane reaches cruising altitude. Once we land, I’m a guest in a foreign land and no matter what my personal beliefs are, I respect the laws of the land. And in places like the Middle East, I’m not going to push any boundaries because it’s simply not worth it.

But why go there and support the economy with your tourism dollars? There’s no simple answer, and as an avid traveler, you learn to pick your battles. I’d rather go to the more welcoming countries in the Middle East and possibly meet or speak with gay men there instead of just exiling them in general because I don’t agree with their country’s government. Do I actively go there and hunt for guys to talk to? Not really, but I do my research beforehand and make connections at times.

You might be surprised to know that there are active gay communities all over the world, and just because there might not be a gay bar in a city, doesn’t mean gays don’t all frequent a bar on certain nights.

Now I’m not telling you this so you can fly to Iraq or Saudi Arabia looking for the best bar on a Thursday, because some countries are complete danger zones that all travelers should avoid right nowbut there are definitely some outstanding countries, mostly in the Gulf region that cater to tourism and where anyone, even a gay man, can experience a one of a kind trip.

Traveling there is not for everyone, so if in the end all you get from reading this is a sense of appreciation for a part of the world that you don’t know much about, I’m good with that.

Diving Into Doha

I’ve been to Doha a handful of times, mostly because it’s a really great connection to the rest of the world, although at times it could add flight hours to your trip, depending on where you’re going.

But, Qatar Airways has thought of that so they tend to have below average fares and offer stopover connections so you can get a taste of Doha while on your way to Africa, Asia or wherever you are going.

Hamad International Airport is massive and filled with everything any traveler may need, including world-class lounges, restaurants, and shopping. For stopover tourists, there are free day trips to Doha with guided tours, a plus for those who really just want a preview, but are not ready to explore on their own.

On a personal note, the Grindr scene is relatively safe here, although always exude caution when planning to meet with anyone online, and your hotel is the safest option for a meeting point. Doha is a melting pot of nationalities from all over the world as every industry recruits top performers in their respective fields to come and work in the city. That being said, it’s not just Middle Eastern men on the app looking for company.

Below are some of my highlights of the city:

Made it back to this incredible city. #LuxuryTravel #Doha #Qatar #USAvisitQatar #Travel #Downtown

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The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)

This is hands down, my most favorite place to visit in Doha. Even if you’re not fully into art museums, the grounds at MIA alone are spectacular, and the peacefulness and serenity inside the museum are infectious. The view of the city center from the museum is the best vantage point for photos and if you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in Doha, don’t look any further than the top floor of the building where you will find IDAM, an Alain Ducasse restaurant.

Khor Al Adaid

Just 60km from Doha is the vastness of the desert and a UNESCO recognized natural reserve. The Inland Sea is one of the few places in the world where the sea meets the heart of the desert. The only way to reach this phenomenal place is by driving across the rolling dunes, best done with a guide who will take you dune bashing along the way. The sunsets here are one of a kind as the sun can appear to be massive and extra orange/red during parts of the year.

Msheireb Museums

I discovered this group of museums during my last trip to Doha and left with a new sense of appreciation for the country I’m so fond of. The Msheireb Museums celebrate the history of four historic houses in the heart of downtown Doha. The focus of the museums is Qatar’s natural history and they reveal aspects of the country’s cultural and social development. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all discussed here and help to bring the conversation of the past and future to the table.

Katara Village

Doha is no stranger to new projects and developments and each time I return, I find more and more new things to see. The last time I was there, The Pearl, a residential and commercial community attached to a pier with yacht parking, was the new and shiny place to check out (and still is). But now, Katara is the new kid on the block, inspiring cultural enrichment through theaters, galleries, and performance venuesin addition to top-notch restaurants and a spacious public beach as a backdrop.

Nightlife

The thing about going out in Doha is that it’s expensive, due to the tax on liquor. But it’s a bizarre scene, mostly made up of wealthy locals and Russians, so going out can be extremely entertaining. Z Lounge at the Kempinski Residences & Suites is located on the 61st floor of the building and has stellar views of the city. The W Hotel Doha has both the Wahm Lounge and the Crystal Lounge, both equally as fabulous with the latter being the more upscale sister. And then finally, there’s the world’s largest Nobu restaurant, located at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha. With more than 26,000 square feet of space overlooking the Arabian Gulf, including seven unique spaces, such as the main dining room and rooftop lounge, this is the premier place to dine and party in Doha.

How Brighton Became a Queer Capital

Brighton is undoubtedly one of the gayest cities in the world. From having the highest percentage of same-sex households in the UK to the estimated 160,000 Brighton Pride visitors each year, the city’s LGBTQ community has made Brighton the unofficial gay capital of Great Britain. But this gay-friendly reputation isn’t anything new.

The 18th century sea-bathing fad and good transport links to London brought many well-heeled visitors from the capital, along with a newly cosmopolitan atmosphere. “Brighton’s the nearest southcoast resort toLondon – less than one hour away – so we’ve always beeninfluenced by the capital and been the first place of resort andescape for Londoners. Brighton’s also a holidayresort, and in a holiday resort the normal rules of society are a little bit suspended,” says Ric Morris, of Piers & Queers, a tour of Brighton’s LGBTQ history.

The Peers and Queers tour explores parts of Brighton’s lesser-known gay history and illuminates historic characters of the city’s past including Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. Morris finds some international visitors surprised at how visible and integrated the city’s LGBTQ community is. The community’s presence can be seen throughout the relatively small city of around 280,000 people with many landmarks having extensive gay histories.

“It’s fun that the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Oscar Wilde’s boyfriend, whose homophobia led to Wilde’s imprisonment, has a pub named after him, which is now a gay pub. People are also usuallyfascinated by the tale of Brighton’s first’same-sex’ wedding in 1923 when the groom was later found to be female on their birth certificate,” says Morris.

Alternative landmark

It’s perhaps no surprise that Brighton has long welcomed LGBTQ people as the city itself has a reputation of championing progressive social causes. Brighton is represented in Parliament by Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green Party MP, who has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights since being elected in 2010. Over 42 percent of Brighton residents describe themselves as having no religion, the second highest proportion of atheists in the entire UK, and a large vegetarian community also calls Brighton home.

Brighton’s open-minded approach has created one of the most vibrant and exciting gay scenes found anywhere in the world, but while the wider LGBTQ community in the UK is aware of Brighton as an extremely popular gay destination, many are not aware how rich and complex the LGBTQ history of Brighton is. “I think the UK community is aware ofBrighton’s generalimportance, but in terms of history, we are only just learning and uncovering the hidden histories,” adds Morris.

In a bid to display how integral LGBTQ individuals have been to Brighton throughout the city’s history, BrightonMuseum created a specialized LGBTQ trail that guides visitors to a diverse collection of objects which explore heritage through an LGBTQ lens. From an iconic Alexander McQueen silk dress released in 2001 to a René Lalique Palestre Vase, dated to circa 1930 and depictinga group of male athletes striking various poses, a slice of historical and contemporary queer life is showcased for both locals and visitors.

Since the UK marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 2017, a number of cultural projects discussing gay histories have been launched, but for such a broad community there are relatively few comprehensive initiatives examining LGBTQ histories. This is slowly changing with places like Brighton working on these issues.

“We are still in the process of researching our holdings and building our understanding of this complex, nuanced history in partnership with our local communities. I’m really excited to see what will come out of it,” says Kelly Boddington, co-creator of the LGBTQ trail atBrightonMuseum. “The truth is that there is still a lot of research being done as it is an area that has only recently captured the attention of mainstream academics, historians, and curators as a legitimate subject for collection and interpretation.”

Embracing diversity

Gay life in Brighton can differ from the experience found in self-contained gay villages in larger cities like London’s Soho or Manchester’s Canal Street, where outside of these villages certain areas are less gay-friendly than others. “Brighton’s gay scene is relatively small compared to bigger cities, and almost entirely owned by local businessmen, but as far as I’m concerned, every pub in the city is gay-friendly. Again, that’s just down to local people being more open-minded,” according to Nigel Tart, Brighton resident and one of the co-founders of LGBTQ History Month.

The center of gay Brighton is in St James’s Street, with the wider Kemptown area offering pubs, bars, and nightclubs for all members of the LGBTQ community. From The Bulldog, Brighton’s oldest gay bar, to Club Revenge, which holds Brighton’s biggest lesbian night, and bear bar The Camelford Arms, few are left out of the gay scene.

Brighton has some of the most established organizations and services supporting LGBTQ people anywhere in the entire UK. Both charities and local authorities have launched projects to meet the diverse needs of the LGBTQ community, from the Brighton & Hove LGBTQ Switchboard, a telephone helpline opened in 1975 that receives over 5,000 calls a year, to local support group, The Clare Project, which gives a safe space to people exploring issues around their gender identity.

“The Brighton police force were one of the first to set up a hate crime unit, with the council having won awards for its work in schools and have started doing groundbreaking work with the trans community. The health authorities have a good record of providing appropriate services, especially with an HIV prevention focus,” according to Mr. Tart.

There is a limit to how much LGBTQ safe spaces can protect against the realities of anti-gay attitudes and hate. UK gay rights organization Stonewall published research earlier this year showing that 20 percent of LGBTQ people in Britain have experienced a hate crime or incident over the past year. Some of the most violent and egregious anti-LGBTQ attacks have taken place in gay ‘safe havens,’ with some attackers singling out these areas due to the high LGBTQ populations.

Prejudice doesn’t just come from outside the LGBTQ community with certain members feeling excluded within what should be safe spaces. Older LGBTQ people may not find many spaces that don’t predominately cater to younger people and disabled LGBTQ people can find physical barriers to entering gay-friendly venues.

Even with the problematic elements found in gay villages, it’s still better to be in an environment that, on the whole, let’s all types of LGBTQ people live the life they choose without fear of anti-LGBTQ hate. It’s unlikely gay-friendly neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Castro, Le Marais in Paris and Brighton, will become irrelevant anytime soon.

“Brighton is a true haven of acceptance for all people, including lesbian, gay, bi, and trans folk, and truly prides itself on being somewhere where all people feel able to be themselves,” says Matt Horwood, Senior Communications Officer at Stonewall.

“Unfortunately, so many visitors describe this as an ‘escape’ from the real world; it’s a shame the ‘real world’ can’t be just like Brighton in that sense,” he continued.

How I Found Acceptance in a Straight Jamaican Strip Club

I had to buy board-shorts. While I have a half dozen bathing suits, not a single one of them covers my whole ass. Each Speedo I own is skimpier and gayer than the last. My favorite is bursting with images of flowers and puppies.

But I was going to Jamaica, and I knew I couldn’t flaunt my queerness. I would have to “tone it down,” so to speak. I would have to leave the “Yasss queens,” booty popping, and heels at my New York apartment.

I never imagined I’d be going to Jamaica. Given its consistentatrocious treatment of gay, lesbian, and queer folks, it wasn’t high on my traveling bucket list. In 2006, Time Magazine went as far to call JamaicaThe Most Homophobic Place on Earth. Needless to say, I didn’t want to give my money to a country whose known to commit crimes against LGBTQ folks withlittle to no repercussions from Jamaican authorities.

But my best friend from Boston had moved there to work at a cancer research facility, and it was his 30th birthday. I had to go.

I roped my ex-boyfriend (still my best friend) to go with me. I didn’t want to be the only queer person there. I wanted to have a fellow proudly identifying faggot on my side. More as a favor to me, he promised to join. Beforehand, however, we discussed our reservations.

“I’m just doing so much gay shit these days, I don’t know if I can ‘act straight’ anymore. I’m afraid something I don’t even know what will slip out,” He said.

“Trust me, I know. But we can do this. We acted straight for years before coming out, and you acted a lot longer than me. Besides, we both present traditionally masculine. We’ll be fine,” I replied.

So we went, and for the first time in years, I wore one of those bathing suits with netting that went past my knees.

At first, we fit right in. When I’m around straight people, I tend to act more traditionally “straight” and masculine, simply because that’s how they’re acting. If no one else is snapping and hollering “Werk bitch,” but rather saying, “Nice, man,” then it’s less likely that I’m going to be shouting the former.

But then came the alcohol. And with just two drinks in my system, my more effeminate mannerisms appeared. My wrists went limp, my voice shot up an octave, and my vernacular changed. My “Yassss” just couldn’t be stopped. You wouldn’t need a gaydar to recognize that in my lifetime, I’ve probably had a penis or two in my mouth.

While I knew it was happening, I couldn’t stop it. The more I drank, the worse it got. At first, I was surprised by how unable I was to keep my more stereotypically gay mannerisms in check. I was surprised how second nature they’d become. After attempting to act straight for many years, I thought the ability to conceal to lie would come back instantly. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

But then, drunkenly, I saw the beauty in that truth. I am out. I am queer. I’ve felt comfortable being myself now for so long that I can’t recloset myself, even if just for a short period of time. There’s something powerful and uplifting in how much I’ve learned to accept and be my true self.

While undoubtedly an enlightening realization, it was a very unhelpful one at the present moment. I needed to be acting straighter, and I simply couldn’t. I was getting looks, and not the good kind. I was getting the “What the fuck is this cocksucker doing here?” kind.

So I stopped dancing and only spoke to the guys I came there with. I didn’t want to stir the pot any more than I already had. After partying for a few hours, the boys wanted to end the night at a (straight) strip club. Off to Scrub a Dub we went.

The moment we entered, we saw topless women shaking their best assets in a large metal cage eerily reminiscent of the Thunderdome. They were dancing to pop and hip hop songs from the mid-2000’s (think T.I. and Akon).

Well, I simply had no choice. I started dancing. Dropping my ass low. Snapping my fingers. Shimmying like you wouldn’t believe. Seeing how much fun I was having, the strippers came off stage. They started grinding up on me, and then I started grinding up on them. I took off my shirt. The strippers invited me into the Thunderdome to dance, which, obviously, I did. Dancing my heart out for strippers and a bunch of older straight Jamaican men. I whipped out all the moves I learned from go-go dancing in Provincetown the summer before.

When I exited the Thunderdome, a stripper called me over. She mentioned how nice it was having “someone like me” in the club. Someone who dances, has fun, and is clearly “different from the other guys.”

Without saying it, she said it.

You’re not straight, but you’re welcome here.

There was a sense of safety and community I felt among the strippers in Jamaica. Our similarities far outweighed our differences. We’re both stigmatized for aspects of our sexuality. We’re both at high risk for violence. We both can’t go around flaunting who we are or what we do.

This led to an unconditional acceptance and understanding almost immediately. Even though I’m a man, and they’re women. Even though I’m queer and they’re straight. Even though our lives are seemingly nothing alike, we still found common ground.

So it was there, in the most unlikely of places, dancing shirtless with straight strippers in a Thunderdome, that I found acceptance in one of the most homophobic places on Earth.

 

Gay Cruising – A First Timer’s Story

As I reluctantly began to pack my bags, days before my trip, I kept hesitating on what to bring.

We were headed to the Italian and French Riviera on the world’s largest sailing yacht (that looked like a pirate ship), with 190 gay men (and a handful of women). This was my first time on a gay anything kind of trip and I was going solo, although I knew a few guys who were going to be on the ship.

I honestly never really considered a gay cruise until it came up as an option for travel this year and my main draw to this particular one was the size of the guest list and the uniqueness of the ship that we would all be sailing on. I have nothing against the larger cruise ships with loads of men on them, but that just has never called to me, although now, after this experience, I am more open to it.

We had received info on themed nights for the one-week sail through the Mediterranean and I won’t lie, at first when I read one of the posts in our private Facebook group that said, “Let’s celebrate on our first night out of Roma! And use the Cinema Favolosa di Frederico Fellini as our inspiration,” I almost had a panic attack right there on the spot. Who? What? These guys were already on a different level than me and I was questioning my film knowledge. I immediately texted my friend a copy of the full post explaining about the theme night in hopes that he was more creative (and gay) than I was, and well, he wasn’t.

Of course after some research, I realized who the director was and it all made a bit more sense to me, but I was already convinced that theme nights were just not going to be for me. In all fairness, I was already overwhelmed, so the thought of having to come up with costumes was going to be a hard pass on my part. In retrospect, now that I’ve been on the cruise, I do wish I had given myself a little more credit with my creativity.

There was one theme night where I did take part in though. It was the one with the least amount of effort; wig Wednesday, which basically involved donning a wig and showing up. It was a few days into our trip before the wigs came out and I remember showing up at first without mine on, just to see who else would be participating. I know, it’s hard to believe that I can be that shy at times, but I’m most definitely an introverted extrovert.

Anyways, I went back down to my cabin and pulled out my wig. I figured I’d go big or go home so I brought a massive afro-style wig that blended perfectly with my beard, giving me a rather natural look. Walking up the stairs outside of my cabin, I first encountered some crew who immediately smiled and laughed and gave me the confidence I needed to walk my ass outside where everyone else was. I don’t know if it was the comfort of the huge wig or the drinks I slammed prior to arriving, but I felt a bit invincible, and in that moment, I realized why guys love these types of trips – they provide the freedom to just be who you are and express yourself without judgment.

Source Events has been organizing these smaller sized trips for 16 years and have a loyal following of return guests who continually book with them, making the trips somewhat of a reunion, as familiar faces are always guaranteed. They pick incredible destinations like Tahiti, the Galapagos, Iceland, Greece, and moreand partner up with one of a kind ship charters to provide that unique aspect that makes them so appealing. I definitely will be the first to admit that my main draw to this trip was the thought of sailing into Saint-Tropez on this incredible tall-ship – in a port filled with mega-yachts, we would definitely stand out.

There’s also a sense of community that one might not necessarily expect, but as a true skeptic of gay cruises, I can attest that all my preconceived notions of what this trip would be like, were tossed out by day 2. Everyone was just really nice and wanted to have a good time. From the daily tea dances on the outdoor deck to the evening piano bar entertainment to the sports deck activities to the fitness instructors onboard, to the bartender’s daily specials to the empty spaces providing that sometimes needed solitudethe ship had options for everyone.

During our trip, our ports were incredible. I had been to half of them before, so I was looking forward to exploring and expanding beyond what most were there to see. Each cruise offers optional paid excursions at each port, and although they all looked pretty great, I opted to solo adventure each day. Although my anxiety had subsided, I did appreciate having time to myself to just do my own thing, and wellhave some one-day romances with locals I met along the way. Many times I would run into shipmates and we’d share a gelato (my vice while in Italy) or a bottle of rosé (my vice every day of my life).

In the end, although I basically didn’t know anyone but a few when I boarded the ship, by the time it was time to depart, I had made some truly great new friends. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, an engagement, and life itself.

As someone who never really considered himself as a gay cruise type of guy, I think I’ve been converted. I’m not sure the larger ships with thousands of men on them are for me (just yet), but I’m looking forward to reuniting with familiar faces on my next Source Cruise.Greek Islands in August 2018, anyone?