We Are More Than A Party

When I first realized I was gay I was 17 years old and terrified.   Although I was sexually attracted to other men, I was frightened to become a part of the stereotype I saw on television and magazines.    Of course times were different and what you saw on television was exactly that, a stereotype.    As I began to meet other gay people I realized we were a diverse crowd of Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics and any other ethnic category you could find on a college application.   We celebrated our diversity because we needed to, our sites were set on fighting the AIDS epidemic, acceptance and equal rights.    I quickly realized the scary images I saw in my youth were no where near the Gays and Lesbians I had come to know.

As a young adult I began to explore the community, culture, and what it had to offer.   My first long term relationship of almost nine years ended in my late twenties and I was eager to experience a part of the gay world that was previously off limits… the club scene.  Still filled with enough crazy hormones to fuel lots of stupid mistakes, I was introduced to this sub-culture and its not so wonderful characteristics.    Only this seemed different because it felt somewhat threatening to me.   I was surrounded by groups of men that all wanted to fall in love, but didn’t seem to want any of the Ozzie and Harriet style of relationships their parents lived through.    In fact, I would say they completely rebelled against these established norms, I’m guessing because they experienced much judgement and hostility due to their sexuality from those that practiced them.  Fair enough.  If there’s any stereotype of the gay world that’s close to being true, it’s that we never do anything low key, so gay relationships became completely polar opposite to mom and dad’s.  However I really wanted that sense of normalcy, real or perceived, in my life. After all, that’s what I had told everyone around me…that I was normal and just like everyone else.

Scenarios from the “Blue Oyster Bar” depicted in the hit movie “Police Academy.” Examples of the extremely limited and often stereotypical views of the gay world I had access to as a teen.

Years went by and I started to become fairly bitter with the gay world.    The level of shallowness and self centered behavior I was seeing just seemed to be getting worse.  There were even websites that sprung up with the immense popularity of the Internet, which re-enforced these qualities.   We were now posting profiles on websites like bigmuscle.com, which contained statements like “looking only for other good looking muscled men to make friends and hang out with.”   Wow!  Seriously?  I didn’t want any part of that!

Until I did.

I started going on “all gay cruises” back in 2001 during a short lived relationship with someone that grew up surrounded by the party and gay scene.   The experience was utterly miserable for me and I swore I would never do it again.   I was completely immersed in gay music, gay television, campy gay comedy… gay everything for seven very long days.    I was force-fed gayness and I wanted to puke.   But then, a couple of years later, I was convinced to try it again by my partner that I would share almost 10 years of my life with.  Even my therapist thought it was a good idea.  It actually turned out completely different in every way and I enjoyed the solidarity immensely.    Gay rights was starting to be a huge deal, the Constitution of the United States was about to be modified to define marriage between a man and a woman, for the sole purpose of denying us rights and recognition.   We so needed the support of each other as a community!   What better way than to pack three thousand of us on a boat for a week!  Yay!  Not to mention that I was starting to bulk up with some serious muscle, and although we were monogamous at the time, I was getting lots of attention.   This was really fun!   Why didn’t I do this sooner?    It was even time for me to get my own profile on bigmuscle.com!   In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that I started to become assimilated into the very lifestyle I had such a distaste for… by the looming presence and fear of a shared threat.  I wanted to belong because I was scared.

Every day, twice a day,!! Atlantis passengers gather on deck, or below, to participate in one or more dance parties.

As years passed and more gay cruises came and went, the climate of the country completely changed.    Gays were only years away from being allowed to be married, many companies and local governments started enacting domestic partnership benefits, and there was this cool show on television called Glee.  Gay youth and teens now had a place in society and role models to look up to.    It was a pretty amazing time for Gays and Lesbians, but something else started to happen.    The cruises I loved so much started becoming less and less about community and more about the “party.”    With technology becoming more advanced and cruises becoming more and more popular, the ships got bigger and so did the on-board dances. As anything that keeps growing in size, there comes a time where critical mass comes into play and a good thing becomes unsustainable.  Gay cruises aren’t any exception and in 2011, on the largest gay cruise on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas was raided by US Customs and passengers were arrested.   I remember seeing all the dogs and agents on-board and thinking something very serious was up.    A member of the Atlantis staff, the charter company that booked the cruise, lied completely and told a group of us that it was a case of mistaken identity with one of our fellow passengers.    We didn’t know the entire story until we got back home and saw the coverage on CNN and other media outlets.     It wasn’t really a surprise since multiple times a night we’d hear the call go out on the ship’s speakers, “alpha, alpha, alpha,” the maritime signal for a medical emergency.    For Atlantis passengers, it was code for drug overdose.    The stories of passengers collapsing and defecating on themselves during dances didn’t seem so far fetched after all.

Accelerated by the events on that last voyage, my love affair with gay cruises and the gay scene began to diminish rather quickly.  The sense of community I had once witnessed had become a complete mess and practically non-existent.   I went on a couple more cruises, even tried different brands like RSVP, but they weren’t much different.  The drugs weren’t as prevalent, but the campy gay comedy and stupid jokes every time the automated elevator voice with a British accent announced “deck 8″ were getting old.  I was tired of eating breakfast and hearing men discuss their conquests from the night before.  I guess that’s called “growing up.”

Today, I still enjoy cruising with my partner Eric, celebrating diversity once again, albeit with straight and fellow gay passengers alike.  Who knew that in all those prior years I had put myself into a social box, doing exactly what conservatives and the religious right wanted,  and at the same time fighting so hard against.

I look back at my journey in and out of the gay scene and realize it was a real learning experience, one that I shouldn’t regret or even deny.   The gay world is continually evolving, but I’m not sure in the right direction at the moment.   Pride events are becoming less of a celebration of unity, and more of a promoter’s opportunity to pull another all night party.   At least in the old days, I’m old enough to say that now, we had something we were focused on…a goal, a mission, which helped ground us and provided a type of social lighthouse when we went astray.    Much of the binding properties of the gay community are gone for the first time in our history.    Our friends aren’t dying of AIDS and we basically have the rights and recognition we wanted for generations.   Where we will go without the guiding principles that glued us all together?    What we will do with this new found freedom which carries with it new responsibility?

There’s a new sub-culture I see emerging with young gay men and it’s not a healthy one.   Unlike so many negative stereotypes, this one is very much encourage in pop culture and social media.    It’s evolving into a mindset, one of no-consequence and “go fuck yourself if you don’t like me.”  We’re being encouraged as a community to be as loud and as crazy as we want to be, since we’ve been restricted for so long and it obviously still makes straight people laugh.    The balance part of the equation seems to be left out though, and we’re not checking ourselves to see if we’re going too far.    Our community used to be so much more than a party, and now it seems so many gay men just live for it…or die.   I think it’s time to take inventory of what’s truly important, especially with recent events in our nation’s political climate.   Perhaps another shared threat is exactly what we need, a common cause to keep us focused on the individual lights in our community, and not the ones on the dance floor.

 

 

 

Good Nutrition Is An Uphill Climb

Each day, consumers are offered more and more ways to make better choices and eat healthier, which will hopefully lead to a longer life with less visits to the doctor. Organic versions of our favorite foods are increasingly popular and available, even foods that you didn’t even think could be organic are showing up on supermarket shelves.   While walking through the beautiful pristine isles of Target recently, I spotted an organic version of Capri Sun fruit drink.  Yes, the sugar and chemical mix of yesteryear is now organic.  But is it any better for you?  Healthy labels may sound great, but more choices actually means more research for the person trying to do the right thing.   As it’s often noted, food has a story and you should know the characters involved and the journey its made, before it ends up in your stomach.

Lets start with the ever popular “organic” label that’s increasingly making its way onto every edible product there is.  Many might automatically assume that seeing this indicator of strict standards means you’re doing something good… the prices certainly allude to this.  However, choosing organic simply means you’re getting something that was created, raised or processed in a certain way, it doesn’t mean you should be putting it your body.   Using our first example as a start, most would agree that sugar is the mother of all evil, especially when it comes to kids.   It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a huge problem in the United States.  If the thought of spoon feeding your kid 4 teaspoons of sugar makes you cringe, that’s exactly what your doing when you give your kid a single pouch of this “organic” Capri Sun juice (16 grams is roughly 4 teaspoons).   Not so great anymore is it?  Hey at least it inspired me to write this little blog post.

For dinner, you might decide that some organic chicken might be great for your family since the label clearly says “no hormones or antibiotics used.”  First of all, half that label is redundant since by law hormones aren’t allowed to begin with.   They might as well say “no razor blades” also.   Secondly, while an organic chicken may be antibiotic free, or even “cage free,” unless it’s actually “free range,” as in running around in the sunshine, you’re eating an animal that was probably grown indoors within a ventilated aluminum tube, somewhat like an airplane fuselage.   Consuming this creature means you’re also “downloading” any stress related bio-toxins produced as a result of living such a miserable existence.  We all know that stress is one of the leading contributors to cancer and other illnesses, and this is a great way to experience it chemically.  At least you didn’t have to actually get in a car accident or juggle a family and a career to produce it yourself.   Remember that organic doesn’t necessarily mean humane.  The same goes for beef and pork.

Of course there’s also the subliminal type of misleading information simply associated with a brand itself.  You might automatically assume that shopping at a particular grocery chain means you’re eating organic and healthy, because that’s the image they want popping into your head.  Assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups and in the food industry they are counting on it.  Take for example a little survey I did on my own.  I asked my friends and family what’s the first thing they thought of when I mentioned the Publix Supermarket product line Greenwise.   Almost all of them replied “organic” immediately.   This is actually far from the case, as the supermarket chain states on their own website:

Publix website page which states the requirements for Greenwise branding. Note that colors from “natural” sources are acceptable and that a vegetarian diet in no way means “grass fed” since grains are also plant based. A product only needs to meet one requirement to receive the Greenwise label.

While these sound like pretty good requirements at first,  giving it more thought one might realize according to their own definition, foods colored from crushed bugs is perfectly acceptable… because it’s natural.  And yes, this is actually a thing, it’s called cochineal.   Natural doesn’t mean healthy or even safe, ask anyone that’s ever had lead or mercury poisoning, which are very natural elements found on our planet.  Also, notice that Greenwise products need to adhere to only one of those requirments, not all of them.   One, in particular, is rather disturbing to me because it uses the word “claim.”  In other words, anything they want to say but it may not be true in the least.

A great example of all this confusion can be found with the very pricey Greenwise Raw Shrimp, which besides containing sodium sulfite, a “natural” preservative, is not organic, is from Indonesia, and is “sustainably” raised.   What does that even mean overseas?   Consumer Reports did some kick ass research regarding shrimp safety and the issues surrounding imports, and it wasn’t pretty.  The lesson here is to not assume anything, regardless of the brand, and read the ingredients even when you think there’s only shrimp in that bag.   Save your money and buy the regular Publix brand shrimp instead, which doesn’t have sodium sulfite… uh, well, they use trisodium phosphate instead, an ingredient commonly found in laundry detergent, stain remover and degreasers.  It makes the shrimp look shiny and causes them to absorb more water, which is helpful when you’re selling them by weight.  And the best part is you can buy it at Home Depot.   Yeah these are the same people that sell Greenwise products.

Kind of feels weird that you have to pay almost double NOT to have this put on your shrimp by Publix Supermarkets.

These are just a quick few examples of how a consumer needs to do their homework and know what they’re putting into their facial orifice.    Don’t let your assumptions get the best of you and don’t trust others to do the research.  I repeat, don’t trust anyone.  I love doing research (can you tell?) but even I get overwhelmed at times.   You’re not going to get it right a hundred percent of the time, but you’ll at least have a fighting chance to mitigate the effects of all the other crap we’re exposed to.  Know how to spot bullshit by reading between the lines, especially with generalizations that mean little or nothing.   Become your own “food attorney” while reading lists of ingredients and keep in mind that when push comes to shove, everyone is trying to make a buck. Don’t let it be at the expense of your health or the ones you love.

 

 

Wake Up – Your Thumbs Won’t Save The Planet

 

It’s a rainy day and you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, wrapped up in a snugly blanket you bought from an ad on your Facebook feed… a nice cup of chai tea latte is right by your side.   All is well in your world.   Suddenly and without warning, your eyes magnetically focus and zoom in on the horrible video displaying on your screen, your heart begins to palpitate as you rush to un-follow or block the person that posted this gruesome message regarding animal abuse in a land far far away.    They have succeeded in not only invading your cozy little space and destroying your perfect zen moment, but they have also damaged you temporarily as you struggle to get these images out of your head.    Their reasoning?    You should sign on an online petition and stop what you just witnessed!  Yes!  How dare you take one more sip of that chai tea latte, while animals suffer needlessly, before your thumbs do all the work of filling out that digital roll call of those with moral and just values.    Jumping into action might also help erase what you just saw, and you can return to your kindle, tea, and life of ignorance…yes this thought actually crosses your mind.  But did you ever realize what’s actually occurring behind the scenes of these online petitions?    Do you think someone actually manages servers and technical infrastructure for free?  Of course not. Hang onto your chai tea latte because online petitions are actually a multi-million dollar business and those ugly videos are helping people to make some serious money.

Yulin is a city in China with a population of almost seven million people according to Wikipedia.     Tourists flock there to bathe in hot mineral springs and the city is rich in natural resources.    Part of their economy is agricultural based, growing everything from tea, bananas, oranges, mangoes, pigs, chickens and dogs.   No that wasn’t a typo, yes, they raise dogs for food.    Relax, there will be no gut wrenching photos or vivid descriptions in this article, in fact, the exact opposite.   What you need to know is that there’s a business model here for people to react, and when they do, money is exchanged.    Yes, your emotional response is generating income for a company that has little or no control over anything that happens in China.   If you can get past the gruesome video to change.org, or any other petition based website, the advertisements you see, and subsequently click on, generate revenue for the company.  This sort of model is pretty universal on the Internet, everyone uses it because it works. But it doesn’t stop there.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, your email address has an ROI (return on investment) of %4,300.    That means for every dollar spent on email marketing, you will potentially earn $40 in return as described by the marketing website justuno.com.   Yeah, that’s a really nice return!   When you’re emailing the right people about the right things, it’s a cash cow.    I bet you didn’t realize how much money crazygirl30513@aolbiz.com was worth, did you Cathy?

So in general here’s how it works.    A charity or cause pays a petition website to show gruesome videos or imagery on FaceBook in the hope someone will respond.   Many of these sites, including change.org, are for profit companies (as explained in the change.org FAQ), yeah no 501c there people.  They treat these “promoted petitions”  just like advertisements.  Same deal as promoted tweets on twitter…. it’s free unless you want mass exposure.   As part of their contract, the charities are “given” your information.  Makes sense right?   You’d want to know the name, address and email of every person that supports your cause.    Only now the charities or organizations can also sell your contact information and make more money, something you’d should feel comfortable about… right?   After all, it’s for charity.   Think of the dogs folks… works doesn’t it?

Okay so now you now that dogs in Yulin help make people rich in the United States.    Who cares right?    As long as your petition can effect change!!! But where does that petition go?  We hope some huge official in Yulin will see that petition sent to his inox and won’t delete it.    Perhaps it’s actually mailed in a big box?  I bet he’ll take that stack of paper out to the streets and shut down the entire dog eating thing right then and there.   Or maybe he won’t.    Maybe he eats dogs himself and thinks it’s pretty yummy, especially with some American BBQ Sauce (don’t tell his parents, they always made fun of him for eating KC Masterpiece).  At the very least I’m sure they’ll stop killing chickens, pigeons and goats in “religious” sacrifice…oh sorry that’s Miami… you know in Florida?  Yeah there’s hundreds of “Botanicas” that sell these animals for that very purpose, Google it for the one nearest you.    Bet you didn’t know that either.  Where’s the petition to make that stop?  Take a sip of your chai tea latte, you’ll feel much better… or maybe you won’t.

The simple fact is that signing these petitions usually does little unless there’s plenty of national or international exposure to go along with it.    It’s icing on the cake of something big, it’s not the ignition switch to effect change.  What it is doing, is making a whole lot of people lots of money.  And then there’s those decrepit humans on Facebook that are actually getting a rise from spreading these videos, knowing that your chai tea latte is gonna lose all the attention it worked so hard to deserve.   They don’t care about the dogs, the cats, the whatever… they only care about ruining your day.   It’s masochistic and your reaction fuels their desire to do it even more.

The way to effect change is to hit people where it hurts the most, their wallet.    So you go to Wikipedia like I just did and you research the country that’s known for their dog eating and you don’t go visit their fabulous springs.   You send a receipt of all the money you just spent in the neighboring prefecture to their head of tourism and explain why.   Yeah you actually have to write a letter and mail it as opposed to taking 4 seconds to auto-fill a petition.  You tell your friends and neighbors about it, you knock on doors.  Yeah you actually have to get off that couch, stop drinking your chai tea latte and do something!  Imagine that? Eventually, someone there in Yulin might notice they’re not getting as many visitors, losing lots of cash and do something about it.   Do your part.  Your thumbs aren’t going to help dogs in a country half way around the world, with folks firmly grounded in their culturally accepted practice… which is actually a huge festival.   This is like someone trying to shut down the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade because they love their pet turkeys over in you know where Egypt.    I’m not saying give up the good fight.  Just fight in smarter ways, that actually make a difference, and stop creating a market for what you hate.   That’s how you really help your furry friends.

 

Taking A FaceBook Vacation

Sunset in the Florida Everglades

When’s the last time you had a vacation?  Before you start describing your most recent trip to a far off place dotted with palm trees or ancient buildings, let me be more specific… when’s the last time you vacationed from FaceBook?  You know, that wonderful destination you hold in your hand that you escape to while on the train, laying on the couch or even dare I say in the bathroom?  When’s the last time you dared to disconnect from all the noise, the pictures of friends enjoying dinner without you, the cat videos, the ads for things you’ll never use, the secret data miners collecting analytics designed as clever surveys, and the people you didn’t realize were Trump supporters?   Have you ever even thought of it?

I’ve been on Facebook for about a year now, something I decided to do as a way to promote my blog.    I didn’t realize it could have the ability to change my life in so many ways.   I’ve become more spiritual, learned I was really good at some things previously thought to be only mediocre at best, and met some really incredible and wonderful people.  However, as a well known law in physics goes, every action as equal and opposite reaction.  Being that I consider myself more sensitive than most (ask my partner Eric), some of these “re-actions” have hurt… lots.

I’m now hyper aware of things I didn’t know even existed.    I didn’t know so many people derived so much pleasure in starting an argument just for the sake of doing so, regardless of their actual position.  I knew about trolls, having been using online services (even building my own) since I was 14,   I just didn’t know how pathological it had become.   I didn’t realize that animals and pets were treated so badly, tortured and filmed during the process so that others could be made aware of the activity itself.    I didn’t realize that asking people not to traumatize you visually with such videos, would actually invoke an angry response and more visual trauma.   I didn’t realize “pimple porn” was a thing and that so many Russian woman had names like John and Mike.

The current political atmosphere doesn’t help much either.   You can love and admire someone dearly and the minute you or they state any sort of opinion, whether it be justified or not, the claws come out and you find out exactly what they think of you.   Discourse and division are the norms on social media, not the exception.  Humans  inherently share more bad news and experiences than they do good, it’s part of human nature and the behavior is highlighted in every customer service class you’ve ever been to.   So by its very nature, FaceBook is toxic by default.

With that off my chest have to say I think FaceBook is literally re-wiring my brain in a way I’m not comfortable with.   So I’m taking a break.  I prefer to have a greater degree of control of what I bring into my conscious awareness… my thought processes, emotions and the like.   As a standard vacation goes, two weeks sounds about right for now.   Where will I go?  Well for starters I can still write on my blog and let the magic of API integrations announce new posts, like this one, without the need to even login.    I’ll finish a couple of books I’ve been reading, journey into the depths of my imagination and take some time to watch a sunset, a real one, not some “Would you live here?” or “Relax Now” video.  So pardon my abscence for the time being, maybe you should consider a vacation yourself.   Who knows, we might be neighbors and not even realize until we finally look “up.”

 

Cheers.

 

The Piscean Prison

Being a Pisces can be a bitch.   Plain and simple.    As I get older it seems it just gets harder and harder to deal with the outside world and all of the horrors available to us through social media and news outlets.   Pisces are idealistic lovers, we quite literally love love.    We love everything about love and everything about being in love.    We love people we don’t even know and we can smother those we do with so much love that they run away.   And it doesn’t stop there.    Since we love to spread love so much we become paranoid when we may have not spread the love inadvertently.    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost sleep thinking I said or did something to someone that hurt their feelings or pissed them off.     The idea of intentionally hurting someone, or stepping outside of the “love” zone really turns our world upside down.

Of course this all goes to shit when we’ve been hurt beyond the point of no return.    Pisces love to forgive and forget and get back to the business of loving, but there comes a time when we’ve been burned so much that there’s no going back and we shut down.    People are so used to seeing us in a good mood, that when we withdraw into ourselves it’s almost like the sun has stopped shining.    We share our pain in ways that spreads discomfort to others.   Our internal darkness is deep and intricate.    We explore it at times with almost with great curiosity, lurking in the shadows, feeling safe from the world, comforted by our own pain… because it’s familiar to us.   Many times it takes other Pisces, skilled in the process and geared up with safety harnesses and rope, to meet us down in the caverns of our soul to pull us out of despair.

Pisces love art and see it in the every day.    We often see it in things most people take for granted, and as such, are subjected to additional misery when it’s destroyed.   It’s hard to walk down a city street as Pisces, among so many people that are ignoring the unique creations that surround them, the sky, a single flower trying to survive, the beauty of a wrinkled face that suddenly smiles…. all great works of art.  We look at people as they walk by and wonder about their lives, we send them secret blessings and messages of love, we hope their day will improve.   We get lost in the all the romanticizing and are probably often killed by moving vehicles, our minds elsewhere as we bounce of the hood of a sports car driven by a Scorpio talking on their mobile phone.

It’s really important for Pisces to stay centered and grounded right now, because there’s a whole lot of “non-love” things going on in the world.    I try not to watch the news, stay away from it all, and it works at first.    I begin to heal, I begin to love again, I begin to bring down the walls.     I do all of this just in time for some asshole to post a video of some gruesome treatment towards a living animal on Facebook and my soul is wounded, crushed…assaulted.    And I run down the spiral staircase deep within myself for protection once again.

I guess that’s it.   It just sucks being a Pisces sometimes.    When we’re our happy selves, we love to be out there spreading happiness and love.    When we’re not, it’s just shit.  I hope I didn’t make you think I’m in one of those dark places right now, on the contrary, I’m actually very happy.    I woke up to seeing love being broadcast all over the planet with Harry and Meagan’s Royal Wedding.    That’s like the Olympics for a Pisces!   However this event made me very aware of the love that we’ve been missing as of late, and how very good it feels to see it again.   Blessings to all, please don’t fuck up my day.

 

 

 

Experiencing Homophobia Overseas

Living in the United States can and will make you pretty spoiled.    You become accustomed to life as you know it, and take everyday occurrences completely for granted.    Many of us here in Miami are reminded of our abundance as a nation when we share the experience of someone that recently immigrated from Cuba, and see their reactions to to a well stocked produce section at the local grocery store.     It’s an all out emotional meltdown at times, something neither person is prepared for.    While economic prosperity is something that’s relatively easy to appreciate and witness, individual freedoms are not.    Most people vacation in areas of the world where they are welcomed with open arms, but even in the most beautiful and serene locations, the gay tourist has to be mindful of their destination in a different capacity… their personal safety.  There are many parts of the world where being homosexual is against the law, and I’m not referring to some distant land on the other side of the planet, I’m talking about enjoying the beauty and splendor of the Caribbean.   It was there that my partner Eric and I became very appreciative of the security and liberties we now enjoy in the United States.

Cruising is my idea of the perfect vacation.   Every detail is taken care of, and for seven days or more (as is usually our case), your only responsibility is to use the restroom and clothe yourself.   For me it’s the ultimate form of relaxation, and for someone that grew up around the sea, nothing could be more appropriate.   In the past 17 years I’ve experienced just as many cruises, most of which took place in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean.    Many of these cruises were chartered with Atlantis Events, which specializes in providing vacations to the gay community.    While Atlantis did a good job in general of keeping us safe, there was once an exception where we experienced mobs of people holding signs and screaming at us while buses took us to our scheduled excursions.    The ship was the first all gay vessel to ever dock at Grand Cayman and we were met with much anger and hate.    Still,  we were all together, thousands of us, and there was quite literally safety in numbers.

Our home for the next eight days, RCCL’s Freedom of the Seas!

Atlantis was a fun alternative to regular cruises when I took my first NCL trip back in 2001.   It was a great way to feel comfortable on vacation since so many gays and lesbians were still closeted back then.    I still remember our cruise director Malcom telling us during the sail-away-party, that for the next week we could hold our partner’s hand anywhere on-board and we didn’t have to worry about it.   Well times have changed and now you can actually get married to the man of your dreams, and invite your family and co-workers to the wedding (you know we do the best weddings….. wedding planners are all gay to begin with.)   The appeal of an all gay cruise is arguably no longer the sense of freedom and solidarity, it’s the party itself…and the men.    If you’re in a mutual exclusive relationship (monogamous,) and you’ve outgrown the circuit scene, then an all gay cruise can seem as alienating and foreign as a Southern Baptist Convention in Alabama during the middle of summer.    With this in mind, Eric and I have always felt extremely comfortable on all our “straight cruises,” with passengers and crew eager to engage us in conversation and merriment.  This last voyage, on board Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, was in fact particularly social, with almost a sense of family on-board.  However,  during a stop in St. Kitts, we were the only gay couple on a day long trip on-board a catamaran, and it was made very obvious to us that we probably shouldn’t have been there.

The beautiful cliffs of St. Kitts. Paradise was about to get creepy.

Our experience on St. Kitts started out much as any wonderful day, the morning sun was shining bright and the view from our balcony made it clear we were no longer at sea and had docked at our first stop.    We grabbed a quick bite to eat and made our way to the gangway to meet the other passengers that had booked an excursion on the island.    After a brief wait, we walked together to another dock and boarded a bright yellow colored vessel with its sails down and awaiting adventure.   Interestingly enough, our experience on-board didn’t start to go south until we were well under way, as we sailed past lush beautiful landscapes, contrasted with impressive cliffs.   It was then, as all the men began removing their shirts, that a crew member asked how often we both went to the gym.   Seemingly a harmless remark at first, even a compliment,  the questions and comments ended up becoming more angry and intrusive as the day progressed.    After a couple of chuckles I noticed one of the other crew members staring at me with a somewhat angry expression, however I tried to brush it off as my imagination.    Still, he stared in my direction for some time and then the hairs on my arms began to stand, almost as if some dormant predatory instinct was waking up.    Although an extremely unpleasant sensation, I decided I wouldn’t verbalize it to Eric because I wanted him to enjoy our excursion.   If it was my imagination, I didn’t want to risk impacting his perception of this beautiful scenery.   Just moments later Eric nudged me and I turned to look at him.  He whispered in my ear “I don’t think they like us.”  

When we arrived at our snorkel location it was time to put on our gear on and jump off the back of the boat.    We could also walk down a staircase / ladder that was extended down the middle of the craft to the ocean, put our fins on when we reached the bottom, and then basically wade into the water.   I opted for the back of the boat since you didn’t have to wait for everyone to gather their equipment and there was much less people.    As I was sitting on the back side of the catamaran, I put on my fins expecting to just turn sideways and jump off.   Suddenly the crew member that was staring at me earlier was in my face and began shouting “Have you ever seen a duck climb a tree?”  Not expecting any sort of confrontation while on vacation, I was completely caught off guard and thought he was joking.    And then he continued  “Have you ever seen a duck climb a tree?   Then how do you think you’re going to be able to get off the back?”   

Looking off the back of the boat I saw there was a small set of three steps, nothing I couldn’t handle with fins on, but apparently he didn’t like that I was going to try.    He hadn’t spoken, or yelled for that matter, to anyone else but I apparently got the brunt of his frustration.    Another passenger next to me whispered something along the lines of “how do I get these things on?”    I cautiously replied “I’m not sure, I’m just listening to what he says because I don’t want to get yelled at again.”   With that I jumped off the back of the boat and Eric followed, as we began our snorkel “adventure” portion of the excursion.   The recent events haunted my mind in the silence of the water and I was angered that I would be treated in such a fashion while paying good money for the experience.     The snorkeling wasn’t great either, and I found myself missing the coral reefs and hard bottom communities I’ve seen on previous trips or even in the Florida Keys back home.

After snorkeling was done, the crew began preparing a light lunch for the passengers to enjoy.   Once again I was scolded for going on the wrong side of the boat, since the line started in the opposite direction.    This pretty much validated for me that I was being singled out, and I could apparently do nothing right on-board this vessel.  When lunch was finished we sailed away toward the beach portion of our day and I began thinking about everything that had happened and wondered if it would get worse.    It did.    While we were sailing, the angry stares continued, this time with two crew members standing side by side.    It became extremely awkward when another crew member walked by us and we looked up and caught him pointing down at us as if saying “these two?”  The weather seemed to acknowledge the current situation, as clouds rolled in and the sky became dark and grey as we approached the beach.

When you think of Caribbean beaches you normally think of crystal clear blue and emerald green waters, a tropical drink in your hand, and perhaps an umbrella overhead.   Unfortunately, the landscape had transformed to completely match the eeriness of the atmosphere.  We were on a beach with rusted and broken lounge chairs, which could be rented for two dollars.    For the same price you could get an umbrella, some of which were notably stolen from hot dog stands, or were only half present, steel rods protruding where there was once material.   The water was still and murky, and reflected the gloomy sky above.    Eric and I were starting to feel very concerned for our safety, and even took turns guarding our belongings on the beach, while the other walked into the shallow water.    We were also concerned the boat would conveniently leave without us, having no real specified time to be back on-board.

If things couldn’t get any more creepy, Eric and I began to feel the familiar feeling of being stared at and turned around.    Just about 50 feet away, a group of beach vendors had joined several of our catamaran crew members, in staring directly at the both of us as if we were exhibits at a zoo.     One of the crew members, the original stare guy, presumably realizing at how odd this looked, told me to come over to him because he needed to talk to me.  Eric looked at me and said “oh my God” as I walked over and replied “what can I do for you guy?”    I was scared shitless but put on my best deep masculine voice I could muster.     The crew member responded “You need a drink in your hand, I don’t like seeing people without a drink…. here have two.”    I nervously accepted the drink after observing that it came from the same cooler that all the other passengers were getting drinks from as well.    When I walked back to Eric with his beverage, one person in the stare-down group, an older man, decided to approach us with a scowl and questioned “Are you two brothers?”    Completely nervous, anxious and surprised with the query, we both stuttered and said “Yes, of course, we’re brothers.”     As the man walked away I attempted to start up conversation in an attempt to invalidate my fears, I asked how long he had been working with the boat, but he mumbled his answer and returned to his group of onlookers.   He didn’t want to have anything to do with us, not being too convinced with our answers.

The rest of the afternoon was shit.    As we sailed back to the dock, we couldn’t wait to get safely back on-board our ship.    The experience had become completely surreal…we were surrounded by extremely happy straight people that were dancing, laughing and drinking obnoxiously while we were completely terrified.  I found myself playing scenarios in my head, trying to figure out what I would do if they tried anything, fear based “what if’s” running through my mind.   Things like what if they made up a story about Eric and I, and when we docked would there be police waiting?   Even as we approached land, we dared not show our unease. We found ourselves making sure to leave a tip as they passed the jug around, not wanting to let them know how we truly felt.    We just wanted the excursion to be over.

Back safely in our stateroom, St. Kitts in the distance…. just where we like it.

Strangely enough, you wouldn’t think that after this sort of experience occurs, you would be wondering what to do next?    Do we tell someone?   Who do we tell?    Would anyone on the ship even care?    We kept talking about the experience, a sign that it was truly bothering us, and opened up at the first opportunity that presented itself.    While booking our next cruise on-board, we were asked if we’d like to do St. Kitts again by the Royal Caribbean booking agent and we both said in unison “no way!”    The reaction was met with curiosity and then bewilderment, as we explained what had happened the day before.    We were told that we needed to inform the shore excursions desk immediately, so they’re made fully aware of what transpired so it never happens again.    After we wrapped up our booking, we approached the desk as instructed, however we didn’t feel our ordeal would get the attention it deserved.    We decided to bring the matter up to our concierge instead and see what she would say.

It’s always a great feeling when you’re a bit beaten up by the world and someone comes along in your defense, especially someone strong in character and wants to make things right.    Our concierge was a beautiful young lady from Brazil and had been accustomed to seeing Eric and I in one of the lounges, enjoying drinks and chatting with fellow passengers before dinner each night.     When we conveyed our experience to her she became extremely protective of both of us, and explained that as a child she was picked on for having a weight issue and would not tolerate her passengers being harassed for any reason.   She immediately filled an entry into the ships log (yes just like Star Trek) and put us in touch with the appropriate persons.    Less than an hour later we were issued an almost $300 refund for the shore excursion and were apologized to repeatedly.    Even if we hadn’t received our money back, it felt incredible to be acknowledged as people once again, something we missed during our time in St. Kitts.   We were and still are incredibly grateful for the way Royal Caribbean and its employees stepped up to the plate.

The atmosphere on Freedom of the Seas…. fun and acceptance. 🙂

This learning experience was a valuable one.   Eric and I had become so comfortable with the acceptance of crew and passengers on-board, we also became complacent.   We forgot that there are many places in this world where people don’t enjoy the freedoms and liberties we do as Americans, even if the road getting there has been paved with much pain and strife.   Interestingly enough, while cruising only a year before, we opted not to do any excursions in Jamaica, due to its well documented issues with homophobia.   On this trip we didn’t do our research, else we would have known that gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years in prison in St. Kitts, a clear indication of their social acceptance towards homosexuals.  For some reason we just let our guard down, something that can be incredibly dangerous when you’re traveling, regardless of who and what you are.    So take some time after reading this and be thankful for the personal freedoms you enjoy, especially if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.    It wasn’t that long ago and only a short flight away, where they cease to exist.

 

 

Instant Pot Spaghetti with Mushrooms

I’m a huge lover of Italian Food and the man in my life recently gave me an Instant Pot pressure cooker for my birthday.    So I figured what could taste better than spaghetti infused with its own sauce?   Turns out nothing much, it’s freaking delicious.   I searched online for some recipes, and found one, but I tweaked it so much I decided to create my own version and publish it on my blog.    So here it is, the most delicious and fast Instant Pot Spaghetti recipe in the world.  It feeds four easily (even more if you portion like a human)  and will run you about $50 if you follow recipe exactly.

It’s a computer controlled pressure cooker and so much more!

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Activism and the Lightworker

Many of us that identify as lightworkers often feel as though they are tasked with a very important mission in life.   This mission, sometimes still not understood or realized fully, is at the core of their being and perhaps even led them to the discovery that they are lightworkers themselves.    The term lightworker, usually refers to someone that’s of high vibration, uplifting, and has a desire to spread this sense of well being around the globe.    What happens though when a lightworker’s mission in life contradicts with this practice of spreading light, and literally does the opposite?   What if in the process of activism, a lightworker brings “to light” acts of humans which are disturbing to others,  in effect, lowering their vibration?   Can a lightworker successfully fulfill their destiny and at the same time make others feel a sense of love and worthiness?    I often struggle with these questions myself and present them to you for your feedback and point of view.   Perhaps we can both learn a thing or two and help each other out at the same time.

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In The Hot Seat with Abraham Hicks

Spiritual journeys can take you more places than American Airlines, that’s probably why their called “journeys.”   They can transport you from a small church with a white steeple in the deep south, to mega-structures and re-purposed stadiums that accommodate tens of thousands of people in a single Sunday service.   The can bring you inwards, to take a deeper look into what makes you you, or they can take you outwards, quite literally, to the great outdoors where the Pagans celebrate the gifts and cycles that nature affords them.  Or they can take you to Orlando Florida to meet a lady that channels a group of ancient non-physical conscious beings that she refers to as “Abraham.”  The last reference, while sounding more science fiction than spirituality, is actually something Oprah Winfrey and I have in common… we both got to speak with Abraham Hicks and learn about the “Law Of Attraction.”  Not intended to replace your religious beliefs or spiritual practice, the concept of Law Of Attraction is a way of looking at the events in your life, how you react to them, and how you “attract” positive and negative experiences alike.

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Changing Perspective On Loss

This article was originally a post I wrote within a spiritual based online group called “The Lightworkers Lab.”

Sometimes really bad things happen to us in life and we don’t understand why. We beat ourselves up, we’re angry at God, we ask “why?” in complete agony over what just occurred. People will say “everything happens for a reason” and we want to scream because the pain is unbearable. The answers aren’t always immediate and sometimes it takes years or even decades to see the light behind the darkest times in our lives.

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