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A Gay Pilot Reflects on What Travel Means to Queer Folks

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Next got here the trip I made with my first boyfriend to Montreal. Three a long time later, I recall that on that long-ago summer morning we proceeded north from Pittsfield in his Volkswagen, crossed the Canadian line and drove into the town. We climbed Mount Royal for a view of its namesake metropolis and wandered through the McGill University campus. After we’d checked right into a hotel and sat down in a restaurant without anyone giving us a re-examination, I wondered if I’d been too pessimistic concerning the world and a gay kid’s future in it. On the drive home we listened to the Pet Shop Boys. I loved their London-centered songs, even when I couldn’t appreciate the urban geography — the West End, King’s Cross — they celebrated. Nor could I actually have conceived that someday I’d move to London, fly airliners from the town, or have a primary date there (a springtime walk through a leafy park) with my future husband.

Finally, in college, my fascination with Japan led me to check its language and, one summer, to work in Tokyo. My college teacher put me in contact with a former student, Drew Tagliabue, who lived there along with his partner. After I met them for dumplings one evening, I marveled on the diminutive dimensions of one in all their favorite restaurants in the most important city that has ever existed, and at lives lived more freely than I had imagined possible. That summer, Drew — who later became the chief director of PFLAG NYC — Latest York’s “partnership of oldsters, allies, and LGBTQ+ people working to make a greater future for LGBTQ+ young people” — gave me a group of E.M. Forster, during which I discovered the words that remain with me as a traveler today: “only connect …”

Armchair L.G.B.T.Q. travelers, after all, can hit the proverbial road with the numerous writers whose words and worldviews were shaped by journeys. Consider James Baldwin in Paris, Christopher Isherwood in Berlin, and Elizabeth Bishop, who broke the center of a boy from Pittsfield and later lived with an architect named Lota near Rio de Janeiro. Among the loveliest stories I do know — of the ways during which travel may result in self-discovery and latest types of community — happen within the San Francisco (“no person’s from here”) of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” novels.

Like many Pittsfield folks, I’m inspired by the wayfaring spirit of Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby-Dick” in my hometown. Regardless of the truth of Melville’s sexuality — as Andrew Delbanco notes in “Melville: His World and Work,” it’s challenging to separate the tantalizing clues from the response of “gay readers who find themselves drawn to him” — something impelled him to set out for the open ocean and the wonders of distant cities. Born in Latest York, he wrote easily of Liverpool, Rome and London, and of the turrets of Jerusalem, the dome-obscuring mists of Constantinople, and “the Parthenon uplifted on its rock first difficult the view on the approach to Athens.”

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