Alex Blaze

Tour along the Mississippi

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 04, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: America, branson, Chicago, Europe, France, LGBT, Mississippi, new orleans, personal, public display of affection, travel

After a three-week whirlwind road trip along the Mississippi with Alberto, who came all the way from France to visit real America (he'd previously only been to fake parts of the country, like California and NYC), I'm back on the site.

Our magical musical tour took us as far west as Branson, MO, as far south as New Orleans, as far east as Nashville, and as far north as Chicago. It was great to be with Alberto again after being apart for 6 weeks (he's French, I'm American), but in three short weeks (two days ago) he was back on a plane to Paris.

It was also interesting seeing America both through the eyes of a foreigner and as a visibly gay man.

I've been all over America, and I've traveled a bit in Europe. But there's a way that I travel there (like a poor tourist) and a way I travel here (like someone who has something to do in each new city) that made America, previously, seem completely incongruous to the European subcontinent.

I'd gotten used to riding the train to a city and then finding out what there is to do, there, and showing up in a specific location, usually outside of a city, on a plane, in a car, or on a bus, going directly to what I needed, and then leaving, here. But while structural differences between the two countries forced us to travel somewhat like Americans do here, treating this country as a tourist destination helped to challenge the way I see this country. Maybe when I go back to France I'll stop being so shocked when people tell me about their vacations to America.

The other perspective change was that I approached this country as a more visibly gay man than I usually do. Bil, Jerame, and Serena already know, and some of you will find out at the get-together in DC this weekend, my style is not something that gets read as gay in most contexts. I'm most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt, and usually a solid-color, long-sleeve T-shirt at that. I'm not even butch enough to pull off the "straight-actin' dude" look, which would be substantially gayer than my "Does your grandma pick out your clothes?" look. (And, no, she doesn't. She just has a grandson with traditional and inexpensive tastes.)

Also, my mannerisms are far too awkward to be recognizably queer. I wish I could have a swish in my step, but I'm mostly just lumbering along the sidewalk, sometimes with a plodding, purposeful gait, at other times lazily strolling and stumbling. It's all very Midwestern.

But, you know, when you hold hands with another man in public, all that goes out the window.

I'm already used to being part of the gay couple that displays an inappropriate level of affection in all situations. In Paris, where Alberto and I were living for a good part of this year, you don't see many same-sex couples holding hands outside of that city's gayborhood, le Marais. That didn't stop us, though, from fully taking part in Paris PDA-accepting culture. Straight people are often less in-your-face homophobic than we give them credit for, and homophobic taunts hurt much less when you don't understand them.

Here in America, though, I was back to being uncomfortable. I couldn't shake the idea that someone would come up from behind me with a lead pipe and put an end to us holding hands. It's irrational, on some level, considering that I saw about as much same-sex PDA here as I did in Paris (none). And we didn't get kicked out of any restaurants, so America's winning at this point. A few sneers, one teenager who couldn't stop laughing (Alberto assured me that he was just so turned on it made him uncomfortable, and the best thing we could do, for his sake, was to have a make-out session in front of him), but, really, not all that much trouble.

The point I'm getting at is that as someone who's been trained not to show any same-sex affection in public in the US except in the most exceptional of circumstances (like gay spaces), maybe I've misjudged, like almost everyone around me (I didn't see any same-sex affection in public here, so I'm not alone in my preconceptions). And maybe that's what we need: a massive, nationwide kiss-in, but not in front of a government building or a country club, but on the Greyhound bus or in McDonald's or Walmart (OK, scratch the last one. They're where love goes to die). I fully appreciate why we're so closeted as a people, still, in 2008, but maybe it's time to push the envelope again. For our own sake, at this point. We're the minds that need some changing.

Moral of the story is that the way we see things depends on our perspective. As someone who was never really a tourist in the US but always a tourist in Europe, I thought that the two landmasses were far more different than they actually were. And as someone who was never that visibly gay in the US, I found out that I had imagined Americans to be more homophobic than they actually are.

So who's up for a cross-country Greyhound bus kiss-in? I'll see if I can get Alberto to come over for that one.

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Someone on JoinTheImpact (or Pam's House Blend? Can't remember which) has suggested a protest day in which everyone holds hands with someone of the same gender in public.

I like the idea of a kiss-in, but I think the hand-holding one might be able to go further - I'm a fan of having protests that our straight allies can participate in, and I don't like the idea of asking straight folks to kiss people of the same gender (since I'd certainly be unhappy with a protest that asked me to kiss someone of the opposite gender).

I love the idea of hundreds of people in public spaces, holding hands.

Karen Collett | December 6, 2008 9:14 AM

I like this idea! I think hand-holding is bit more practical in that you can easily do it in some situations where kissing can be physically awkward. (Plus, I love holding hands!)

The kiss-in is an absolutely fabulous idea. You can definitely count me in.

So who's up for a cross-country Greyhound bus kiss-in?

Are you kidding? Where is there more gay "PDA" than a Greyhound station bathroom?? Although I guess there probably isn't much kissing going on.

That never happens when I'm on! Although I remember the 4th floor library bathroom back in college was notorious for boy on boy action, and there was never anyone there when I visited. I have a way of shutting the shit down on public gay sex just by being in the vicinity of it.

Is that a universal university library thing? I'm pretty sure that was the same story at my school.

So who's up for a cross-country Greyhound bus kiss-in? I'll see if I can get Alberto to come over for that one.

This is a positively fabulous idea. Video cameras and interviews... sounds like a doco to me... so anyway, I'm game.

Well hope you enjoyed your tour Alex but come on Branson??? I remember when that town had zip except Silver Dollar City.Yes you think you had wierd feelings on tour try living here in rural America 24/7 365 days a year.Hmm Kissing love the idea hehe.

Glad your friend got to see some of Middle America. Might not be quite as GLBT-friendly as San Fran, but it's home to a whole lot of good and friendly people.

This reminded me of the first time I can remember seeing a real-life gay couple. I was mini-golfing with my family while in elementary school and the people on the hole ahead of us were two young guys (late teens, probably) who were kissing in between holes. I was too young to know what it meant or why I was fascinated with them, but, coming from a relatively small town, they had an impact on me.

The point: hurray visibility!

Your little story reminds me of this episode of 20/20 where they had gay couples engage in public displays of affection and observed the reaction.