Sea (See) Change on a Sea Cruise

November 18, 2009, by Melissa Howden

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

When Melissa Howden embarks on a lesbian cruise, a tropical storm is not the only occurrence that stirs things up.

A couple of years ago I started to learn how to surf. At the time my greatest challenge was learning to read the water.
How many waves in a set?
Which set might have a wave I can possibly catch?
Are they breaking to the right or to the left?

The combination of matter—the water, the board, the bottom and me—had the potential for magic or mayhem. And so it is with so many things in life.

My girlfriend is a fan of the group lesbian get-a-away. The only group I’m a fan of is the small dinner party. Nevertheless, for the last week I have been on a lesbian cruise.

Lesbian cruises are not a new phenom. OLIVIA Travel has been doing them for 20 years. This voyage however is the first for a new company called SWEET: The Future of Lesbian Travel.

A week ago we hauled out of New Orleans in a mad attempt to skirt Hurricane Ida as she hurtled into the Gulf. Some were saying that the hurricane had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Weather distinctions make no difference to me. A boat in any storm worthy of Weather Channel note is NOT fun. A subtle reading of the water becomes very simple: THOSE ARE BIG FREAKIN’ MY FREAK WAVES BREAKING ON MY ELEVENTH DECK BALCONY!

Having survived the night and next day of hurricane water has its merits. With its inaugural cruise SWEET sails on with an epic tale and a certain esprit d’corps. As I survey the lot of us, some 1,500 strong, I think perhaps SWEETS’ marketing tagline is more than just hubris and is in fact “The Future.”

Before we set sail, some 65,000 trees had been planted to help restore the wetlands around New Orleans and to carbon offset the cruise. As we docked in Belize, the headlines of the local newspaper read, “Humanitarian Lesbians Cruise Into Belize.” The “humanitarian” being a reference to the fact that in every port, community service projects were among the excursion options. In Belize, a mural was painted in the pediatric ward of a hospital. Additionally SWEET cruisers created a storytime corner in a local elementary school. To support this effort all of us brought books and art supplies as requested by the school.

In Roatán, Honduras, our group helped to beautify the community e-learning center and installed two brand new computers. In both Belize and Honduras, being gay is illegal! But on two separate afternoons, gay women came off the ship and worked alongside the local people to create something these people had determined was needed in their community. In this place the seeds of change were sown person to person, community to community. It seems not so far-fetched to think that perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give to the world is who we are.

SWEET is a young company, headed up by a tiny, smart and fierce young woman named Shannon Wentworth who is given to exclaim, “Holy crap people!” whenever she is excited, which is often. When I look around this ship, I see a veritable arc of young lesbians who have come of age at a time in history which is so different than mine. They have a kind of entitled fearlessness that would’ve been difficult for me to even imagine 20 years ago. These young women are making a world where the bounds of gender are fluid and fashion is an ever-expanding statement. This is a world where gay woman means as many things as there are women to be it. And even as a reluctant cruiser I can say that I find comfort in this world, where I can wear whatever and be whomever I am inclined to be, and sit on a lounge chair with my girlfriend without any cares watching the sun go down surrounded as we were by the future.

As with any new venture there are lessons to learn and improvements to be made. But in the presence of these young women I have been reminded not just of the spirit of possibility but I have seen it made manifest. Grace in a hurricane is not so easy. But Grace having been honed in a storm becomes it’s own kind of magic. And that my friends, is not a bad way to spend a week.

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9 Responses to “Sea (See) Change on a Sea Cruise”

  1. dearpru Says:

    A very thoughtful piece of writing, Melissa, wrapped in a glorious and humanitarian holiday. I think it is so important for all of us to be reminded that, despite enduring pockets of homophobia and neanderthal legislators, our country is still the safest place on earth to be gay. We’ve got to hold on to that freedom and let future generations express and live who they are; to not hide in fear and be subject to hatred, self- and otherwise.

  2. Conz Says:

    Are straight women welcome? The most heart-warming humanitarian gesture I saw on my cruise was someone bringing their companion a third heap of food and then spoon feeding it to them.

  3. mellimel Says:

    Thanks Pru. You are ever the ally and I appreciate it. And Conz to answer your question, something I was not able to include is that on the cruise there were friends and allies of the gay cruisers in the crowd, even some parents – PFLAG to the max. One crazy gay guy entered the wet t shirt contest. It was fun having the PFLAGers and Gay boys there. So yes, come on! If all my friends came I might re-visit the fact that Ida effectively ended my cruising days, at least in terms of getting on a ship.

  4. Cathy Says:

    “It seems not so far-fetched to think that perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give to the world is who we are.” I love that line, Melissa. What a beautiful look at wisdom, age, experience and openness. Humanitarian Lesbians are awesome! What a way to make change by example. Rock on on the high seas of sea change!

  5. shannon Says:

    yes, allies are welcome. The more the merrier. And Melissa, come to our resort in Cozumel in September 2010 … it doesn’t float and we’re building on the projects we did last week (and releasing baby sea turtles into the wild).

    I love your blog. You’re a wonderful writer. It was an honor to spend a week with you.

  6. rosemary Says:

    Thanks so much for this truly beautiful piece of writing (more vivid and descriptive than any photograph could be). It assures me that even though the journey to equality for all will be a rough one, there are those who have been transformed by it and choose to travel with grace.

  7. Karen Says:

    In the Teacher Training program at the Yoga Studio that I both teach at and manage, the students are reading the Bhagavad Gita. They are struggling with the fact that deeds can be done without reaping the benefits of their actions. Well, I’ve just found a good example to share with these students of a bunch of people doing just such work. How heartfelt!

  8. lila Says:

    this seems like a prologue to a novel. there is so much more to say here, so much more I want to read.

  9. Carine Says:

    Doing good work seems to come naturally to you, Melissa. I remember your amazing forays during the campaign. You are an inspiration!

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