In Post #5: My Coming Out: The Wonders of New Beginnings, August 2014 – August 2016, (published on February 23rd), I concluded with the importance of going to Frogmeadow, a Men’s Bed and Breakfast, near Brattleboro, Vermont, in August 2016 for a personal ceremony, instead of a Jewish mikveh, to honor the two year of anniversary my “new identity”. There is little question when I reflect on my last year living in Boston of the importance of travel to my affirmation of my identity as a gay man. While I had always enjoyed to travel and have new experiences both in the United States and in other countries, travel destinations and the kind of travel took on a new importance in this period of my life. For a variety reasons — desire to have new adventures, meet new people, experience a new “gay culture” – I was excited to go on numerous trips and to plan for a longer one after I retired in 2017. Interestingly, this urge for new adventures away from Boston led me — starting in June 2016 for the following year to be on the road eight times, including short trips (2 – 5 days) to a longer one (3 weeks), as well as to plan a longer trip for eight months to start in July 2017 as a retired man, since I was beginning to question my long-term residency in Boston.
Running through all of these experiences was the conscious desire to experience the world through different eyes and the realization that I wanted to explore the possibility of relocation. While I had begun in Boston to experience a different city since I had come out two years earlier, I was increasingly motivated to consider moving to another city where I would start over. With one exception (San Francisco), none of the destinations that I chose as my travel destinations during this year were on that new list. Still, they led to conversations and contacts for the next trip that would and would allow me to spend more time out of the country, since I was drawn to the idea of moving to a European city.
After all some of these destinations may have been typical for a gay man (Key West, Florida in June and December 2016; Brattleboro, Vermont in August and November 2016 and again in May 2017, even San Francisco in February 2017, I suppose), while others were not necessarily: a professional one (Salt Lake City in June 2016), which ended up being so in part, and the group trips in Peru and Easter Island (in July 2016) were as well in terms of the ways in which I experienced them.
While the idea of travel as something political (see Rick Steves, Travel As A Political Act, New York: Nation Books 2009) was intriguing and I had long believed that travel broadened my horizons about my assumptions about the world. As a teacher of world history and a scholar of German History, how could I think otherwise? Still now the possibilities were enormous, as I learned about how the travel industry catered to a gay clientele. See for example: The Evolving World of Gay Travel – The New York Times (nytimes.com), Many countries don’t accept our right to exist: life as a gay traveler – Lonely Planet, IGLTA | LGBTQ+ Travel, Gay Travel, Lesbian Travel, Travel Association, and • Chart: Gay Friendly? | Statista; also Spartacus: International Gay Guide (Bruno Gmuender, 2017).
Travel had always been an important part of my life – both for myself and as a parent with children – in part inherited from my parents’ enjoyment of travel and the knowledge of the perspectives that one gains from experiencing new things. After all I had lived in Germany for three years, initially during a junior year abroad (1977-1977), a “gap” year (1978-1979) before I started graduate school and then to research my doctoral dissertation (summer 1983 and 1984-1985). I had considered taking my then family in the 1990s abroad to teach for a year or two; while that idea did not materialize … I was intrigued for a variety of cultural, political, and even familial reasons – to rethink that idea for my retirement. Some retire to Florida; no, I wanted to retire to an interesting metropolis where there was much to do – which one?
I also had enjoyed the trips for conferences and the opportunities to learn new things among interesting colleagues. Yet, during this year the number of trips doubled and as importantly the purpose also changed – I was fine with initiating such trips on my own with the hope that I could meet other men with similar interests beyond being gay. These conscious planning – coupled with spontaneous developments – made this year of travel a crucial one in my development and acknowledgment of being gay.
As I considered where I wanted to go; both destinations and having a group identity became new and important variables. What was as important in this process was not only what I experienced and enjoyed on each trip, but also what I learned about myself and in terms of the others whom I befriended on each of the trips. It was almost as if the choices were connected to one another in terms of meeting these divergent needs. After signing up for the combined trips to Peru and Easter Island with HE Travel, I met the wonderful director (see Phil Sheldon Archives – HE Travel) and a spontaneous conversation with him in Key West (where I was for a few days to enjoy myself in the sun) which led to a great travel agent to plan my longer eight-month trip.
While I had been on group trips before and met people when I travelled, it was wonderfully liberating to have new joint experiences – from athletic, cultural, literary, playful, scenic – with other men – whose gay identity was an important part of their identity. During both of these group trips I had numerous opportunities to learn about myself, as well as experience the beauty and culture of two fascinating scenic and serene places. In both cases being part of a group made it easier to experience hard to reach places more easily and allowed me to do so differently than I might have otherwise have done.
And the trip to Key West was fun and escapist, while in Vermont I improved my ability to do yoga. In both cases it was great to meet other men with similar interests and to experience different parts of the country. In San Francisco, I had great time exploring a city that I had known, and now through different eyes. Yes, what a potentially livable city should I decide to move within the United States!
Most significantly, however, was my work during this year to plan the eight-month long trip after my retirement that would commence in July 2017. It was to be a mixture of longer stays in six cities that were high on my list as new places to live and on four tours with HE Travel of various intensity and focus. While I was not unhappy in Boston, I was ready to consider a change and had decided that I was going to pursue different options before I could actually move. With the help of HE travel agents, friends, and colleagues, I developed a trip that was to take me to cities, where I could consider living – gay friendly, cosmopolitan places in Europe – and to gay tours as a way to balance being on my own and with others. After much reflection, I chose the 6 cities – Berlin, Cologne, Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, and Paris. In my preconceived idea it was actually between Berlin and Amsterdam, as new places to live. I recall countless conversations with friends and colleagues who knew them well! As a city person, I need that I needed to live in a city – a vibrant place with countless things to do – and also some place with plenty of green and in a good location so that I could easily go travel elsewhere easily. My time in Germany in the 70s and 80s had resonated me and the idea to have time and proximity to explore more about my family history. I was also aware that German cities were gay friendly, tolerant places, and I was fluent in German so those choices were perhaps obvious. Others were perhaps not as obvious – Amsterdam, was another cosmopolitan gay friendly destination – and despite my ignorance of Dutch, why not? Where to consider in Spain – Madrid, Seville, or Barcelona … I settled on the latter. London and Paris – other wonderful metropolitan centers to consider?
And then I planned to join different tours – physically challenging and culturally interesting – which were collectively a way to stretch myself, experience different cultures, meet different men, and have unplanned and new experiences in this new and wonderful stage of my life!
The shorter itinerary of my trip was a follows – six weeks in Berlin (the #1 choice as my new destination), a ten day tour in Iceland , three weeks in Cologne, a week biking tour in Slovenia, a month in London on my own, ten days back in Boston to sign my retirement papers, three weeks in Barcelona, an exploring tour in Egypt, a month in Paris, three weeks in Amsterdam, two weeks back in Berlin, and then two weeks in Cadiz, Spain before I concluding my trip with a month-long tour in India . It was so much fun to consider destinations as I pondered where I might want to go; by the winter of 2017 the list was set.
I recall commenting to a friend shortly before I left Boston on July 1, 2017 that I was moving to Berlin; he corrected me to say that I was considering it. Yes, there was something to this idea of wanting to try something new at 61 – after all I had only come out at 58 – so I was still young enough to do so, no? And intriguingly a few months later it came to be …