a big shout-out to the folks at Toronto tourism or whoever the hell it is who’s pulling all the cute gay tourists into town this summer. In July alone I met two guys from Mexico and one from Hong Kong. One was too young, one was half crazy and one was pure joy. Just your typical gay lineup, I guess, but still a major boon to the mood molecules, and not just because tourists’ on-holiday levity is always a major relief from TO’s dour materialism.
Native Torontonians, of course, desert the city in droves during the summer convinced, apparently, that the best time of the year to leave the city is the one time of the year when it’s actually inhabitable ? amiable, slow-moving and almost, dare we say it, sensual. Tourists know better and I for one am grateful. For one thing, it saves me packing a suitcase. For another it facilitates my own somewhat quirky version of travel.
Many years ago at a very prissy Riverdale house party, a very middle-class guy asked me, “Where do you holiday?” and I stepped back in silent wonder. This guy was so steeped in middle-class entitlement that he just assumed everyone took at least one major holiday a year. Me, I don’t travel much. I’m too poor and too much of a stick-in-the-mud. But I had a ready-made answer, if only I’d known. What I should have said to him, I realized later, is that I travel through tricking.
Sex tourism gets a bad name but, really, what else is gay life but travel? Not physical travel to distant lands, but psychological travel to foreign attitudes, values and decorating styles. In my early days as a homo, there was nothing I enjoyed more than inspecting the classic gay starter apartment — 20 bottles of cologne on the bathroom vanity, a massive TV in the corner, Marilyn-on-a-steam-vent on the wall and two ragged copies of Anne Rice on the coffee table. For me, a white-bread kid from Etobicoke, exploring those foreign climes was almost as exciting as the sex which furnished the excuse for the visit.
Crossing the class line is fun but it’s even more fun to run straight up against the authentically foreign. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to find it. Toronto’s increasingly eclectic mix ensures you can hear half a dozen languages you don’t understand without even leaving the ghetto.
But there’s no doubt that it’s more fun to meet the out-of-towners. Not only are they on holiday and therefore in a very good mood, they’re amused by the most innocent of pleasures. I don’t know how many wide-eyed US tourists I’ve directed to Remington’s. “Yes, they really do take it all off.”
Plus there’s a lot of them, as any visit to Woody’s best-chest contest will attest. (You thought the locals were going risk that kind of embarrassment?) A year ago I bumped into a couple of guys from Detroit who drove here every weekend for six weeks in a row because anything was better than Detroit and for them it was either Toronto or New York. Their decision probably says more about American restlessness than Canadian sex appeal but it certainly shows you why the bars are rolling out the red carpet for the out-of-towners.
Gay tourists usually come equipped with a pretty standardized set of needs and styles. They wear the same muscle shirts and want the same things. (“Do you know this place, please? Han-lan’s Point? Do they have sex there?”)
But no matter how superficially similar they seem, tourists always come carrying loads of interesting information. If sex-travel doesn’t offer the edifying shock of full-fledged immersion in a foreign culture, it does turn up odd little facts and figures that are fascinating in themselves.
Like the Hindu banker from New York whose most interesting attribute, at least for me, was not his intricate family network, scattered from Dubai to Australia, but the fact that he watched golf and read Sports Illustrated.
Or the smooth-talking American who lived in the same southern town as Dolly Parton and had the same accent.
Or the dude from Hong Kong who told me the former British colony now has Desperate Housewives, Ikea and McDonald’s. The revelation didn’t exactly add to his hometown’s glamour but it certainly proved, if proof were needed, that the world is growing weirdly homogenized.
There’s an old truism that says you’ll probably “marry” someone who grew up less than a mile from you and there’s probably a kernel of good advice lodged in that hoary old idea. Similar backgrounds and values certainly make it easier to navigate the conflicts inherent in any budding relationship.
Maybe I’ll eventually opt for the boy-next-door and his distressingly familiar values. But in the meantime I’m grateful for the outward-pulling tug of the libido. It’s a passport to strange and distant lands.