Then followed the trip that I made with my first boyfriend to Montreal. Three decades later, I remember driving north from Pittsfield in his Volkswagen on that long-ago summer morning, crossing the Canadian border and entering the city. We climbed Mount Royal for a view of the metropolis of the same name and wandered through the campus of McGill University. After we checked into a hotel and sat down in a restaurant without anyone giving us a second glance, I wondered if I hadn’t been too pessimistic about the world and the future of a gay child in it. On the drive home we listened to the Pet Shop Boys. I loved their London-centered songs, even though I couldn’t appreciate the urban geography – the West End, royal cross – they celebrated. Nor could I have imagined that one day I would move to London, fly planes out of the city, or have a first date (a spring walk through a leafy park) with my husband-to-be.
In college, my fascination with Japan eventually led me to study the language and work in Tokyo one summer. My college teacher introduced me to a former student, Drew Tagliabue, who lived there with his partner. When I met them for dumplings one night, I marveled at the diminutive size of one of their favorite restaurants in the greatest city that ever existed, and at lives that lived more freely than I thought possible. That summer, Drew, who later became the executive director of PFLAG NYC — New York’s “partnership of parents, allies and LGBTQ+ people working towards a brighter future for LGBTQ+ youth” – gave me a collection from EM Forster, where I found the words that stick with me as a traveler today: “just connect…”
Armchair LGBTQ travelers can of course take the proverbial path among the many writers whose words and worldviews were shaped by travel. Think of James Baldwin in Paris, Christopher Isherwood in Berlin, and Elizabeth Bishop, who broke the heart of a boy from Pittsfield and later lived with a architect named Lota near Rio de Janeiro. Some of the most beautiful stories I know—about the ways travel can lead to self-discovery and new forms of community—set in San Francisco (“nobody’s from here”) from Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” novels.
Like many Pittsfield people, I am inspired by the wanderlust spirit of Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby-Dick” in my hometown. Whatever the truth of Melville’s sexuality—as Andrew Delbanco points out in “Melville: His World and Work,” it’s not easy to separate the tantalizing cues from the reaction of “gay readers attracted to him”—something drove him. to the open ocean and the wonders of distant cities. Born in New York, he wrote readily of Liverpool, Rome, and London, and of the turrets of Jerusalem, the dome-obscuring mists of Constantinople, and “the Parthenon lofted on its rock that first defied the view of the approach of Athens.”