The Great Gay Migration

by Derek Hartley
Friday May 30, 2014

When we think of spring and summer migrations, our thoughts generally turn to the birds that can be only seasonally enjoyed in various parts of the country. But it isn't just our fine feathered friends with dedicated migratory patterns. Our community has its own unique travel patterns and in some ways they define the various segments of our population.

Many years ago, in the stone ages of the internet, I worked at AOL and one day I got contacted by someone who worked with one of our online partners, The Book Report, an area dedicated to readers of all stripes. They had noticed a sudden spike of activity in an otherwise underused message board and discovered much to their surprise that it had been taken over by a digital community of lesbians. They camped there for a few weeks, filled with lively and diverse discussions (almost none of them about reading) and then one day, presumably after some straight guy posing as a lesbian infiltrated their ranks, they vanished as quickly as they had arrived.

I suppose part of our inclination to travel has come from twin desires: getting away from areas where we don't feel welcome and needing to meet and interact with people just like us. It is the case with lesbians online as much as it is with a gay couple in North Dakota. Although even people in robust urban gay enclaves flee (San Franciscans to the Russian River, Chicagoans to Saugatuck, etc.) creating a home away from home with all the same people they see all week.

Much hay has been made in the media world about how well-traveled gay people are. Mountains of research show that LGBT people travel more and spend more on travel than their straight counterparts. This may come as sticker shock to any heterosexual family staring down their financial tally after a week sequestered inside Walt Disney World, but the numbers don't lie. The only thing we love more than an elegantly appointed home is getting the hell out of it.

If many of these migrations have a unifying theme, it is the remoteness of the destinations. That lesbian message board was so many clicks down through empty digital space, it felt after a while like I might be descending into madness. Getting to and from Provincetown even from nearby Boston can be as arduous as life on the Oregon Trail. Fire Island is literally a hop (train ride), skip (taxi) and a jump (ferry) from Manhattan. All the way you are a nomad, lugging every earthly possession on your back, wandering through a desert of Long Island sameness. The Florida Keys are a spectacular destination and naturally gays decided that only the very absolute last island before your fall into the ocean is the one for them.

All year round we jet from party to party on an endless circuit. We flock to cruise ships to roost together for a week of non-stop antics. There are destination pride events, ski trips, Gay Days in theme parks, gay summer camp, LGBT family weeks, and bear events. Even when we choose to "do our own thing," it can take on a cultish feeling. I have friends who bought a house in a very small town in upstate New York and it has quietly and quickly turned into a rural Stepford enclave where only the right, select people are encouraged to participate in their secret weekend rituals. Some lesbians took it a step further with a gated rural compound that started as a feminist utopia and lately has failed to attract new members at a pace that can keep it going.

Even if you have never used the word summer as a verb or found someone to love on an app, in very subtle ways, what ends up defining us as a community is less a unified struggle for rights than it is a desire to gather together, in groups large and small. So no matter what your plumage or when you may fly off to next, know that in this sense, you are never really alone. We may have different flocks but we are all birds at heart.

Since 2003 Derek Hartley has been the host, along with Romaine Patterson, of the GLAAD Award-winning SiriusXM Radio show Derek and Romaine, emphasis on the "has been." The show airs weekdays from 8 to 11 p.m. ET, exclusively on SiriusXM OutQ 109, and is wildly inappropriate. Prior to joining SiriusXM, he was a columnist for PlanetOut. He is a major proponent of recycling, as evidenced by his two memoirs: Colonnade: A Life in Columns (Spacuna Publishing, 2009) and When Nightlife Falls (Spacuna Publishing, 2011). And he writes a semi-annual blog, entitled Initial Public Offerings, chronicling his nighttime adventures, because he is his own favorite subject. Obviously he is single and resides in New York.


  • DanC, 2014-05-30 22:25:04

    Oh! How wonderful it must be. However, this article is about traveling not migration which is a completely different subject (look it up). Generally, if you lived east of the Mississippi R. you migrated to NYC, maybe Atlanta or Miami Beach. If west of the Miss R you went to San Francisco, L.A. Basin, or Seattle possibly Denver, and, godforbid, Phoenix.

  • , 2014-05-31 11:43:43

    Way to put the anal in analogy! Not all migrations are permanent (look it up), which is why I compared us to birds in this piece.

  • DanC, 2014-05-31 22:31:59

    Derek, is that you? Why do you post anonymously? I didn’t analogize? I distinguished. Migrations are indeed permanent. Take the Great Migration from England to the US 1620-1635, that was certainly permanent. How ’bout the Great Migration from the South to the North post Civil War? You yourself say "we" are on an "endless circuit". Distinguish, please (and refrain from ANALogizing, y’know, bodily fluids and all that).

  • , 2014-06-05 23:32:31

    Good article and being from Lawn Guyland,I couldn’t agree more about the sameness :) Off to Bear weekend!!

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook