hen I was a child, my favorite book was Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who,” especially the part where all the Whos in Whoville collectively cry, “We are here. We are here. We are here!” It’s still one of my favorites books.
Standing in the living room of Massimo’s new apartment, a wine glass in one hand and a plate of prosciutto and cheese in the other, I tell the small group, “We’re going for a week to a gay hotel in Ibiza.”
“What’s a gay hotel?” Claudio asks as he helps himself to more wine and cheese.
“A hotel for gay men,” replies my husband Alberto.
For both homosexuals and heterosexuals, vacations, like every human social activity, include elements of sexual imagination and behavior, from role divisions, jokes, play and possibly even the odd adventure or indiscretion. Can you imagine a vacation without a sexy swimsuit and a new tan, songs about boy and girl watching and flirting, and the fantasy of love and romance?
“Well, are there any lesbian hotels?” Massimo asks with a tone of enthusiasm I find a little suspicious.
“No, gay men and lesbians usually vacation separately,” I reply, hoping to redirect the conversation back to our vacation plans.
Massimo, a doctor, Claudio, a psychiatrist and Alberto, also a doctor, have been friends for most of their adult lives. Massimo and Alberto had begun their medical careers together in a famous Milan hospital. At the same time, all three were among the original therapists at a drug rehabilitation center in the city. They were young, optimistic and full of energy. It was a different era, when young people really did believe they could make a difference. They put in impossible hours, days and nights. They divided up scarce travel grants amongst themselves, camping or staying in hostels so that they could all attend congresses.
And when August came, that sacred time of Italian vacations, they went camping at the seaside together. Alberto continued to vacation with them even after most of them had found full-time partners and married, although he spent most of his days reading quietly on the beach apart from the crowd.
Many gay people can tell you stories of their own “lost vacations” with straight friends. Generally, the unspoken rule is that if a gay person agrees to assume the role of a eunuch, he is welcome to tag along.
Eventually, Alberto realized that he was the odd man out. That’s when he started to vacation on his own. That’s when I met him, on vacation alone in Greece.
When I moved to Italy, it became clear that we were a couple and that, in fact, Alberto did have a sex life.
Since then, even though our vacations have occasionally overlapped with that of his group and they were always happy to meet up with us for dinner, we were never invited to join their vacation club.
For almost 20 years, Massimo and Claudio’s huge camping holidays were famous among their circle of friends and colleagues. The last one, three years ago, involved six families with a total of 19 kids, from toddlers to early teenagers.
About three years ago, the golden age of Massimo and Claudio’s collective vacations ended with the collapse of both their marriages. Now, they spend part of their vacation with their teenage kids in a redefined father role, and the other part with their new partners.
“Why not stay at a regular hotel? Why do you need to stay at a gay hotel?” Claudio asks.
“Because regular hotels are for heterosexuals, not us,” I say.
“Ah come on now, regular hotels are for everybody,” Massimo says.
“Ya, right,” I say, “everybody who is straight or at least behaves like they’re straight.”
“That’s not true. Lots of hotels accept gay people now,” Claudio insists.
“Gay friendly,” I say, making quotation marks in the air. “That only means they will accept gay money.”
“When we go on vacation, we just want to be ourselves, lay together in the sun, spread sun cream on each other’s backs and hold hands or kiss without scandalizing the entire hotel,” Alberto says.
“Everyday, everywhere I look, on billboards, in magazines, on my TV, even over my radio, there are straight people offering, promising and practicing sex. I just want to spend a week laughing and joking by the pool with people I have something in common with,” I say.
“You’re being paranoid,” Claudio says, “Gay people are everywhere now.”
“Tell that to the fine folks at RAI TV, who twice, ‘accidentally’ censored the silhouette of the kiss in ‘Brokeback Mountain,'” I reply.
“We are all doctors. I bet we know more about people’s personal lives than most,” Alberto says.
“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Massimo agrees.
“Other than us, how many openly gay people, couples or singles do you have as friends?” Alberto says.
“None.” Massimo shrugs. Claudio is silent.
“Well, that’s about 15 percent of the entire population you’ve never bothered to learn anything about,” Alberto says.
I think of the collect cry of the Whos in Whoville.