Last night there was a full moon on Tristan. I had not appreciated the beauty of a full moon until I saw the glowing white orb over Tristan. The sky was not cloudless, but the ocean was calm with gentle waves coming ashore in an endless pattern of concentric circles. I saw the moon on my brief walk to the house of Brenda Swain and her son Danny, who was celebrating his twentieth birthday. The island’s main gathering place, Prince Philip Hall, hosted a dance on Saturday for the S. A. Agulhas II passengers. I was invited to Danny’s “buffday” (Tristanian English) party then.
My last post was a bit of a repeat of the first entry posted from Tristan. I will continue with the exciting story of getting the helicopters off the ship and onto American Field a bit later, but what I have to say about the party and the Tristanians’ attitude towards me as a gay outsider is quite interesting.
Long before I had even left for Tristan, I was thinking about how and when I would reveal the truth about my personal life. In most other circumstances I wouldn’t even worry about this, but on Tristan da Cunha, a long-isolated island of only 259 people, where everyone knows each other’s business and where any news makes the rounds faster than a speeding bullet, I felt that it was only a matter of a very short time that everyone here knew that that Canadian station fella staying with Shaun and Renee Green was queer.
The dance on Saturday night had people talking. Put a gay man on a dance floor and his secret is out. I am totally uninhibited when I dance. Ann-Marie Collins, the fiancée of Danny Swain, both of whom gave me a warm welcome when I went for a late walk in the settlement on my first night here, informed me that her aunt was giving me dirty looks. I admit that this put a damper on my dancing for the next little while. I kept my dancing profile low, dancing like all the other Tristanian men, trying not to attract attention. But what was the use? Changing my dancing style wasn’t going to make anyone forget. I also shared many dances with Ann-Marie’s mother, Marion, who was so friendly, which is typical of Tristan. I asked Marion to introduce me to her sister, because I believed that if I sat with her and shared a few friendly words, she could get to know the person she was flashing daggers at. I introduced myself, told her how much I loved her island and that I was so happy to be here. I did not get the impression that she was thrilled to have me sit with her even for the single minute of conversation we shared, but I tried to be friendly.
At yesterday’s buffday party, I was the old guy because Danny’s circle of friends were young enough to be my own children. No one there was over 25 years old yet I didn’t feel out of place. I knew Danny and Ann-Marie already, and I was invited after all. We all talked and drank, and then I drank some more. I am feeling quite fine after that evening of boozing and am not suffering a hangover. If I could write such a coherent E-mail as I did last night while thinking I was drunk, then either I can hold my liquor or I wasn’t as drunk as I thought I was.
I recognized the faces of everyone at the party. They all go to the pub in the evenings and play pool, chitchat and socialize with the community. Some of the partygoers were in fact well-known to friends of Tristan. Justin Green is the subject of some National Geographic videos currently seen on YouTube, and Leon Glass is featured throughout his father Conrad’s book Rockhopper Copper: Life and Police Work on the World’s Most Remote Inhabited Island Tristan da Cunha. There are no secrets on Tristan. Danny and Ann-Marie both knew I was gay, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that they wouldn’t have told the others. They were totally fine with it when I came out to them at Saturday’s dance, not that they needed any telling. But when Leon engaged me in conversation to tell them all about myself, he led in by asking if I had a girlfriend or boyfriend. Now who asks a question like that if he didn’t already know. It was very easy to break the ice that way and we had a chat about islanders’ perceptions of homosexuality.
Now Tristan da Cunha may be the most isolated inhabited spot on the planet, but the people here do not live in a vacuum. One of the things Tristanians resent about outsiders is that some of them have the perception that all islanders live primitive lives in grass huts. Tristan da Cunha has modern homes, with electricity, flush toilets and hot showers. They even have the Internet when it decides to come on. It’s slow speed only, so I have to write E-mails in basic view without the fancy formatting I usually use. It’s so basic that I can’t even upload photos!!!
So it’s not as if there haven’t been gay people on Tristan before. Ann-Marie told me that she knew some gay tourists from past visits. Some people though seem to have a problem with it. I am surprised to find out that the negative reception I received on Saturday was from someone who was probably a bit younger than I was, yet the twenty-year-olds at the buffday party were welcoming and happy to have me there. The news of the Canadian gay tourist is making the rounds of Tristan, if it hasn’t been around the island three times already, and I might get a few glares aimed my way. I will give each glarer a smile and a wave in return. As the partygoers said, my sexual orientation–while nobody’s business and really why should it be–is merely news to the local population. They have nothing to talk about except the tourists from the Agulhas who have invaded their island. One of them is queer–pass it on. I will have the opportunity to show off my dancing feet this Saturday as well, since the outgoing Administrator (the “h’admin”) Sean Burns is throwing a going-away party and dance. There will be a bigger turnout at Prince Philip Hall for that event than there was last week, so the whole island can satisfy their curiosity and get a good look at me. I will just be myself, the flashy dancer from Canada, and greet everyone with a friendly smile.