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$3 Bill

The road to Kandahar

I’ve backpacked and slept my way around the world. I’ve awoken
in jungles, deserts and on beaches. I’ve always paid my own way, but
once in a blue moon I’ll accept an offer to join a press junket, which
is how I met travel writer and author Michael T. Luongo some years ago.

Luongo—who has slept his way around considerably more of the world
than I have—is the editor of the just-published book Between the Palms:
A Collection of Gay Travel Erotica (Harrington Park Press) which features fun
writing and acute observations of other cultures, notably by my friend and
L.A.-based gay-lit icon Felice Picano. “But some major [American gay]
publications can’t get past the word ‘erotica,’”
Luongo says. “It’s weird gay magazines can’t and straight
ones can. They understand that sex is a good way to connect with the
world.

“I’ve travelled throughout the Arab world during this
war,” he continues, “and I’m really worried about what Bush
is doing. I’ve been hugged and kissed by Iraqis, shared Ramadan dinner
with them. But I think it will only be easier [for Americans] to travel when
we finally lose our empire.” Luongo says it isn’t just George
Dubya who’s ruining America’s good name overseas. “Tourists
overseas [also] believe Americans don’t communicate well
sexually,” he says. “Some say, ‘Don’t go to Mykonos
because there are too many Americans.’ In contrast, anywhere the French
touch is wonderfully sexy, whether it’s Haiti, Morocco or Montreal.
There is something about the French—they don’t have the hang-ups
the English do when it comes to sex. Look at India: it was a sexual paradise
until the English got there, whereas former French colonies have a better
time with sex and HIV education.”

Luongo’s favourite destination remains South America, especially
Buenos Aires. One night in Iquitos, Peru, Luongo says he even stumbled across
some drag shows. “They are well paid and make a good living,” he
reports. “I didn’t expect it because it was in the middle of
nowhere. But a lot of these remote tourist destinations have gays and
lesbians because the travel industry disproportionately attracts gay
people.”

Luongo believes a Western-style gay liberation movement will make inroads
worldwide. “I’ve kissed men on the street in South Africa,”
he says. “In Peru one man told me, ‘This is not America.’
But he still kissed me. Same thing in Uruguay. In Havana I hung out with this
32-year-old man who had no idea what the Rainbow meant and had never read a
gay magazine. So I gave him one. He was fascinated that in New York and
Montreal you have 800,000 people walking down the street during Pride. So
despite issues of neo-colonialism, we are planting a seed.”

Nothing used to symbolize the global gay movement quite like the Gay
Games, which Montreal was supposed to host in 2006. The Federation of Gay
Games revoked the games after Montreal refused to surrender financial control
and awarded them to Chicago instead. Montreal will now host the first-ever
World Outgames in 2006, sanctioned by the brand-new Gay and Lesbian
International Sport Association.

I ask Luongo to name his top five gay cities (not including his native New
York City). “Buenos Aires,” he replies. “Paris is a
wonderful, wonderful city. I really love Montreal—it’s not
Toronto. Los Angeles is brainless but fun. And I recommend São Paulo
over Rio because there’s a higher level of Brazilian
partying.”

Luongo (who’s currently en route to Kandahar as part of a month-long
trek through Afghanistan) tells me, “To be gay and to have homo sex [in
Afghanistan] are two different things. I went to parties with a former Afghan
solider where the goal of the party was to have sex. The whole neighbourhood
turned out to see me because I’m ‘gay.’ They all danced
with their guns. It was very strange. One man did say he wished I was a girl.
But, yes, men will make passes at you.”

Like Luongo, I’m saddened when I bid adieu to friends I may never
see again. “I think you always hold that person in your heart,”
he says, “though now you can still stay in touch via e-mail. But if
you’re sad to leave, it shows how wonderfully and deeply connected you
were making love in that city.”

He pauses, then adds, “Canadians and Canada are a gentler, kinder
America. They champion the values America once did. As a person who travels
[five months each year], it shocks me how isolated [gay Americans] are. All
they want to talk about are five-star hotels and spas. No wonder people
dislike us.” V

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