Interview: Black Man, Will Travel

Do you love to travel? LINX Coach Maynard and LINX Team Member Gregory sat down to discuss the power of travel for black gay men. What follows is an excerpt from that exchange: 

Maynard: So where did the desire to travel start?

Gregory: I originally started when I was young, with my parents. My father was in the military, so he and my mother were able to travel. My mother was the real traveler in the family. She was one of those people that just believed in doing it. It was more common than people think, African-Americans back in those days traveling to Mexico or Hawaii. She took me and my older siblings after we graduated high school and could get our passport ourselves and start traveling in the 70s. I’ve been travelling for decades.

Maynard: So you’ve traveled… domestically? Internationally?

Gregory: Both. I did a lot of protesting in England, during the 80s. I started traveling to London a lot, but the music scene back then, it was very vibrant, and so I was attracted to that.  I think my domestic travel started visiting family in Chicago when I lived here in LA. Also, I believe, I thought about this here, I have to contribute my travel domestically, with the Black Gay Lesbian Leadership Forum. Because it was a national organization, every other year we’re traveling outside the city of Los Angeles where the headquarters were.  New York is one of the place we’d go; Washington DC was another location many of us traveled to for the Black Pride, and Atlanta for Labor Day weekend. Once you start traveling, traveling for those conferences, you start wanting to travel to hang out with people doing the same work that you are doing. Then you just start meeting folks. Sometimes good friends.

Maynard: So advocacy played a role in both your domestic and international travel.

Gregory: Yes, yes. Really, it was because you know, you start meeting your people who are doing the work in different cities, and then it’s like, “Hey, I’m going to come to this conference. Can I stay with you for a day or two beforehand?” And that’s what we were all doing. Room on the floor is room for one more, as they say. I remember I was in New York for a conference and there was like nine of us in a two-bedroom place. Robert Penn, a beautiful writer of gay men’s health and everything, he just said, “anyone who comes to New York can stay.”

Maynard:  So not only was travel practical and possible, but beneficial. 

Gregory: It was very beneficial. Just being able to move out of the city and leave out the city of Los Angeles and also recognize my self-identity but also, what’s going on in other places? You know, going to New York and seeing brothers with dreadlocks, just different, different flavor than what we had here. Going back to Chicago and seeing the brothers there, who are more like eye candy–there are just many different kinds of black communities out there. And there are reasons to travel, whether it’s a sports event, or the architecture, or a museum. My mentors always encouraged me to find a way to travel.

Maynard: That may sound great, but not all of us can afford big trips.

Gregory: True. But we have to inspire each other, you know. Just say, “hey, let’s just get away for the weekend.” Take baby steps: go to Santa Barbara, or a lot of us go to Palm Springs or San Diego or something. Just take small trips and then graduate up to larger ones. Asking myself in the beginning, “where can I go?” allowed myself think about it seriously and make a plan from there and move past fears I had.

Maynard: I want to get back to that fear.

Gregory: Sure.

M: What was it for you? 

Gregory: Fear? Being by myself. No one there, no one to know. And what happens if something happens? There’s always those what ifs. The mind games that we play on each other, the mind games that we played with ourselves, what happens–something happens to me. I know nobody. Especially, if I’m in a foreign country that doesn’t speak English. But I’ve learned that younger people will try and speak English to you. But I’m always nervous whenever I travel, even today. There’s always the anxiety of traveling by myself.

Maynard: it’s interesting that you said that the travel doesn’t go away–the fear doesn’t, the anxiety doesn’t go away. 

Gregory: It’s always going to be there. Also I’m just really anxious about traveling sometimes, in case something happens to that plane. But after I get on the plane, it’s all over. And through the years travel has been very different for me as a black gay man. I’ve noticed that in my travels, who’s our president is how I’m going to be received. That has definitely played a part in the last couple of years. And I have had many people tell me, “why you traveling by yourself? Aren’t you scared?” I have anxiety, but I’m not scared. Whenever I got to places by myself, a lot of places, I meet people. If not, I’m good to be alone. I prefer to be alone than being in groups. This way, you have your own responsibilities. Get up when you want to like that. There’s that downside, but if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way, you don’t do it. You get those types of things from people who have never been there, who don’t have a passport, and who want to bring their fear into you. Sometimes, you have to not listen to your friend; if I was dependent on my friends to go someplace, I would have never gone to the World Cup.

Maynard: Yeah. So it sounds like travel is an adventure and that there’s both anxiety and excitement. But additionally, it sounds like you’re better off for traveling than missing it and sitting it out.  

Gregory: Yeah. I must travel–getting out of Los Angeles, getting out of California, it helps you. You just see a different thing and you just leave your American stuff, your California stuff, at home and just try to flow with the locals.

Maynard: That’s an interesting phrase, “leave the American stuff at home.” Because I think being “African-Americans” and black gay men, we were so used to that hyphen, that sense that like, you know, we’re working so hard to be considered American or just to be considered to be people. And when we travel, it sounds like we leave this essential need to perform that comes with Americanness on the other side of the Atlantic, or on the other side of Pacific. Wherever we’re going. 

Gregory: Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. And we do. And it’s also for us to be accepted to be like, one of them. So when we go someplace we leave, many times we just have to leave our Americanism at home and just go someplace and see what the culture is. It’s not their fault that you don’t speak Spanish, it’s not their fault you don’t handle euros, it’s not their fault you don’t have your Perrier water. We just have to get accustomed to it.  Yeah, we got the best passport in the world, but that doesn’t mean our American sh*t don’t stink.

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