By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
3pm: It’s my third full day on the island, and I’m a good half mile away from the shore, treading water, basking in the buoyant, warm waters of Oahu. I haven’t spent so much time swimming in years—I’ve spent the last several years actively avoiding bodies of water, worried my wildly average body (and below-average swimming skills) won’t measure up to my peers’ lithe, toned frames at Rooster Rock or on the banks of the Washougal River. No one wants to be the person on the sand everyone’s eyeing for all the wrong reasons. Put some clothes on, sir. Some way, somehow, though, Waikiki—more specifically, Queens Beach—has eased my inhibitions and I’ve shed all semblances of shame; I’m in tiny, short swim trunks and I’m madly in love with an island.
10am: Earlier that day, my friend Ingrid and I rent a car and drive up to the North Shore, a magical land of tasty, fresh grilled shrimps, breathtakingly handsome gentlemen who spend their days surfing, and the most stunning ocean waves I’ve gazed upon. The map Enterprise gave us is useless; it lacks more than half the island’s major landmarks—and we can’t pronounce the street names anyway. After Diamond Head, we wing it. “Just head north,” a new beach friend advised us. “You’ll get there eventually.” Ingrid and I are unhinged control freaks, so a plan like that normally might mean disaster. But we leisurely make our way up the coast, taking in local sights like we’re a pair of Anthony Bourdains. We survey eerie church ruins and its graffiti. The small towns and villages dotting Oahu’s coastline are filled with huge signs: “Stop development now.” “No more hotels.”
4pm: The gays who camp out on Queens Beach are by far the friendliest in Waikiki, more than making up for the local poke shop owner who threw us out of her store, declaring, “Not for sale, not for you.” (Kapahulu Stop & Shop.) Otherwise, we’re hard-pressed to find a single person who’s unpleasant (and we’re making the rounds, eating our third macaroni salad lunch at the Rainbow Drive-In). Save for one do-gooding soccer mom, who loudly objects to my Butt Magazine beach towel. “Is that a penis?! My daughter! Her eyes!” Also, a scantily clad spring breaker calls me out for parading around in immodest swim trunks. “You’re wearing a bikini, and you’re on the gay beach,” I tell her. “We invented sensuality.” The best part of Queens Beach is the old gay guard—retired men and women who have seen some things and lived every moment of the queer history we only hear stories about. I’m back out in the water, feeling the sun singeing my delicate skin, when Lee, who’s all blonde hair and cobalt blue eyes, swims my way. “You and your friend are fun; you should keep hanging out with us.”
1am: It’s the night prior, and I’ve already spent way too much money at Hula’s, which at this moment is my favorite bar on the planet. Do not, for any reason, peruse your credit card statement post-vacation, lest you see an exorbitant number of charges at this place, the bar where every beautiful bartender convinces you he loves you. If I tip him well, I think, surely he’ll slip me his number. (The only slips I got were copies of my receipt.) The thing about these queer watering holes—and it really applies to every single one in Honolulu—everyone is so kind: Patrons, bartenders, you name it. Sure, there are the catty cliques, but most everyone—from the foxiest daddy bear to the youngest twink to the crankiest dyke shooting pool—is a stellar conversationalist. And it’s not just small talk.
5pm: Lee, Ingrid, and I get out of the ocean; we don’t towel off because the sun dries you in three minutes. We amble up the beach and onto the cool grass of the infamous park that’s beach adjacent—a café is a few yards away; cooks grill all manner of meat and vegetable. Queers are littered about the park, drinking white wine spritzers in plastic cups, careful to hide them from nosy passers-by or lifeguards who strut down to man their station on the beach. I talk to Lee’s partner, Rob, a retired firefighter from Boston who looks like he could headline Lumbertwink. Bruce, a white-bearded snowbird from Alaska who insists you refer to him as “His Bruceness,” chimes in. His exuberance and faggotry rival my own.
There are others, of course, and this gang of gays—the “Vintage Queens”—have spent countless years here together. They’re encyclopedias—they’ve got stories about heydays in NYC, SF, LA, and the era when Queens Beach was more like Pride in Provincetown. (Gentrification tames us everywhere, doesn’t it?) They look like—and I say this affectionately—an evolved version of The Village People. “I live for these tourists who stare me down and whisper to their friends,” one tells me. “I’ve lived. I’ll wear what I want and act how I want.” These men are also married to the kind of sexy speedo I’m learning to love.
7pm: I ask “His Bruceness” how they coordinate these daily outings. “We don’t,” he says. “We just come when we come—and we know we’ll see each other at some point.” The sun starts to set, and the Queens are retiring to their homes. Ingrid and I head back to Hula’s, because it’s our favorite haunt. Hula’s, then Bacchus, Allie McQueen’s drag show, late night snacks—and I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.
As for my friends: I can’t wait to grow old with them, to become our own gang.
Much more Oahu to come next month. (Romance!) Daniel@PQMonthly.com