Open Seas and Open Minds

By Haven Caylor

Originally published on Advocate.com June 24 2011 1:20 PM ET

We were headed to our first cruise as a family. We were on time, but the flight was delayed. It was July 2009, and our babies were 9 months old. Ray and I felt like pack mules making our way on the historic Oregon Trail. We had cans of formula, bottles, baby food, diapers and all the diapering accoutrements. What was this nine-hour plane ride from Atlanta to Anchorage, Alaska going to hold? We weren’t sure, but the end goal was a seven-day journey through Alaska’s Inner Passage, and we were excited.

On the plane, Carter, my son, was sitting with Ray, my husband, and Ammon, my daughter, was sitting with me. Then a very kind, beautiful, and petite lady sat immediately to my right.

The lady, whom I found out was Leslie, and I  began a polite conversation about her own children and her grandchildren. Leslie introduced me to her husband, George. They were so kind, with an obvious love for children, and soon it became evident that Leslie was enamored with Ammon. It was also a few minutes into conversing that I found out we were all headed to the same cruise.

After several hours of chatting and me avoiding Carter and Ammon’s in-vitro/surrogate/half sibling story (please see my Christmas article, Gray Christmas, with the Advocate from last December), my defenses came down.  If Leslie did not appreciate our story, was offended by it, or thought I was a condemned sinner, then I would just have to spend the next seven hours with a cold, right shoulder and no adult conversation.

I simply stated, “Ray and I are a same-sex couple, and Ammon and Carter are our children.” Their unique story followed. Never once did Leslie flinch, scowl, or make a grimace. She never knew it, but inside my mind, heart, and soul, I was saying, “Thank you, God.”

She spoke to me like I was any other father or husband, and she helped me with Ammon. And if I hadn't so frequently had the same welcoming experience, I might not believe it had something to do with cruising. But there's something open minded about the open seas.

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We became lasting friends with Helen, for example, on a Mediterranean tour.  In November of 2009 and during our first port of call, the family and I were on an excursion in and around Dubrovnik, Croatia. On the tour bus, I could hear Carter and Ray engaged in a conversation with a kind, older lady with an Australian accent. When we exited the bus for a tour of a gorgeous grinding mill on a quaint, crystal-clear river, the lady greeted me, and gave Ammon a pat on her back. As the lady walked away, Ray began to quickly explain how open and affirming she was, and that she had a gay nephew whom she loved and adored and had no qualms that God had made him born that way.

During that cruise we found ourselves on another two excursions with Helen.  During a visit in Malaga, Spain, Ammon sat with Helen, snuggled with her, and fell asleep in her arms. That same day we who were on the tour separated for a few minutes in Malaga’s renaissance cathedral, and Helen, Carter, and I found ourselves alone. Helen used the moment to say how proud she was of Ray and me for being dedicated to each other and to our children. I began to well up with tears because here I was with an almost near stranger who loved me, supported me, and loved and supported my children. The remainder of the journey we spent more time with Helen, and we parted ways in Lisbon, Portugal. To this day, we enjoy sending emails and pictures to Helen, and we look forward to visiting her in Australia. 

The cruise we just took around the southern tip of South America during February of 2011 was no exception in encountering open seas and open minds. We met three incredible couples: Mike and Sheila, Peter and Cheryl and Bob and Marilyn.  Each couple was unique and loving, and they accepted us for who we are. No matter where we were on the ship, if Mike and Sheila could see Carter and Ammon, they would seek them out and chat. Australians Peter and Cheryl loved watching Ammon and Carter. From the beginning of our trip in Santiago, Chile, we had seen this couple but did not converse until after 10 days into the trip. When we did, it was instant friendship. Bob and Marilyn shared stories about their children and grandchildren. Marilyn also confided in me that one of her two sons was gay, and that she thinks he has found “the right guy.”

One of our most profound encounters was with a woman from whom we never got a name, and never exchanged emails. It was January 2010, and the family and I were on a cruise in the Southern Caribbean. We found ourselves on a “pirate” ship on a tour in St. Lucia.

As I strolled with Ammon near the upper deck of the pirate ship, a lady asked, “How old is she?”

I responded with, “She and her brother are 15 months old!”

With a grin and in a surprised tone she inquired, “So, they are twins? Was it hard to adopt twins?” I smiled because with those words, I knew she had analyzed the situation, and she knew that Ray, Ammon, Carter, and I were a family.

I then gave a 5-minute synopsis of our family situation. She kept grinning and nodding.

“I need to hear these things so I can share with my son who is gay.”

“Oh, really?” I interjected.

She continued, “He was in his early 20s when he came out to me. I kissed him, and I said,  ‘You know I love you no matter what, and I accept you for who you are; however, I want to be a grandmother! How is this going to happen?” In a giddy voice she finished, “I cannot wait to tell him your story. I want to be a grandmother soon.”

It was such a golden and affirming moment for us, as are all our cruises.