Dip Me in Honey and Throw Me to the Lesbians
So went the saying on a popular lapel button back when I was a babydyke.* (There was another variant saying “Throw me in chocolate¦” — I actually think that would be my choice. Mmmm, phenethylamine!) And while this vision of lickability is not what the Olivia cruise is designed to be all about (for that, we now have the Sqweel), there is something downright delectable about spending a week in the company of 15 hundred-some women, sailing one of the seven seas on a beautiful ship. I’ve had the rare privilege of doing this not once but twice lately, as Good Vibes worked out a fabulous arrangement with Olivia to send a couple of us on their trips to give talks and add to the already pretty stunning level of fun/inspirational/useful programming the cruise offers its lady mariners.
So while I regaled roughly 10% of the crowd with information about sex toys, cruisers also had the option of waiting for towel-folding lessons (make adorable animals just like our towel-talented cabin stewards!), cooking classes, movie screenings, shore excursions by the dozen, and at least two shows every night in the lovely and capacious Showroom at Sea, a professional-quality theatre that hosts lesbian comedians and musicians each night of the trip.
Olivia has been sailing for twenty years now — the trip from which Jamie and I just returned was its anniversary celebration — though the company itself is older than that by some 17 years. Originally founded as a record label and production company to promote lesbian music (and I was a proud owner of pretty much all of their records, at one point), it was THE cultural touchstone for “women-lovin’-women” in the 1970s. So imagine my surprise** (and delight) to find that on this cruise, one of the stars (and co-founders) of Olivia Records would be performing: Meg Christian!
I am not positive what year I last saw Meg perform: possibly the early 1980s. But I do know that I first saw her in 1974, back when her iconic hit was “Ode to a Gym Teacher.”
(“She was a big tough woman / The first to come along / Who showed me being female meant you still could be strong / And though graduation meant that we had to part / She’ll always be a player on the ballfield of my heart.” Awww!)
I know I’m not the only person who remembers “Ode to a Gym Teacher,” because the old dykes on the cruise yelled out for it when Meg did her show! But she didn’t play it, nor did she do MY personal favorite, her queering of “Sherry Baby” (“Won’t you come out tonight?”). Damn, I went wild for that in 1974! Pre-dating by better than a decade my later interest in postmodernism, I guess.
But Meg does not much live in the past, apparently. She retired from performing in 1984, except for these special Olivia appearances, to devote herself to Siddha Yoga via work with the SYDA Foundation. Her later music, especially, was spiritual and searching both musically and lyrically — I have been humming the sweet strains of “Road I Took to You” and “Turning It Over” ever since seeing her on the ship — and it was really moving to hear my old favorites again and hear her talk about them. So moving that I ran into the lounge afterwards and emailed my girlfriend from Auld Lang Syne, or, as it’s also known, 1979. It was the eve of ex-GF’s birthday, anyway, so I owed her one. And I had the opportunity a couple of days later to see Meg in person and thank her for the music. She was a gracious grey spiky-haired pixie close-up, just as cute as ever, but WAY more centered — yoga just does that for people who really embrace the path, I think.
That was the flashback, but most of the culture on board was much more contemporary. Insanely funny Olivia favorite Vickie Shaw is a sugar-sweet Southern blonde beauty, a you’d-never-guess-she’s-a-grandma who had her kids when she was still a church-goin’ Southern Baptist wife, and may I just say that if she was this funny as a lady SoB (as she likes to put it), it’s no damn wonder she and they parted ways. Her routine about her little bitty daughter making family collages at school and depicting her as a wine bottle had me howling. She’s also the MC of cruise fave the “Oldywed/Newlywed Game,” where three couples of short-to-longtime duration answer personal questions and much hilarity ensues.
And the funniness didn’t stop there — though the San Franciscan in me cringed at some of the laughs when LA comic Julie Goldman took on the topic of trans-guys, some of her other bits knocked me out. If I’m ever lucky enough to cruise with her again, I will surely volunteer to get up on stage and be the object of her lesbian folk music serenade — though I’ll be in danger of falling off the stool. You can see Julie on Logo, I understand, so just set your DVR if her name pops up and hope she sings that song.
Who else? The Indigo Girls! That’s right, though we sailed away late the first night so they could perform and be on their way to some other town who needed them. Karen Williams, the most whipsmart comic I’ve seen in ages — and she brought her mom on the ship! The wonderful Julie Wolf; comic Dana Goldberg; jazz singer Suede; and Leisha Hailey of The L Word.
And the plentiful, yummy food! And the shore excursions! Women trooped off the ship at Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, and Costa Maya to have adventures: zip lines, ruins, kayaks, nature walks, dolphin-kissing, beachside bars. And did I mention the beautiful ship, the MS Ryndam? Its chatty Dutch captain got on the PA system every afternoon to tell us all details about how many knots we were traveling and what kind of newfangled equipment the ship had to keep us off sandbars and stuff, although I believe his degree of specificity may only have been appreciated by the butches. But the ship itself was an important element of my pleasure in the trip. I’m a sucker for its displays of antiques from the East India Company era, and I spent most of my free time in the cushy internet lounge, outlining a new book. I stayed on board this time so I could do this; it was the most productive span of time I’ve had in a while, and the new project would be only a twinkle in my eye if it weren’t for Olivia!
Speaking of projects, the wonderful Jenny Block was on board, who visited both Good Vibes and the Center for Sex & Culture when her Lambda Literary Award-winning book Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage came out. She’s been writing all over the place, and was covering the cruise (with her charming girlfriend Jemma) for Curve magazine — and maybe Fox on Sex, too! Throw in HuffPo and you have a truly well-rounded writer. We put our heads together about a possible book she and I might edit together. Fingers crossed!
The Olivia staff kept all this amazing busy-ness going every day of the seven-day cruise, so that, in spite of how demented it might have felt behind the scenes, Olivia’s capable and charismatic cruise director Tisha Floratos and her great staff made it look easy and made the space for everyone else to feel relaxed. Olivia prez Judy Dlugacz was on board and met multiple times with women interested in the company’s future projects, since she is still in charge, apparently, of the lion’s share of potential lesbian happiness. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she went out and founded a town.
And every day or two we’d go on the clock, my Good Vibes colleague Jamie and I. We unpacked stuff for the ship’s boutique to sell — yes, sexy stuff, for those gals who’d left their vibrators at home! I gave talks — about sex toys, menopause, erotic writing — and we put all the toys on a table in the disco for a PJs and Pleasure Party (some of the ladies really represented with cute jammies). And the final evening we had a very special event planned: Olivia’s first-ever showing of an erotic movie! Not all the gals of Olivia were likely to want to avail themselves of this, but some women had been waiting all week for it. Alas, it was porn-meets-the Keystone Kops, because the ship’s AV guy turned it on early (before we were even at the theatre to introduce it), locked up the AV booth, and split! Not only was I at a loss to give my little speech contextualizing it, it didn’t take long for the picture to freeze up. And that made the gathered crowd act like disappointed theatre-goers everywhere, making shadow puppets on the screen and shouting amusing bon mots. Sigh. It was supposed to be a frisky love-fest, but that will have to wait for another day.
Still, despite the disappointment, I slept like a mermaid, rocked on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico as we sailed back to Florida. I’d been privileged to enjoy a secret world of adventurous and very special women, a place where gals who sometimes don’t have many places to let down their hair could relax and be themselves. Just as back in the day, Olivia spread the word about woman-centric life and love through music, now the experience of making community together on a ship exposed all of us to the diversity among lesbians (and at least a few bisexuals). I was grateful for the flashback — and the flash-forward to a time when women-loving-women, no matter where they come from, can feel safe and free.
*Yes, I was once a babydyke. Though I was in fact always actually bisexual, this was once against the law in the lesbian community and you could not find a girlfriend to save your freakin’ life if you were bi; so I suppressed the fella-focused part of my sexuality just like a Republican legislator would, and found a wonderful girlfriend. How this all worked out is detailed in my PoMoSexuals essay.
**Yes, I know “Imagine My Surprise” was not an Olivia album. It was Holly Near’s coming-out anthem on her own label, Redwood Records. But it WAS iconic ’70s womyn’s music nonetheless.