“Drag Stars at Sea” sounds like pretty much the greatest cruise adventure ever; a solid week of hanging out with stars from the hit RuPaul’s Drag Race, watching performances, and feeling safe in a space dedicated to drag culture. In fact, the cruise was such a popular idea that the travel firm responsible for organizing it, AlandChuckTravel, had to make arrangements for a bigger boat.
However, ticketholders got a nasty surprise on Monday morning in the form of a communique from Carnival Cruises informing cruisegoers that they wouldn’t be allowed to dress in drag on board; only the performers would be, and they would be limited to the performance venue.
These functions will be private and only the performers are permitted to dress in drag while in the theater. Guests are not allowed to dress in drag for the performances or in public areas at any time during the cruise.
Carnival said this was for the “comfort of guests,” despite the fact that the event was specifically organized by and for the gay community. AlandChuckTravel drove the knife in with a response to angered customers wondering why their vacations were being ruined by explaining that this was about “security.” Since obviously wearing a sequined ballgown would have been a threat to the safety and security of the ship and other passengers on board.
LGBQT tourism dollars are a growing share of the market, and events geared specifically towards members of the community are especially popular in an era where being a member of the LGBQT community is safer than it used to be, but still not always easy. An event like a drag cruise where passengers can be assured that they are among friends would obviously be an appealing way to spend a vacation, and part of the appeal would be a chance to prepare costumes, dress in drag, swap tips and enjoy the company of fellow drag queens and kings.
The fact that Carnival abruptly claimed passengers would be “disembarked at their own expense” and not given a refund if they chose to wear drag so shortly before the event was scheduled was astounding. What was more disturbing was the reaction from the gay travel agency that put together the cruise; it suggested that this was about security when it was very blatantly about anti-gay bigotry. Furthermore, the announcement from the travel agency conflated the transgender/transsexual community and the drag community with a statement assuring trans cruisegoers that their identities would be respected. The fact that someone felt it was necessary to state this implies a classic assumption about transgender women, that they are merely “men in dresses” and not “real women.”
Many ticketholders were understandably furious, as were some of the stars scheduled to perform. Carnival could have set itself up for what Michelle Visage called a “Stonewall at sea.” If you couldn’t express yourself and your identity openly among a crowd of fellow members of your community on a cruise you paid for that was organized by a supposedly gay-friendly travel agency, where exactly could you be who you are?
Fortunately, Carnival recognized the error of its ways on Tuesday afternoon, rescinding the drag ban. The company claims it didn’t fully understand the nature of the cruise, although this is a bit dubious. But, to Carnival’s credit, the company pledged to refund cruise fares along with nonrefundable travel expenses to anyone who wished to cancel in light of the incident.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley
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