"Flight crew, prepare the doors." Never again will those words instill pangs of fear in my land-loving heart. Forget the requisite pre-boarding beer and the buy-it-or-I-die People magazine. I've discovered the best way to fly these days is to come out, come out, come out. Wear your lavender lust on your sleeve and ensure that your pride pokes out wherever it can. Scream queer and you'll never have to think about takeoffs, landings and midair collisions again. You'll be so busy embroiled in mile-high conversations that you'll wonder how it's possible that the captain is already beginning his descent.
About a year ago, I'm on a crowded flight to L.A., still wearing my Pride Day temporary tattoos and rainbow bead necklace. Instead of being with my Travelling Companion, I sadly find myself seated beside a straight-looking young woman. She's eyeing my People magazine with obvious envy. We trade the usual questions: I'm going on holiday, she's returning home.
At this point, my mind is still taken up with determining whether the concern on the flight attendant's face is because they're short a vegetarian meal or she's just found out from the captain that there's something wrong with the landing gear.
"Can I ask you a question?" Young Straight Woman leans in a little closer. "Have you always known?"
"Known?" I think I know what she's referring to but want it clarified in her own words.
"You know, that you were into girls."
Well, I figure, what the hell - it'll pass the time and take my mind off our impending crash. I bare my soul short-form and notice that neither of us seems too interested in the headsets we've just been handed.
"Can I ask you another question?" She doesn't really give me time to answer. She's already launched into it. "Do you know any trans people?"
Of course, I do know a number of trans people, friends and acquaintances who have challenged, questioned, played with and altered gender roles, who have lived as women, as men, as boy-women and girl-men, who have transformed their bodies and transitioned their relationships, who have journeyed and awakened and everything in between. But where to begin with Straight Young Woman here?
I figure she's uncomfortable dealing with someone at work who's M-to-F, so I launch into my trans-awareness 101, insisting on the reality of transphobia, relaying a story I'd heard of an M-to-F in California who was left to die on the street when paramedics discovered she had a penis.
Full of a self-righteous, justice-seeking desire to adjust her attitude, I look over at her. She appears unmoved by my passion.
"My boyfriend is F-to-M, " she says.
Wow! Really? We go on to spend hours talking about her and her boyfriend. How they met, how they fell in love. We end up sharing intimate details of our sex life, hers and then mine. It just happens. She's great at conversation, open-minded and curious. She's trying to figure out what it means for her as a straight woman to be in love with a man who was born female. She's looking for answers. Somehow it all comes down to sex. I'm telling her things about my sexuality, how the girl/boy thing plays into it for me.
She says, "You know what's really funny? I just realized that we both know how the other gets off but we don't know each other's names."
It's true. Here we are, way up above the clouds, engrossed in each other's lives, two strangers who barely know each other, joined in queer revelations. There are butterflies in my stomach and my ears are popping. It's not the conversation - we're landing. We barely have time to exchange numbers and e-mails when we're grabbing our carry-ons and thanking our flight crew for a very pleasant trip.
On the way back, San Francisco to Toronto, I'm probably even more out because this time I get to sit beside my Travelling Companion. We're enjoying the relatively uncrowded flight, thinking the window seat beside us might not get taken, when in walks California Girl.
California Girl - you know what I mean. She is trying to fit her surfboard into the overhead compartment that everyone else uses for luggage. She is perky, wide-eyed and super-friendly. Even my pointed references to all things gay in San Francisco don't seem to put her off. On the contrary, she moves in closer and smiles even more brightly.
California Girl keeps the conversation going for all three of us as we settle into the trip home. She's speeding into the arms of her boyfriend. They been apart for six weeks. Sympathetic looks are exchanged all around - six weeks is a long time.
We're sitting in the first row behind first class, and scents wafting our way when the first-class travellers are offered cookies and ice cream are just too much to bear. "You ask her," we each say, meaning the ever-so-slightly dykey-looking flight attendant. "Ask her for a cookie." The task falls to California Girl, who does the deed with perfect panache, landing me a coveted chocolate chip cookie on a plate. California Girl and Travelling Companion both dig in. Talk about a pleasant flight.
The cookie done, the movie over, California Girl tells us she has a "proposition" for us. We whip off our headsets and turn toward her.
"Well, I was wondering," she began, "do you two know anywhere where well, my boyfriend and I had a fight, and it was my fault, and well, for my punishment, I have to get us a woman, you know, to be with, the three of us. So I was just wondering if you know where...."
Is California Girl actually saying this? I start to say that she's creeping me out when Travelling Companion shoots me one of those "don't even go there" looks.
The two of them chat animatedly. Travelling Companion suggests a number of ways California Girl might find a willing partner. The plane is landing, my head is spinning.
Once again, being out, queer and proud has made my flight a blast. Like I said, who needs People magazine and that pre-boarding beer? Just make sure you've got your rainbow stickers, your best haircut and a cute girl's hand in yours. The skies may be friendlier than you imagine.