RuPaul said in her autobiography, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag." Obviously AlandChuck.Travel and Carnival Cruise Lines never read her book. Nor do they understand the real problem in assessing what is drag and what is not drag in kicking patrons off a ship.
Yes, I am one of about 1,500 passengers who booked a ticket, along with my husband, aboard the AlandChuck.Travel "Drag Stars at Sea -- 2012 Caribbean Adventure -- Revenge of the Wench Cruise" to embark this Sunday, Dec. 2. We both saw it advertised on LogoTv's RuPaul's Drag Race in May, and my husband surprised me for my 40th birthday with tickets. Fun, right? Well, not so much now.
On Monday, Nov. 26, at 5:15 p.m. EST (six days prior to the cruise disembarking), I received an "Urgent Notice" in red font from Vicki Rey, Carnival Cruise's Vice President of Guest Services. The letter was presumably addressed to only AlandChuckTravel guests and said, "Greetings, Fun Seekers!" Yes, it was with an exclamation point. The first part of the email read pretty standard. But then the second half read:
Arrangements have been made for drag performances in the main theater featuring stars from LOGO TV. 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.
We're sorry to say that any guest who violates our policies and/or whose behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other guests, will be disembarked at their own expense and no refund will be given.
Thank you for your cooperation. Now that we've taken care of business... let the FUN begin!
Immediately I could not believe what I read. Each time I read the email, I got angrier that my vacation and birthday present was being turned into a nightmare. You will be kicked off the ship if your "behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other guests." What does she mean by that? After all, this cruise was sold to us by AlandChuck.Travel, an LGBT-owned company. Plus, it was billed as "drag at sea" with a "pirate" theme. I had my Johnny Depp-inspired Pirates of the Caribbean gender-bending outfit ready to go. I can only imagine what other passengers had spent months working on.
The AlandChuck.Travel Facebook page was inundated with expressions of similar feelings from other passengers. Up till then, the only communication we had received about attire was related to not wearing masks. About two hours after the Carnival letter, Al from AlandChuck.Travel decided to post a long diatribe that only made matters worse. Al explained that it is because of 9/11 that we cannot dress up in drag or costumes:
Carnival's "no costumes rule" is NOT meant to be an insult to the gay community. As a gay business, we would not have organized this cruise if they were prejudiced against gay people. This rule goes for both GAY and STRAIGHT passengers that travel on all Carnival cruises. It is in response to the post-9/11 world we live in. It is meant to protect passengers and guests -- NOT to marginalize a few.
Additionally, we know that transgendered members of our community will be aboard with us during this event. Please do not worry, Carnivals rule is not meant towards you. Your right to live your identity is always supported.
This is precisely why I am so angry. As an advocate for trans people, I am seriously concerned about how AlandChuck.Travel or Carnival Cruises will distinguish between those in drag and those who are not in drag. There is obvious complexity between transgender people, drag queens/entertainers and/or those who choose not to conform to a gender binary. I also recognize my own white, gay, cisgender privilege in sharing my thoughts.
Nevertheless, AlandChuck.Travel has proven reckless in their disregard for understanding the complexity of gender identity and gender expression in our LGB and T communities. This fiasco has demonstrated a real safety concern to all passengers even before getting on the ship. What will the threshold be for proving an individual's gender identity? And what about those individuals who don't have the appropriate identification with a sex marker, or don't conform to a gender binary of expression, for that matter? Vacation should not be a time where anyone feels excluded, marginalized, out of place or threatened with fear of being kicked off a ship for expressing who they are.
Al's message pretty much says it all when it concludes, "Ultimately, let's use this opportunity to set an example so that all the world can see that the GLBT community can follow rules and regulations just like everyone else."
This is simply abhorrent for any LGBT-owned company to say. AlandChuck.Travel and Carnival Cruises have an example to set here. RuPaul should speak out immediately against this. After all, this is her reputation on the line.
So far, Sharon Needles, the winner of Season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race, posted this on Facebook:
This letter was sent to all of the vacationers who are embarking on the Drag Stars at Sea Cruise, and it is COMPLETELY against my values... and hopefully everyone else's as well... before drag race, nothing was more exciting to me than dressing up and watching my idols perform. I love that my fans dress up at my shows, FREAKS STAND UP! YOU ARE BORN NAKED AND THE REST IS DRAG!!
Set an example, AlandChuck.Travel and Carnival Cruises. You owe all your passengers an apology and the opportunity for a full refund. You have misled all of us with false advertising, poor communication and the gross mishandling of our LGBT vacation dollars.
You have lost our business. Sashay away!
UPDATE 1: An earlier version of this post implicated Logo TV along with AlandChuck.Travel and Carnival Cruise Lines. Logo TV has issued the following statement: "This is not a Logo TV sponsored event and we have not been involved in the organization or planning of the cruise." The post has been updated accordingly.
UPDATE 2: Carnival Cruise Lines appears to have reversed its position and will now be permitting guests to dress in drag on the Dec. 2, 2012, voyage. Below are the contents of a letter from Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill that is being sent to all guests booked on the Carnival Glory's Dec. 2, 2012, voyage and being posted in social media.
Within the last 24 hours, we became aware of a miscommunication between Carnival Cruise Lines and AlandChuck.travel, who have booked a large special interest group on the upcoming Carnival Glory cruise departing December 2, 2012.
The group, "Drag Stars at Sea," includes several performances by stars from Logo TV as part of a series of private events onboard. When the group was presented to us we were advised that only the performers would be dressed in drag during the private events. However, we are now aware that this was not clearly communicated to members of the group and therefore anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so. Please keep in mind that our safety and security procedures require guests to present government-issued ID, and to be recognizably that person.
At Carnival, we are proud to carry more than 4.5 million guests every year and we welcome them all aboard. We do not practice any form of discrimination against the LGBT or any other community. We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication and for any unintended offense we have caused.
Given this misunderstanding, anyone on this cruise who wishes to cancel for any reason may do so and will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel related expenses.
We constantly strive to provide our guests with a fun and memorable vacation. We look forward to welcoming everyone onboard Carnival Glory and again want to apologize for the misunderstanding and for any offense we have caused.
President and CEO
Carnival Cruise Lines
Follow Shane L. Windmeyer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ShaneWindmeyer