Nearly every night on our walk, Lincoln and I pass a nice man who is heading in the opposite direction.
He and I say “hello” to one another.
“Hi, there. How are you doing? Have a good night.” The other evening, I said, “My name is Brian.” He replied, “Hi, Brian, I’m Ron. Nice to meet you.” I then did a quick word association so I wouldn’t forget his name. Now we say, “Hey, Ron. How’s it going?” “Hi, Brian. Things are good. Have a great night.”
I truly talk to anyone and everyone. I love feeling that I’m in this wonderful community where everyone feels welcome. I get the best feedback on my greeting from the people in the grocery store who are stacking shelves. The only time they usually get acknowledged is when someone needs help finding an item. It’s nice to just have someone say, “Good morning. How are you doing today?”
Twenty-five years ago, many of us enjoyed watching the movie, The Truman Show. The main character was Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, who lived in the town Seahaven.
“In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night,” he’d say to everyone he encountered.
My friends in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said I was Truman Burbank. Provincetown itself was a little like Seahaven. I’d go outside to cut the roses on the front door and go back into the house an hour and a half later. Ray didn’t bother to ask me what took so long. He knew that dozens of people we knew and didn’t know would walk or drive by the house and start a friendly conversation.
We used to own a home in Naples, Florida, for three years, but gave up on the town, despite its beauty, because we felt so alone. One day when I was in a fancy grocery store wearing a t-shirt with “Provincetown” on it, an older woman in the produce section took a look at my t-shirt and said, “Provincetown. I hate Provincetown.”
“Why?” I asked. She looked me up and down and said, “I’d rather not say.”
I wore the same t-shirt to a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, and a bunch of the waiters came to our table to tell us much they loved Provincetown. That was it. We soon moved across the state to feel more welcomed.
We lived for 16 years in a home we built in Fort Lauderdale and then downsized into a two-bedroom home in Wilton Manors. We love our home, our gardens, our location, our friends, and we’re just a few blocks to everything “Gay.” Food, dance, ice cream, candy, antiques.
Next to Provincetown, Wilton Manors has the second highest percentage of the population who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Both towns have been referred to as “Gayberry.” Remarkably, though, many of our friends, particularly the women, are leaving the Fort Lauderdale area and moving to Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s friendlier there,” they say. “But, with so many gay people here, how could Asheville feel friendlier than Wilton Manors?” I wondered.
I never stopped being Truman Burbank in Naples, Fort Lauderdale, and now in Wilton Manors. Ray is the same. We’re a happy couple. “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”
What feels a little off to me in Wilton Manors is that we get from strangers a much different response than we got in Provincetown. Now, it’s true that in the summertime, the majority of people at the tip of Cape Cod are there on vacation. Usually, people on vacation are in good spirits and want to be surrounded by other people in good spirits. They want to live in Gayberry for a week or two. So, when a stranger wishes them a happy day, they are more than likely to smile back and say something nice.
In Wilton Manors, I have found, people generally don’t stop and talk as they walk by with or without their dog. I’ve always found it sad that gay men will often walk past each other on the street, or on a cruise ship, or touring the pyramids, and say nothing. We know that each other is gay. We share similar stories of struggling to come out, and dealing with homophobic people. So, why don’t we say “Hi,” as we would if it was a family member by blood, as opposed to by fire?
People seemed more friendly during the COVID containment, even if we were more cautious of personal contact. Shared tragedy or shared joy makes it more likely that we’ll reach out and hug a stranger, but why does it take that to happen in order for us to feel connected? Why isn’t everyone saying to strangers on the street, “How are you doing?” “Nice to see you.” “Have a great night.” This is especially important to do if you sense the person isn’t feeling valued, such as lesbians or transgender people walking on Wilton Drive.
If you and I cross paths, expect me to say “hello.” I’m trying to create a world in which all feel safe, and in which it isn’t necessary to move to Asheville, North Carolina. Every place we live in can be a Seahaven or Gayberry. We just have to smile and say “Hello.”
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.” Brian has a weekly YouTube/FaceBook podcast called, “Are You Happy Without the Movie?” and McNaught's latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” is available now on Amazon for $14.99.