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All Hail the Queen

Living luxe aboard the Queen Mary 2’s first-ever all-gay transatlantic crossing.
By Chandler Burr
Photo provided by Cunard

But the revelation of the trip was the duo Amy and Freddy. Amy Armstrong is a 6’ big girl from Chicago with short red hair, a jaw-dropping capacity for martinis, a serious soft-serve ice cream habit, a mouth like the whore of Babylon, the voice
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of an angel, and talent to burn like rocket fuel. Accompanied, as she has been for 12 years by pianist Freddy Alan (who just married his boyfriend), she ripped out our hearts with ballads like “Grateful” and made us roar with “Pussy” (it’s a sing-along). Armstrong is blisteringly fast on her feet, a brilliant comedienne, and a consummate professional: Here is the next Bette Midler. She asked if there were any single bitches in the audience, and when I raised my hand she made me stand up and put me through my paces with both sardonic speed (“So Chandler, you a top or a bottom?” I’m versatile. “Big bottom here, guys!”) and pure love (“Honey, you’ll find someone—you will!”). She played off the straight hot young waiter delivering drinks around her. “Soren!” she yelled over to him, “How do you say, ‘I love your big cock’ in Romanian?” He laughed and refused to say. There was a young Czech woman behind the bar who made the drinks Soren served. “You single, Sylvia?” asked Amy. “You think Soren’s hot?” “I have a husband,” said Sylvia. “And a boyfriend!” shot back a Hungarian waiter. We yelled and stomped our feet for the boyfriend.

There were a few problems. At tea in the giant Queen’s Room, Cunard served whipped cream instead of clotted cream and shockingly cheap jelly instead of real fruit jam, strange mistakes from this high-Brit company. But the worst error was RSVP’s decision to enlarge the smoking areas. Instead of restricting it to a single smoking lounge, almost the entire ship stank of cigarette smoke, one or two smokers infected performance spaces, bars, and parties with their toxic exhaust, and it was a mistake that created constant, nasty low-level warfare. Complaints finally got the nicotine addicts banned from at least a few public spaces, but the smoking policy was a disaster. People were saying they would never again book a cruise without checking on it.

The rest, on the other hand, was magical. The essence of a gay cruise is the people. RSVP established the context and the atmosphere, made sure the ship was so gay she could barely float, and unleashed us into this fantasyland, and for six days we left reality. We wore insane hats to the traditional Cunard hat party; the winners were two guys who wore 3’-long papier maché replicas of the Queen Mary 2 on their heads, but I liked the high-concept huge black Barneys hat box with the feather hat exploding out of it. And then there was the Count (he swore he was a Count; he became known as Lestat), 6’4” with the stiletto goatee and the head-to-toe black leather who wore a hat with a chandelier in it.

We responded with fervor. For the Troop Transport Party (“Dress: Uniform”), a short beefy guy in starched full Marines get-up waited for drinks behind a big blond in a Navy surplus aviator jumpsuit, who was behind a circuit queen in a skin-tight “Go Army!” T-shirt and molded mesh camouflage underwear. (I stopped a guy in an amazing uniform, a bleeding cross on the back of his black jacket that sported Death’s Head epaulets. Was it from New Orleans Mardi Gras? “I don’t know,” he said brightly, “I got it at Saks!”). At the Leather Party, straight Cunard officers and crew from Russia and the Philippines bought drinks and chatted with queens in leather halters and pierced nipples. The good-looking straight waiters (I’m thinking of one tall Czech kid with thick dark hair and a smile that could cause traffic accidents) who at first seemed wary of the requests—“Can we take a picture with you?”—by the end of the week were posing like pros. On formal evenings, everyone put on tuxedos and immaculate dark suits, and we looked like a movie set.


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