Key West has long been a gaycation hotspot offering sun, sand, sport and sex aplenty. The island is at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys and a strong Cuban influence in food, music, and architecture is evident. At roughly 6.4km long and 3.2km wide the island is easily explored and for the history buff there’s plenty to unearth considering its size with direct links to the Emancipation Proclamation, John Wilkes Booth, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. With average year round temperatures in the 20s centigrade it’s easy to see why clothing optional gay resorts started sprouting up and became so popular.
If you’ve never stayed at a men only, clothing optional resort then you’re missing out on an opportunity to soak up the sun and absorb a truly unique vacation. In my experience there’s a generational divide in appreciation for guesthouses like Island House in Key West, Florida. Those mature enough to have danced at a disco often embrace them wholeheartedly and enjoy the lively crowd, uninhibited meetings, and freedom to truly be oneself behind the safety and privacy of a fenced compound. The gay or ‘non-labeled’ man under the age of thirty largely just ‘doesn’t get it’ and often won’t even consider a gay guest house while planning a travel itinerary. With the advancement of equality has come the opportunity and trend to live a more open, integrated existence within society as a whole. This is not news for those of us living in big cities and witnessing the ongoing disintegration of our gay villages and ghettos.
Ageism is not a new phenomenon within our community and pretty young chickens sometimes fear grappling with the unwanted advances of aging wolves. Conversely older gay men may feel unwelcome at a gay event or out of the loop on how to relate to the new Florence & The Machine album. As I negotiate with my own silvering temples it’s appropriate to reflect on one of the tent poles of gay vacationing and how to navigate its future.
While visiting Island House, which has been touted as one of the best gay resorts in the world, I was pleasantly surprised to see a spectrum of ages in the clientele. There were young and hung hanging out by the pool, with mustaches and muscles lounging on the sun deck, displaying brains and brawn through erudite placement of open book resting on one thigh and hefty cock on the other. There were singles in the sauna, threesomes lending helping hands in the gym and a party atmosphere every afternoon for cocktails, which would spill out into an evening exploration of the clubs of Duval Street. I met guests who return a few times a year and after experiencing the friendly, laid back and resourceful staff I can understand why. My rooms were playful and tasteful in design, the menu was well-planned and delivered and there was no shortage of conversation or potential encounters.
I’d like to invite those of you who have not explored a gay resort like Island House to check your preconceived notions with your luggage and give it a whirl. It’s a piece of our history worth cultivating and sharing. After all where else can you proudly pursue your every naked ambition?
Sexual orientation may have become irrelevant in Key West, as gays and lesbians are valued contributors throughout the community, passionately applying their talents in a host of professions and activities. For decades they have been “openly” contributing as elected leaders, citizen volunteers on government boards, commissions and committees, business owners, law enforcement officials, doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, architects, educators, nonprofit board members and directors, performers in arts and cultural activities, philanthropists, parents, grandparents and neighbours – you name it – a true part of the fabric of the community. The social scene in Key West offers a blend of straight and gay entertainment, and lines blur easily as straight, gay and lesbian residents are entwined in the same social circles.
Key West has embraced this diversity with the city’s motto “One Human Family.” While true to this spirit, Island House is decidedly “Men Only” and offers a private clubhouse where boys can be boys.