I was working on the cruise ship “SS Dolphin IV” in 1997 as an Assistant Purser. I was new, as were three women who also joined the ship at the same time. One of these was Maisie. She was British, slightly short at about five feet something, blond hair, with a happy smile. She was friendly and together with the two other women, the four of us got on well.
Working on a cruise ship means uniforms, food and living expenses are all free. It also means lots of time getting to know other crewmembers, who all live in cabins below decks on the ship. Friendships and relationships start and finish quickly, as different crewmembers commence and conclude their different work contracts at different times. In addition, there were plenty of opportunities for parties and fun, whether below decks with other staff or in public with the paying passengers.
After some months of working onboard, I began to realise that things were not always happy for Maisie. There were times when she felt down and depressed and would disappear at night. Later she would be found drunk somewhere.
One night, one of the other women was talking to me in her cabin about Maisie, saying that sometimes Maisie would hit on female passengers when drunk and be kissing them later.
“Is she a lesbian?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” answered the woman. “She used to have a boyfriend back in the UK. I think she could be bisexual.”
“Hmmm, interesting,” I remarked. “She usually looks happy when I see her. Do you think she likes being bisexual?”
“I’m not sure. She gets really down sometimes. She might be bipolar, I reckon.”
“It means manic-depressive. Sometimes she’s really up and other times she’s really down. I’m not really sure, though – I’m not an expert. Maybe she’s just a normal depressed person who just gets hit with the blues really badly a lot. The thing is, it’s when she’s depressed that she gets drunk and goes out hitting on people. She’ll hit on men and women, whatever.”
“I’ve never seen her like that,” I said.
The woman smiled. “That’s because you’re a good boy, Olly. You drink but you don’t stay out really late. Crazy junk happens onboard here around 3am.”
“Hmmm! 3am is too early or too late for everything, I think!”
“Haha, yeah, right,” she laughed.
It was maybe a couple of months later that the woman I had been talking to came into the Pursers’ Office early, before opening time. I was there, with a couple of guys, three or four Filipinas and her. Maisie hadn’t shown up yet.
“Maisie slept with three men last night,” the woman announced dramatically.
“Wow!” exclaimed one of the Filipinas. “What happened? Why?”
“She got some bad news from home in the UK, I think. Its sounds like her family’s a pain in neck, apparently. Anyway, Maisie got really depressed about it and went out really early to the bar, about 6pm. I started drinking cocktails and when I went up there to do the bingo around eight, she looked really drunk. After I came back to the office and put the bingo stuff away, I went back upstairs and I saw her chatting up one male passenger. I caught up with her around nine thirty or ten and she said she slept with him.”
“Hmmm!” said the Filipina. “What’s up?”
“Yeah, so then I went downstairs for dinner late in the Staff Mess and, as I walked past the Crew Mess, she was in there talking to one of the Latino guys – that bartender guy who’s kind of handsome.”
“Ah, really?” said another woman. “He’s nice.”
“Yeah, well, things looked hot and heavy by the time I came back from dinner and they were heading back to her cabin, so I think he saw some action, too.”
“Wow,” said another Filipina.
“Then after my boyfriend showed up at my cabin late, we thought it would be fun to see what was going on down in the disco. I saw her in the DJ booth making out with that crazy Colombian DJ guy.”
“Oh, yeah! He’s fun!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, well, she went back to his cabin and spent the night there, so she probably did him, too.”
“Hmmm, what’s going on?” said the first Filipina. “She was really sad, huh?”
Later that day, Maisie appeared in the office at around 12 midday to begin her shift. She and the woman who told the story spoke together in the back office for around 45 minutes before the passengers on the front desk thinned out enough for me to see what was going on.
I entered the back office and only Maisie was there. What should I say? I began shyly, “I heard about last night…”
“Well, stuff happens.”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure you had your reasons.”
“I’m just screwed up.”
“It’s OK.” I was curious, though. “Was it fun? I mean, did it feel nice, anyway?”
Maisie smiled. “Sometimes I get down and I drink. The alcohol makes me less inhibited. I don’t have to worry or stress out. The pain’s still there, though and it hurts. I just wanted to take the pain away. Sex does that for me. Last night, I needed more than normal.” She frowned. “That’s all.”
“I can understand,” I replied. I smiled and she smiled back.
Yes, I understood, all right. After all, I had spent most of my life trying to escape the pain and suffering inflicted by my father, then later, the teasing and bullying dealt out by the boys at school. As a result, I had grown up straight, with a love for women that could rival a lesbian’s. In addition I had met actual lesbians with similar dreadful tales of suffering at the hands of men and boys.
That night, it occurred to me the opposite could also happen. I daresay there were plenty of gay guys who could have suffered at the hands of women and girls and thus grown up with an overwhelming desire for men.
So what about bisexuals, then? They must have got double trouble. Maybe men, women, boys and girls – all of them were mean and horrible to them. So then that person would have grown up having intense desire for anyone, anytime, any place, anywhere. Their attraction would be for everyone. I guess that would make sense, right?
The pain was terrible for all of them. I was familiar with it. What is a straight guy but a lesbian with different equipment? The pain would be the same, no matter what. It was a sharp, intensely uncomfortable, stabbing feeling, usually somewhere below the ribs, yet above the stomach.I could understand how sex could take it away and Maisie could feel special for a fleeting moment as the pain disappeared, only to return later when things were normal.
My understanding of LGBT people was improving and I felt happy to gain this awareness. The secret sense of belonging was comfortable to me – and Maisie was a kindred spirit.