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Traveling coast to coast as a same-sex couple is a balancing act

While I learned that I couldn't judge people based solely on their license plates, anti-LGBTQ hate stopped me from feeling comfortable with kissing my wife in public.
Kim Kelly Stamp (left) with her wife at Yosemite National Park.
Kim Kelly Stamp (left) with her wife at Yosemite National Park.Courtesy Kim Kelly Stamp

My wife and I are fortunate enough to travel around the country in our 21-foot teardrop trailer. Midway through 2021, we decided to retire early (I was 62, and she was 59) and fulfill our dream of living a nomadic and unencumbered life.

We sold our home in Olympia, Washington, in the fall of 2021 and hit the road. While there are many benefits to living like nomads and traveling back and forth across the U.S., we were leery when we began our first cross-country trip.

I’ve realized the foolishness of judging people based on their license plates. We’ve been surprised to find welcoming people in central Texas and opinionated bigots on the Oregon coast.

As a same-sex couple, the seismic political and cultural divide that has been rapidly spreading since the 2016 presidential election made us fearful about traveling through ultra-conservative Southern states. The uneasiness increased as I heard talks about the possibility of the legality of same-sex marriage being in danger and read accounts of states mandating against even mentioning the word “gay” in schools. I wondered how this anti-gay sentiment would affect us as we explored, but our cross-country travels opened my eyes to my own biases.

I’ve realized the foolishness of judging people based on their license plates. We’ve been surprised to find welcoming people in central Texas and opinionated bigots on the Oregon coast. Perhaps we all need to get out of our silos to remember that hate can be found anywhere — and so can respect and love.

The author's teardrop trailer on a lavender farm in Northern California.
The author's teardrop trailer on a lavender farm in Northern California.Courtesy Kim Kelly Stamp

Still, this newfound perspective has been a balancing act, one in which I’m working on not perpetuating division while also being aware that many people see my relationship as something to be stomped out. The latter has made me and my wife feel as if we must be careful about showing our love in public when we are in ultra-conservative states.

On a recent lazy afternoon in Florida, where we’ve decided to spend the winter, I was reminded of how damaging this feeling has been. As we leisurely walked around Fernandina Beach, the crisp air, intimate conversation and briny sea combined like the mingling of flavors in an exotic drink to create a perfect cocktail for my soul.

We crossed the street and headed for the harbor to gawk at the yachts moored in the marina. As we passed a 200-foot beauty, we took a minute to record a video for our 2-year-old grandson, thinking he’d enjoy seeing the big boats.

Standing at the edge of the pier savoring the moment, I longed to pull my wife in for a tender kiss. After spending the summer and early fall in the Pacific Northwest, we’d returned to Florida for a second winter. The anti-LGBTQ and anti-woke legislation had ramped up during the past year and it seemed to threaten the existence of people like us, and I was feeling untethered. I longed for a tactile reminder of her love to ground me and pull me from my melancholy.

I desired the feeling of her warm lips on mine to help me move past my anger and sadness. I needed her touch and her energy. I craved a connection to the beauty of our relationship. But here in ultra-conservative Florida, it did not feel safe to be publicly affectionate. So instead, I breathed deeply, closed my eyes for a beat and continued to walk.


Kim Kelly Stamp (right) with her wife in Bryce, Utah.
Kim Kelly Stamp (right) with her wife in Bryce, Utah. Courtesy Kim Kelly Stamp

 

I wish that the friendliness that we’ve experienced in the unlikeliest of places could push us to feel completely free. And someone reading this may be thinking, “Just do it. Kiss your wife. If you don’t, it’s like you’re giving in to what the other side wants.” I understand the sentiment. As a queer person, I struggle to find words to adequately describe the suppression I feel. While it is our choice to shield our relationship publicly, the hate for the LGBTQ community is so palpable in many parts of the country that it feels like the safest choice. The recent Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, only punctuated this point for me.  

Following acts of violence like that, it can be easy to become rigid and judgmental — especially while regularly encountering strangers. Though I struggle to see a way through, I remind myself that traveling from coast to coast is a life we chose and that the changing cultural terrain will require us to remain fluid and flow away from beliefs and paradigms that don’t serve the greater good.

Despite the precautions my wife and I take in public, I remain hopeful that one day everyone in my community, especially future generations, will feel like they can kiss unreservedly on sun-drenched docks without fear of retaliation. I often worry about young people who struggle to know who they are in a world that may not accept them. But as I stood on the dock that day, desperately wanting to throw caution to the wind and kiss my wife, I reminded myself that important work is being done to carve a path to a better future for queer kids and adults. We saw this recently with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which ensures that marriages like mine remain federally recognized. We all deserve to be able to marry whomever we choose and have the freedom to love that person generously.

I have long believed love overcomes hate, and our teardrop trailer travels remind me that there are good people everywhere, even in those places where you least expect them to be.