Cruising with the High Priestess of a Retrospective Love

As told by Rayceen

The Love Boat: 20 Years of Love and Friendship on the High Seas

Aloha is a Hawaiian word meaning affection, compassion, mercy and peach. It is now commonly used to mean “Hello” and “Goodbye.”

I anticipate hearing it—and saying it—when the Black Gay & Lesbian (BGL) Cruise arrives in the Aloha State this autumn.

Love Boat 1.jpg

Our seven-day excursion to Hawaii is the latest voyage in my many years of nautical adventures. For almost two decades, long before there was Team Rayceen or The Ask Rayceen Show, hundreds of LGBTQ guests assembled from almost every state and several nations for the annual BGL Cruise. On the high seas, passengers have enjoyed The Rayceen Experience— my special mix of comedy, audience participation games, motivational talks, inspirational messages and what sometimes becomes a group therapy session. The Love Boat had Julie as their Cruise Director, but since 1999, the BGL Cruise has had Rayceen!

This year is the 20th BGL Cruise hosted by SongMaster Entertainment & Travel (SongMaster), which takes place annually from the last weekend in October through the first weekend of November. I am very grateful for Mark Harris, Tim Daniels, Jim Lewis and everyone at SongMaster who have worked so hard to make this autumn’s trip to Hawaii safe, exciting and memorable.

In past years, we have cruised throughout the tropical islands of the Caribbean. Each year, we host a series of fun events including talent shows, a Halloween costume party, game nights, scavenger hunts and dance parties. I particularly enjoy putting together our choir—which I have lovingly named, The SongMaster Holy Blessed All Saints All Souls All Star Shouting Cathedral Choir—for the talent show at the end of the cruise. On BGL Cruises, I’ve met many wonderful people from all walks of life, including jazz singers, strippers, porn stars and even lesbian saxophonist, Pamela Williams.

Love Boat 2.jpg

Although I’ve enjoyed dozens Caribbean ports of call, there’s one adventure in the Bahamas I’ll never forget. I had disembarked early and was sitting on a wall near more than a dozen minivans that were lined up to take us to a private venue on the island. As I sat silently in prayer, adorned in my turban and flowing regalia (naturally), members of our group began to walk towards the vehicles. I noticed the drivers’ faces change as more flamboyant and outrageously dressed individuals came into view. I descended from the wall, approached the man in charge of transportation and asked to speak to the drivers. Once assembled, I told them that we were their brothers and sisters. I talked about solidarity and about the various forms of discrimination that we all face. I also told them that because gays tend to tip well that they would all make double what they usually earn in a day (provided they treated everyone with respect). We all prayed together and the energy shifted. Not only did the drivers take us to our destination, but they came inside and we made sure they were fed. When they took us back to the ship, they received the generous tips I predicted.

For The Rayceen Experience on the high seas, we have an “Ask Rayceen” segment when attendees can ask me anything. One year, someone asked a question that gave me great pause: “What do you do when you bury your lover the week before the cruise?” I looked him in the eyes and told him, “You live.” I went on to explain that while his lover may have passed on, he has the honor and duty to keep his lover’s memory alive. I shared the story of losing David, the love of my life, and how I celebrate his memory with everything I do and all the love I give. Soon everyone in the room gathered around us, embraced each other and shed tears together over this man’s grief. I whispered in his ear that the men we loved were looking down on us and smiling. We stayed in touch and, to this day, we still call and check in on each other.

When you hear about me, the High Priestess of Love, going cruising, they must be talking about the BGL Cruise! Although the tropical paradises we visit are beautiful, it is the affirming space for queer people of color we create on those cruise ships that are my Shangri-La. New friendships, love connections, late night conversations, Uno tournaments—it all happens over that week in autumn. I have so many wonderful memories, and I look forward to making many more.

Aloha.

Rayceen Pendarvis is an emcee, entertainer, activist, speaker, social media personality and host of The Ask Rayceen Show, a free monthly event in Washington, D.C. For more information about Rayceen Pendarvis, Team Rayceen and The Ask Rayceen Show, please visit AskRayceen.com. For more information about the BGL Cruise, visit BGLCruising.com.