7 min read

Does This RV Make Me Look Gay?

Super. Meet Bessie, my made-over partner in RV crime.

“Does your RV have a name?” the lady at the repair shop in Everett, Washington, asked when I was settling a bill in December. “It does,” I said, laughing. I’d never told it to anyone before. I didn’t tell her, either, and she didn’t ask, just nodded this knowing, I knew it sort of nod, leaning her head way back on the upswing before saying, “You can always tell who are RV People, because they name their RVs.”

I had noticed I’d been clocked as an RV Person before. When I called around to various shops about the repair before I found that one, the employees on the phone always ended up saying, “You live in it?” Technically, they uptalked the sentence like a question, but just barely, more of a confirmation of something they already knew. It had happened before in person, too. In an RV park near Santa Cruz that was definitely filled with people just using their RVs for vacation, when I’d lived in mine for mere days, some guy walked up to me and asked if I was “full-time,” which is RV People for living in one. When I asked him how he knew, he didn’t really give me an answer, but he was the only other person staying in that park who was full-time, too, so maybe it works like gaydar. To be fair, I’d clocked him as queer immediately—though it turned out I was the first person in his entire life, aside from app hookups, whom he told.

It’s happened many times since. Other full-timers ask me if I’m full-time with the same already-knowing-the-answer tone; people in repair shops, always, same. As of today I’m in my eighth month, and four months ago I was in an RV park used by vacationers again for a couple of days when I saw a woman walking toward an RV and realized my RVdar had been activated. “You live here?” I said, with only the slightest rise in pitch, giving a bare inkling of a nod toward her rig, talking about it, not the land. She did. Sometimes it’s obvious, when the vehicle looks rundown or extra-used and overfull, but even when it’s not—as in her case—there’s just a feeling, as best I can describe it, of: All of those person’s belongings are right there.

None of the other RV People have ever asked me my house’s name (though they do not—ever—call an RV a house; always a rig), and I haven’t asked them, either. It feels super personal, like if I walked up to them and asked them if they’d named their dicks. Relatedly, the first time someone asked me if I’d named my dick, I’d scoffed because I hadn’t and didn’t think I ever would, but then I woke up one day knowing not only that it had a name but what that name was. And the day after I got this “rig” a friend asked what I’d named it, and I made a face at the silly question and said I probably wouldn’t give it one.

But then one day I looked at it and suddenly knew: Her name is Bessie.

I don’t know why. She is a bit of an elegant cow, and maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s somewhat inspired by her previous owner, the nice old fishing geezer, who was very straight. (After he said “my ex-wife” several times about what sounded like several people, I asked, “You’ve been divorced more than once?”, to which he responded simply: “Oh yeah.”) It feels like an old-fashioned straight-guy name and gender for a vessel. It was indeed all very straight-guy, by which I mean cream-colored, when I moved in. But Bessie’s gotten a glowup. I did it under lightly harrowing circumstances, painting and renovating this little space while living inside it, for a month of which I had a burst pipe/no running water, and during a whole winter so I couldn’t get away from the mess by going and frolicking all day outside. And while all along, at every step, I wondered WHY I was bothering to do this, if I should even bother to do any of this.

But my god, does she look better. She looks like home.

Like my home, specifically.

“That’s the dream,” at least half a dozen people who came to my last, overpriced Bay Area apartment said when they came to buy furniture I was selling before I moved. They always asked why I was getting rid of this couch, this 500-pound four-poster bed frame, the immaculate comfy mattress and reclaimed Indonesian hardwood bookshelf and wool-and-silk area rug. Each time, I told them: I’m moving into an RV. “That’s the dream,” they responded, and every time, I thought: Is it? That’s your dream? Most people would probably think that if you owned property in the fifth-most-expensive county in the United States—some of them owned multiple houses, they told me, absolutely without my asking—that was your dream, and that you’d attained it. If what these people dreamed of was living in an RV, they could sell their houses and buy hundreds of them.

It was a dream of mine. When I was in my twenties, between undergrad and grad school, I took my first husband on an epic six-month trip of Asia and the Pacific, using money I’d hoarded working almost more jobs than I can count while waiting for him to graduate a year and a half behind me. In Australia, we stayed in trailers of various sorts—an Airstream, a converted vintage ambulance, a mobile home—and we talked, every time, about how cozy and magical and surprisingly (to people raised on American classism) lovely they were. How they were more than enough.

Then we came home, and I promptly set about working myself almost to death for the next two decades so I could buy a house and be a Normal Person.

“You seem really happy,” two people who’ve known me for a long time said in my sixth month as an RV Person. “Do I?” I responded to both of them. I am often in a lot of pain. It’s emotional and physical and certainly economic (though another friend said to me recently about my new, post-job-resignation debt that I could look at the mounting credit card balances and think proudly: “Look at ’em go!”). But my friends were right. I often feel quite thrilled about what I’m doing, the eternal interestingness of even small RV things. The further extraction from a capitalist system that seeks only to extract. I’m certainly thrilled with how I’m holding myself, yes externally, in this jewel-toned traveling home, but also internally for the very first time. My self-talk has never been kinder. (What do you need right now, sweetheart?) I have never been so self-compassionate. (I hear you, I know, I’m so sorry it hurts. You don’t have to do anything right now.) And I kind of thought that if I ever got there, and ever were happy, I just wouldn’t hurt anymore.

That’s…not the most grownup or realistic belief I ever had. But it’s the belief I needed to get myself through sex-abuse therapy and transitioning at the same time. This past month and a half, I’ve been reckoning with the realization that that’s not how it works, not how it’s going to work. As long as I’m alive, there is going to be pain. Having been through so much already, I’ve been feeling crushingly daunted and sad about it. At the end of April, I drove back to California, to a queer gathering in the wild (more on that later), then spent three weeks among the old-growth redwoods I’ve cultivated the longest and strongest relationship with over the last seven years of massive, staggering upheaval. (“Healing Necessitates Transformation,” the Sony podcast episode on which I recently talked about it with the great Katherine Rowland ended up being titled.) I needed those trees. I needed to be greeted with wide splays of California poppies. I needed the flow of the last undammed river in California. And because I’m an RV Person, I could, with the turn of an ignition key, give myself what I needed. I’m writing this now from an apartment-building parking lot in Oregon where I’ve been sleeping for the last three nights, in a city where I came to further heal old wounds, plugging my laptop into batteries charged by the solar panel on Bessie’s roof as cars come and go to the businesses on the ground floor, a free but illegal living situation that even a few weeks ago would have freaked me out too much to do—in fact I had planned to come here earlier, before extending my stay in the woods instead. It had sounded too hard and scary to me then. But when I set the parking brake here on Monday, what I felt move through my body about the experience—another new experience in an ever-evolving existence, one I increasingly embrace with the help of a moveable home—was excitement.

Photographs: The inside of an RV painted in bright pink and yellow, with sets of pink, purple, and gold curtains decorated with silver glitter floral patterns. There are trees outside the windows in some photos, and ocean in another. A single orange California poppy bloom sits open in a vase on the table made out of caramel-colored wood.