Written by Kira Findling.
Those breathless six minutes of longing at Disneyland, of all places, sandwiched between strangers on a river raft.
During one of my loneliest years, Joey and I visited Disneyland together. The trip was a celebration of my twenty-fourth birthday and our sixth anniversary. We arrived at the park in the early morning and rubbed in each other’s sunscreen. We traveled well together, anticipating each other’s moods without effort. By his side, I found a comfortable rhythm, skipping from ride to ride. With Joey, I was content. After lunch, he returned to our hotel for a virtual job interview. Pensive and conspicuously alone, I wandered through California Adventure and ended up at the river-rafting ride. Grizzly River Run had always been one of my favorites, leaving me laughing, wild and gleeful.
At the front of the line, I saw them. Two young people in matching neon rain ponchos stood before me, one gently helping the other onto the raft. They were both about my age, their hair shaved close on both sides. Stepping closer, I took in the way they held themselves, with a swagger that mirrored mine. I noticed the telltale slope a binder gives the chest, their rainbow bracelets, the way their hands lingered on one another. By the time I stepped up to the raft, there was only one seat open, right beside them. My cheeks warmed in recognition and excitement, and I sat.
I noticed the telltale slope a binder gives the chest, their rainbow bracelets, the way their hands lingered on one another.
There were eight of us on the circular raft, facing the middle: a father and his squirmy young son, three middle-aged friends in Mickey Mouse t-shirts, the couple, and me. Our limbs tangled in the small space, backpacks piled at our feet. In our close quarters, we loosened, chatting as a group, wondering how wet we’d get on the rapids. The ride began, our raft floating lightly along the track, bumping the sides, spinning lazily. My attention rested with the couple beside me. It seemed like I was looking at them even when I wasn’t. Like any time I saw a queer person my age – in the grocery store, at a coffee shop, at the doctors’ office – I wanted them to know that we were the same. Maybe we looked different – as always, I worried that they would rule me out, unfairly, if they saw my male partner – but we shared so much. I wanted to tell them that I was always looking for people like us in the world, that just sitting beside them brought me peace. But I couldn’t find the words.
Like any time I saw a queer person my age – in the grocery store, at a coffee shop, at the doctors’ office – I wanted them to know that we were the same.
Our raft traveled up a steep conveyor belt in preparation for the big drop. I heard the couple whispering inside jokes to one another. I watched their fingers brush. When they grasped hands, their bracelets clinked together softly. Time slowed around my secret noticing. I imagined telling them all my feelings about my gender, yearning for nods of recognition and understanding. I wondered what it felt like to date another trans person. My longing expressed itself through focus, through attention.
I wondered what it felt like to date another trans person.
Within a year, Disney would be attacked by conservatives over its opposition to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, its park entrances crowded by protestors with hateful signs. Disney would only oppose the bill following a brave walkout by LGBTQ+ employees. At home, I’d close my laptop, sick from the headlines, and wish for rest. I’d dream of ease, the sun warming my face, a day full of sweetness and connection. Since I was a child, Disneyland had provided that for me. However, in 2022, with all the cracks in the facade – the company’s abusive labor practices, its hesitation to speak out on queer issues – I’d hesitate, unsure even in my imagination. But there, on the raft, I didn’t know what was to come.
We crested the hill and rushed over, the waves splashing our raft and soaking our shoes. The little boy across from me laughed and laughed as we twisted down the rapids. His delight caught on; before long, we were all whooping and grinning, wet and alive. There was only the raft, only the sunlight glistening off the water, the promise of another plunge, another splash. After a big drop drenched my clothes, I turned to the couple, mouth open in a laugh. They smiled wide at my joy, the electricity in the air. I reveled in being seen, in giggling together, three happy queers at Disneyland.
I reveled in being seen, in giggling together, three happy queers at Disneyland.
As the raft slowed to a stop, I felt the loss in my chest. I stared down at my wet shoes, wondering if it would be socially acceptable to ask to join them on the next ride. The father and son stepped off the raft, yanking me into the present moment. The Mickey Mouse group was already gone, and the couple was looking at me expectantly. My seatbelt! They couldn’t get out until I did. I reached down to the buckle. My fingers fumbled, responding to my unconscious directive to stay put indefinitely. I paused, chuckled. “I can’t seem to do it.” Without hesitation, one of them reached across my lap and clicked the buckle open. I nodded shyly in thanks. As I stood, I joked about my ineptitude; they laughed in response.
I emerged from the raft, shoes dripping. Deciding to play it cool, I didn’t ask to walk with them, didn’t say goodbye. I’d see them again, in the grocery store or a coffee shop or a doctor’s office, familiar in their rainbow bracelets and easy confidence. I wrung out the bottom of my t-shirt, watching their neon ponchos disappear in the crowd.
Kira Findling (they/she) is a writer and filmmaker based in Berkeley, CA. Kira’s writing has been published in Liberated Arts, The Press Democrat, and Wilder Voice Magazine, and their queer documentary films have screened at festivals across the United States. www.kirafindling.com