Rainbow Rant: The queer time traveler's vacation guide

A guide to the past for queer and trans time travelers weary of COVID lockdowns

Joy Ellison
The DeLorean gained fame as a time-travell machine in the "Back to the Future" movies.

Has the one-year anniversary of the COVID lockdown got you down? Are you ready for a vacation from pandemic pandemonium? Right now, there’s only one way to get away: time travel. 

Welcome to the Rainbow Rant Queer and Trans Time Travel Tourist Guide. Here are my top five recommendations for getaway destinations in queer and trans history:

Harlem, New York City, 1919 to 1935

The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most vibrant artistic scenes in human history and queer Black people were at its center. Park your time machine in an alley off of Lenox Avenue and book a room at Hotel Olga, where queer icons like the “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance Alain Locke and “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith stayed in the 1920s. Check out the Apollo Theatre and the Cotton Club and you might be able to see queer performers like Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker or Ethel Waters. If you can manage to score an invitation to Georgette Harvey and Musa William’s apartment, you can rub elbows with the stars of the Black queer theatre scene during the lesbian couple’s legendary salons. Stick around and you might bump into queer poets Langston Hughes and Claude McKay outside the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. If you love dancing, drinking and piping hot jazz, the Harlem Renaissance is for you. 

Berlin, Germany, 1900 to 1933

The best bar crawl in all of queer and trans history can be found in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Start at Noster’s Cottage where you can find what Christopher Isherwood, the writer who inspired “Cabaret,” called “nice boys with sweaters.” Then make your way to the Eldorado nightclub, where you can watch drag alongside famous authors, celebrities and other tourists. Wrap up your evening at the Dorian Gray on lesbian night. If you visit on New Year’s Eve, you can attend a ball. Blend in by wearing your fancy duds, a mask or drag. Look out for Magnus Hirschfeld, the Jewish sexologist and queer and trans rights advocate. But make sure you don’t stick around too long. After Hitler’s rise to power, the scene goes downhill, to say the least. 

Reed Erickson’s Love Joy Palace, 1972

Get off the beaten path with a visit to the majestic mansion of Reed Erickson, the philanthropist who made trans health care possible. Erickson amassed a fortune of more than $40 million. He used his riches to start the Erickson Education Foundation, which funded medical research and education efforts on behalf of transgender people. Erickson was also a nudist, a New Age Spiritualist and a man who knew how to party. For a good time, find him at the Love Joy Palace, his gated compound in Mazatlán, Mexico. Ask him to introduce you to his best friend, his pet leopard named Henry. Erickson was interested in the power of psychedelics to unleash human potential, so a visit with him is guaranteed to be a trip. 

The Dil Pickle Club, Chicago, 1915 to 1925

If you like gin served with sedition, visit Chicago’s saltiest speakeasy, the Dil Pickle Club. Founded in 1915 by Wobbly organizer John “Jack” Jones, the Dil Pickle was part bar, part literary salon and part political rally. Queer people weren’t just welcome here; you can listen to intellectuals and activists openly expose the virtues of sexual and gender variance. Catch poetry, jazz dances, opera, debates and all manner of Bohemian art. Flirt with anarchist and queer free-love advocate Emma Goldman or find someone special for some “snugglepupping.”  

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern the night Freddie Mercury sneaked in Princess Diana 

What good is a time machine if you don’t visit the most sublimely specific historical moments in queer life? Take one night in the 1980s when Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana got up to some mischief. After a day of sipping champagne and ad-lipping over episodes of Golden Girls, the two friends decided they wanted to visit the gay bar. Hoping to avoid a scandal, Mercury dressed the princess in drag. If your timing is good, you might be able to catch the pair, but you’ll have to act fast. Diana ordered one round of drinks (a glass of wine and some beer) before moving on. 

2021 may be a drag, but the past is still a playground for the time traveler. Fire up your flux capacitor and enjoy all that queer and trans history has to offer. Or, if you haven’t got a time machine, the Columbus Metropolitan Library system is still open for business. In a book, all of time and space awaits you.