by Isaac von Hallberg

“Your mother should have aborted you.” These were the final words spoken by a temporary revelry companion to a stunned Swedish girl before we were politely escorted off the floor of Stockholm’s 20-year-old nightclub, Patricia. That was a “Sunday Gay Night,” after 5 AM. Time had disappeared and it occurred to me I was due on a plane in two hours, so we complied with the bouncer. With three floors, seven bars, and a restaurant, Patricia is a hub for queer revelry, and an old steamer boat too. Though it seems no longer sea-worthy, it’s covered in life-size pirates attempting to commandeer the ship. This decorative motif seemed intended to encourage the lewd and crude.

Why was I aboard the ship? I asked myself the same question. I am neither a pirate, nor a homosexual. Just another straight white dude of Swedish descent. When asked if I was interested in exploring my fatherland on behalf of Flaunt, I said, “Hell, yes.” The catch, as there always is a catch at Flaunt, was that the main objective would be to explore the LGBTQ community of Sweden, as they host two weeks of EuroPride 2018. The festival will take place, for the first time, in two cities: first in Stockholm (July 27-August 5) and then Gothenburg (August 14-19).

With just a day’s notice, I packed my bag and hopped aboard a direct flight from LA to Stockholm via Scandinavian Airlines. Arriving to my seat I found (to my surprise) a toothbrush, toothpaste, cough drops, earplugs, an eyemask, slippers, a duvet, and a firm, adequately-sized pillow; some of the finest amenities I've had flying overseas. With an array of entertainment and more than satisfactory Scandinavian cuisine, I landed rested and ready to party. Upon return, I slept all eleven hours with the help of an extra pillow and duvet; I had never slept on a plane in my life.

Thirteen hours later I’m in a taxi from Gothenburg airport to my hotel. “What’s in Gothenburg?” I ask my driver. He stares deeply into his rearview mirror at my reflection and responds, “Huh?” I rephrase my question, “What are the attractions?” He lets out a long drawn out “Ahh” showing understanding. “Well, we have Volvo.” Fantastic, I think to myself. Then I realize, a trip to the Volvo museum is probably not on my itinerary. We have three hours reserved for Stockholm’s ABBA: The Museum, which is actually nothing short of fantastic. Visitors sing, dance, and perform with holograms of ABBA (all of which is recorded and can be downloaded). There’s a red telephone which a member of ABBA supposedly calls annually.

The Swedes hold on to their dignitaries; the Swedish nu-disco group, Alcazar, will be headlining the Stockholm portion of EuroPride. Among the non-Swedish performers are Bananarama, Boy George and Culture Club, both performing in Gothenburg. The week will include seminars, workshops, and debates; drag races, an opera and Eurovision singalong at EuroPride Park; and a “kinky quarters” where BDSM and pony play enthusiasts run amuck. Stockholm has a fetish club, SLM (Scandinavian Leather Men), year round—“for men who have sex with men and get turned on by fetishes like leather, rubber, uniforms, skinhead, worker and/or sports gear!” Even though I am not a man who has sex with other men, I am curious about this club. I am leather-clad year-round regardless of the LA weather. Between the “kinky quarters” and Boy George, my visit to the fatherland seems providential.

When my Volvo-enthusiast driver pulls up to the luxurious harbor-front Radisson Blu Riverside Hotel (think The Standard High Line in NYC, but Swedish) and helps me unload my bags, he sheds some parting insight: “Oh yes, the girls too. We have beautiful girls.” He then revealed a sleazy gap-toothed grin, and drove off. As seedy a moment as it was, he was only half wrong. Everyone in Sweden is beautiful: tall, blonde, and sparkling blue-eyed, if that floats your boat.

The physical aesthetics here marry the culture in a fluid consistency: the faces, the food, the décor, the personalities. Sparkling canals and sunny skies (I forgot to mention that Sweden shines in 18 hours of sunlight during summer, which explains the happy, glowing faces). Golden-faced, blue eyed, slender bodies; light, succulent white fish garnished with paper-thin slices of cucumber; baroque Parisian- esque furniture with royal color palettes of purple, red, and turquoise, all with bold bronze modern light fixtures; charming, completely non-confrontational (I still don’t know the Swedish word for “excuse me” or “sorry,” as it was never warranted) shiny, happy people. This explains their intolerance of drunk and disorderly behavior, and why my momentary friend’s declaration on the dance floor following a relatively harmless argument with said stunned Swedish girl made him, and therefore me, persona-non-grata.

Still, tolerance, acceptance, and openness are at the backbone of the Swedish way of life. If the “kinky quarters,” public pony play, and SLM don’t convince you, consider the fact that Sweden was the first country to legally permit gender reassignment. Our group of all-but-one gay guy was warmly welcomed into every establishment we visited across the country, from the luxury hotels to the Michelin starred restaurants (Bhoga Restaurang, for example, is one of the best in Scandinavia. Try the aged beef from Ölanda Säteri). Even the massive post office-turned-luxury hotel, Clarion Post Hotel, where you’d expect a conservative market position, agreed to be an official partner of EuroPride 2018 (and its most supportive sponsor). The hotel, with its million Swedish krona crystal-wrapped reception desk, offers special rates for EuroPride visitors at selected Nordic Choice Hotels in Stockholm and Gothenburg, all in prime central locations. Then there’s the “Lesbian Take Over” in its Bon Bon Bar, where women dance on marble tables and golden bathtubs into the wee hours.

Maybe you are following the crowd to Paris fashion week at the end of summer. Maybe you’re tired of WeHo and its predictable parties. Maybe you wanna be slapped around. Sweden EuroPride could be your answer. With 60,000 expected participants and 600,000 viewers, EuroPride offers a warm welcome to anyone, regardless of sexuality, creed, or nationality. The closing statement of the fest’s promotional film, read by a trans man named Alex, states: “Welcome to Europride 2018, whoever you are.” It’s nice to know that hetero- gazers like myself don’t have to miss out on the fun. I won’t forget my leather.

Written by Isaac von Hallberg