The best week to be in Provincetown is the week of Carnival. The parade is its signature extravaganza.
While many would contest that any week in P’Town during the summer months is a carnival, the official date is always week thirty-three—this year it was from Aug. 15-21.
The 2015 Carnival theme was Candy Land, and what the theme evoked for revelers and tourists alike varied widely and wildly.
“I’m looking forward, as always, to seeing how people take the loose theme Candy Land and go with it on parade day. … Candy may rot your teeth, but for the next week, you have permission to indulge in all the candy you like. Let the sweetness infiltrate your bloodstream and brighten your mood,” Rebecca M. Alvin, editor of Provincetown Magazine wrote.
Oddly, this year, reactions to Carnival varied depending on who you asked. For some of the revelers it was a blast and for others a bust.
“It was the cleanest parade I’ve ever seen — it seemed more child-friendly and family oriented,” one onlooker told me, referring to very little sexually suggestive and scantily clad costumes this year. “I didn’t have to tell my daughter to cover her eyes when certain floats went by.”
But for some LGBTQ onlookers and revelers the parade was too sanitized, too short, and too straight. Some now say more and more heterosexuals throughout the Cape not only show up for the parade but they are also in it each year, confirming my belief that no one can throw a parade or a party like gay boys.
But this year’s parade had fewer floats, and less diversity of people on floats. The boys’ bars—like Victor’s—which can always be counted on to have a wonderfully outrageous spoof on the Carnival theme, were noticeably absent.
With marriage equality a law throughout the land, many LGBTQ revelers and onlookers were disappointed not to see a float celebrating June’s historic landmark decision.
I now wonder, with more of us LGBTQ revelers and onlookers with children and dogs vacationing in P’Town each summer, have we integrated or assimilated too far into mainstream society?
Has our queerness normalized P’Town or has P’Town “normalized” us?
Will some of us be accused of losing our “gay card” for being less outrageous than we were?
While P’Town is known as a top LGBTQ summer resort on the East Coast, and this year marked the 37th anniversary of Carnival, our presence wasn’t always as welcoming as it is today.
Famously known as an avant-garde colony at the tip of Cape Code, drawing artists, painters, writers (Norman Mailer lived at 627 Commercial St. year-round from 1990 until his death in 2001), playwrights (Tennessee Williams spent summers in town during the 1940s and today a theater is named for him), the very tip of the Cape struggled to stay financially solvent through the summer months—especially through “August-itis”—until our pink dollars arrived.
“August-itis” was once notoriously known as the third week in August. It signaled the pre-Labor Day doldrums where tourist-dollars slumped precipitously. In 1978, the Provincetown Business Guild (comprised of local business owners) wanted to draw in an untapped market—one that would keep local P’Town businesses afloat.
P’Town’s local business owners wanted to market to the LGBTQ audience directly, and rallied against the Chamber of Commerce to do so. While today P’Town is one of the world’s LGBTQ Meccas, some contest our stormy relationship history with P’Town, which illustrates financial interest trumping the town’s human interest in our civil rights.
“We were told in no uncertain terms that locals did not like the idea of a gay parade, they did not want it to happen, and we should be prepared for some rock throwing. They even told us the corner where that would happen. Undeterred, the fearless few made their way to the center of town. As they approached ‘the’ corner they held their breath expecting the worst. We could not believe it,” Herbie Hintzer, one of the parade’s founders, is quoted as saying in Provincetown Business Guild Magazine. “We got a huge round of applause from everyone.”
Today I view our huge and varied presence in P’town as well earned. I walk the streets feeling safer in P’town than in Cambridge. I do wonder, however, if our presence and culture will soon be gentrified and priced-out like the South End section of Boston with an influx of heterosexuals.
Perhaps next year’s Carnival will give me a clue.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Boston-based writer.