I have spent most of this summer in water. I’ve been training for an open-water swim from the tip of Cape Cod to a victory celebration at a gay bar on the shores of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The swim is an annual fundraiser for the town.
It’s called Swim for Life. Since my parents both died within the last two years, I decided to swim it in memory of them. My dad loved to swim, and my mom loved a good party. This event encompasses both. As soon as you finish the swim, you crawl directly up the rocky beach to The Boat Slip bar, the site of so many of my youthful vacation follies.
I’ve been going to P-Town every summer for the past 24 years—that’s just a whisper shy of half my life. When my friends and I started travelling to P-town, there were only a few places in the country where it was acceptable to be openly gay. These places (P-Town, Key West, San Francisco) were all bunched at the far edges of U.S. boundaries. The straights were basically trying to push us off the continent. Every place in the middle was kind of scary.
Now gays can get married in Iowa. Iowa!
While this is great for the country, it’s had a weird effect on my beloved P-Town. It’s not so gay any more because the gays can now vacation wherever they want without fear of being thrown into the slammer and poked with sticks.
Since my first visit to P-Town, I’ve stayed at the same house owned by two older lesbians. I was so young when I first booked the place, I had to sign a document vowing that my friends and I wouldn’t have wild parties or bring home “guests.” Now they get cranky if we play charades too loud at night.
These women, who have become like family to me, were ardent womyn with a very hard “y.” They had a firm policy to rent rooms only to females by birth. For years—before I broke down their hardcore feminist defenses with my raw, animal charm—they kept their distance, and considered my suburban sensibilities and penchant for skirts and mascara as a sign that I might be bisexual. But a couple years ago, they admitted that they had to cave to economic pressures. “Not enough lesbians come here anymore. They all want to go to Dollywood and Branson, now that gays are allowed there,” one of the owners told me with a huff. “So, we have to let in the straights.”
While this has saddened many longtime residents and has dulled the freaky, party atmosphere of this longtime artist community, I’ll never give up on the place. It’s been my happy place for half my life—my refuge from every imaginable trouble. I love the place so much that I made my friends promise that, when I die, they’ll scatter my ashes in P-Town harbor, the very waters that will host the Swim for Life.
“Don’t you think it’s weird that you’ll be swimming in your future grave?” my girlfriend asked.
“Well, up until you said that, the only thing I was freaked out about were the sharks,” I said. Because of global warming, great white sharks have been swimming into colder waters and have been spotted in Cape Cod. Sharks and straights have taken over P-Town. It’s ridiculous.
But on race day, I’ll put thoughts of these minor irritants aside. Instead, as I plow through the water, I’ll remember all of the incredibly gay stuff I’ve done in P-Town over the years and I’ll know that no matter how many straights or sharks muscle their way in, it will always be our town.