Over the summer I posted a travel post (since elapsed) saying that I was headed to Provincetown for the first time. I mentioned that Provincetown had been on my bucket list, right alongside Fire Island and Key West. Given that I live just a few miles from beaches, it might have seemed absurd to fly across the country just to go to another beach, but East Coast beaches are really different from West Coast beaches. That, and the gay mecca aspect of each of these places. Sure, San Francisco is a gay mecca and I live in the heart of it, but these were other gay meccas I wanted to experience.
The Provincetown trip was initiated when a friend told me he was renting a house and gathering up a bunch of gay guys to share it. He’d invited me last year but I’d declined; this year I was determined to make it happen and committed right away.
My blog entry describing my gay beach wish list was not meant to drop a hint or beg an invitation to one of these other places (really!). It was more just to put the Provincetown trip in context. Yet nearly as soon as I’d posted the entry, an invitation to Fire Island was forthcoming, and next thing I know I’m on the ferry with my buddy heading to Fire Island Pines for the first time.
I could talk about the cute architecture of Provincetown, starting with the view from the ferry approach. Coming in through the harbor on a perfect sunny morning, the place had an Oz-like character to it. Sure, I’d taken the red eye to Boston and hopped right onto the ferry, so I was a bleary eyed and fuzzy headed, but nevertheless the view was dramatic. On the shore sat a post card-perfect New England village, complete with an iconic white church. And as a truly odd touch, rising up in the middle was an exceptionally tall, slim tower that looked more renaissance Italian than New England. Oh-so-phallic, I could imagine all the jokes already.
Then I could talk about Fire Island Pines not having any roads, just pedestrian boardwalks, and the cool mid-century modern architectural style. I’d later learn that the Pines had only been established in the 1950s, and the homes built in the following decades were more often than not designed to be architectural showpieces. These were serious beach houses.
But all of that could be learned from a travelogue easily enough. In reflection, what should I write about? What do I have to say about my first visits to these places?
Sitting on the plane back to San Francisco, I was stumped mulling this over. Meanwhile there was a Giants game being played, and the vast majority of the passengers had their TV monitors tuned to the game. Looking down the aisle, the game could be seen on nearly every screen. Then there was me, plunking down five bucks to see four episodes of House of Cards instead. Once upon a time I would have been embarrassed to be the lone sports outlier, but right here and now I didn’t care. Maybe because over the visits to P-Town and the Pines I’d become just a bit more comfortable in my own skin, having realized I could enjoy a different kind of camaraderie.
The idea of camaraderie had been kicking around in my head for the last few weeks since I’d read a thread on a message board that talked about being called “bro.” Most of the people contributing to the conversation said they didn’t like it when someone called them “bro,” thinking it was either childish or lazy or both. Yet for me, coming from another guy I see it as a friendly gesture – when someone calls me “bro” I kind of like it. Like so many gay guys, when I was a kid I felt alienated from other guys, so all these years later when someone refers to me with a term like “bro” that long-buried alienation eases up just a little. Sure, bro is just a generic term and is not meant to be taken literally, but that ghost of my former self still likes it. Just like when I’d lived in London years ago and a guy in the supermarket addressed me as “mate,” I knew it was just a generic term but that part of me liked the feeling (or illusion?) of being one of the guys.
Both Provincetown and Fire Island Pines involved staying in houses with a group of five or six other gay guys, and this is where the notion of camaraderie really settled in for me. I’d never been in situations like these, casually hanging out with a group of guys and not feeling threatened. Quite the opposite, this was a place where we could joke about not being interested in sports, and instead watch HGTV or Ru Paul’s Drag Race. That sounds really nelly, but who the hell cares? Even the butchest of the butch guys got into it. Add to that the great shared meals everyone would make for each other, the jaunts into town, the great music playlists, the visits to the beach and running into other gay guys – all totally comfortable and fun. At the Pines we went to the tiny market in town, and though hardly larger than a 7-Eleven it had everything needed for the meal creations. Obscure vegetables, seasonings, wines, artisan breads, incredible cakes, fancy snacks – all bases covered without missing a beat. “This place really knows what gays like,” my friend laughed.
Then there was the sheer scale of all those guys. Noticeable on the way to Provincetown, but particularly noteworthy heading to Fire Island. Getting off the LIRR and lining up to board the Fire Island Ferries, the crowd was comprised almost entirely of gay men. There were one or two women, who were welcomed if not fawned over, but otherwise it was all gay guys. One could complain about ghettos and all that, but here I was taken back not only because it was so exceptional but because it felt really comfortable. As we waited for the ferry my friend noted as much, saying sometimes it’s just nice to be around a bunch of other gay men. This extended to the island, where we’d run into other guys he knows, and all of us could be ourselves.
And added to all this, there was the emergence of wedding rings. Gay guys wearing wedding rings, damn! It just felt good and empowered, and curiously hot too. On the ferry and LIRR ride back to New York, a handsome gay couple caught my attention and I noticed their rings, and rather than feeling jealous or trying to cruise them I just thought it was fuckin’ cool.
I’m fortunate that my day job is at a place with a diverse workforce, including several gay guys. I’m out and comfortable with my colleagues, and don’t really think much about being gay at work. True, when someone asks me what part of San Francisco I live in, I’ll feel a tinge of self-consciousness when I reply that I live in the Castro, but inevitably they say that’s cool and that it’s a great neighborhood. All’s well at work.
And yet, the fraternal feeling I felt at Provincetown and Fire Island was something different, and it felt so good. True, it’s a vacation experience and not “real life.” That may be what allows it to be what it is. It’s a suspension of regular life, if just for a weekend. But after having lugged around all that baggage about relating to other men, it was nice to truly feel like one of the guys.