When I die and go to heaven, I hope that it looks something like Bear Week in Provincetown. Or if all the bears are in hell, then you can send me a ticket for there instead.
Once a year, Provincetown in Massachusetts is taken over by thousands of hairy, bearded, burly men and the guys who like them. And it is without doubt one of the best weeks you can wish for. Well, I can wish for.
But before I get into a description of how the fur flies over this week, a few notes about the backdrop that all of this takes place in front of.
Provincetown is a little New England fishing village on the tip of Cape Cod, just a short ferry ride from Boston. If Ralph Lauren made towns, this is what they would look like. Every shade of white and gray that you could possibly imagine grace the wooden board houses that line the barely two lane streets. There are town squares a plenty, quaint stores, bakeries, real fishermen that go out and actually catch fish. It’s about the closest America will ever get to being the south of France.
There’s a tower in the middle of town, some ubiquitous churches and of course, more seafood than you can poke a stick at. I wanted to speak with a locked jaw the moment I stepped onto shore.
It’s the kind of town that I thought they only built for Hollywood movies. The kind where Richard Gere discovers true love after losing it all and moving to the fishing shack that was left to him by an old uncle and learning lessons from the town folk. Or maybe where a period Demi Moore receives a scarlet letter, or if we could be so lucky, some talentless blonde woodenly recites a few lines before being burned as a witch.
These days the cast of characters that come to the town are rather different. Bears aren’t the only ones who’ve discovered the joys of PTown. The week before us is called Circuit Party Week. This is the week where a bunch of gay men in their 40s are living it up like it’s 1999. Permatanned and fighting to keep a gym body against the ravages of time, they are as one comedian put it, the VHS tapes of the gay community.
They come, they tweak, they drop X, they dance, they bitch.
The locals are not huge fans of Circuit Week. The crowd is snappy, condescending and they don’t eat a thing. Except the odd salad and water. The restaurants are more empty than if they’d been given a C to hang in their windows. The cafes on the other hand can’t get the soy and skim milk lattes out fast enough.
The week directly after us is Family Week, which is the Lesbian Week. Women and their children come along with the odd gay male sperm donor, who helped father the brood. And then the battle begins. I’ve never been around for a Family Week, but the locals tell all kinds of frightening tales, whispered over countertops. Basically everyone walks around looking pretty pissed off and then the fights start.
Within days, the lady liking ladies are having break ups in restaurants, or else someone looked too long at some girl, or some woman had the same tattoo and the next thing the food and furniture start flying.
On the other hand, it’s all smiles and rainbows when the bears roll into town. We come, we eat, we smile, we eat, we drink, we eat, we eat and then we eat. The seafood can’t be caught fast enough, the drinks poured quickly enough or the steaks grilled up enough.
In short, we are the faves. We’re good for the economy. Unless they tell all this to all the groups that come through town and there are horror stories about us that we never get to hear. But I doubt it.
PTown is BearVegas.
For those who’ve come in late to the blog and missed the whole tortured dating years in LA that I endured, I should probably do a brief recap on the whole bear thing.
Bears are a subsection of the gay community — I use that word community very loosely –as it’s often been my opinion that when you come out, you throw off one set of expectations and try to wedge yourself into an even tighter set. The worship of youth and thinness and smoothness is as feverish for straight women as it is for gay men; you’d better meet all these criteria and for the gays, the person you date too. “Community” was more like a synonym for some fluffy pink handcuffs that were cutting off the blood supply.
So while coming out was the biggest ordeal that you thought you had to go through, telling your gay friends that you really wanted to sleep with the bouncer and not the people passing through the club doors was like coming out all over again. Saying you were more into the guy with the tool belt from Home Improvement and not at all interested in Ricky Martin was tantamount to heresy in Sydney in the 90s. And I just liked them. Actually being one of the big hairy guys was as close as you could get to an invisibility cloak.
Meanwhile on the other side of the planet in San Francisco, these same big guys who really had nowhere to go were blessed when a bar called the Lone Star opened its doors. They branded themselves the “Bear Bar” and thereby a whole movement was born.
However nowadays, bears are suddenly cool and all over the news. There’s been a few films made about them, Stephen Colbert throws in a bear joke any night of the week and even the great show 30Rock has made a few bear jokes in its time at the expense of a never sexier Alec Baldwin.
But it is still news to some. The last time that I was here there was a Southern lady I met outside a store with her two teenage children who looked very lost at the amount of hair that was choking the air.
Woman: Excuse me honey, can I ask you something?
Me: Of course.
Woman: Is there are Chicago Cubs fan convention on this week or something? I see all these men with Bear t-shirts on.
Me: Actually no, these men are all gay. Bears is the name they give to themselves as a group.
She looks at me stunned, then around at the army of lumberjacks, sea captains and construction workers milling around her.
Woman: You mean all these men here, they’re all gay?
Me: Sure are.
Woman: Well I never… my husband’s not going to believe it.
Me: Your husband’s here too?
Woman: Over there.
She points to a man who could have walked straight out the pages of Bear Magazine. While I thought I should tell her she has great taste in guys, I didn’t. She had enough to process without wondering why so many men wanted to shake her husband’s hand.
Anyway, Bear Week at PTown is kind of like the collective sigh of relief where despite how uncomfortable you feel wherever you come from, this is one place where you can let it all hang out.
Paul and I and our great mate Dennis ventured forth and took up residence at the house we rented a couple of years before; on the main street, just down from the main party venue. This house is blessed with a first floor balcony that is the envy of every passer-by. The days not spent by the pool or wandering the streets were spent idly drinking vodka ginger ales and scoring the passing parade.
Old friends would come by and upstairs for a tipple and a chat. New friends would come by for more tippling and chatting. Some would call this doing nothing, but it took all day to do.
Then at 4pm the daily tea dance would begin for three hours, afterwards you’d have a quick change before heading to dinner or a show or out with friends and then hitting the clubs afterwards, before sleeping late all morning and waking up and doing the whole thing all over again.
This is actually my favorite part of the whole of the week, the catching up with friends. I see people from LA more in this week than the rest of the year and we all live in the same town. Not to mention your friends in New York and San Francisco and Europe who you never get to see.
There’s more hair, more bears, more linebacker physiques… you know what, this is really not helping any of my straight readers understand. In an attempt to explain my joy, I’m going to resort to clichés so please forgive me.
Men: This is like a week where every seat is a couch, every house is equipped with Xboxes, sports on wide screens, beer flows from the kitchen sink, you can spend the whole week in your sweats and bong hits are the order of the day, every day. From your windows all you can see is the sun beating down on topless Brazilian models who want to meet you and have no interest in small talk or foreplay. You earn more than everyone you meet and when the mood takes you, grab a gun and go hunting.
Women: Every corner has a nail salon and hair dresser. Gorgeous sun dresses are the order of the day, your foot is always evenly tanned, you get the best bargain in every sale, you look incredible in every photo and the brothers of all those Brazilian models are hanging around on every corner, winking cheekily, talking in heavy accents and romancing you in broken English. There is no economy class on the planes in and out and you can bring as much luggage as you like. Your swimsuit is devastating and you are the most interesting person in your vicinity.
I know, I spend my life oscillating between these two extremes of desire.
So after spending days in a perpetual state of meeting fascinating people, eating like a Viking, going to house parties, cocktailing ’til the wee smalls, watching drag shows, catching up with mates, doing a little shopping, pooling and sleeping all morning, it was time to head back to LA.
Maybe the best thing about PTown is that it doesn’t matter what you look like in this little niche, there are so many men here that you are going to be someone’s idea of perfection. Everyone leaves feeling adored and adorable.
I wish you all your own personal PTown. And I hope none of you have to wait till Heaven to see it.