P-Town's Ups and Dunes: Is Provincetown a Peaceful Gay Haven or a Once-Charmed Village Looted by Gay Tourists? as Two New Books Suggest, It All Depends on Whom You Ask

By Bahr, David | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), September 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

P-Town's Ups and Dunes: Is Provincetown a Peaceful Gay Haven or a Once-Charmed Village Looted by Gay Tourists? as Two New Books Suggest, It All Depends on Whom You Ask


Bahr, David, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape * Peter Manso * Scribner * $25

Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown * Michael Cunningham * Crown Journeys * $16

Twelve years ago I took a boat from Boston on my first trip to Provincetown. Approaching the former fishing village, founded in the 18th century on a sandbar at the end of Massachusetts's Cape Cod, I chuckled in awe at the crown of white steeples, the rustic wharves, and the looming stone watchtower on the horizon. On land, I en countered more drag queens, lesbians, heterosexual cross-dressers, gay Republicans, and sexual fluidity in a single week than I had in my entire life. I have returned every year since, lately spending half the summer snared by the rugged landscape and laissez-faire lifestyle.

Two new books, one by a sensationalistic straight writer, the other by a Pulitzer Prize-winning gay novelist, offer two distinct, and distinctly engrossing, views of the quixotic New England town. The more controversial--residents of Provincetown were abuzz about it months before publication--is Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape by Peter Manso. The book lives up to its subtitle--if not in substance, then at least in the gay-obsessed author's relentless preoccupations. Here's the kind of information he finds noteworthy: "The men who come to Ptown for sex--and that's most of them--have their own vocabulary: Rice Queen: anyone attracted only to Asians ... Chocolate Queen: those who like only blacks ... Potato Queen: those who only like whites."

The book is full of curiously derived facts. Manso writes about the town's infamous public sex spot: "Occasionally, local straight men visit the Dick Dock to receive a competent blow job, but if they see the person who serviced them the next day on the street, they do not acknowledge him."

Ultimately, one is left to imagine Manso's method of obtaining data, since this 307-page book contains only 27 footnotes. The whole project is so haphazardly researched and edited that Manso even describes one of gay Provincetown's drugs of choice as "GBH. …

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