Years ago, when I arrived in Provincetown, Mass., for the summer, I rented a bike (the best way to get around) and rode up Commercial Street, the main thoroughfare. I wheeled past Town Hall (where the dedicated tranny Ellie croons into a mike with her deep Frank Sinatra voice), waved to drag legend Varla Jean Merman and lesbian butch-chanteuse Lea DeLaria as they posted fliers for their latest shows, and stopped into Spiritus Pizza. Sitting amid the gay parents cramming their kids' mouths with slices of pepperoni pizza was an actor friend. He introduced me to his new boyfriend, and we took our slices to their rental house and ate them on an old couch, listening to Melanie C (that's how long ago this was). Come morning, I lay there between them on a bed in a wood-paneled room. I had been there less than 12 hours, and already I was enmeshed (so to speak) in P-Town's social fabric.
I love gay resort towns like Provincetown; Fire Island, N.Y.; and Guerneville, on Northern California's Russian River-places that strike a perfect balance between gay fun, natural beauty, and just the right touch of drag queens and tacky rainbow decor. There may be more remote, exotic vacations out there, but only in these homo meccas are gorgeous landscapes graced with gayness. Provincetown is blessed with beautiful surroundings-undulating dunes, breathtaking sunsets, adorable cottages-but nothing makes me happier after a long day of swimming in the ocean than walking into an old, swill-soaked gay bar decorated with rainbow wind socks and ordering a drink special called "The Sloppy Bottom." Even the bad tinny dance music, which I usually find so repellent, sounds heavenly.
These towns have history, and visiting a place where gay women and men have a strong presence can give you an inner glow to match your tan. Queers of all stripes feel comfortable enough to express sides of themselves they may normally keep hidden. You may see two gals from Arkansas holding hands in public-possibly for the first time. Or see someone in buttless leather chaps joyfully pulling around a poodle, and his boyfriend, in matching pink harnesses.
I also go to gay resort towns to ensure that I'll have a sexy time while on vacation. In the past this has meant staying up all night, going from party to bar to beach, sunrise and sunset blurring together. Fire Island has been host to many of these semimemorable moments. One time my friends and I performed as the Dazzle Dancers-our glitter-covered, slightly nude, semiprofessional dance troupe-at the Ice Palace in our show Fahrenheit 5-6-7-8! In the morning we were passed out all over the beach like horseshoe crabs, wrung out from the raucous night.
Off-season, when gay resorts are free of revelers and nearly empty, is also memorable. I visited the Russian River in the chilly early spring a few years ago. My friend and I found one bar that was open-no one was there, but there was a karaoke machine that we abused all night, torturing the poor bartender.
Sometimes in a gay resort town, you find something you never thought you would: solitude. One of my favorite trips to Fire Island was one I took by myself, a week after Labor Day. I had spent the late summer recovering from an appendectomy and needed to feel the season-even if it was beginning to relent and turn autumnal. I stayed at the Belvedere, the iconic men's hotel in Cherry Grove. I believe I was the only guest. That night I walked along the beach by myself, under a full moon, feeling the breezes, soaking up the August I'd missed.
Sometimes the solitude isn't by choice. I went to Mykonos by myself in the early season of 2000 itching for fun-but no one talked to me for a week. It was as if I had a ring of invisibility on my finger and didn't know it. (Maybe with my neo-hippie hair and beard I didn't have the right Euro-gay look-who knows?) I sat in restaurants and bars, puttered around on my moped to the beaches, read Lost Illusions, wished I were with someone.
But now that I am older, more mature (tired), and ostensibly out of my party-all-night phase (age 19-38), I seek the more serene aspects of gay vacation towns: dinners in place of underwear parties and red wine instead of Jell-O shots. That Mykonos trip sounds kind of enjoyable in hindsight.
Last summer, for the first time in my perpetually single adulthood, I was in Provincetown with the best guy I have ever met. Instead of bar-crawling solo every night, we made dinner, biked the nature path, watched sunsets-and I went bar-crawling with him at my side.
And this summer, if I can swing it, I'll be back there again, relaxing in the sand, or perhaps passed out on the beach again like a horseshoe crab.