C and I were in Provincetown this past weekend—cloudless sky, temperature in the sixties— and occasionally men and women were seen wearing red Santa Claus caps in anticipation of the season. It’s a good place to go at any time—the bars, the restaurants, the galleries—but it was particularly good this weekend. C sang in a concert in Town Hall by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus to celebrate the beginning of Holly Folly. We visited the Blue Gallery, the AMP Gallery, and the Antonelli-Giardelli Gallery. There was dinner with friends. P-town was holding a contest for the best house decorations, and the B&B where C and I stayed won “Best Decoration.” Tiny white lights everywhere. There weren’t many children. Mainly the crowds on Commercial Street and in the restaurants were men and women—sometimes together—enjoying themselves. In a time when everything seems to be turning to shit, Provincetown doesn’t seem to be anything but itself, and that’s reason enough to go down there.
On the other hand, the national news is sickening. Even if thoughtful citizens comprise 65% of the population, Donald Trump’s 35% of Republicans is a dismaying number. It is hard to accept the fact that one in three American citizens oppose allowing Muslims to come here, where every single person is a child of immigrants. A similar number has always opposed LGBTQ rights and, I presume, opposed the election of black presidents. At this point, what is sickening is the rejection of ideas that have mattered to me during my life. (I felt the same way when Dubya said it was OK for Americans to torture.) I have always liked the fact that the Pilgrims came here searching for freedom of religion. In America we are not told what to believe. The Pilgrims landed, first, in the harbor at Provincetown, a fact we are reminded of during every moment of a weekend’s holiday by the dominating presence of the huge, rough stone tower put up in Teddy Roosevelt’s presence, commemorating the Pilgrim’s landing in 1620. They landed here first, where now C and I walk from gallery to gallery, looking at the pictures. The art in the galleries ranges from abstract to erotica with everything in between, including Pop Art.
Holly Woodlawn died this week. Her style suggested the kind of freedom that Provincetown has achieved. Genderfuck, giddy, courageous, and deeply real. It is inescapable that, in these terrible times, we think of Emma Lazarus’s bad but iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” At a time when LGBTQ homeless youth make up 40% of all homeless kids, it is appropriate to remember both Holly Woodlawn and Emma Lazarus, seekers, like all of us on Commercial Street and in the galleries and the shops and restaurants, after freedom. This is what we are. Many Americans don’t know our history, don’t know what has made us what we are, don’t know who we are today, don’t know that they are destroying exactly the things that have made America what it has been for the last two hundred and forty years, a beacon of liberty, about which both women knew a great deal. Americans opposed to Muslims coming to these shores are destroying our heritage and doing it because they are what Americans were never supposed to be, afraid.