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En Queer Air

I just came back from my second solo writing retreat. I started last year and decided it was going to be an annual thing, but both trips have been so beneficial for me, I really want to make it twice a year.

When I started writing this, I was mostly packed. I had my laptop and notebook out; that was it. The dishes were done, the linens collected and cute retro fridge emptied. All my bags were by the front door. 

I did not want to leave Provincetown. 

I had been twice before; the first trip with my ex-husband and his boyfriend, my memory was almost nonexistent. I don’t remember anything but walking alone while they held hands and walked ahead of me. The second time, with my wife and my cousins, was much better; still a little hazy in the rearview (and likely a beer or two), and close to ten years ago. My memories are blurred on the edges, photographs taken with too much joy and laughter to be in focus. I remembered the color on the streets, in the sky, on the people. 

From the moment I first walked downtown, I could tell it hadn’t changed. I mean, sure, I didn’t remember the exact art galleries or the placement of most of the boutique shops, and there certainly weren’t at least four recreational cannabis retailers. We hadn’t left the main drag then, and weed had still been illegal.  

Staying there solo for a whole weekend has been sating the craving in my soul for community, for being queer and creative, for the space to read and to write to my heart’s abandon. 

Queer spaces are few and far between in the real world, and when I’m out and about and it’s not Pride, the absence is noticeable. I feel it in my bones, a whisper the arises with every step on pavement. You are not safe here, not really. You are not the same, and different is dangerous.

I know I exist a lot easier, safer, than a lot of folks in my community. I am protected by my femme invisibility in a way many queer and trans* folx are not; I am protected by the privilege with which I was raised, and shows on my skin. Were I to stop saying the words “wife,” “queer,” “Mexican,” almost no one would look at me and be any the wiser. There is safety in the layers of privilege and protection. Still, I know how many “other” boxes I check, and I know the risks of being “other.”

But here, there is a lightness to my step, a shedding of the fear that inherently ripples through a regular day, a tiny rock stuck in my shoe. Here, I feel I am queer until proven straight. Here, when I walk into a bookstore full of pro-choice and pro-woman and sex positivity rally posters, and I cry, those tears are understood. The woman behind the counter has to ring me up twice after we get to talking and the transaction times out. She offers me the dyke discount, and I take it, walking away with pins and canon I hadn’t previously known. She shared her publication, and invites me to call her when mine is available. 

Here, the veil of threat that hangs over all strange men is gone. I am not leered at, by anyone. Children aren’t pulled away from anyone passing; the only up-and-down looks come from the drag queens who read you in the street the hour before the performance. Here people dress in clothes from the head shop, from the boutiques, the thrift stores and tourist shops, all mingled together. The colors of the town and streets and signs aren’t diminished by the rainbow flags; rather, if anything, the kaleidoscope of the town overshadows the six classic stripes.

I take my time; I walk everywhere possible in Converse and Docs, my skirt flouncing as I step on and off curbs. The goal of this weekend is to rest, read, hike, and write: my favorite ways to make myself a priority. Happy birthday to me, I’m going to enjoy it. This is the first time in five years I have actually felt like celebrating.

My last night there, I walked the mile from my AirBnB to the restaurant at 7pm when dusk was just stealing over, before the coyotes came out. I had two drinks and walked back in my dress at 9:30pm, alert, but not afraid of walking past emptying bars and through residential neighborhoods. 

There is safety in numbers, and the ubiquitous presence of queer and trans* folk was a balm over my fight-or-flight response, still healing after Hawthorne’s death. There is so much hatred in the news, so many people in my community endangered by the insidious poison spewing forth from other states; this gay-ass heart feels constantly bruised. Being in one of the oldest historically queer communities in the US takes the weight off my heart. I drink here because I’m safe, because even at a table alone, I am held. 

The second layer of ease is the sheer artistry I am surrounded with, created by hands and by nature. My first morning, I hiked the causeway at low tide, marveling at the curves the water carved into the sand, the glittering remains of seagulls’ feasts, the grace of the cormorants as they dove. My last morning here happened to be World Book Day, and I celebrated by finishing my 3rd and 4th books of the weekend. I took one to the woods and read poetry out loud, speaking the words into the wind and hearing the trees sigh in appreciation. 

On the map I can see the acreage protected by conservation; in the streets I see the bursting expression of beauty and love in everything from the tiniest sparkle of glitter to the towering sculpture of a snarling griffon. It’s in the flowers planted in tiny gardens, the colors on the houses jam-packed into neighborhoods with streets too narrow to pass on. It is in the library, open til 8pm on weeknights, in the plate glass windows of a hundred galleries, in the crystals embedded into stone walls. It is in the queens’ makeup, and the wrinkled smile of the woman who greets us at the establishment. It is in the voice of an unknown language that sings and reminds me, this is where I belong. Somewhere I can lay down the daily weight of danger, of not belonging, and be enfolded in the loving arms of a place so steeped in creativity, community, and a not-so-subtle “fuck you” to everyone who thinks any of us are less than. 

I didn’t want to leave, and already I yearn to go back. This time, I’ll remember so much more: the causeway and the hills, the way the sand blew across the highway, the comingled scents of lobster and taffy, the sea and pitch pines.

When I did finally leave, watching the rain begin in the rearview, I left with sand in my shoes, zero leftover cake, ten new books. This time, I leave with crystalline memories with the soundtrack of the sea, and a promise that I won’t stay away so long again.