1. Provincetown, Massachusetts
Provincetown is my gay utopia. A little beach town nestled on the Cape, it’s a place that comes alive during the summer and shuts down completely in the off season. Restaurants close, art galleries become abandoned and the only people left are the locals who are probably relieved to rid their town of the tourists. A cab driver told me what life was like during these solitary months: “You really get to know yourself in the winter. There’s no hiding. You really have to like who you are to survive because it’s just so quiet and lonely.” During the sweltering summer season, the main road becomes inundated with bodies, sometimes making it difficult just to get from point gay to point gayer. Bikers, joggers, and cars share one narrow space, often running into each other and creating a cluster of tan, muscled bodies and drag queens.
Many gay destinations have an explicit sexual vibe to them. The main strip is often littered with sex shops and scantily clad men who are selling seediness to tourists. It’s as if they’re saying, “This is what gay culture is about. There must always be a layer of sex that’s thrust in people’s faces. I’m here, I’m queer, now suck on it.” Provincetown is sexual too—I saw a naked guy walking around in nothing but a thong at three o’clock in the afternoon—but there’s an element of playfulness and charm to it. Gay sexuality is not coated in this darkness, but rather it’s given a tongue-in-cheek makeover. This is what draws me to Provincetown. It represents homosexuality at its most kooky and irreverent. You see a gaggle of old gay men in a restaurant at happy hour who look like they’ve been friends for decades and it fills you with a sense of pride and belonging. It’s a stunning few miles of gay life on display and I suspect I’ll be returning every summer for the rest of my life.
2. West Hollywood, California
I lived in BoysTown (the super gay part of WeHo as opposed to the medium gay part) for two months in the summer of 2008. I’ve since lived in other parts of West Hollywood—the area between Fairfax and La Brea mostly—but I have vowed to never return to that area of WeHo again. It’s the darkest of the #dark over there. To be fair, Los Angeles is an inherently dark city. The ungodly amount of sunshine deceives you into thinking otherwise but trust me when I tell you that people aren’t living right. I moved into a place on La Jolla and Santa Monica Boulevard on a tree-lined street that was adorned with Spanish style homes and manicured gardens. I was removed from the bougie side though, living on the upper level of a small apartment building that had a view of a trashy gay bar. My neighbor was a sad 75-year-old gay man named Gordon who always tried to get me to drink martinis with him. One time I actually did, only to find myself trapped in aimless drunk conversation with him for three hours. He eventually passed out drunk on the couch and I tiptoed my way out.
I don’t drive so I relied on the convenience of Santa Monica Boulevard to take me to most places. On my walk to the grocery store or a restaurant, I would often see the same 50-year-old muscle queens over and over. Some would walk up and down Santa Monica Boulevard all day long shirtless and in tiny running shorts with no destination in sight. There was a uniformness to Boystown that could only be described as older gym bunny/twentysomething in True Religions and entertainment streaks. Gay men would often take up shop in the Starbucks and Coffee Bean with their dog and just sit there for hours, looking at the young boys who walked past them. There was no community, only smatterings of friends. In fact, it felt extremely isolated and creepy—a veritable gay ghost town. Living there without transportation and feeling trapped in my own neighborhood allowed to me see every facet of the neighborhood, every awful thing that lurked underneath the bedazzled surface. I left that apartment feeling somehow objectified and undesirable at the same time. I was held under their male gaze but I also didn’t fit the WeHo ideal. The times I’ve returned to the neighborhood, I often think of it as some warped gay Disneyland. I don’t regard it as the happiest place on Earth, although I’m sure many WeHo gays would disagree with me.
3. Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is the most homophobic gay destination in my mind because it’s a city that’s populated by rich elderly Republicans and gay men. Like Provincetown, it’s a gay destination that’s typically seasonal, which means that it houses some kooky locals. My gay uncle is one of them, in fact. He moved to the desert years ago with his husband to escape the Valley and is quick to concede that it’s a strange place. Everything is oversized and Americana. In many ways, its like Las Vegas but richer, gayer, and not as disgusting. You can stay here for weeks and be content in your fantasy world. The gays seem to be mostly of the fortysomething bear variety but The Ace Hotel has helped bring in some fresh meat. Meanwhile, the gay bars are amazing and lack any pretension. If I felt like I was anyone’s type in Palm Springs, I would be in homosexual heaven.