One day a few years ago, I sat in the office of Provincetown’s director of public works. I saw on the wall what can only be termed a flow chart: it depicted the number of flushes per day in the municipal sewer system over the course of the year.
There was a to-be-expected steady rise as the season progressed, but I recall that there were three plateaus: the first, near the end of June, corresponded to the Portuguese Festival; the second, much higher plateau was on the Fourth of July; and the third and highest plateau was during Carnival week.
Explanations for these plateaus go beyond the events being celebrated, each with its own parade, but there can be no argument that Carnival has been and continues to be the biggest draw of visitors to Provincetown all year.
Let’s look at these celebrations. Sad to say, a very small percentage of people really think about our nation’s birthday on the Fourth of July. Most are in it for the fireworks, the barbecue, and the beer. There is a core of devoted participants at the Portuguese Festival who know what they are celebrating, but many more are attracted by the bright flags, the music, and the food, and are only dimly aware of what it is all about.
What about Carnival? What is it all about? Someone told me today that it is really just a celebration of the summer season coming to an end, but that is clearly not the whole story. Somebody else told me it was about “getting your freak on, being crazy and silly, living out your fantasies, with no fear of judgment.” Getting there. According to the Provincetown Business Guild’s director, it has always been about “queer culture, rich art, and diversity.” That’s getting closer.
It is about Gay Pride and the town that hosts and supports it.
The recent parade was an extravaganza, full of frantic fun and over-the-top decorations and costumes. A good time was had by all. Well, almost all. Some voices on social media and elsewhere have been less than enthusiastic, a few bordering on negative, about Carnival. One comment I heard is that the town is not set up to host 100,000 revelers. A good point, although we seem to have survived it. Another more serious objection is that the festivities are not meant for all — that they are for the most part exclusive to the gay community and celebrate a lifestyle that is not shared by all.
I am willing to take these objections seriously, although I saw many of my friends who I am pretty sure are straight on floats and in costume having a great time with many of my friends who I am fairly certain are gay. Still, there is no denying the gay aspect of dozens of men in their underwear or wearing floral gowns or feathers. But not every party has to be your party.
The takeaway, I think, should be that this exuberance we witness must be seen in the context of society at large outside this town. Although progress has been made in some parts of the world, homophobia is the overwhelming global norm. We are fortunate to live where freedom of expression and lifestyle is celebrated, where a man can hold another man’s hand on the street, as one Bulgarian put it in Agata Storer’s Aug. 18 article, unlike in his country. We have moved beyond tolerance to acceptance. We are witnessing the exuberance of emancipation.
The world can be an ugly and dangerous place. Dancing in the street is always a good thing.