PROVINCETOWN — Drag queens are part of the fabric of Provincetown. In a normal year, they can be seen performing at various clubs in town or parading down Commercial Street during festivals and holidays.
If you were around in the 1980s, you might have seen the queens on a baseball diamond playing softball. Drag queens can play sports, too.
“We were looking for something to do in town that was different,” Ryan Landry said.
Drag softball began when Landry, who’s lived in Provincetown since 1979, became a club promoter at the Crown & Anchor in the early 1980s and began meeting fellow queens. Landry is a go-getter by nature, always finding ways to get people together beyond the usual summer “work and party” grind.
Drag Me to the Fair was his doing. For that, he led a group of dressed-up local queens to the Barnstable County Fair each summer.
And it was Landry who had the idea to drag the queens to Evans Field, the old athletic field across Route 6 from the end of Shank Painter Road, to play softball. The group played every Tuesday during a few summer seasons.
“We had our own rules,” Landry said. “If you snatched someone’s wig while they were stealing a base, then points were allotted. We used purses instead of mitts.”
There were no uniforms. Landry said the players turned out in “booger drag,” as they didn’t wear makeup, were unshaven, and not completely dressed in their performance attire.
Each player did have to wear a wig to play, and most wore some kind of creative outfit.
“If you caught a ball with your wig it was an automatic three outs,” said James Thompson, a.k.a. Big Lil, a member of the group.
“It was pretty spectacular to watch people who probably couldn’t catch anything with a regular glove try to catch a ball with a wig,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who currently lives in Truro, was performing a show at the Crown & Anchor when he met Landry and joined in on the softball fun.
“Ryan would stop at the old community center, and he had a shopping cart to load bats and balls,” Thompson said. “I remember being in that field with 10 or 15 of us waiting for Ryan to show.”
“Back in the day, you could live here easily and cheaply and get together with a bunch of faggots and play softball,” said Marc Guerrette a.k.a. Sharon Needles, another softball queen.
Guerrette, who lives in Provincetown, said the softball games were a chance for the kids who got picked on in gym class to play freely.
What started off as a game for drag queens began to draw people from other walks of life. Queens, gays, lesbians, transgender folks, and straight folks participated in the games.
“You had to be ready to be a weirdo and ready to humiliate yourself for fun,” Landry said.
You also had to wear a wig, no matter who you were.
Drag softball wasn’t the only league in town at that time. There was a high-pitch softball league, made up of teams from different businesses in town, that began in the 1970s and peaked in the ’80s, said John Yingling, who owns Spiritus Pizza.
“There were a bunch of teams,” Yingling said. “Spiritus had a team. There was a team from Truro. The cops even had a pretty good team.”
The Provincetown police did, in fact, have a team in the league. A couple of seven-inning games were held each week during the summer at either Motta Field or the old Evans Field.
“The kids knew that we were people just like they were,” said Bill Burrell, who organized the police team. “In those days, we had a lot of empathy for kids in town.” Burrell moved just this week from Truro to Florida.
Yingling agreed. “We all knew who the cops were, and it made for a better relationship,” he said, although, he added, “We had to sneak our joints in the dugout when we were playing them.”
The way Yingling sees it, rising rents and housing prices meant there were fewer college kids around to play, and the softball league died out in the late ’80s.
People’s lives grew busier, too, Landry said. Between running shows and starting a band of his own, he was no longer able to round up the queens to play.
It’s nice to look back on the fun that softball brought, but the league actually served a larger purpose.
“Drag wasn’t as welcome back then as it is now,” Landry said. It was difficult at first for the queens to use the field freely. But Landry credits Dennis Clark, Provincetown’s recreation director at the time, with “going to bat” for them and getting permission through the town.
Thompson remembers people beeping their horns as they drove by. It helped people see drag queens in a different light.
“When we were assembled, I just felt a sense of pride that people were having fun and being goofy together,” Landry said. “Gays and lesbians didn’t hang out as much back then.”
A few drag kickball games were held in the early and mid-2000s as community fund-raisers, but the softball league has not resurfaced. Landry and Guerrette said they think drag softball could absolutely be revived, but it will take a new generation to make it happen.
“There needs to be a young person today running a scene,” said Landry, the man who proved, “Even if it’s a dumb softball game, it can bring people together.”