P-town’s Dirty Little Secret


In 1976, at twenty years old, my boyfriend Michael and I left The 1270 Gay Bar in Boston at 2:00 AM full of piss-n-vinegar. Well, more beer I’m sure, but I was certainly interested in continuing the energized night when Michael asked, “You wanna take a ride to P-town?”

“What the fuck is P-town?”

He couldn’t believe I didn’t know about Provincetown, Massachusetts so, with great enthusiasm, he explained in detail how gay friendly it was with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, a gay beach, and guys holding hands in the streets.

“Sure, what the hell, let’s go!”

We jumped in my car for the two-hour ride from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod and parked at Herring Cove Beach. With the beat of my heart in his ear, we fell asleep and woke to a glorious sunrise and the sounds of waves gently washing ashore. After hanging out at the beach a while, we cruised downtown. What a blast—we turned the corner onto Commercial Street and he slid over, nearly sitting in my lap. Rolling along at a parade pace, we kept up with couples pushing strollers and took in all the fabulous sights.

It was a wonderful little historical fishing and whaling village, with roads so small that only one car could pass at a time. Quaint shops and restaurants lined the streets with galleries, artists, and entertainers. Beautiful old buildings were converted into hotels, and hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts were immaculately preserved and decorated with flowers and rainbows. Today, P-town has hardly changed.

After my first time in Provincetown, I knew without a doubt I’d return.

When my now-husband Paul and I met four years later, we vacationed there—tanning at the beach, strolling in shops, eating out, and experiencing the gay life.

One evening in 1981, we did our usual and went out for a romantic dinner. The restaurant was quiet and elegant with white linen, crystal, and silver. We enjoyed a bottle of wine at dinner and polished another off before we left our room. What the hell, you don’t have to drive in P-town, you can walk everywhere.

We weren’t much for public displays of affection, except for the occasional photo-op after surveying the scene to ensure it was safe. We never held hands in public, but on this night, on our way back to our room, we thought, what the hell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I threw my arm over his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me tight. It was awkward with a hefty buzz, and walking required some coordination to not trip over each other. Giddy, maneuvering through the crowded streets and sidewalks, we got the hang of it just as we entered a darkened area of Commercial Street.

Out of the shadows stepped a kid in his mid-teens, who approached us like he was about to split us apart. We held tight, anticipating his advance, but instead, he stopped just in front of us. The little bastard stared us down and with a degrading tone asked, “Are you gay?”

I sized him up and thought, this little prick has no friggin’ idea who he’s fuckin’ with. While holding onto Paul, I leaned into the kid’s face and growled, “Yeah I’m gay, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?”

His open mouth and raised brow indicated he knew he’d picked on the wrong fag that night and backed away. I released Paul and stepped toward him. He moved to his right and headed up the street where we came from. I followed and called out, “Come here you little prick.”

He ran and I chased in a full sprint yelling, “That’s right little straight boy, I’m gay. Come back here and I’ll kick your ass.” I stopped and screamed, “You little pussy.”

As I turned back to Paul, I realized a cop watched the whole thing unfold and he turned a blind eye.

I slipped my arm over Paul’s shoulder to continue our walk. Suddenly a much bigger kid stepped out from the shadows and rumbled, “That’s my friend you’re talking about.”

Enraged, I released Paul once more and yelled, “Fuck him and fuck you.”

Again, I sized this one up. He reminded me of guys I worked out with at the gym, lifting weights in my younger days—his body language threatened. I knew what was coming and concluded, that I better take the first shot. At that moment, I realized three more waited off to the side.

Like a baseball pitcher throwing a fastball, I took a large step toward him with my left foot. Leading with my left shoulder, I threw my right fist and smashed him square in the mouth. Smack, he went flat on his ass, propped on his elbows.

We were both stunned. He wasn’t expecting it, and I couldn’t believe I actually connected.

I took a defensive stance with my arms up and fists clenched while he shook it off. My mind raced. Do I hit him while he’s down, run away, or be a gentleman and let him up?

Then his buddies cheered him on. Scared to death, I thought, what a fuckin’ idiot. I’m way too kind to be a streetfighter. Even if I win this fight, another will step up to put me down. Am I some kinda fool? Who the hell do I think I am?

Adrenaline coursing through my system overwhelmed the liquid courage that brought me to this point. I shook all over, scared shit these guys could sense my fear.

Like a fool, I let him up. He mirrored my stance and we squared off for a bare-knuckle boxing match. We swapped punches to the face for the first couple of blows. Things got foggy and I believe he connected more than I did. Through the fog, I heard Paul cheering me on. Staggering from the punishment, I spun from his fist crunching my temple, and saw my opponent’s cronies blocking Paul from coming to my aid.

A minute or two into the beat-down, I barely had enough strength to stand. My arms were heavy. My wrists and knuckles felt like I’d been hitting a brick wall. I ran my tongue over my teeth to check if they were still there. Each time I’d taste the blood and saliva stung the cuts inside my lips. I wasn’t sure if the burning in my eyes was perspiration or blood. My jaw and nose felt like they’d been knocked out of place. My ears were on fire from being smashed against my skull.

With the final blow, I faltered and bent over, supporting my upper body with my hands on my knees—but I never went down. With no fight left, anticipating him beating me to the pavement, I waited to be finished off. As Paul shouted in the background, my opponent pleaded under his breath, “Please stop.”

Am I hearing right? Is this thug begging me to stop? Is he afraid he’ll kill me? Does he fear I may have enough fight left to walk away the victor?

Before I could react, again he whispered, “Please stop.”

Without acknowledging him, I staggered toward Paul and the goons separated. Now in need of support to keep from collapsing instead of affection, I placed my arm over his shoulder. With my head low and defeated, we continued on our way.

I stopped, straightened up, lifted my head, raised my fist to the sky, and yelled, “I’m gay and proud of it.”

Over the decades I’ve shared this story with friends, but not with such detail. I told it with pride about how we stood up to the bullies. How it was a fair fight and he got the best of me.

While writing this story, I intended to do the same.

As I analyzed the details of that evening, I wondered what stories each of the people involved told. Or, did it remain their dirty little secret?

I believe the first kid that approached us was scared. He probably only did it because he was encouraged by the others. I believe he was the youngest of the group and after failing to scare us, couldn’t face his peers and ran. I also believe he never intended to physically harm us under the circumstances—with people on the street and a police officer a short distance away. The guy I hit most likely reacted out of embarrassment because a gay guy called his bluff. Because I threw the first punch, I’ll never know if he intended to assault me.

Even though these guys were obviously there with bad intentions, the fight occurred because I reacted in fear. I was angry and drunk and my anger turned to rage. While we fought, the guys keeping Paul from joining in had every opportunity to hurt him but never laid a hand on him.

My actions risked both our safety.

The thing that sticks out in my mind the most? How afraid I was after knocking the guy to the ground. My fear wasn’t of being injured, but of how I appeared to these people. I was afraid of appearing cowardly, so I acted like a bully.

It’s obvious they were there to intimidate people and because one ran away from a gay guy and the other got knocked on his ass by one, I’m confident their stories remained a secret.

What I didn’t realize when I began writing this story was, that P-town’s dirty little secret was mine.

Dennis Hobart Giles is the author of the just-released novel, “To Know Him Is,” available on Amazon. He and his husband, both lifelong Massachusetts residents, have been together for 42 years and live in the suburbs of Boston.

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