Cape Queer? A Case Study of Provincetown (Warmington)

Karen Christel Krahulik argues in her work, Cape Queer?  A Case Study of Provincetown, Massachusetts that “the global mechanics of capitalism led to the local queering and eventually un-queering of a gentrified, white, gay and lesbian enclave” (1).  Krahulik combined the “methodologies and practices” of LGBT and queer studies in order to make her assessment of the changes in population and transfers of power that has occurred over the years in Provincetown.

Krahulik begins with an anecdote about a horrible conference experience in which an attendee was critical of her for using the word “queer”.  I am not fully certain but I believe that the purpose of this anecdote seems to be to articulate that outside of academia and/or within other fields of study the term “queer” is still primarily associated with its derogatory past.  Krahulik also states that this experience prompted her “to ponder the following:  how misogyny functions within gay and lesbian communities, how the terrain of sexuality gets linked to discipline and punishment… and how salient are past and present investments in the term queer” (3).  She then discusses “four methodological and theoretical modes of inquiry:  social history, cultural history, lesbian and gay history, and queer theory/history” (4).  Krahulik discusses strengths and pitfalls of these modes of inquiry and          explains how “at least two kinds of queer history projects” grew out of these modes (4).  One form examines the representation of queer in narratives while the second utilizes “social and cultural history methods to locate voices and movements previously unheard or undocumented” (4).  This second history “privileges everyday acts of resistance and their accompanying power relations, reading both as cultural narratives.  It analyzes history through a queer lens, meaning, it asks how gays, lesbians, and other deviant ‘types’ disrupted or reinforced Heteronormativity” (4).  Krahulik is interested in the second history but instead of “requiring the term queer to understand disruptions across historical circumstances and locations as similar,” she is asking “it to measure that which was disruptive and risky in Provincetown for certain people at certain moments” (5).

Krahulik then traces the moments of the “queering” and the “un-queering” of Provincetown.  She explains that Provincetown was once ruled by “Yankee whaling captains and their families” but this changed “by the early twentieth century” (8).  Provincetown’s white Yankees imported ‘dark-skinned’ Portuguese seamen in the mid to late nineteenth century because American sailors found greater opportunities onshore” (24).  This led to the immigration of several Portuguese immigrants.  While the majority of men were fishing or operating tourism boats, the women started “income generating enterprises” (8).  Several women turned their extra spaces into boarding houses and it was within these spaces “that Portuguese women and their families not only came into direct contact with white, homosexual acting, appearing and identifying men and women, but also built symbiotic and trusting relationships with them” (8).  These relationships would be prosperous for Portuguese families and enabled the queer community to grow in Provincetown.

Gay men greatly outnumbered lesbian women but each group was able to create a space in Provincetown but the growth of these spaces and the queer community caused a backlash from the Yankee residents during the 1940’ and1950’s.  Policies and laws were implemented to regulate and close down queer spaces.  Many Portuguese residents supported the queer community; however, even with their support some queer establishments were shut down.  Gay men formed the Provincetown Business Guild (PGB).  Through this organization white gay men were able to gain “control over local licensing decisions” and “access to Provincetown’s local government” (21).  Lesbians did not have this power at first but they were able to obtain a “highly visible guest house presence by joining together as a group, the Women Innkeepers of Provincetown (WIP), and created a “women-only space and time in Provincetown, known as Women’s Week” (21).

The growths of the white gay and lesbian communities have had negative effects on the demographics of Provincetown.  Krahulik states that “Provincetown’s demographic shift and new international reputation as a white gay and lesbian mecca complicated the locations of the Portuguese” (22).  She explains that most of the Portuguese natives have “sold their homes and businesses or gave up expensive rentals and moved up-Cape or off-Cape.  For some emigration was a choice, for others a matter of economic necessity” (22).  Krahulik also points out two additional demographic shifts that are related to Provincetown becoming a mecca for white gays and lesbians.  She states “working-class residents of all sexual and ethnic backgrounds have emigrated, thus leaving a laboring void filled in by foreign-born, seasonal workers” and “of those (im)migrating as full or part-time residents, most have identified, appeared and/or behaved as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and as white” (23).

Krahulik’s case study of Provincetown “offers new ways of understanding identity-based, space-taking projects.  It also speaks to widespread processes of class, race-ethnic displacement and importation as it exposes the price of gay participation in transnational capitalist exchanges of goods and people” (25).


1.  Krahulik’s question:  If, as Rosemary Hennessy writes, ‘politically, the aim of queer visibility is not to include queers in the cultural dominant but to continually pressure and disclose the heteronormative’, how can white gay men and lesbians residing or vacationing in Provincetown, who hail from or worked their way into places of privilege, begin to derail rather than reinscribe a capitalist consumer ethic based on identity celebration and class-race exploitation? (25).

2.  Krahulik traces many demographic shifts in Provincetown.  Is it possible that the next shift will be the emigration of the queer communities?



2 thoughts on “Cape Queer? A Case Study of Provincetown (Warmington)

  1. alexislothian

    Thanks for picking this article — I think it led to a really fruitful discussion about our own positions with regard to gentrification and globalization.

    The conference example about the term “queer” was an interesting one. Prior to teaching this class, I would have read it as about temporality — ‘before queer was an accepted academic term, people used to say things like this at conferences…’ But I’ve learned from the class that there are plenty of times and places in which queer has not lost its derogatory force as much as I would have assumed.

    1. Rachael Warmington Post author

      Thank you for your comments. I really enjoyed the article as well. I wonder if there will be, if there is not already, a similar case study pertaining to Asbury Park.


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