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The Spirit of Sappho: Babes and Bois Connects Queer Women in Provincetown

by Steve Desroches

For those who live in Provincetown many will say that after a while you become an unofficial tourist information center. Perhaps there’s a certain look or a stride of confidence that communicates you’re a local, but right around Memorial Day you get stopped on the street and are asked if you can snap a photo or how to get to the Pilgrim Monument or where’s the best place to get a lobster roll. If you work along Commercial Street the questions only become more frequent. And for Provincetown residents Carmen da Silva and Sam Sewell the most commonly asked question they get is “Where are the women? Where are they all hiding?”

The loss of LGBTQ spaces across America have long been a growing phenomenon, exacerbated by not only digital platforms where queer people meet, but also by the pandemic and an out-of-control real estate industry nationwide. The problem is even more acute when it comes to lesbian-centric spaces. The Lesbian Bar Project, a New York City-based organization that chronicles the remaining lesbian bars as well as documents those that no longer exist, noted that in 1980 there were 200 known lesbian bars in America. By 2021 there were only 13. The loss reached all the way to Provincetown where there is still no lesbian bar anywhere in town. But it appears that perhaps this is a case of a premature obituary as now, according to the Lesbian Bar Project, there are almost 30 lesbian bars across the country, and here in Provincetown da Silva and Sewell have started Babes and Bois, a production company that creates weekly and pop-up events for “queer and Sapphically-inclined” women and non-binary people.

The couple started with a few events last winter that were quite a success and decided to expand their work to throughout the calendar year. Intended as a complement to those in town that already create lesbian events, they see Babes and Bois as a way to offer lesbians community outside of any established theme weeks. The early success has been like a reverse Field of Dreams, if you come, it will be built. With no designated gathering spot for lesbian nightlife or celebration, it’s fractured the community to the point of near invisibility. The events produced by Babes and Bois seek to reestablish the connective tissue of the lesbian and queer community by way of introduction through the events building a foundation for more, more, more.

“It’s really a great way to connect with people,” says da Silva. “Now it feels like there are more women in town. We all meet at these events and when we see each other again around town we make plans to get together again.”

Both da Silva and Sewell have extensive background in conjuring up community as well as production and implementation of promotional plans for businesses, the arts, and tourist locales. Sewell was introduced to Provincetown in 2011 through her involvement with the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival as an intern. Her background in the theater led to further work with the festival as well as with the Provincetown Theater and the Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theater (WHAT). And now Sewell is the newly hired assistant director of tourism for the town, a job perfectly matched with da Silva’s longtime work in hospitality as a concierge at large New York City hotels and with the wine industry, managing large shops in the city before moving to Provincetown to manage Perry’s Fine Wine and Spirits. They both fell in love with Provincetown soon after their respective arrivals, and with each other after meeting one night at drag karaoke at the Governor Bradford.

This spring Babes and Bois kicked off the season three weeks ago with the Cliterary Book Club in partnership with Michelle Axelson and Womencrafts bookstore and hosted by the Crown and Anchor. While the format was a traditional book club, the event turned into a coffee klatsch with attendees sharing personal stories and funny anecdotes. That book club will continue monthly at the Crown, but Babes and Bois expands their party options this week by kicking off C U Next Tuesday at the Provincetown Brewing Company, a weekly party now through mid-October with Sewell as DJ, female bartenders, and special themes throughout the season. And this Sunday Babes and Bois moves over to the Gifford House presenting the Strawberry Full Moon Party at the Porch Bar, an afternoon soiree to raise money for the local health care non-profit Helping Our Women (HOW). For the rest of the summer Babes and Bois plans several pop-up parties celebrating former lesbian bars like Provincetown’s Pied Piper and current hot spots like New York’s Cubby Hole. But perhaps the most innovative aspect of da Silva and Sewell’s efforts are the creation of a QR code that links those interested in lesbian events, be they produced by Babes and Bois or not. Posters dot the town and with a snap of the code those looking for lesbian themed parties, shows or entertainment can find what’s happening in town.

“There’s a sense of excitement,” says Sewell. “They’re excited to see what happens next. There’s a spirit of collaboration. I don’t want to say what we are doing is new for the town because there were many before us, but we are a new infusion.”

The enthusiasm for Babes and Bois has extended beyond the lesbian community says da Silva and Sewell saying the support from gay male business owners has been significant, with the guys from the Brewing Company, Jonathan Hawkins and Paolo Martini at the Crown, and Steven Azar at the Gifford House all reaching out proactively to welcome them into each respective space. While the goal is to give lesbians, queer women, and non-binary people community, Babes and Bois eventually would like to produce events for everyone regardless of sexuality or gender identity, but with the notion that the event would be with lesbians as the host. Some call that the magic of old Provincetown where partying and inviting each other in to each other’s spaces creates stronger ties and lifts us all up. It’s part of the strength of Provincetown where new ideas are met with a chorus of affirmation.

“That’s what keeps people wanting to move here and stay here,” says Sewell. “This is a town that says yes.”

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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