by Steve Desroches
Tossing on a feather boa is akin to a Provincetown merit badge, regardless of your gender. So when Katie Ledoux first wrapped a brightly colored, feathered fashion statement around her neck, even though she’s a woman, and feminine at that, she recognized it as drag. And she loved it. Provincetown has long been a place where gender roles, mores, and norms felt more like suggestions at best, and at worst, cruel impositions. Dressing up in drag is a rite of passage in Provincetown, but one that for much of its history was the realm of gay men. But in the 1990s, when gender play and gender f–k aesthetics were having a cultural moment fueled in the Northeast in part by the drag explosion in New York City, lesbians in Provincetown created an event that would give room for a fuller exploration of identity and fun: Dyke Drag Brunch.
Costuming in many ways has long been an important part of the culture of Provincetown. From the Beaux Arts balls to traditional Portuguese garb for parades to John Dowd’s Fourth of July parties to Carnival and Halloween, dressing up has been part of celebrations for over a century on the Cape tip. It’s part of not only the town’s artistic and creative heritage, but also its LGBTQ community. And in turn, it’s also part of the town’s activist tendencies as when it comes to drag, it’s always a political act, whether intentional or not. So went Ledoux donned a sequined dress, high heels, and huge eyelashes she along with many in town were early soldiers in what is now a full on gender revolution. Private Muffy Diver (her drag name) reported for duty.
“We’d often go out like the boys did,” says Ledoux. “People really went crazy at brunch, though. A friend once got in drag wearing the wedding dress her partner wore when she was married to a man. It was really, really fun.”
Founded in October of 1994 by Denise Gaylord and Edel Byrne as a fundraiser for local non-profits like Helping Our Women (HOW) and what is now the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Dyke Drag Brunch was also a bit of guerrilla street theater. Gaylord says that for years she observed men dress in feminine drag and saw the fun that accompanied the free expression of camping up gender. Gaylord and friends thought that women should feel free to do the same, and what surprised her is how immediately Dyke Drag Brunch included not only drag kings, but that many attendees wanted to explore feminine drag as their own personal gender expression, and perhaps identity was butch to begin with. As such masculine drag didn’t feel like drag at all, but a sequin dress and heels very much did.
“Playful is how it really felt, but powerful at the same time,” says Gaylord. “Commercial Street is the world’s longest runway. There was strength in parading around. We were always surrounded by people taking our photo. The tourists were fascinated. Nine out of ten had no idea what was going on, but they loved it!”
Dyke Drag Brunch ran six years with the last one taking place in 2000. And over that time Gaylord, and others, dabbled in both masculine and feminine drag as they dined at Bubala’s by the Bay and then paraded down Commercial Street to Vixen for Dyke Drag karaoke. It was one of those events that felt special in real time, not something that settles in later with nostalgia. Women were establishing a space for themselves in drag, especially in New York City where Club Casanova produced drag king stars like Mo B. Dick, Drag King Dred, Lizerace, and Del LaGrace Volcano. As is often the case, Provincetown was on the cusp of this cultural revolution. And a new generation has taken notice. This past May, Gaylord heard from Kayla Manjarrez and a drag performer named I’m Baby, who as a duo produce nightlife events in Brooklyn, including Dyke Drag at Ginger’s, a lesbian bar in Park Slope. Doing a Google search regarding lesbians in drag they discovered the 2015 photo book Provincetown Dyke Drag Brunch published by Gaylord and Midge Battelle. The New York duo instantly wanted to bring the event back and are doing so this Women’s Week at the Crown and Anchor.
“In late 2021 I was thinking about how there weren’t any drag shows specifically by and for lesbians,” says Manjarrez about their work in both New York and Provincetown. “I’ve been a fan of drag forever and never felt like there was a space for lesbians, or the larger dyke community, within the drag world. It always felt like I had to choose between going to predominately gay male bars to see drag, or go to lesbian bars. It wasn’t that lesbians don’t like drag, it’s just that it doesn’t happen in our spaces.”
The conversations ever since have been fantastic, says Gaylord. Bringing this event back to Provincetown, with fresh perspectives that are open to honoring history and tradition were always a part of Dyke Drag Brunch. Its open to all, says Gaylord, noting especially that this is an intergenerational event. Noting growing excitement among those who remember the original incarnation Gaylord points out that housing for the young producers has been donated as the cost of a trip to Provincetown would otherwise be prohibitive. So much has changed since the 1990s, especially in regards to gender, and Gaylord is excited to see what the brunch will be like and what the future of this kind of drag will be in Provincetown.
“What the event did really in general, and for myself, was that it helped me to feel better about myself,” says Gaylord. “But there were some that it was an important shift in their identity. Some have since transitioned or embraced a non-binary identity. And that event provided the space to explore that. We were all together having fun. It was an opportunity to be together and to be seen. It was just a blast. It was a complete sense of freedom.”
Dyke Drag Brunch is in the Courtyard at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., on Saturday, October 15 at 11 a.m. Tickets ($20) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. Ticket price does not include brunch. A $25 food/beverage minimum will be enforced for each guest. For more information call 508.487.1430.