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Franny and Her Boys
By John Preston
I had been going to Provincetown for years. I met Franny and the Professor when I was still in college. I used to go to their house for lunch every once in a while. It was an experience. The Professor would sit and tell great stories about the other faculty members at Amherst, about their foibles and their inflated egos and we could all laugh about our own teachers and see them as human beings instead of the tin gods they tried to be. We'd all sit around and sip iced tea till it was time for the Professor to go into his study and write his mysterious book.
I'd always see Franny in the bars at night, sitting at a corner table watching us. By the end of the summer he knew everyone by name and it was almost a ritual to go over and have at least a short conversation with him every night.
I think I was always . . . well . . . special to Franny. I've always been very physical and I would dance myself into a sweaty exhaustion. He liked that. At least he always said he did.
I had thought I had lots of friends in Provincetown. At least everyone had been friendly to me and I never had any trouble fucking. But the summer I came back after my first year in New York a lot of the guys were leery of me. I had taken that intense physicality of mine and found new things I could do with it when I started going to the leather bars down in the Village.
When I returned to the Cape that year I had a new look – a studded belt, engineer boots and a leather jacket. Everyone's initial reaction was to give me a wide berth. I suppose I was too far out for them. It was a shock to everyone but Franny.
You know, Terry, when I was coming up I was such a queen that it didn't make no difference what I wore, people'd always know what I was. Didn't bother me, except for them other queens in their three-piece suits who'd run away from the sight of me.
Well, I learned soon enough that they didn't really so much think I was horrible and disgusting as they was jealous. Jealous of my freedom to walk around like I wanted to. And jealous of how I could make myself look better'n God meant me to be.
You just ignore those boys. They'll get over their being uptight in time. And then they're going to start coming on to you like you never hoped they would. 'Cause you're acting out their dreams and that's what they want to be doing themselves. They want the freedom to look like you look and act like you act. Maybe a little different, each one in his own way. But it's not different from those queens who used to be scared of me. They're jealous in the same way. Envious of you being willing and able to put on clothes that say who you are, or who you want to be, or whatever.
Now, don't go and get upset at an old queen like me when I say this, but what you got on is drag just as sure as my fanciest ball gown. But that's good. That's being creative and that's making your own way in the world and not letting someone else tell you how you should be. Don't ever lose that, boy. Don't ever lose that ability to take life and change it to what you want it to be.
Wear your leather and show 'em all what a man you are. Show 'em how proud you are of it. It'll do 'em all a world of good. And you mark my words, they're going to start coming round to you soon enough.
You look good, honey. You keep that going if you have any brains in your head.
After that, I learned to love to promenade with Franny. Especially after the bars closed. We'd walk up and down Commercial Street. I'd be in full leather and he'd be in those clothes that might as well have been full drag. The people would look, they'd stare. The gay guys would try to cover their uptightness with some jokes, but Franny and I would ignore them all.
After Franny went home, I'd stand in the street and just watch the men. I figured I'd really done it now. No one was going to want anyone like me, someone who was purposely acting weird and different.
But day by day, week by week, and certainly season by season, things changed. There were more and more leather jackets on Commercial Street. More men who looked like me and who wanted things the way I did. It wasn't so bad after all. In fact, it got to be pretty hot stuff in time. There were so many of us! Gay men who were manly and proud of it. All of us in our leather and flannel and boots and all the rest of it. What a sight we must have been to those straights. A regular goddamn biker brigade right in the middle of Provincetown.
This passage originally appeared in John Preston's novel, Franny, the Queen of Provincetown (Alyson, 1983). It is reprinted in a new edition of the novel (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005) that includes 1980s reviews from Drummer magazine by John Rowberry and T. R. Witomski.
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