N.Y. Scene is a monthly column that chronicles events of interest for lesbian and bi women in New York. Grace Chu has come out of lesbian scene retirement to navigate the vast and ever-evolving New York City scene, so you don’t have to.
Invasion of the Pines – Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, NY – July 4th, 2011
Sometimes you accidentally end up on Fire Island. I must be accident prone, because over 4th of July weekend, I managed to make yet another unintentional trip to the gay friendly sandbar off the coast of Long Island. It happens. Again, I locked myself in my apartment to catch up on work when a friend announced on Facebook that she had an available bed on Fire Island, and ten minutes later, I was throwing clothes into a suitcase and racing off to Penn Station as if someone had announced that the zombie apocalypse* had arrived. I mean, the undead would never suspect that anyone would build a thriving community on a frakkin’ sandbar – it’s so inconspicuously tucked away that the rotting bastards wouldn’t even be alerted to its existence. Of course, nothing of the sort happened on 4th of July, but it is good to know that if zombies attack, the gays will survive.
And lo and behold! There was a legitimate event on the island this time around, so I didn’t even have to make an excuse to include the journey in this column. First, some history.
In 1976, a drag queen named Terry Warren sat down in a restaurant in the hoity toity gay village of Fire Island Pines and was denied service. The Pines was affluent and conservative. It was hip to be square, not to be a queen with mile high hair. Stung, Warren traveled back to the more welcoming village of Cherry Grove, located just a few minutes from The Pines.
There are two gay villages in Fire Island: Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove. In 1976, the Grove was more working class, and more flamboyant, campier, kitschier, more diverse. In some ways, the divide still exists, though nowadays, there is more of a gender than a class divide, with the Grove attracting lesbians and the Pines attracting gay men. Back then, the more reserved denizens of The Pines considered The Grove to be lowbrow and declassé. Word spread in The Grove about Warren’s humiliating experience at The Pines, and on July 4th, a group of ten or so drag queens, led by Cherry Grove’s homecoming queen, Panzi (née Thom Hansen), boarded a water taxi to invade the restaurant that had so rudely voted her off the island.
The group was met with disbelief, shock, and then, surprisingly, fanfare. What started out as a spontaneous protest by a few outraged drag queens 35 years ago has grown into an annual celebration, with hundreds of drag queens boarding the multilevel Fire Island Ferry at The Grove to “invade” The Pines every 4th of July. Revelers lined the boardwalks and pier and cheered as the parade of drag queens sashayed by to board the ferry.
Herding drag queens, much like herding lesbians, is like herding cats. Quite a few of the drag queens broke rank, twirled into the crowd of spectators, and vogued for anyone and everyone with a camera. The original instigator of the Invasion, Panzi, was still the mistress of ceremonies, and as the clock ticked, she bellowed orders exasperatedly from a massive bullhorn. Focus! Focus! Eyes on the prize! The sooner you storm the Pines, the sooner you can have cocktails! Warfare is serious business, after all.
Eventually, all the ladies scrambled onto the Ferry and bid adieu to The Grove.
A few minutes later, the ferry pulled up to The Pines. Since I wasn’t able to be two places at once, here are some photos and a brief report of the Invasion, Pines side, from Jess of Autostraddle. Take it away, Jess!
While a normal summer day at the Grove is mostly comprised of lezzies and their sweet gay boyfriends, the Pines is a sweaty meat locker of Chelsea boys ready to dance in the tiniest, tightest thong they could afford. The atmosphere at the Pines on Fourth of July is no different, but pack in a few hundred gawkers and you get the picture. The perimeter of the pier was already lined with people by noon and waited patiently for another two and a half hours until the ferry full of queens arrived in all their glory.
We paid $20 a piece for a better view from the dance club upstairs and it was here that I learned of Lance Bass‘ presence in the special VIP area several few feet away. The ferry arrived at 3 p.m. sharp and what followed was one of the most hilarious displays of creativity I’ve seen in some time. One by one, each drag queen descended from the ferry and sashayed down the runway as they were introduced by Panzi.
I eventually made my way downstairs to get a closer look at the action. Some of my favorite costumes included the Mona Lisa and Elphaba from Wicked (below). The ceremony lasted about an hour and the boys partied at the clubs well into the morning before retreating back to their natural Chelsea habitat.
* Yes, the link to the zombie apocalypse preparedness guide is from the official government website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even bureaucrats have a sense of humor.