Mommie Dearest: 4 Reasons I’m Glad I Brought My Kid To Provincetown’s Carnival This Year

It was only by happy accident that I scheduled our yearly family vacation to the outer Cape to coincide with Provincetown, Massachusett’s annual Carnival. For the uninitiated, Provincetown — or PTown, as its called — is a sweet little seaside village on the tip of Cape Cod, known for being the first place the Pilgrims landed (not Plymouth Rock, no matter what you learned in 2nd grade). In addition to its American history roots, PTown also happens to be known as “the ultimate gay and lesbian vacation destination,” with annual events like Bear Week, Women’s Week, various nightly drag shows, and of course Carnival.

Carnival is a weeklong celebration that culminates in a spectacular, some may say debaucherous, parade. Each year sees a new distinct theme and the entire town gets involved, putting floats in the parade, decorating storefronts, and promoting the theme through parties and events throughout the week. In addition, Carnival draws in over 90,000 spectators, including lots of tourists like ourselves.

This year’s Carnival theme was Comic Book Crusaders. Once I found out we’d be there the same week, I knew we had to go (especially since we end up hanging out in PTown anyway!). And it turns out that taking our family to a parade surrounded by half-naked folks and fierce, fabulous drag queens was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had together:

1. Carnival is family fun for all ages. My seven-year-old, superhero-obsessed son was in heaven. It also didn’t hurt that they tossed out tons of candy and sparkly beads from every float, essentially ensuring his stamp of approval. (I will say that we did steer clear of the other events geared exclusively toward adults like the Dick Tracy Leather Party and Aquaman Pool Party.) My parents joined us for our week on the Cape, and it was their first time experiencing the joys that PTown has to offer. My father, a normally stoic and rather serious man, chatted up drag queens and snapped glamour shots of everyone dressed up in costume.

2. Nothing says “be happy in your own skin!” quite like a Carnival parade. My son is quite happy being a boy and is probably one of the most active, rough and tumble ones out there. Yet he also tends to dig stuff that is normally thought of as “girly.” He likes to wear jeggings, the color pink, and grows his hair on the longer side. As we’ve unfortunately learned, some people don’t understand that blurring of gender stereotypes that can come so easily to a child. So, it was really awesome to see my son’s face light up as he saw both men and women dressed up as some of his favorite superheroes, including Batman, Spiderman, Ninja Turtles, the X-Men and more. He had some questions about “boys dressed up as girls” but thought it was awesome to see a hairy guy decked out in the red, white, and blue of Wonder Woman.

3. I learned there’s a time and a place for everything.  There’s an ongoing and important debate in the comic book world over how female heroines and villains are portrayed compared to their male counterparts. This was illustrated most recently with a new  alternativecover for the Spider Woman #1 comic book, which depicted her in a body skimming suit with her butt up in the air. There’s a double standard with female comic costumes and the poses they’re drawn in and ideally, it would be great to show women in battle or saving the universe without wearing six-inch heels or a bustier that threatens to spill over with more than ample cleavage. That being said, Carnival offered an opportunity for everyone — men and women — to both sex it up and drag it up. It felt like the appropriate venue for it. So, while I’m usually critical of the different way we market men and women via pop culture and particularly comic books, it felt like if there was any place where those rules can relax, this was it.

4. Any excuse to wear costumes together is a good one. This year at Carnival, I wore a blue t-shirt with an Superman styled “S” on it — absolutely tame and boring compared to what was out there. If my family goes back next year, it’s clear that I need to bring my A-game. Next year’s theme is “Candyland,” and I’m inspired already by all the possibilities. But am also open to suggestions!

Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.