What would Bella do? By Steve Desroches

What Would Bella Do?

By Steve Desroches


       When Bella Baiona dropped down from the ceiling while sitting on a swing festooned in

feathers and sequins no one back in 1952 at the hot spot Weathering Heights knew that they

were witnessing Provincetown history in the making. Bella was the drag alter ego of Philip

Baiona, who opened Weathering Heights on Shank Painter Road after operating gay bars in

Boston for many years. And he made quite the splash and not just in drag. He ran Weathering

Heights as a nightclub and cabaret for all, but with a decidedly queer bent that was quite open

and brazen for the times. In adds in the local paper her referred to it jokingly as a “strayte” bar,

a wink, wink and a nod to those who might be looking to experiment beyond just

heterosexuality. However, what made Baiona so special is not so much that he was a drag

queen, as by 1952 Provincetown had been home to many, but rather that his drag name is the

first one to survive and find its way into the historical record. At the moment, all that pre-date

him are thought to be lost to history. Baiona made such an impact that to this day people still

talk about his antics. And the ether that allowed Baiona to become a Provincetown legend,

where he’d be considered an outcast elsewhere, but a hero here, still swirls in the air on the

Cape tip today.

     Since the arrival of Europeans onto the shores of what is now Provincetown, the town has been

a refuge for the outsider, those that don’t fit, and don’t want to fit into the mainstream. Its why

the century-plus art colony continues to thrive and what seems odd and against the grain

elsewhere is celebrated here. In an increasingly homogenized, corporate dominated world it

can feel like an endless beige blur of bland suburbs, strip malls and big box stores where

conformity is currency and imagination a threat. And those forces often come knocking at our

door here in Provincetown to make quick money or attempt a cultural coup to sell real estate to

a more conservative, uptight moneyed set. The spirit of Provincetown, as exemplified by Bella

on her swing all those years ago, is strong and feisty. Provincetown isn’t just a “tourist town.”

We’re a vibrant community that revels in our legacy of welcoming the outsider, celebrating

what is scorned elsewhere and thumbing our noses at the world of convention and herd


          It would be a heartbreak if Provincetown ever became respectable. Yes,

Provincetown is a wonderful place to visit, but it’s an even better place to explore. Each and

every trip to Provincetown is a chance to leave your mark like Baiona did over seventy years

ago. It’s not uncommon to hear that when it comes time for a visitor to leave once their trip is

over that they may cry or be overcome by a sense of melancholy as they have to return to the

“real world.” As magical as Provincetown feels, what happens here is not by chance, but rather

both a choice and commitment. Its why for about a century Provincetown has been a safe

harbor to the LGBTQ+ community with that reputation continuing to grow.

         As a traveler, there are many, many places to go in this world. But those of us who live here continually

hear that there is no place like Provincetown. So come and be a part of this fabulous legacy. Come and

fight the forces of convention. Come explore a whole new way of being. Come and be

celebrated for who you are. Come and make your mark.


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