|Tales of the Beach: A Historical Review
|Once More, Our Ladies Will Be Ready to Invade: The Invasion and Its Controversial History
By Jim Jordan
THE ANNUAL RITUAL we now call the Invasion initially arose due to continued friction between residents of Cherry Grove and the community to the east, Fire Island Pines. The two communities had very different beginnings, with the Grove being the older of the two, and very different philosophies as well.
Initially settled in the late nineteenth century, the Grove did not become a resort for gays and lesbians until the 1930's, and by 1950 was well known to the literary and theatrical crowds from New York City. The Grove was bohemian, artsy, and above all else known to be gay.
The Pines, in contrast, began life as a community developed by the Home Guardian Company of New York in 1952. The plots of land were larger, which resulted in houses that were larger than the typical summer cottages of the Grove. The early settlers of the Pines included many straight people, in addition to the gay men who bought there at the time. The Pines was considered to be wealthier, more conservative, and certainly not openly gay.
The obvious differences had lead to tension between the two communities, with those from the Pines believing Grovers to be déclassé, and Grovers believing Pines residents to be snobbish and condescending. In 1976, the simmering tensions between the residents of the two communities reached a boiling point.
Legend has it that Teri Warren had left the Grove, wearing full drag, and had gone to eat dinner at the Botel, a restaurant in the Pines. The restaurant owner declined to serve him, stating that he was not properly attired.
This rankled the nerves of several Grove residents, including Thom Hansen, who earlier that year had been elected the first Homecoming Queen of Cherry Grove. Thom took his crown, and the responsibility of representing Cherry Grove very seriously, whether it be selling tickets to an Arts Project production or blessing bathers on the beach.
Several days after the incident at to Botel, Thom suggested to a small group of friends that they retaliate by dressing up in drag and going over to the Pines. Within days, a small entourage, led by Thom as the Homecoming Queen, walked through town and down to the dock, with others running out to join them on the way. With some trepidation and nervousness, they boarded a water taxi and headed towards the Pines.
They disembarked, expecting their reception to be less than welcome. The crowd watching this strange spectacle was, however, anything but hostile. Those in and around the marina were more amazed than anything else. Once they got passed the initial shock, they warmed up to the Grovers and bought them some drinks at the Blue Whale. A few drinks later, the emotional divide between the two groups was dissolved, and they spent the afternoon laughing the day away.
They enjoyed the afternoon so immensely, that they decided to Invade the Pines again the next year, and an annual ritual was born. Over the years, the Invasion has been transformed into the event we see today. No longer a nerve wracking taxi ride by a dozen or so intrepid travelers, today we see hundreds of men and women in drag parade through town, walking to the ferry as though the dock were a runway. Loud cheers are given for those that are particularly campy or crowd pleasing. Upon arriving in the Pines, they are greeted by a group of equally festive men in the Pines, although their attire tends to run towards shorts and sandals rather than skirts and pumps.
Considering the impromptu nature of the first Invasion, it is fitting that I came to my first Invasion, and indeed to Cherry Grove itself, almost by accident.
It was 1991, and I was living on Long Island with my now ex-lover. We were visiting friends, and the conversation turned to the upcoming holiday, July 4. The weekend before was the Gay Pride Parade in New York City, and we were looking to continue the good times. Rather than a barbecue, someone suggested that we all go to Fire Island for the day. The suggestion was enthusiastically received, as many of us had never been, and the decision to go to Fire Island was unanimous.
On the appointed day, we piled in our cars and drove to Sayville. We arrived at the terminal, and stood in line for the ferry going to Cherry Grove. The day was sunny and warm, and I still remember the ride on the top of the boat. The coastline of the far away place came closer and closer, and the turrets and towers of the Belvedere came into view. What a magical place the Grove seemed to be!
We disembarked, and oh, the sight that greeted us! We felt so Long Island, so provincial compared to the crowd we were watching. Just as we do now, we found a spot at Cherry's to watch the festivities. First impressions are strong, and some of the characters we saw that day are burned into my memory. One man we called the "Weeping Widow", as he was in funeral gear, including a veil so heavy that light could not possibly permeate and extended below his shoulders. Another was dressed as a taxi cab, including headlights. "Krystal" and "Alexis", wearing their finest, staged a mock fight on the dock. We had never seen such outrageous hats, so many metallic tight fitting fabrics, or so much outrageous makeup. We wondered how the girls managed it in the heat.
We watched the ferry fill up, and saw the ladies off in grand style. Deflated when they left, we spent an hour or so exploring the Grove before going to the Ice Palace. Dancing and drinking the in large, open space we awaited their return from the Pines. And, oh, when they returned!
The girls were still glamorous, but somewhat bedraggled. Hours in the heat, drinks in the bars in the Pines, and then the walk or taxi ride back took their toll. Stockings had runs, dresses had rips, and their make up, so carefully applied just that morning, had faded. Wigs were askew.
Were they a mess? Yes, but a welcome sight to our eyes, as they completed our day. We had toasted them in the morning, and we toasted them again in the afternoon. For us, the magic that had started on the ferry continued throughout the day. Now, a full decade later, the magical feeling still continues. The Invasion is always fun, always different, and we magnify that excitement by inviting "newbies" for the day. All we have to do is watch the sheer pleasure and joy in their eyes, and we are transported back to our first day on Cherry Grove.
Do the Pines and the Grove have their differences? Oh, yes, and thank goodness, for our differences are what bring us all together for one special day. For the Invasion, residents of both towns celebrate their diversity, uniqueness, and similarities in one event that travels from one town to the next. Hope to see you there this year and for years to come!
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