How to be Sassy… And Change the World!
Kristen Becker knew very well what it was like to be bullied, and “twenty-five years after my own story, it’s still happening,” she says, clearly frustrated. “So I decided to do something about it.”
A comedian herself, Becker had already confronted her own difficult past living in Shreveport, Louisiana, through a stand-up routine called Loosen the Bible Belt, but she wanted to do more. When Provincetown experienced the early Trump-era visa problem for seasonal workers, she saw her opportunity. “There were all these kids in the south who wanted to be here,” she said. “Why couldn’t we make that happen?”
And she did, raising the money for plane tickets via a GoFundMe campaign that brought three southern queer kids to town for the summer. “Employers in town really stepped up,” says Becker. “We found some good fits—at Gale Force Bikes, the Canteen, Pop + Dutch, those places.” That first year brought challenges as well. “After that first summer, we decided to top the program out at age 21,” she says. “We don’t want alcohol to be a component. You have to understand, when you’re queer in the south, alcohol is your safe space. We couldn’t do that here. We need to hold this space as a sober space.”
She found the name for her venture almost at once. “I used to be the emcee for this burlesque show and one of my lines was, did someone say something sassy? And I just liked that concept. Being yourself is the sassiest thing you can do, it’s being your authentic self. And I liked how Summer of Sass worked out to be SOS.”
And so the program was born, enabling queer teenagers to come in, live and work in the freedom of Ptown. “What we’re trying to do is enable them to become happy, healthy humans,” says Becker. “The most radical thing we can do in life is take care of ourselves.”
The program has grown from the initial three participants to eight this year with hopes for 12 by 2024. And it’s moved around, too, but this past year a number of opportunities aligned and the organization was able to purchase the old Roux/Stowaway property at 210 Bradford Street. In true Provincetown fashion, once the need was known, a primary donation by a private individual enabled the purchase to go through. “It was just meant,” she says gratefully. “Someone gave me almost four million dollars—without any advertising campaign, without anyone writing about it. That’s what happens when something is this kind of good fit.”
Becker knows it’s that same magic of Provincetown that’s transformative for the kids. “Simple things,” she says. “It blew their minds that gay people walked down the street holding hands.”
More than that though, Summer of Sass enables young people to “show up for themselves,” as Becker phrases it. “I want to meet them where they are and help them get where they’re going.” The kids aren’t just working in the community; they’re also working on themselves. Becker requires goals and she demands accountability.
And the program already has a history of success. Chloe, who came here in Summer of Sass’ first year, was a trans woman of color who’d been told she couldn’t become a nurse. After her season here she stayed on-Cape and five years later graduated from nursing school.
Jessica’s father, a police officer and single dad in Alabama, gave her a ticket to Provincetown as a graduation present; “I knew she needed to be on the Cape,” he said. Though she struggled against a lifetime of trauma, she has been invited to the White House and now is a trans rights activist.
Ethan had a heart condition, and while he was here, “he got his heart fixed,” says Becker. “In every way. He just blew through all the goals he set for himself.”
While the core of the program is seasonal, Summer of Sass offers events year-round and “right now it feels like anything is possible,” says Becker.
To potential participants, Becker writes:
SoS is geared towards LGBTQI young adults between the ages of 18-20. The goal of the program is to offer a summer getaway in an accepting environment where everyone is free to be themselves. We recognize that not only is there often fluidity in sexuality, but also, some straight kids who fall outside of what is considered “mainstream” and often get bullied based on sexuality, even if their identity is unknown/developing.
In short, if you are 18-20 yrs old and you feel like you don’t quite fit in where you are, you want to work hard for the summer and live somewhere bullying isn’t tolerated and LGBTQI people are a majority, this is for you! We understand that your sexuality isn’t really anyone else’s business, we just want you to feel safe.
Not a bad way to respond to those bullies back in Shreveport, Louisiana!