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Places Like This Do Exist

To get myself back in the habit of writing, I’m using the next few entries to write about some meaningful moments of the last few months. I find that it’s easy to lose track over time of the events and encounters that make a season memorable. They tend to blend in easily with past years, with autumns that came and went, and with other seasons that start to look alike over time. I don’t want that to be the case, so, appropriately, the first recollection I am writing takes me back to Labor Day weekend, when it started to feel like the seasons really were about to turn. Keep in mind, these are brief reflections– not too deep, not too long. 

In 2013, I made my first-ever trip north for Duluth – Superior GLBT Pride. I’d heard good things for years from others: a strong sense of community and togetherness, spirited but not massive crowds, beautiful sights, and generally speaking, a combination of “small city” and “queer” that maybe gets lost in the glitzy overproduction of so many major metropolitan Pride festivals these days. I had been curious for years, and I finally had the opportunity to make the trip with some friends.

All of what I’d expected was there, but the striking memory for me is still one event: the Friday night bonfire on Lake Superior. I grew up in a Great Lakes state, not far from one of the major bodies of water. Earlier this summer I even had a chance to revisit some of those places, which evoked a mixture of memories on which I still chew six months later. I remember scenes like this from my youth—dark nights where suddenly a hot, fiery glow rises up from the woods and dunes, illuminating a glassy background where cool waves slosh against the beach; a sizeable but not huge crowd gathered around the flames, some on towels and others huddled in beach blankets, with coolers packed with beer scattered across the sand; easy conversation between friends; and the occasional chitchat offered up to strangers like me, a city dweller who remembers these scenes vividly from twenty-some years ago, but who never quite felt like there was a place for me in small town settings.

But here, the fact that it was a Pride event, populated with boyfriends, girlfriends, old, young, partnered, and single, made that life seem so easygoing for at least one night. A young, twinkish type stripped down to his yellow bikini briefs and, after insisting he was going to swim, put his bravado out for all to see and showed he meant it. He shivered as he warmed himself afterward in front of the fire, his proportions nicely featured by the bikini now soaked to the skin. He took his time, and clearly no one minded. It was a dark and clear night, not too cool but not the heat of summer anymore. It was an easy visit, a moment I found myself pondering all weekend as I took in the celebrations of a town where I do not live.

Photo by Nick Vasquez

Photo by Nick Vasquez

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About Michael Lee

South Minneapolis queer writer, researcher, educator, and social change enthusiast. Currently researching and writing a biography of the late journalist Randy Shilts.

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