I’m From Mattawan, MI.

by Eli Effinger-Weintraub

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

Before I opened my car door, I triple-checked to make sure I had everything. It was my first time – I was so excited. But I felt nervous and guilty, too. What if someone saw me? Would I be in trouble?

I walked across the parking lot. The knot of people all looked friendly. One or two (not to stereotype) looked identifiably queer. I began to relax. A woman handed me a long orange metal pole with several bizarre protrusions at the bottom. I stopped relaxing. What had I gotten myself into?

“This is a weed wrench,” she said. “Have fun.”

When I came out as a lesbian at age 19, I came out hard. My dorm room looked like I had mugged a Pride parade float decoration committee. I plastered pink triangles and rainbow stickers to my textbooks. I had my aunt, who knows one haircut for females and one for males, give me the “guy cut” so I’d look more butch. We call this my “angry dyke with something to prove” phase. And I never missed a Twin Cities Pride celebration.

But I’ve changed, and so has Pride. Increasingly beholden to large corporate sponsors, it’s no longer a gritty, underground community-building rally and orgiastic free-for-all. Now it’s a place for suburban gayby boomers to push strollers, collect Target swag, and hear about the new lineup on Logo.

The email from Friends of the Mississippi River came in early May. “Come be part of buckthorn removal in the Giggly Hills.” The Giggly Hills is an area of the river gorge ten minutes from my house by bike. The work day was the same day as Pride. I asked my wife, “Would I be a bad queer if I pulled buckthorn instead of going to Pride?” The ‘did you really just ask me that?’ look on her face answered quite eloquently.

So on a chilly Pride day, instead of standing in a trendy Uptown park with thousands of LGBT folks, I stood in a quiet parking lot with twenty of my neighbors. I didn’t even know what a weed wrench was.

Two hours later, after wrenching stubborn buckthorn and yanking invasive clover, I was grimy and sweaty; my hands were caked with mud and my cuffs full of leaves and twigs. As I schlepped my weed wrench back to the parking lot, I munched a pumpkin-flavored granola bar. “Wow,” I said. “That’s good.” I folded the wrapper over the other bar and stuck it in my pocket.

“So good you’re not going to eat the other half?” the volunteer next to me asked wryly.

“Oh!” I said, “it’s so good I’m taking the other half home to my wife. She needs to try it.”

As the other woman did a double-take at me, I realized: this was my Pride celebration. I don’t need crowds, or parades, or Target rainbow temporary tattoo. All I need is to be proud, and open, about who I am and who I love. When I can do that, every day is Pride day, everywhere I go.

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