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"It's wonderful to be with your people" at Pride on the coast

A performer in fake sideburns holds open a fleece jacket to reveal a T-shirt that says "Homosexual tendencies."
Drag king Rusty Hips getting ready to entertain the party-goers at a coastal Pride event.

Queer people and their friends had a smorgasbord of Pride events to attend on the coast this weekend. Many of them started Sunday afternoon at a potluck and bonfire on Big River Beach and finished the night at Xa Kako Dile on Fortunate Farms in Caspar, listening to bands and watching a drag show.

Leslie Krongold, who landed in town three years ago, organized the first Big River Pride event last year. She set the scene as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” poured out of a nearby speaker. “We had about 50 folks” last year, she recalled. “And what was most impressive to me was the diversity in age and identity.” She says organizing members of the various communities she’s part of “just comes naturally to me. And I enjoy it.” As the sun went down at a leisurely pace, she greeted all comers and introduced people to one another, offering an interesting tidbit about the various things that each person is involved in.

A woman in a rainbow-striped hat and beach wheelchair chats and smiles.
Leslie Krongold, who organized a Pride event at Big River Beach within a year of arriving in the community, already knows just about everyone.
A woman in a rainbow-striped hat and beach wheelchair chats and smiles.

Queenie, who ran Queenie’s Roadhouse Cafe for 22 years, noted that there’s been a resurgence of queer get-togethers after a long lapse. In her retirement, she manages Rhodie’s Cafe at the Botanical Gardens, where queer people drop by on the second Friday of the month from 1-3 for an informal visit. “In the 80s and the 90s, we had groups,” she recalled. “We were organized. We had WOMB: Women of Mendocino Bay,” and held events at least once a month. “And then it kind of all stopped. In the 2000s we haven't really had anything on the coast.” Until this year, when at least four Pride events took place in various coastal towns. “It's like we just exploded this year,” she exclaimed. She chalked it up to “new energy in the community,” before heading out to mingle with multiple crowds at several events.

Katie Applebaum, a 35-year-old artist who lives and works at the Mendocino Art Center, probably qualifies as part of that new energy. “I’m excited to have multi-generational things happening, because I learn a lot and they learn a lot from us, too,” Applebaum reflected. For example, “In Mendocino County, there happens to be a lot of wood fire kilns and a social pottery scene. We're bringing our nice little queer flavor to it,” with a queer wood firing class at the Art Center. Wood firing tends to be male-dominated, but Applebaum believes that what happens in a queer group is, “people have their guards down and they learn a lot more. They don't feel like they're doing something wrong.”

Firing pottery in a wood kiln is kind of an analogy for a celebration of diversity. Applebaum describes it as “a thousands-year-old Japanese tradition where you take wood to get the pots to 2,300 degrees. The ash from the wood itself makes a glass on the pots and every pot is different, because every load in the kiln is different and all the wood is different each time. So it's just a really interesting, lovely process.”

Just up the road at Fortunate Farm in Caspar, Cynthia Coupe and Cinnamon were throwing a party to launch an organization called the Mendocino County Safe Space Project. They talked as the Appalucians of North Carolina, featuring members of the once-local Blushin’ Roulettes, played under a banner that said “Love Has No Gender.”

Two people in rainbow regalia stand next to each other and smile.
Cinnamon (left) and Cynthia Coupe, founders of the new Mendocino County Safe Space Project.

“What we realized is that there are businesses in our town that have signs that promote that they're a safe and friendly space,” Coupe explained. “Some of them are, but some people just don't know what that really means.” The non-profit launched this month for Pride, and Coupe said the two will be offering training for teachers in the Fort Bragg school system about providing a safe space for queer students, “which is awesome,” she concluded.

Coupe and Cinnamon noticed the resurgence of queer socializing, too. And they’re enjoying a new development on what it means to be part of the community. “In my generation, it took courage to come out,” Coupe reflected. But she has observed that in her teenaged daughter’s generation, “The whole idea of coming out is becoming less of a thing.”

“My teenager doesn’t even have a concept of coming out. What that even means,” Cinnamon added. They are a they, and that’s just who they are…They’re like, what do you mean, you guys had to come out?”

The night was topped off with a drag performance by Rusty Hips, a veteran drag king of the north coast. “He is a little trapped in the 70s,” Rusty reflected, mostly or partway in character. “He is a goofy guy. For some reason people find him sexy, and that is really not his intent. But some people like being disgusted and turned on at the same time. I think there's actually a lot of people like that out there in the world.” In an aside, the performer, who lacks the testosterone to produce natural sideburns, added, “In my actual regular persona outside of drag, I really wish they just made sideburn testosterone, because that would be amazing…They're probably not, though, because of biology and stuff.”

Rusty debuted in Cotati in 2001, though “He’s been living in a body that is not his,” which means the days of him dropping into the splits are over. “Sorry crowd,” Rusty apologized, not looking at all remorseful. “Sorry, fans.”

Whether they came out years ago or find the practice of coming out a quaint historic artifact, Queenie, looking across the sand at the growing crowd, reflected that, “It’s just wonderful to be with your people.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.