Constructing utopia at the queer beach
Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness's domain.
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
If I could isolate one regret amongst the many that float around the memories of being closeted or even newly out, it is that it was not until my 20s that I discovered the pure freedom and electricity of the queer beach. It is at the beach, where bodies are showcased in their fullest forms, where the word taboo was never invented, where the salt hanging in the air seems to serve as a protective barrier from the rest of the world as it is, here is where we can get just a brief marvelous glimpse of the world as it was meant to be in the sunlight refracting like so many rainbows off the sea. So much of living a queer life remains un-free: un-free to be safe with your partner(s), un-free to have the same opportunities, un-free to just....be. But the beach is just that: somewhere to be, fully, and in the company of others relishing those moments of unadulterated being. How liberating it might have been for my teenage self to leave the weight of my feigned heterosexuality in the parking lot, scrubbing away the remnants with rough, pure Riis sand.
The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now's totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there....Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.
The beach is also the place where I fully began to understand more of what Muñoz meant in his heart-wrenching analysis of the linkage between utopian thinking and queer identity. To me, the beach is the closest thing we have to a then and there that honors our bodies, our lovers, and all the things we need to exist in the world exactly how we chose to. It is the realm of aesthetic, Muñoz asserts, that we can, "glimpse the worlds promised and proposed by queerness" - I dare anyone to identify a space as aesthetically intricate, flamboyant, and invigorating as the queer beach on pride weekend. It's more than just the infinite tattoos, "alternative" hairstyles, or mesh swim suits - it is the ethos and the current that strives (imperfectly, at times) to balances eclectic individuality with communal needs and desires. There is no where I have felt more at home and at peace with all of the aspects of myself.
Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.
I was reminded of this in a recent trip to Chicago, where I had the chance to spend just a few sweaty hours at Hollywood Beach surrounded by queers I did not know but felt immediately connected to. Even alone (and sweating my fucking ass off because Lake Michigan is not in fact the Atlantic and therefore is not quite welcoming to bodies), that same electricity was there, emanating from the boys draped over each, the folks playing volleyball to a Cher soundtrack, and the ever increasing tangle of blankets and towels as friend groups grew and merged and separated again. Maybe these spaces feel particularly like a then and there due to their inherent temporary nature - just a few months out of every year, Riis comes alive, and with it the queer folks who flock to it for just a few hours of escaping the here and now and envisioning a new world with sand between our toes.