Central Michigan University, located exactly 63 miles north from my house in Lansing, where the shoot began. Technically, the shoot didn’t begin in the school, but more in the 17903777_10155339160759548_2389795263157788510_ntown of Mount Pleasant (where the school is located), in my townhouse apartment at Lexington Ridge- V8. V8 was a host to many parties during my stay there, both for national drinking holidays (Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day), birthdays, and just simply because we needed to drink. It was also host to the very first Silence Shoot event on the Day of Silence in 2011 (April 20th). Here, I had six or seven people come over to my house to put red duct tape on their face, and let me take their picture. Two of those six sent text messages to their friends and six to seven people evolved into twenty to thirty. It turned into a night filled of people taking photos, listening to music (specifically the Chicago soundtrack), drinking, and just having a good time. Little did I know what that single night of photography would become.

IMG_6887Now, six years later, I have returned to Mount Pleasant with the Silence Shoot, welcomed back by the gorgeous campus that has been so influential on who I am as a person. From the crystal-looking library, to The Towers dorm halls, even down to the sidewalks I used to walk back in the day. Coming here is always melancholy because of the memories, but it is a beautifully welcoming feeling.

However, welcoming the campus was, and how cool it was to be around Shannon, I couldn’t shake the immense anxiety I was feeling regarding the SD card. I tried the entire morning to look past it, but the pain in my chest, that black seed, wasn’t letting go.

18010240_758828717631413_5536110719874937477_nWhile at the shoot, I hung out with Shannon, her interns from the Office of LGBTQ Services, and her daughter. Her daughter’s been part of the shoot for about three years now, and her relationship with it has slowly evolved. In the beginning, she didn’t ever want to get her photo taken, then she was okay with it but only if Shannon was doing the shoot with her, and then there was this year. This year, she was outgoing, wanted her own photos taken, and was outspoken, saying things like,

“I have a freckle on my vagina, do you wanna see it?”

My favorite aspect to doing the Silence Shoot at CMU is the fact that it is felt like a tradition. Many people that participate in the shoot here have done it before, and then they bring their friends, and it grows from there. It’s incredibly reminiscent to how the shoot began in 2011, how it took off thanks to a group text.

17862755_10155336190929548_5547414086248403230_nIn between participants getting their photos taken, we were writing cities on the dry-erase board, planning Michael’s bachelor party by writing up pros and cons per city. We were making lists for New York City, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Toronto, Washington D.C., Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia. The winners, at the end of the day, were between Toronto, New York City, and San Francisco. We’ll have to see once the rest of Michael’s wedding party chimes in (Jaime, Sharon, and I are all part of the wedding party).

17523064_10155336638539548_3485912648662797708_nAfter packing, we went to the local Applebee’s (which wasn’t as good as we had hoped it would be), and I began to plan some “fun” for the evening. Shannon, and her office, had bought me a hotel room so I figured I should put some “fun” use to it. With this knowledge, I tried to stay away from all fried foods, so I could have “fun” without a bumpy road. I had the salmon, and it had an odd taste to it, which didn’t agree with my stomach very well.

Another beautiful tradition at CMU (one way more popular 18121717_10155391433529548_4928325084275065833_othan my shoot is, and for a good reason) is the Central Michigan University Drag Show, hosted by the one, the only- Sabin. Sabin is one of the most influential drag queens in Michigan. This bald beauty has the moves of an acrobatic angel, the makeup of a true illusionist artist, and the sharp tongue of a sinner, and we eat it up year after year. Sabin has a very tender part in their heart for CMU, and I can’t blame them. Central has a magic to it, almost. The students just seem more real, I guess. I’ve never disliked being here.

Our other performers were Emma Sapphire, Gigi Rose, Nevaeh, and Delicious, and each one delivered such a great performance, and the audience responded beautifully to it. Two of the “family” (a word which is used to identify LGBTQ+ people to other LGBTQ+ people) one seat away from me were even bowing and praying when a performer would do something truly shattering. The poor guy next to me (not family), was prey to Sabin’s advances. Sabin loved to find men in the audience to play with, both jokingly and, probably, for real. Every time I witness a drag performance, I realize how much I truly admire drag queens. They go out, looking better than most makeup artists and fashion designers do, and deliver a high-energy performance. Some queens, like Delicious, might not dance around on stage but, with her ballads, she brings out everyone’s inner soul sister and takes us all to church.

As the evening came to an end, after popping my SD card into my laptop and backing up my images, I sat alone in my hotel room, listening to the Mount Pleasant traffic. I walked over to our medium-sized window, looked out at Mission Street (the main street of Mount Pleasant), and silently recalled how many times I’ve shopped at the Staples across the street, how many times I’ve eaten at the Menna’s Joint a few blocks down, and how many times (in general) this wonderful place has helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life.