Minorities | Pavlo Heikkinen, 28, felt like an “outcast” who didn’t belong – The pieces fell into place when a man was found by his side and they moved to the most unlikely of places

Cecil Brandics moved from Florida to Inari after meeting her husband Pavlo Heikkinen, who lives in the north, online. Inari has treated the gay couple kindly, and they rarely hear taunts.

Stuffed grouse and fox skin rest on the shelf. In the adjacent wooden frames, there are three artisan wedding photos Pavlo from Heikkisten28, and her Florida husband of Cecil Brandics25.

On the wall above the shelf are two small icons and a painting of Saint David of Thessalonica, a holy figure of the Orthodox, made by a friend as a wedding gift.

The Thessalonian sat in a tree for many years waiting for a sign from God. The friend who painted the board chose David for the picture, because Heikkinen and Brandics have also had to wait for each other for a long time.

The altar of essential things built by men can accommodate many cultures. The icons embody Heikkinen’s roots in Karelia, the family photos on the wall show Brandics’ American family. Both are fascinated by the aesthetics of stuffed animals, and there are several of them in the apartment.

Altar can stay in place for a while longer, because the couple is in the middle of the moving drum. Half a year ago, the couple ended up moving from the church village of Inari to Ivalo, about 40 kilometers away, because there was no suitable apartment in Inari for the couple’s needs.

Now the men are preparing to move back. A suitable apartment finding it is a miracle, because the chronic housing shortage has plagued Inari for a long time. In the couple’s opinion, there is nothing wrong with living in Ivalo per se, but they want to live closer to Inari’s cultural offerings. Movies, music and culture are their common thing.

Weak and Brandics, who worked as a restaurant shift manager in Florida, started chatting on the Okcupid dating app in 2019. Pretty soon after that, Brandics flew to Finland to meet Heikkis. They met for the first time at Tracon, an anime and role-playing game event organized in Tampere, where Heikkinen traveled from his hometown of Inari.

Anime, role playing and video games are their common hobbies. Men have always felt at home in anime and role-playing game groups.

“They have a lot of outcasts like me who have not adapted to the crowd. For some reason there are also a lot of non-heterosexuals in the circles. There we are outcasts together,” says Heikkinen.

After the first meeting, Brandics returned to the United States. Due to the pandemic and the paper war, moving to Finland took longer. In January 2021, Brandics finally arrived in his new home municipality of Inari. After half a year, the couple got married.

For Brandics Finland appears as a cold version of Florida. In both there is a lot of noise and a lot of alcohol is drunk. There is also a lot of hunting in both.

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“The biggest cultural difference is taking off your shoes in the hallway. I can live with that,” says Brandics.

Heikkinen and Brandics lived in Ivalo for half a year before finding a suitable apartment further north in Inari. The men were in the middle of moving at the beginning of June.

Weak moved to Inari six years ago for craft studies. During his years as Inarin, only one person has wanted to tell Heikkinen directly that he has nothing against gays. Other acquaintances haven’t talked about it at all. According to Heikkinen, homosexuality does not significantly define him in the eyes of other villagers.

“Much more people define us by what kind of employees we are,” says Brandics.

The couple has faced abusive yelling sometimes when they have been out and about alone or with other non-hetero friends. The shouters are local young men who have never lived elsewhere.

According to the couple, this is not unusual. In both small and large towns, it is almost exclusively children and young people who shout.

The children’s behavior was offensive already in the childhood of Heikkinen and Brandics. Heikki was bullied in elementary school, and the atmosphere at Brandics’ school in Florida was openly homophobic.

“Children are often worse than adults,” says Brandics.

Weak and Brandics believe that their positive experience of living as a sexual minority in such a small town is influenced by the fact that they have moved from elsewhere.

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“If I had grown up in this environment, the threshold for being openly gay would probably be much higher. I know that many are still in the closet,” says Heikkinen.

Heikkinen and Brandics’ four-wheel-drive Toyota Hiace van is an icon of Lapland’s motoring culture.

Terraced apartment a blue Toyota Hiace van is parked in front of the front door. On the back terrace, reindeer skulls are being cleaned in large plastic containers covered with garbage bags.

Heikkinen and Brandics’ life is here and they like it.

The advantage of a small town is that people of all ages spend time together. In a larger town, the couple would probably spend time only with their peers.

There are a few non-heterosexuals known to the couple living in Inari, with whom they hang out from time to time. However, there are not an infinite number of them in a small town. When a couple needs to get some fresh air, they go to Saariselä or Levi, for example. In them, you can easily meet representatives of sexual minorities, especially during the tourist seasons.

“Sometimes we miss the company and understanding of other non-heteros. You don’t have to explain yourself to them,” says Brandics.

According to Heikkinen and Brandics, their gayness is of no interest to anyone in Inari.

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