Beyond Queer Words, A Collection of Stories, February 2023 (Fourth Edition)

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a collection of short stories

Beyond Q ueer Words

February 2023 Edition


Beyon d Qu eer W or ds ? A Col l ection of Stor ies 4 th Edition , Febr u ar y 2023 Editor : Gal Sl on im Editor ial Boar d: Em m a M cNam ar a, Edwar d Coh en Gal Sl on i m , fou n der of Beyon d W or ds Pu bl ish in g H ou se, h as been editin g Beyond W or ds Liter ar y M agazine for th e l ast th r ee year s as wel l as th e Beyond Queer W or ds pu bl ication s fr om th e ver y fir st edition . Gal 's sh or t stor ies, deal in g with im m igr ation , acceptan ce an d iden tity, h ave appear ed in in ter n ation al l iter ar y m agazin es. Or igin al l y a psych ol ogist an d social r esear ch er , Gal n ow fol l ows h is h ear t by dedicatin g h im sel f to th e wor l d of cr eative wr itin g. Em m a M cN am ar a is a 21-year -ol d n ation al awar d-win n in g wr iter fr om H opk in ton , M assach u setts. H er

wor k

h as appear ed in

pu bl ication s

wor l dwide, su ch as W ild Roof Jour nal, Em ber ? A Jour nal of Lum inous Things, Eunoia Review, Scholastic Ar t and W r iting, Tech Dir ections, an d Defenestr ation. Em m a?s passion s in cl u de m en tal

h eal th

awar en ess,

disabil ity advocacy, an d LGBTQ+ issu es. Sh e h as been an editor ial boar d m em ber at Beyon d Qu eer W or ds sin ce M ar ch 2021. Fol l ow h er on In stagr am at @ au th or _em m a. Ed w ar d Coh en 's stor y col l ection , Befor e Stonewall, was pu bl ish ed by Awst Pr ess; h is n ovel , $250 ,0 0 0 , by G.P. Pu tn am 's Son s; h is n ovel l a, A Visit to m y Father with m y Son, by Ru n n in g W il d Pr ess; h is ch apbook , Gr im Gay Tales, by Fjor ds Book s. H is stor y, Per oxide Blonde, won th e 2020 Ten n essee W il l iam s Pr ize.

Copyr igh t © Beyon d W or ds Pu bl ish in g H ou se, Ber l in , Ger m an y Fir st pr in tin g, Febr u ar y 2023 ISBN 978-3-948977-47-4 h ttps:/ / www.beyon dqu eer wor ds.com

In stagr am : @ beyon dqu eer wor ds


Fabio Fer r ar i , Tanit


Bail ey Gr ah am , The Gr and Elim ination


Contents Her Breath Pixie Willo Willo

1 Artwork: Mary 3 Stevie Billow Stevie Billow Building A Man Jonathan Jonathan Odell Odell

3 Artwork: Hallways & Doors Lou Storey Storey The Day I Saw a Ghost Anthony Raymond Raymond Boyle 7 Artwork: Quilt and bound Lucas P. Boyle Artwork: Bay Day Carlos Deleon Deleon Hiding in Plain Sight Michael Michael Whistler Whistler

13 Artwork: Queer and Proud Trevor Eichenberger Eichenberger How to forgo a best friend Jobert Jobert E. E. Abueva Abueva

16 Artwork: Untitled Steven Steven Pennett Pennett

Hashbrowns & Marriage Amanda Suckow Suckow

18 Artwork: Read My Lips Sheree Sheree Rayford Rayford Hugo and the Python Stephen Stephen Watson Watson

20 Artwork: Garden of the Flesh Kala

The Queer School Librarian Edward Jackson Jackson

24 Artwork: Besties Dani Dani Torrent Torrent

The Passing Parade Kevin Kevin Joseph JosephReigle Reigle Richards 29 Artwork: Landing Mark J.J. Richards GJ Gillespie Artwork: Man Disguised as Spirit GJ Gillespie


A God Shattering Star Zachary Roybal

32 Artwork: Break Xue’er Gao

Take Me Somewhere Nice Noreia Rain

37 Artwork: Kiss II Emily Kirby

Laugh until you cannot Mathew Picken

41 Artwork: Fool if you think it’s over GJ Gillespie Artwork: Banana Danny Keith Target Run Samuel E. Cole

43 Artwork: Blue Robert Kohlben Vodden On Shame Robin Kish

45 Artwork: Untitled Labdhi Shah A Tale of Queer Sorrow Akhil Mulgaonker

49 Artwork: Tati Jae Casella

2 Sad Lesbians Meg Heim

53 Artwork: WHAT I AM TO YOU Jessica Licata After a Late Night Out Jacob Lopez

55 Artwork: Mountain Music Series: Guitar Elizabeth Baxmeyer Rusalka Jael Montellano

58 Artwork: Stepping Out Chris D’Errico The Life Within Me Melissa McKinney

60 Artwork: My Body, Your Choice Sheree Rayford


Bare Alisha Waldrop Artwork: Sapphire Haley Barclay

63 Artwork: Queerness is a Long Thread Trevor Eichenberger Body Mine.

65 Text and artwork by Kes Maro One-Nighter Thomas J. Misuraca

67 Artwork: Green Sheets Dani Torrent Travels with My Vag Elaine Bennett

70 Artwork: Vulva Me Olive Hoskins Your Lips Douglas Moser

75 Artwork: Tirantes Verdes Federico Bonacorso Cenotaph Elise Konya

78 Artwork: Light at the End of the Tunnel Alison Cimmet


Her Breath Pixie Willo In Memory of Heather Hattingh I laid across from her, watching her laboured breath rise and fall. The stark sheet like a fresh canvas between the both of us. My eyes stared into her hollow cheeks and now sallow skin. My mind wondered to all those times when we had been close, but never close enough. All those opportunities, awkward drinks in the pub, not watching the other undress in the gym. All those moments, those terrible drawn out moments that sometimes last an entire lifetime, kept secret in your heart, wrapped up for fear of rejection. Each moment now I waited between her breaths in one two three hold - where are you? who are you? where are you now? that moment and now each and every one I hold as if it were all our moments tied together in a long swirling kite tail of yesterdays. In the hot springs in Iceland, at the summit of Machu Picchu, flying free on the back of your motorbike. I watch as a trickle of sweat forms a small rivulet down the narrow inlet of your back. I want to lick it off. I want to crawl over to you and press my naked body into yours, my breasts absorbing your moisture as a blanket, a cushion as a part of you. I want to lay behind you and cradle your fragility enveloping your fragile form, my fingers softly rubbing your pierced nipples. I want your eyes to open with burning desire even if no words are ever spoken and I am nothing but a dream to you. Your eyes would flicker softly, slowly bringing me into focus. Cat like and purposeful, you have me. You finally have me, and I am all you have ever desired. Holding my gaze, you become the tiger I desire restlessly aware of my body without form. I have become you. Drowning in the pleasure of your eyes adoring the mirror of you and I the river of our aching pleasure swelling as a dam about to burst. Rhythmically deepening our desire wrapped in snatches of hot breathless kisses. Finally, I feel your soft, papery skin brush against mine, teasing, not even touching, yet it hits me like an electric shock. I am everywhere, am power, pleasure, anticipation and shame. Ricochets of laughter hit the air like dust. Our thoughts evaporating into a cocoon, a bubble of mirth echoing through a world we have birthed anew. My body now writhing in maddened desire. Touch me, touch me, my eyes are pleading yours flicker with the twitch of a wicked smile. Hands grabbing my wrists and holding firm your

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Stevie Bil l ow, M ar y 3


body now pushed hard against mine. you are both soft and hard and have the power of the elements at your command. I hold time in the palm of my hand aware of no beginning or end. Your fingers grow at my arousal, shaping themselves to envelop my pleasure squeezed tight and yearning explore me, explore me, stretching my hardening morphing skin within folds and folds of delicious history each fingertip brushing over the edge of my growing shifting form. Gasping breathless gasping, gasping rattling fighting to breathe. The tube slips out from under your nose as you look at me now awakened with panic in your eyes. the sheet pinning your brittle form like a weighted straight jacket. Back arched in silent struggle against the linen assailant. I rip the sheet from you, my heart, my heart is nothing but a tiny terrified bird its fluttering wings now ripped and shredded from ceaselessly flying against the bars. "Help!" I yell. “Somebody help! Please!” My voice devoid of air, reduced to nothing but a whisper. I press the panic button, a team of doctors rush in, pushing their trolley straight through me. I am fading, I'm losing sight of her. “Please live,“ an almost inaudible whisper escapes my disappearing lips. I look at her one more time, look at the woman I could never become, the woman I never held or said I love you to. I look at my face on the trolley as it is whisked down the corridor... and nothing else. Awaiting the cycle to start anew. Pixie Willo is a queer writer from the Blue Mountains in Australia. She/they loves books, boardgames and getting naked in nature.

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Building A Man Jonathan Odell I knew I could memorize facts, anatomy, the math of giving oxygen or shock, but I needed her to teach me what the body wanted. - From Vocational Training by Carrie Shipers I believe anything is possible if you can lay your hands on the right book. No god has ever held the power over me that books have. Where most people read for pleasure, I read for answers. And when I turned 13 in a small Mississippi town in 1964, I had few books and a long list of questions that desperately needed answering. What’s the word for that feeling in my stomach when I find myself staring too long at Ricky Aiken during study hall? What do you call it when I go to the boy’s bathroom and my body seizes up with sudden panic and all my systems shut down? How about the word for when I pass the football lockerroom and see a guy standing there in his jockstrap and go weak in the knees and stiff in the groin? And though it terrifies me and fills me with shame, what is it that compels me to return the same time each day, per chance to see him again? What exactly do you call that? And how about when I carry that image into dreams that end in violent midnight eruptions? Really, what is the name for what is going on with my body? Hell, if I knew! But one thing was certain. Whatever it was called, it was dangerous. Overnight my body had become an enemy that spoke a language I didn’t understand. I desperately needed to see it all laid out in writing, preferably with pictures and a glossary, like the book about fighter jets my father gave me for my birthday. There had to be others who had these questions, didn’t there? There must be a set of instructions on how to fight this invader that had snatched my body. Surely, I wasn’t the only one! I scoured the meager school library but was stumped as to how to put my questions to the card catalogue. Erections? Architecture of the Old South. Bodies? Planets, Asteroids, and other Heavenly Bodies. Boys? Boy Scout Handbook. I looked up all the words I had heard whispered and scrawled on bathroom walls. That gave me Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington, Cocker Spaniels, Marshall Foch, The Memoirs of. I refused the help of the aged librarian, not wanting to see her gentle expression curdle into one of horror and disgust. I

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tried going to Mother for answers, but only stammered, flushed scarlet and spat out, “What’s for supper?” My father was out of the question. He and I didn’t really talk about feelings, and I didn’t want to offer up my body as a way to break the ice. The answer to my prayers came from an unlikely source. One evening a heavyset man with a bad complexion, wearing a shiny suit, appeared on our doorstep. He asked my mother if she could spare a few minutes to ensure her child’s future. Then he looked down at me and smiled. “As a good mother, don’t you want to give this boy all the tools he will need for a successful life?” Flustered by the questions, my mother led him into our living room, much to my dad’s displeasure. It turned out he was selling the Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door. I sat between my parents on the sectional couch in the living room as the salesman flipped through his sample book. And there it was, in Volume 11, GUNN through HYDROX, under Human Anatomy— a series of transparencies. Right in our living room, the salesman built a real man by turning one page on top of the other. First the skeleton. Then the veins and arteries. Next the muscles. Finally, he put the skin on—with the appendages in full view—in color! I had never seen a picture of a naked man who wasn’t posed with a fig leaf or conveniently placed shrubbery, and here was one laid out before me unobstructed, with arrows pointing to each body part like the diagram of the fighter jet. I was astounded! There were actual grownup names for these things that other boys seemed to know instinctively. And probably information on what they were for and why they did the things they did, especially when I didn’t want them to. At last, a user’s manual for my body. I almost snatched the book from the salesman’s hands before he could flip over to a map of Hungary. But he must have caught the flicker of interest in my eyes. He looked up at me hopefully and asked, “Son, do you think a set of books like these might be something you would use?” He bobbed his head up and down like a cork, but I didn’t need the prodding. I wanted that naked man. “Every day!” I promised and then offered my father a pathetic look. “I really need them.” He was unmoved. “I don’t think we can afford to get them today.” But my stalwart savior in the cheap suit had obviously been to sales school. He wasn’t ready to take no for the final answer. “But sir,” he said, “considering the value of an education these days, can you really afford not

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Lou Stor ey, H allways & Door s


to get them today?” He threw a concerned look my way. “For the sake of your child’s future.” I could tell my father was about to throw the nervy man out the door when my mother spoke up, her voice small. “Truth is, I don’t know answers to half the questions Johnny asks,” she confessed. She was right about my homework having outpaced her own schooling. I could tell it embarrassed her having to say, “I don’t know,” to a thirteen-year-old’s question. But when my dad, who had the last word concerning major household purchases, shook his head and frowned, I knew that it was a lost cause. Before getting up and stomping back to my room, I looked pleadingly at my mother, my last dim hope. I rarely saw my mother put her foot down with Dad, at least sober. And then he dismissed her with disdain. The only time he listened to her was when it concerned my physical welfare. My body, not my future. Belly aches and fevers and vomiting and other such inconvenient childhood maladies he wanted no part of. Like the time I had a vicious outbreak of acne that ravaged my face and attracted ridicule from my classmates. Dad said I would grow out of it like he had. “No,” my mother said, asserting her motherly entitlement, “I’m taking him to the doctor.” She found a dermatologist whom I credit with salvaging my teenage years. Yet these books were more about my body than she could have possibly realized. Or could she? At some level, I believe she did know. She must have sensed the questions her son really wanted to ask her weren’t about the primary exports of Ecuador. “He needs them,” my mother said flatly. Dad opened his mouth to overrule her, but then he saw her face. She was sober, and she was fierce, and she had laid claim to her domain. Reading the room, the salesman eagerly wrote out the order, judging my father’s role in the decision to be greatly diminished. My anticipation rose every day, until, at last, the glorious set of twenty-four leather bound beauties arrived on our doorstep brimming with answers. I promptly announced that I had to do a report on Budapest, grabbed the Volume GUNN through HYDROX and whisked the transparent man back to the privacy of room. I locked my door, threw myself on the bed and opened to the section on human anatomy. I built the man, page by page, with a delicious sense of urgency, until he shone in all his naked glory. And there they were, as plain as day, the names for all those secret places. Penis.

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Scrotum. I memorized Vas Deferens and Seminal Vesicle and Testis and Gluteus Maximus. I chanted the words quietly, certain the names would grant me power over them. As I promised the salesman, I studied the book each night. But the new knowledge didn’t tame or reroute my hormonal disturbances as I had originally hoped. It only focused them. It fixed in my mind the question I had not thought to ask, the most important question of all. What does my body want? Gazing at the picture of the naked man. I knew the answer. I wanted a real one of my own. And knowing this about myself would be enough to see me through until I stumbled upon the next clue, and then the next, until I had enough pieces to picture a world in which a body like mine more than belonged. It was loved. Jonathan Odell is the author of three novels: The View from Delphi (Macadam Cage, 2004), The Healing (Random House, 2012) and Miss Hazel (Maiden Lane Press, 2015). His essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, Commonweal, Publishers Weekly, and others. He lives in Minneapolis with his husband.

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Lu cas P. Boyl e, Quilt and bound


The Day I Saw A Ghost Anthony Raymond I picked my underwear up off the floor and quietly stepped into them. I didn’t want to wake him. In the bathroom, I rinsed my mouth out and stole two of the Excedrins he had on the vanity. I rummaged through the medicine cabinet before gathering the rest of my things, but there was nothing worth taking or selling. “Leaving so soon?” he asked, stretching. I’m not sure if he was trying to be cute or not. “Yeah,” I sighed. “Well, wait a minute and I’ll get up. Maybe we can get coffee.” He threw the duvet off of him. I hurriedly opened the door and said, “Goodbye, then.” “Then is not my name,” I heard his response as I closed the door. * The Excedrin wasn’t working. I stopped into one of the bodegas on 17th street and bought two single-shots of Smirnoff and a bottle of V8. I entered the park and drank next to a group of people complaining about the high rent and enjoying their Rosé. Behind me, I heard a familiar voice say my name. “Is that really you?” I turned around and said it was. “You look…” he said. “How are you?” I said I was doing fine. “This is Eric,” he said. I shook Eric’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” I lied. He said, “It’s been a while.” “It has.” “Do you still live in Lower Haight?” “Yup.” “Same place?” “Same place, different roommate. The rent is just so high here.” “Do you two get along?” I said we barely see each other, and he said that was nice. He asked

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how we met and I shrugged. “Just some guy.” “Oh,” he said. I nodded. “Alright, well,” he began, “we gotta get going.” We gotta get going. “Yeah, me too. I’m meeting someone,” I said. “Take care of yourself,” he said. I said you too. Then he added, “I really mean that.” * I rolled a joint back at my apartment and got high, even though weed makes me anxious. I always think to myself, this time I’ll enjoy it, and sometimes I do, but usually I just end up asking myself, why can’t you face your own mind? And the spiral ensues. I prefer smoking alone because I give myself permission to be comfortable in that uncomfortable feeling. Last I heard, he was still single, I thought to myself as I fed the goldfish. It was an ugly thing with a large tumor on its right eye. The tumor had gotten so large that the fish had fallen lopsided, swimming in a circle for all eternity. It was a prison in a prison. I hated and pitied it, but it needed me, so I loved it. I sat for a while in the bay window and threw coins out into the street at a few homeless people that hung out on my block. They gobbled them up like dog treats. They never questioned where they came from, which I enjoyed. Sometimes they fought over the quarters. Every once in a while I’d toss a dollar bill out of the window and it would flutter to the street like a precious feather. They’d chase it all through the Haight, running in circles like a lopsided fish. * What was he even doing at the park?, I thought as I made myself a peanut butter and mustard sandwich. It’s not like he was an outdoorsy type of guy. I could barely get him to do anything while we were together. He never suggested he was into that sort of thing. Maybe Eric is. And who’s Eric anyway? I chugged one of my roommates' beers and thought about it. I don’t remember him knowing any Eric. I haven’t seen him tag anyone named Eric on any of his social media pages.

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I picked up my phone, unblocked his account and checked. Nope. No one named Eric. Always full of secrets he was. I felt betrayed and quickly blocked him again. I found myself anxiously masturbating to the photographs of exboyfriends I kept in my nightstand drawer. When I was finished, I threw the slippery things into the garbage pail. After I took a shower and cleaned myself off, I pulled them out of the garbage and put them back in my drawer. Take care of yourself. What was that supposed to mean? Like I couldn’t exist without him or something. Like I didn’t have a life before I met him. He was always so smug. That’s why we didn’t work out. He always thought he knew better. Self-righteous. “Excuse me,” someone said. I must’ve forgotten that my rent is paid, and my bills are all on time. That I have a steady job. What’s he doing anyway, still studying for the CPA exam? “Excuse me?” The voice again. “Do you have the new John Grisham?” I got down off the ladder and walked to the back of the bookstore without making sure she was following me. He didn’t like to read. Unless you count the occasional first two chapters of some new climate science book where they make you feel like a terrible person for not being vegan and driving a Tesla. For three weeks it’s all you’d hear about. And then he would magically lose interest, not only in the specific book but in the whole doctrine. Unbelievable. I handed the girl the book without speaking. She looked at me as if she was expecting something from me. “Not really a fan,” I said. Wasn’t that the way it always went with him? He was always keeping up with the Joneses. He never did what he really wanted, only what he thought was expected. Like that fucking CPA exam. It was more important to him to appear happy than it was to be happy. At the end of my shift I stole a decent amount of coins out of the till to feed to homeless people. * A nondescript pop song was playing from the speakers in the bar. I was pretending to use the urinal, waiting for a group of two or three people to go into the stall so I could ask them for a bump of their cocaine. It was

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surprisingly crowded for a Wednesday. I took a cultural anthropology class in college. I wrote a paper on the impact nightlife has had on the LGBTQ+ community, how bars were the only place where many of us ever felt safe. He never liked to go to the bar. He never really liked to go out. A real homebody, as it were. He only wanted to do what he wanted to do. God, he was so “Controlling,” I said out loud. The bridesmaid washing her hands looked at me from the sink, but I did not make eye contact with her. I just pretended to shake my penis as if I had just finished urinating until she left, at which point I stopped. Three guys all wearing Patagonia vests walked into the restroom and I followed them into the stall. * I tried to clear my mind, so I met up with this guy that I found online. No profile picture. I assumed he was either in the closet or in a relationship, neither of which bothered me all too much. He was moderately attractive and somewhat decently dressed, wonderfully forgettable. “Do you like jazz?” He asked, dropping the needle on an old, tattered Coltrane record. I hate jazz. It’s just pretentious noise that people pretend to like because they think it’s impressive or refined. All those Jack Kerouac and Holden Caulfield types. “I love it,” I lied. When we ran out of booze, we went into his bedroom. “What was your name again?” he asked. “Call me Eric,” I said. * I picked up a six-pack on the way home to replace my roommates and sat on the curb outside the 7-11, waiting for someone to come out packing cigarettes so that I could ask for one. I had my own, but I enjoyed doing it. Why did he even come up to me? I asked the vacant sidewalk. What was left of the six-pack hung from my finger. I had the plastic ring hooked around my pinky and cigarette in my other hand. My roommate wasn’t home, so I finished off the last of the six-pack before getting one from the

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thirty I kept in my closet. There was no reason for him to even come up to me and say anything, I thought resentfully. Why did he think that was OK? Why did he do that? If you’re in the grocery store and you see someone you went to highschool with, you don’t go out of your way to talk to them. Unless, of course, you want to talk to them. A smile spread across my face. Did he come up to me for a reason? I allowed myself to get lost in the thought. He did ask if I still lived in Lower Haight. I promptly went to the bay window and peeled back the curtains as if he would be there waiting. He was not. It’s OK, I told myself, he’ll be here soon. I sat and drank beer all night and waited for him to come over. I fell asleep on the sill. * That night I had a dream I had a large tumor on my head. I went to the doctor but when the doctor came in the room, he left directly through another, only to appear again through the same door like a Pacman in an arcade game. Then I was suddenly holding the tumor in my hands, ashamed, running through the foggy San Francisco hills while faceless people watched from their windows. * The next morning I took two of the Excedrins from my night stand. I dry swallowed them and made a pot of coffee. The goldfish swam in a circle. I can’t believe he didn't show up, I exclaimed in my mind. Why would he want to know if I still lived here if he didn’t plan on showing up? I unblocked him again on social media, checked to see if he had updated his whereabouts and then blocked him again. The milk had spoiled. I dumped the sour, clumpy mess down the drain and used orange juice in my cereal. I just don’t understand what reasoning he had in finding out that information if he had no intention of doing anything with it. That’s so typical of him. Just like those fucking climate science books. Why would he do that? After I finished the cereal, I threw the bowl in the sink and fed the fish. I hated it with an unreasonable passion. Its helplessness, its dependency. Its idiocy. All it did was swim around in that goddamn bowl all goddamn day completely oblivious that its own head was the source of

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all its ailments. And yet it was so arrogant. It expected me to be here every day, to feed it every day, never showing gratitude or appreciation. I was a slave to its needs. Didn’t it know that some people aren’t reliable? That some people say they’re going to be one place and then don’t show up? With a rage in me I didn't know I would ever allow, and a mercy I didn't know I could ever muster, I scooped the fish out of the bowl in the sweep of my hands and watched it die on the counter. * On the bay window, throwing pennies out onto the foggy streets, I unblocked his social media page once again. He had posted some new photos. They were from when his cousin, Eric, was visiting. Time to buy a new goldfish. Anthony Raymond is an emerging author from San Francisco, California. His work has been featured in LitBreak, The Write Launch, Beyond Words, and others. He is currently a student at Stanford University in their novel writing certificate program.

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Car l os Del eon , Bay Day, 20 0 9


Hiding in Plain Sight or How I Spent My Last Night as a Straight Man at The Pajama Game Michael Whistler The last thing I did as a straight man was see Judy Kaye in The Pajama Game at Lincoln Center. I came out that evening. Coming out is a rite of passage for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is not just a public acknowledgement, but also a private ownership of Pride. For me, it is that idea of Pride which makes a different journey for my community than others. It isn’t just about awareness and visibility (which it most certainly also IS), it is about the ability to navigate through the world, my eyes meeting the gaze of others. Pride is acceptance, and for me, that journey to acceptance started within myself long before I could ask others to do so. I am a very lucky man. I was raised in a loving and progressive, if chaotic, family. I had no great booming voice shouting me into a closet, I had no church leaders actively placing coals of damnation under my feet. But from a young age, I knew something was very different. As a tot, I was OBSESSED with the Batman TV show. I would throw ear-piercing, lipsplitting, Damien Omen-type tantrums if I was home too late for an episode. It wasn’t about the camp ( I was too young to see it), and I took it all deadly seriously: there was no finer creature in this world than the man in the navy blue cowl. I recall asking my older brothers who was the best character on Batman (I mean, Batman, obviously), and being surprised when they answered to a man… Batgirl. I couldn’t understand why that could be, but it made me aware that somehow, I was watching a different TV show than they were, and somehow I knew that I shouldn’t talk about it. So, I didn’t. I continued watching Batman side by side with them, and all the while writing entirely different scripts in my head. It was the beginning of a long, long game of Hide in Plain Sight. I was confused In Middle School when everyone at my lunch table discovered Farrah Fawcett Majors. Or Valerie Bertinelli. Or Pamela Sue Anderson. Of course I had my own discoveries (David Soul, either Duke of Hazzard, or Sgt. Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller – don’t judge me…), but from the look in the eyes of my classmates I knew that I would keep those

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discoveries to myself, and continue playing Hide in Plain Sight. Except now things were more difficult to keep hidden. Even in the Lost World of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, puberty will find you. My body and my will were working in separate directions. When I had “The Talk” about reproduction, and had prevention explained for me, the cognitive dissonance was so strong I remember actually asking: “But, if there is so much work involved – why would anyone do this unless they needed to make a baby?” It was calmly and sweetly explained to me. “Because it is one of the most pleasurable things you can do with your body.” But that wasn’t what I imagined, and the urges which (it was assumed) were tearing me apart were in fact very different from those imagined by the person who spoke with me. For a moment, in that very naïve question, I almost stopped hiding. But too afraid to lose – what? I don’t know… – I laughed the question off, to make it easier for all of us involved, and then doubled down my will and intensity to Hide in Plain Sight. My will very quickly turned to panic as everything went haywire in my body, and that panic turned into a fear that I wouldn’t be able to disguise what was happening inside of me. I put more and more energy into making the buoyancy and play of the Hiding in Plain Sight game seem natural. This was of course, exhausting, and I became addicted to the fear and panic, needing that fuel to shore up the façade which I felt for sure was visibly crumbling. Like an addict, it made me do awful things. I lied to people I loved, I betrayed confidences, and consistently shut myself away from joy I didn’t feel I deserved. Building this unnatural self left me exhausted and filled with a physical pain, which ached inside of me. It carved itself against my heart with each breath, with every move I tried to make, like something hard and vitrified. A tooth I created inside myself to eat me alive. This physical pain was the price I paid, I thought. A price called Shame. I learned to cry myself to sleep. It was a private release I could allow myself. As I grew older, and became a more fully formed and stronger person, that ritual of crying myself to sleep became an opportunity to recharge, and begin to let go of some of the panic and shame. Honestly, I became accustomed to it. On my birthday, in 1989, I scored a free ticket to see The Pajama Game. I remember very little of it, except of course that Judy Kaye is a marvel and a force of nature. I came home to my apartment in the East Village, where

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my roommate and his girlfriend had a small cake and a gift for me (a brass letter opener, which I still have). My roommate fell asleep, and I sat chatting with his girlfriend in my bedroom into the wee hours of the night. I was, after such a long day, and this sweet surprise, exhausted. And so, I started crying. Not bawling or sobbing, just crying. Holding on a perfectly normal conversation with tears rolling down my face was a perfectly normal, acceptable ritual for me. But I could see on her face it was shocking, so I told her not to worry. She still looked stunned, maybe frightened. “No, no, it’s nothing. Nothing. Honestly. I just do this. I cry every night before I sleep. I just lie here and cry, and cry. It’s just what I do. It’s just that I am so lonely. So terribly, terribly lonely, and I just cry, that’s all…” Then she asked the question no one had asked me before: “Michael? Is it for a man?” At that moment, everything opened up as I formed the word: “Yes.” I bawled through the night with her, just pushing past all the knots and teeth of shame I had built inside my body, letting everything fall and pool on the floor of that little apartment on Second Avenue, and seeing at last that all that shame was not only powerless to hurt me, but useless, heavy, and unnecessary. I had a second chance now, to carry myself forward without that weight, without everything I had built inside of myself to destroy me. I stopped putting energy into my game of Hide in Plain Sight. I had begun to move Shame aside. Now, I would need to work very hard to replace it with Pride. Whatever voices you have inside of you, I hope they are building you up, and not tearing you down. And, Judy Kaye, you really were fabulous in The Pajama Game. Michael Whistler is a teacher and writer living in Minneapolis. His works for stage are The F*ggot Museum, phidias8, Little Lamb, Our Lady of Balenciaga and Casse Noisette. For the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, he was commissioned to create both The Prescott Method and Mickle Street. He served as an Assistant Professor at Montgomery County Community College near Philadelphia, where he has created two iterations of "Hidden Rivers," theatrical evenings of oral histories of the College’s students and community members. His writing works to share stories of the queer community and beyond, with humor, honesty, and dignity. michaelwhistler.com

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Tr evor Eich en ber ger , Queer and Pr oud


How to forgo a best friend Jobert E. Abueva First, dig deep. It’s second grade at a Manila all-boys parochial. His name is Michael C. You throw paper airplanes at one another and across the classroom, eliciting giggles behind Miss Tomas’s back as she demonstrates cursive loops and tails on the chalkboard. Together you corner the market in coveted Snoopy and Woodstock stickers during recess, fetching as much as a PB&J. You divvy up your loot, cutting it diagonally into perfect halves. You are thick as thieves, hanging like bats on the monkey bars, daring who can hold out the longest. Cackling as blood rushes to your heads. Then one day, you crumple your face, asking Miss Tomas to repeat what she has told you. It doesn’t compute that Michael is gone for good. She gives no reason why. The entire class climbs onto a bus, as if on a field trip, only to arrive at an empty church except for the sliver coffin you tiptoe over to peer inside. But you’re not tall enough and all you see through the glass window is a ruffled wall of white satin. Dad’s a roving academic, so you switch schools four times across four countries in four years. Sure there’s Stephen M. and Robert E. and Lars D., each with an abrupt end date. Each leaving a scar no one sees. You attend the same high school throughout. The same for college. It’s the supposed golden age to forge friendships that later in life you will count on your hand. But your mojo is to hang with a crowd, have forbidden crushes on a few, and keep to yourself. You believe no one gets you. And that everyone’s sure to shun you the moment they understand the real you. You land your first job. Executive trainee at The May Company, Cleveland. You and Neil F. are assigned to Euclid Mall. You, young men’s. Him, households. You bump into one another at Numbers. It’s go-go boys night. “What are you doing here?” you exclaim in unison, startled though not surprised. Out of context but soon in synch, comparing notes over Heinekens as prospects parade by on Saturday nights. You call him past midnight after the police show up. Label it a lovers quarrel and you’re sustaining a bloody nose. He drives in the relentless rain from Lakewood, west of Downtown, to Hunting Valley on the far east end. He bring you back, prepares the couch and tucks you in, not leaving your side until your tears have run dry and you are fast asleep. Together you find a two-bedroom. Rent, utilities and escapades split down the middle. Even

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Steven Pen n ett, Untitled


after you move to New York (hey, it’s Macy’s) you never miss your Sunday calls. Not even a year on, spring blossoms and you’re to reunite, to take Manhattan by storm. But the phone rings. It’s his boyfriend offering more questions than answers. You rush up to Buffalo for the funeral and break down before the open casket. You’re whisked away and made to sit down behind the curtain. No one wants a scene. You say to yourself he’d have something to say about the giant rosary clutched in his hands. Whenever a plane crashes, there’s bound to be two more in the wings. It’s the threat of threes. You give credence to the Kennedy curse. And how a black widow spins her web. Working in your favor is that by your age most if not all in your circle are spoken for. And that stealing another’s is but a plot twist on a telenovela. Besides, you may have become too set in your ways, unable to make room for others. This is your defense. As well as a defect. You’re settled in the suburbs. Twenty years and counting. You’re popular. Fun to be around. Fully comfortable in your own skin as you work the crowd. Everyone knows of you. Yet you prefer to stay close to the surface. Shallow is safe. Some have suffered as a result. Still, why stray off script? Go ahead, build your social network and choose your family. Call them brothers. Even lovers. But for the love of God, don’t get so damn close. Jobert E. Abueva of New Hope, Pennsylvania is winner of the Lambda Literary J. Michael Samuel Prize for emerging LGBTQ writers over 50, Writer’s Advice prize for flash memoir, Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Literary Award for historical LGBTQ short fiction and two National Arts Club prizes in non-fiction. Credits include The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. His first book, Boy Wander - A Coming of Age Memoir, is available from Rattling Good Yarns Press. More at www.jobertabueva.net.

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Hashbrowns & Marriage Amanda Suckow On Sunday mornings we sleep until 7 am. I start the coffee before I pee. Dog pills, walks, and kibble in three different rooms for three variations of pit bulls. She shreds potatoes with a cheese grater while singing Feist and the Constantines' melancholy rendition of Islands in the Stream. Sung so low, almost a groan, “Tender love is blind it requires a dedication.” She coats the bottom of the iron skillet pan with olive oil and garlic. She mentions the trick for perfect hashbrowns: "keep the heat low and leave them be." She slices grape tomatoes and fresh cilantro to top the eggs. I set the rain-worn patio table with Frank’s hot sauce, mismatched forks, paper towel napkins, and two glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice."Brrrreakfast is served," I announce in my most enthusiastic Luigi impression as I carry our plates to the deck. We eat surrounded by fence panels secured with zip ties while the dogs chase sunspots in the yellow grass and dirt. Dripping yokes glisten between crispy fried potatoes. She tells me about the overworked nurse who falls asleep across the hall, the patient who said she needed this abortion to finish school, and her boss who keeps offering her more money so she won't leave the clinic. We talk about my work. The kid who pet my arm last week and asked why I have so much hair. The teaching music on a cart experience, unpacking and setting up several times a day. How my boss suggested I not fart in front of her. We talk about wanting to buy some land in the country and start a senior dog rescue, if only as an excuse to hoard old dogs with nowhere to go. “When I finish school,” she says, “let’s do that when I finish school.” She has said this before. She starts the water for our shower; it’s hotter than I want and bites my skin. I lather most every part of her with unscented bar soap. I turn around for her privacy. When we are entirely sterile, we return to bed. I lick her. She licks me. She laughs when it’s real. Today she is pretending. I place the wand at just the right spot. She is on top. I close my eyes and fantasize about my best friend's husband until I finish. She climbs off and checks me off of her chore list. She keeps the heat low and leaves me be, 'til next Sunday.

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Sh er ee Rayfor d, Read M y Lips


Amanda Suckow (they/them) is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary musician, sound artist, and storyteller. A veteran music educator and now Arts Specialist, they develop and facilitate creative and collaborative multidisciplinary learning.

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Hugo and the Python Stephen Watson We met on the way back from the beach. He had on brilliant blue sailcloth shorts over sky blue Speedos. I had my eye on him long before he dressed to head home. I had noticed him, a half a dozen blankets down, preparing to depart the sun and surf of Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown. White and blue tank top tossed casually over his shoulder, canvas beach bag packed: an aquamarine blue and white towel with dolphins fixed along the border, empty Poland Springs bottle, and a shiny silver iPod that reflected sun’s rays directly into my left eye as he dropped it into the bag. Was it my imagination, or did he look my way as he headed for the bike rack? He reached the dividing line between beach and dune grass, and turned his head for just a second, long enough to catch my eye ever so briefly. I realized at that moment, I had been at the beach long enough: there was the danger of skin cancer, the hazard of sand creeping into my bathing suit, and of course, the ever-present threat of a meteor striking this very part of the Cape on such a flawless afternoon. I packed up and sprinted to the bike rack quick as a runner trying to steal second base. I rushed to the bike parking section and saw my guy, well, not yet my guy, stuffing his bag into the wicker basket on the front of his cerulean blue bike. I found out later it was a rental, the last one they had available that morning at Cape Bikes on Bradford Street. I felt relieved. I mean, enough is enough with the shades of blue. He seemed to be loading up very slowly, looking towards the path coming down from the beach… for me? By a glad happenstance, my bike was secured two bikes away from his. I walked as coolly as I could manage to my bike, and after a beat, turned sideways and said, “Hello.” It turned out to be about an easy a conversation as I’ve ever had in the act of picking someone up. Hugo, from Montreal, in town for a few more nights. And, like me, he ate dinner – every night! So we made plans for that evening. Time was precious. We headed to our respective homes to shower and get ready for dinner. I arrived at Hugo’s place at 6:30. It was a one bedroom off Commercial Street, on the backside of the building, so it was a little dark, but well appointed. It belonged to a friend, Andy, and he let Hugo have the place for the week. My bad luck was that it was Thursday. At first I didn’t notice the large glass tank on the counter top. When I did, I walked over, expecting

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fish, or maybe hamsters or some civilized creatures. To my surprise, and I admit horror, there was a huge snake, all wrapped up and sunning him (her) self under a heat lamp. It looked catatonic, but you can never trust snakes. Ask Eve. Hugo explained how calm and harmless the big reptile was, and that I had nothing to worry about. Hmmm. We had a lovely dinner at The Mews, danced our butts off at the AHouse, and without a word, we walked back to his apartment. (Yes, we were holding hands, are you happy now?) Reassured once again that the snake was cool, and I don’t mean temperature-wise with the heating light off, Hugo asked me to stay. At that point, the snake could have curled up at the foot of our bed and you couldn’t have dragged me out of there. I’ll skip the next part, savoring it for a private recollection later, and jump to the next unsuspecting morning. I woke up, at least I assumed I woke up, sightless. I could not open my eyes; I had left my hard contact lenses in my eyes. After a day at the beach, in the sun, in the salt water, dining and dancing and you know what, I had forgotten to take my contacts out. Normally, not a big deal, an eye cup of saline, hydrate myself, and wait for nature to perform the miracle - I can see! Hugo got up and I explained what happened. No big deal, he would be my eyes until I could see again. He headed to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast while I waited blindly in bed. Then I heard, “oh fuck!” With great trepidation, I asked, a noticeable tremor in my voice, “what is it, Hugo?” What could possibly cause that outcry? “Princess has tipped the top of the tank and escaped.” “Princess? Are you kidding me? Who calls a six foot python Princess?” Perhaps a more overriding concern was, “Escaped? Are you fucking kidding me?” “Wait here, our next-door neighbor is also a herpetologist, that’s how Andy found this apartment. I’ll go get him and he can get Princess back into the tank. And don’t worry, she won’t bother you, she’s afraid of people.” “Not as afraid as I am afraid of snakes,” I screamed as I heard the door slam behind him. Don’t panic. When you panic, you get worked up and then you have to pee, I told myself. A beat. I have to pee. I noticed at that time, that the room was even darker than it was last night, lights out. I could hear the darkness, I could smell it and taste it and reach out and touch it. I could roll it in a ball and toss it across the room. I could brush the darkness off my naked legs only to have it right back in place – it was everywhere, like air, like the fear that was also real and firm and dry and cold.

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Kal a, Gar den of the Flesh


I mustered all my strength (and last night’s after-glow), and decided to brave the trek across the apartment to the bathroom. I remembered a tennis racket on the wall beside the bed, and reached over to grab it and employ it as a seeing-eye racket. Not the most effective anti-snake weapon, but necessity being the mother of invention, and a tennis racket in the hand was worth two machetes in the bush. I was running out of clichés, so I had to move. The floor felt stable with my first step, but the second foot coming down made contact with something foreign. I couldn’t make it out by touch alone, I pictured undergrowth – brambles and poison ivy vines. The next step was more of the same. I tried to visualize what it could be, but jungle floor images plagued my thoughts. I decided to be brave and reach down. It was a sweatshirt, shed last night in a fit of evening passion that turned into a morning nightmare. Nothing in the long voyage to the bathroom felt like it should. Furniture felt like large chess pieces and I was a pawn waiting to be taken. Clothing and linens bore the sense of plants and bushes – most of which were man-eating. Huge Venus fly traps waiting for a stray hand or foot. Damn, I should have put my shorts on. I thought I heard Princess slithering across the floor. She sounded like sandpaper running across flesh. I know, there’s no sound to sandpaper on skin – except the scream of the tormented. I thought I heard her breathing, slow, deep, confident breaths. I could feel my blood chilling. I swear I could hear her whisper, “Hiding is futile, escape is hopeless, death is inevitable.” Ever the English major, I paused to ask myself how did a snake from Burma learn to speak English and use italics. Pull yourself together, reptiles do not speak at all, let alone in unaccented English. There was a distinctive aroma in the air. They say dogs can smell fear… well, this child was reeking of it. I thought, if Princess can smell fear, I am Chanel No.5. I could serve as the little pine tree air freshener for Fenway Park right now – yes, I know Fenway is an outdoor venue, but I could fragrance it all, nonetheless. Upon reaching the bathroom, I closed the door immediately. Uh oh! What if she’s in here and I have just locked myself into my own doom? Aaargh! I didn’t smell snake, I didn’t feel her presence – her suffocating, murderous presence. I dared not reach down to touch the floor or the inside of the bathtub to see if she was napping, or lying in wait to wrap herself around and squeeze the life out of me. Sightless, and not the greatest shot in

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the world standing at the toilet anyway, I sat on the commode to relieve myself, praying she wasn’t taking a quick dip in the toilet bowl. Once seated, gingerly – lo and behold – I heard the front door open. Assuming that Princess did not have the apparatus to stand and turn the doorknob, I guessed it was Hugo and the herpetologist. Sounds like a children’s book: Hugo and the Herpetologist Go Snake Hunting on Cape Cod or Hugo and Princess, the Python, Scare the Bejesus out of the Unsuspecting Blind Gay Man. I took a deep breath, with some confidence that it would not be my last, and very calmly, bravely walked out of the bathroom, grabbing a snakefree towel on the way out to wrap around me. The guys were standing on the other side of the room, talking quietly. I heard Hugo saying to the snake guy, “Poor Princess, she was probably terrorized being out of her tank, roaming around the scary apartment. Fortunately, she found her way back on her own; home again, safe and sound, in her cage.” My head screamed, Are you nuts? But I managed to squeak out, “That’s great, didn’t bother me at all, I barely noticed she was out.” My pants are still on fire. Stephen Watson is a retired high school librarian from Boston Latin School living in western Massachusetts with his partner of 26 years, 3 rescue dogs, and a rescue cat from Provincetown. Reading, gardening, traveling, and several writing groups occupy his time when not with Hugh or the animals.

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The Queer School Librarian Edward Jackson I was honored to be appointed to a three-year term to a book awards committee. I had read the books longlisted for the awards through the years and purchased the titles to put in my school’s library, so it was a natural fit for me to apply. While I knew the titles well, there was another reason I wanted to be on the committee. That was to expand the list to be more inclusive and representative of Queer books and authors. The list usually veered to typical middle grade books, heavy on fantasy and contemporary family archetype characters. But the world is more than that, and I really wanted to see Queer themed books. Not just books with a minor character who may be gay or coming out. Not a book with straight protagonists written by a Queer author. I wanted books with a Queer protagonist going through real world situations. To my knowledge, prior to my tenure on the committee, no Queer themed book as I have defined it was ever on the longlist, although I’d been told some Queer themed books had been considered and a few books had Queer characters. Even though I was a first year on the committee I advocated for what I saw as glaring holes in representation. That year there were a number of amazing books with Queer lead characters and storylines that were age appropriate for our target grades of 4-8. I’m never one to shy away from my opinions. While just a first-year member of the committee, I found Queer themed books for consideration throughout the year long process that were good fits. This process of making a longlist is heavily involved, but in a quick summary it amounts to heavy reading and scoring on a rubric for months. The list gets narrowed and the committee meets one Saturday to finalize the list. When the day came for our meeting, an all-day event, I believe I advocated strongly and fairly. To my extraordinary joy, there was support. Two age appropriate Queer books made the list. As a young reader, I never saw characters that were like me. The absence of gay, male teens in books easily led me to believe there was something wrong with me. As a voracious reader, a lack of representation meant I shouldn’t exist in my mind. In high school, I came out to my mother and she hid books in the bottom of her desk drawer and told me I could read them if I wanted. That act of hiding them out of sight was telling me to hide

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myself. I was given a chance to remedy that for young readers. I was so proud that I just didn’t look to fill a void for me but also by advocating for a Trans themed book as well. I remember leaving that day with such a feeling of accomplishment and posting on social media my excitement. Friends and co-workers had to hear ad nauseum about this over dinners and lunch breaks. When the list came out, I eagerly couldn’t wait to share with my reading bowl team what an amazing time they’d have reading these books. Then I opened my work email. It was flooded. With hate. I began to shake a little. I was afraid of what this meant. My inbox was filled with incensed people demanding a retraction of the two books on the list. It was a precursor to what is going on today with book banning and so-called parental rights. The emails threatened my job and litigation. But the worst were the ones that threatened me with the law, called me a pedophile and child pornographer. I truly feared a knock on my door from the police. My experience with them was not a positive one. Even in the 21st century, police still raided gay bars in my town. Police seemingly ignored all the wrongdoing at straight bars, but if it were a gay bar, I feared what would happen by just being there even when doing nothing wrong. The police seemed to relish in doing perp walks for gay bar raids. As an over-explainer, I wanted to draft lengthy emails back. Luckily, I texted a dear lawyer friend who crafted a two sentence reply for me. While all of us on the committee got emails, I was the only one who was called pedophile to my knowledge. Why? Because of a pink shirt. The committee had a website with members bios and pictures. While it did not disclose email or home addresses, it did disclose where we worked. My work did publish our emails on its webpage. Easy enough for hundreds of people to fill my inbox with threats. I have no doubt that my picture screamed gay to people and with a quick Google search to my socials, it would be confirmed.

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Dan i Tor r en t, Besties


While it sucked to get hate email, I’m proud that when people search me they can conclude I’m gay. I’m proud of the fact I do not hide. I told no one this. The accusation of pedophile was scary. How could someone accuse me of such a thing just for a booklist? Even today, radical conservatives throw that word around so casually. The lasting impact of those hateful emails and baseless accusations had a long term emotional and psychological impact. The next year, I had no fight left in me and didn’t advocate for Queer books. In my view, I was exhausted by the experience and played it safe. I was numb. The next year’s list was inclusive regarding race, and I love that. But there were no Queer books. With my email free from pedophile accusations and threats of sending the police to my doorstep, I’d gotten my mojo back and my fight for representation for year three. While there wasn’t the same number of young adult Queer books on my radar as I’d hoped that year, two Queer themed books were standouts that I read. My first choice couldn’t be considered as it was out of the publication timeline in the committee rules. The second, equally as powerful to me, was eligible. While I have always felt a need to represent my youthful experience as a gay, male teen in books, I know the youthful Trans experience is pushed even further to the margins in our country, even more so today as radical conservative news outlets attack Trans youth daily. In a tragicomic fate, the day the committee was scheduled to meet was the same day as semi-finals for reading competition, the same competition that used the book list I helped create. Guess whose team was in the semi-finals? Mine. There was no choice to make. I would never let my students and their hard work down. I was so proud of them. While I couldn’t make it, I felt that representation would happen. I was understanding and trusted the process. The committee is made of well-intentioned adults who celebrate diversity. I sent an email to the chair with two books I wanted to nominate. It was not unheard of for a committee member to have more than one book they advocate for make the list. The other book I sent wasn’t Queer themed, but did include a global historical perspective with a minority lead character. I truly believed the Queer book I nominated was a shoe in. I had no doubt in my mind that the book would be on the list. It wasn’t.

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* I don’t know what happened in that meeting. I instantly sent an email with my request for a reconsideration to the chair, but was met with a no and that one of my books made the list, albeit not my top book. I removed myself from the committee and rescinded my participation in the conference where we present the list. I felt that I did not see myself in this list at all, and if I couldn’t see myself represented, I couldn’t represent the committee. I was a little shell-shocked. I wasn’t expecting the list to be finalized without me. I thought there’d be some input from me at the end of the day. I felt my absence was an excusable one, to support kids who had read our list over and over. * The chair has refused any communication with me since. I wonder if they fear I’m portraying them as homophobic or anti-LGBTQ. I am not. My little protest is minor. I know that. But it is significant and meaningful to me. The chair did send me a note they were heartbroken by my decision. I found that ironic that their heart was the broken one in their mind. Wasn’t I the one whose voice was not heard, wasn’t I the one locked out of the process? Those were my feelings. Am I supposed to feel bad that I made a straight, white person feel bad? I was compounding negativity. What’s done is done and there were lessons to be learned. For years, I took things in stride, took it on the chin, sucked it up and moved on. As Queer persons we sometimes have to do that. But this was a time I couldn’t and didn’t. By no means do I think the committee or its members have any homophobia or bias against Queer books. Quite the contrary. But like all of us, can learn to be better ones. I know that I can be a better ally and advocate too for other marginalized groups. I felt silenced, and when I thought I presented that feeling of silencing, I was met with what felt like unwillingness to explore the issue further. I found a voice, albeit quiet, but a voice, nonetheless. No one knew about it, but I knew. I also learned the power radical conservatives have. The list, to my knowledge, has never had what I see as proper Queer representation since. I could be wrong as I’ve not read all the titles since my tenure, but from summaries, it appears I may be right. I also think there is a misunderstanding regarding what a Queer book is. I think straight allies believe a book with a minor Queer character is representation. I see it as the

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opposite. Stop putting Queer kids to the margins. Put Queer characters as the protagonist. That is a Queer book to me. The attacks from radical conservatives on Queer Americans is so high, it makes perfect sense the current committees across the country may unconsciously avoid Queer representation. In my opinion, the lack of representation isn’t due to a lack of titles. There are a plethora of amazing Queer books out there. In the end, I know the shame and fear I had as a young Queer kid would have been lessened by representation in books. I hope that any book lists created by any institution considers who is most marginalized and needs an uplift right now. For me, that is Queer young readers and that can be aided by seeing themselves in print. Edward Jackson is a creative writer who has published prose in a variety of publications including The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Voyage, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. He holds degrees in Education, English, and Library Science and lives in Pennsylvania with his husband and their menagerie of pets named after Mad Men characters.

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The Passing Parade Kevin Joseph Reigle The fluorescent streetlights reached out, their white streaks slashing across the windshield. A stray dog scratched at a sewer grate. Deep brown eyes locked on Brian as his car sped past. In the rearview mirror, the dog howled at the taillights. The rugged peaks of the Appalachian Mountains stretched upward, extending coal seams into the sheer blackness of the night sky. Only a single blinking light atop a cellphone tower gave perspective to the soaring elevation of the highlands. Rumbling conveyor belts lifting anthracite from the mines shook the valley. At the bottom of the ravine, the car struck a pothole and bounced. The alignment jostling below the undercarriage. As tires screeched, Brian turned up the hill. In front of him, the hazy colossus of the football stadium rose from the mist. The scaffolding backlit by the moon. The headlights washed over the chain link fence behind the bleachers. A white sheet tied to the gate post rippled in the breeze. A word, Remember, carefully outlined in permanent marker. Blue plastic cups inserted between the chain links formed the number 41. From the glovebox, Brian removed an envelope. The word Love scrawled across it in permanent marker. He closed his eyes, clutching the envelope to his chest. With a deep breath, he laid it on the passenger seat. Brian eased out of the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. Headlights illuminated the fabric memorial. He reached out and touched it, his fingers pressing against the interwoven thread. “You ain’t supposed to be up here.” “I know,” Brian said, without turning, recognizing the voice behind him. Night custodian Harlan Blackburn puffed on a cigarette. He held out the pack of Newport’s. “They should take that down.” Brian took a cigarette. He slid it between his lips, fingers pressing against the filter. “Allen stood right here and watched us. Then he went and did it.”

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M ar k J. Rich ar ds, Landing


Harlan flicked the lighter and held it under Brian’s chin. The cigarette glowed as a wisp of smoke floated from the embers. Brian clamped two knuckles around the Newport and extended his arm, pointing at the bleachers. “You think I could sit up there for a little while?” Brian asked. “You know I can’t do that,” Harlan answered, inhaling deeply, calming his nicotine craving. “Come on, who would know?” “What if someone sees you? This ain’t the best job, but it beats working the mines.” “Fine,” Brian muttered. “I don’t know if I ever told you, but that was a hell of an interception. This town’s been waiting a long time to beat Logan.” “I wish he could have been part of it,” Brian said, blowing smoke. “He was a great fullback. We just weren’t a good team his senior year.” Harlan stepped in front of the makeshift shrine. “There’s nothing heroic about what that young man did. It makes me sick when people talk about it like that.” Brian kicked the loose gravel. “Maybe he had his reasons.” “There ain’t nothing a man should be afraid to face in this life,” Harlan said, looking at Brian’s car. A trace of Pentecostal preacher slipped into his tone. “Where’s that girl of yours?” “She’s at home. I just dropped her off.” “You should go home, too.” Brian nodded and examined the cigarette. “I feel so lost.” “Well, stop. Jesus, you have your whole life ahead of you.” “Yeah, cause there’s a lot to look forward to here,” Brian said, the headlights giving off an ethereal glow as he walked between the beams. “Hey,” Harlan called. “The side gate is unlocked. Just make sure you’re gone by the time I get back out here. And if anyone comes, you tell them you climbed the fence. You got that?” “I got it.”

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GJ Gil l espie, M an Disguised as Spir it


“You climbed the fence,” Harlan repeated, heading inside the school, the brick building a poor companion to the cathedral of a football stadium. Brian took the envelope from the passenger seat and opened the gate behind the ticket booth. The darkened stadium was a stark contrast to the burning heat of the Friday night lights he’d grown accustomed to these last four years. Instead, the black void and cold metal bleachers felt like the Carbon Hill mine shaft his father descended every morning. He sat on the top row, back resting against cinder blocks extending from the press box. Even at night, the white lines on the turf glowed. Scanning the empty field, visions of glory appeared in snippets, flickering in and out of existence like the flame from Harlan’s lighter. In the back of the endzone, he could see himself snag an interception as the crowd roared. The passing attack of Logan High’s perfect season ending abruptly. The scoreboard ticking down the final seconds of the district championship. Teammates piling on top of him as a figure outside the stadium grasped the fence and leaned against it. The visions faded but the figure remained, watching. Brian stood and yelled out, begging him not to do it, begging him not to leave. As he ran down the bleachers, the blue cups slid from their wire cradle and fell to the pavement. A hand untied the white sheet and pulled it free. Sprinting into the endzone, Brian could see Harlan, cigarette in hand, dismantling the monument. Brian stopped, falling to the turf. On the twenty-yard line, he laid, watching stars through the floating coal dust. Ripping the letter from the envelope, his eyes scanned past the meaningless words until they reached the ones that mattered. It will be better for both of us now. Please forgive me if you can. Allen #41 Kevin Joseph Reigle’s short stories have appeared in Beyond Words, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys, Bridge Eight, Pensworth, Prometheus Dreaming, Bright Flash, CafeLit and The Yard. He teaches at the University of the Cumberlands.

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A God Shattering Star Zachary Roybal It’s been two weeks today since I last said goodbye to you, kissing you on your forehead as you left through my front door. I don’t know what’s worse: if you don’t know if you’ll ever love again, or if you don’t want anyone else to give you love except one. I wish I could say it was easy that night. We met in the spare room across from my bedroom as I had you blindfolded for your surprise. You said you’ve never been to prom, so I turned the room into a small technicolor wonder. Your favorite food on a table in the corner, spinning disco lights, and myself dressed in a splendid outfit that I knew you would like. I took the blindfold off and simply asked if you’d like to go to prom with me. “Of course,” you said after a second of shock of what was happening around you. Taking in the sights, you looked flabbergasted at the way I could love someone. The way I wish you would have tried to love me sooner or later. That was the issue though, wasn’t it? You believed I deserved better than you, saying that I was a trophy that needed to be shown off to the world. A prized possession of love and glory. It almost felt like you saw me on a marble pillar and gazed at me longingly. As if I was a God and you were my disciple. Believing I had skin dipped in Aprhodite’s grace and light where one kiss will have you hooked and obsessed. Bathing in Dionysus’ wine with how intoxicating my personality was. And as inquisitive and cunning as Athena is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in that moment I was beheld. I was no God though, I’m just human. A human man with a human heart that could be made of gold, yet gold is a very soft metal to bend, chip and break away under pressure. That’s exactly what happened too. You, like a cosmic body from above, brought yourself down through the heavens and shot itself straight through my chest and into my heart. The carpet we sat on, the clothes we wore, and the one roll of toilet paper and a half of another, were all drowned in our tears. We cried for what felt like hours. “I want to turn down the music to hear you better.” I said. “I don’t want you to hear what I have to say.” Silence as I disregarded the request and turned down the music.

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“But I want to hear you. I want to hear what you have to say about this.” I continued. Silence again as you didn’t want to say the words trapped behind your lips. They quivered as tears streamed silently down your face. You looked at me but couldn’t say fully what was on the tip of your tongue. “Promise me you won’t speak until I’m done?” You asked finally. I made a locking motion against my lips with my hand, trying to add a little bit of humor to the situation as a defense mechanism. Even if I couldn’t say my thoughts out loud, they still scrambled and analyzed every phrase. “We can’t be together.” Words that already hurt as an opener, that’s never a good sign. “We can’t be together because I will keep on hurting you. I don’t care how many times you’ll say that I haven’t or won’t hurt you again because it simply won’t be true. I have hurt you because I am a bad person for you. You deserve someone who can show you off like the trophy you are. Not someone who has to appreciate and cherish you behind closed doors. That’s not love… and I do love you.” the first time you said those words to me. “I am not good enough for you, and that’s just a fact.” It’s not a fact, that’s an opinion. “You don’t deserve to be like this,” You gestured toward me as I was wiping my tears away. “You deserve better than me, after everything you’ve been through. You deserve peace. And you’ll allow yourself to keep getting hurt by me because you want to be with me so badly and love me too.” It was dreadfully apparent. You loathed the way you ‘tricked’ me into falling in love with you. How you were a terrible person and nothing good could come from us staying together as I would repeatedly get hurt. That I’d allow it just because I wanted to be with you and loved you. Well, you were right. I did love you. “What do you have to say about that?” You said wiping some tears away and looking at me. Expecting an immediate response as I always do. I stayed quiet, though, and simply smiled lightly and pointed toward my mouth. You laughed for a second then said, “You can speak again.” A brief pause as I used an imaginary key to unlock my own lips. Lips that would usually be bursting at the seams to speak and debate, but this time I was quiet, except for one phrase that reverberated itself in my mind. “I love you too.” This was an obvious losing battle, you clearly made up your mind on the situation and I don’t fight losing battles. Not anymore. I still offered

33


again and again however. Asking if we can’t just try one more time. Now that we have all the dust swept out from under the rug, we can start anew. Reincarnate our love by the grace and divinity of us both and not just by one. You declined my offer to try once more. I only knew you for three weeks, yet I knew something was there for us if we tried. If we talked through the argument, accepted and understood each other’s emotions and actions, maybe things would have ended differently. You couldn’t accept that offer though. So instead we cried together in my small room with your head nuzzled into my chest. I embraced your body into mine and rubbed your back as your tears fell. Silence fell between us. I was the one who stood first, and like the God you thought I was, I raised you from the ground to guide you. You couldn’t let go though, you held onto my hand and pulled me in to slow dance again. Just as we did a few hours earlier except to a much more somber tone now. Tears wet our clothes mutually as I rested my head on your shoulder and wept, my mind racing with thoughts. Ask again. Try one more time? Why? Was I not good enough? No, he thinks I’m perfect. To this day I still have a little ghost of us dancing in my head as a memory. Fading but lingering just enough for me to remember the specifics. The next moment is what made me continue to cry for five days straight, and two random days the next week. I guided you to the door with your favorite food in hand, spicy salmon sushi. You tried to reject the offering but I insisted. I couldn’t enjoy the food that you loved as I just didn’t like the taste of it. You held it in one hand, and my hand in your other. Moving silently, my feet glided over the floorboards carrying my drained body to the front door. We held each other there in the moonlight, crying even still. “Can I ask you one more question?” You asked. “Sure.” “Can I kiss you? One last time?” “Of course,” I said as I leaned in again with a weak smile. You kissed me gently on my lips for an extended period of time. I imagined that you wished to savor the moment, knowing you won’t ever get it again. You began to apologize for hurting me and for everything you’ve done as if you

34


Xue'er Gao, Br eak


committed a heretic action against your God and you arrived at a confessional. “We’re the right people,” I said, gently stopping your train of thought. “just the wrong time and place. Maybe in another life, hun.” We smiled again. I proceeded to conclude the engagement by reciting the texts we tell each other every night when we go to bed. “I hope you have a great night, and as always, have the sweetest of dreams, guapo.” I grabbed your head in my hands and pulled it softly down toward my lips to bless you with a kiss. Even though I felt your eyebrows raise as you began to cry harder, I didn’t allow it to stop the kiss on your forehead. “Have a good night, handsome.” You said back to me and kissed my cheek of salty water we created that night. “Promise me one thing though?” I asked. You looked toward me and nodded as I held my pinky out. “You better not hate yourself. You are a wonderful human being and you deserve love as the rest of us do. Don’t you ever forget that.” Finishing it, you wrapped your pinky with my own and kissed it. I expected you to just walk away as soon as I opened the door. That you would walk to your car with your head slumped over in regret, sadness, guilt and a big mess of other emotions. Instead, you took less than three steps and turned back to look at me. That moment told me everything I needed to know. Most of the pieces lined up. The first date, when we barely touched our food in favor of talking to each other for five hours straight. On the second date, I beat your ass at bowling as I played Wii Sports when I was younger and rubbed it in your face. Even on the drive back to my car, you kept holding my hand as you awkwardly shifted the gears with your left. The third date was on Valentine’s Day and as such, you left me a gift on my back right shoulder. A simple heart, made with bruises from your lips. You gave me so much to want for, so much to hope for. It was a mystery how I couldn’t fall in love with you the same way you fell in love with me. Yet, you only told me those words while we both were crying on a carpeted floor within a room of technicolor lights. Everything added up to become one phrase: you loved me but you weren’t ready for it. You wanted to be with me but simply couldn’t out of fear of hurting me. Out of fear of never being enough for your self-

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proclaimed God. You were the only person who ever shattered my heart like this. You may not be the last to ever do so. But for now, you’ll be my favorite God shattering star. Zachary Roybal was born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado. He has chosen to pursue a career in literature after discovering his love of stories from video games, movies, and of course, books. A openly gay man who tries to understand and chronicle the different aspects, identities, and experiences of love itself.

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Take Me Somewhere Nice Noreia Rain Untethered My fingers had loosened their grasp on God, and my eyes were on the door of the high school classroom where we held the Christian club I’d started the previous fall. It was hot for April. I needed air, I needed to walk around campus with my five-dollar Walkman, smoke-thick voices of grunge singers drizzling into my ears. The other leaders watched me, waiting for me to speak, but the words were chalk dust on my tongue. I’d heard them talking lately, voices low as I passed: What’s going on with her? I hung back until chitchat hummed through the room. I turned toward the door again, lungs thirsting for outside air, and then the girl with lavender eyes walked in and I felt an ancient familiarity, like night fires and the smell of leaves in warm wind. Scrawl I pretended I wasn’t looking for Max as I walked around at lunch the next day. When I found her crouched in a corner between brick buildings in a hoodie and headphones, I sat down. “Sorry if this is weird,” I said, meeting her purple eyes only for a second. I handed her a folded square of notebook paper on which I’d written everything: how the boy who called himself a pagan had lured me from God and had then been frightened by my intensity. How I couldn’t go back to Christian warrior and saving souls for the Lord! The day after that, she handed me a letter. “It’s not weird,” she said. Freefall It rained that fall, and the world was all purples and greens like the lights I strung in my room and the sad, monotone Scottish rock singers moaning through my stereo. Without her contact lenses, Max’s eyes looked like sunlight shining through the bits of cola-colored glass we picked up at the beach, tying them with string to make windchimes. We spent hours on my

37


Em il y Kir by,Kiss I I


bed, lying head-to-foot, our hands meeting in the middle. This is normal, right? we’d say, our fingers tracing each other. Friends do this, right? It was vertigo, I was falling into something and there was no stopping it. And God loomed overhead like a great black shroud, a ceiling pressing down on us, stealing all the air. Infernalized It was a year before we kissed, and by then my love for Max churned in my chest like massive clouds gathering, rolling over one another in a bruised sky. It drenched me like the rain that streaked my Volvo’s windshield as we drove around to coffee shops or the record store in the afternoons. Little day trips of desperation. When the darkness of my bedroom and the raw, slow guitars from the boombox became too heavy, I’d ask her, “Where should we go today?” She’d shrug and smirk sadly. “Somewhere nice?” I knew what she meant. Not somewhere expensive or fancy, but somewhere soft and warm, with mellow lights and sweet-scented air. A slow, sheltered place where we could let ourselves ask questions, let whatever was between us unfurl like a hand opening, without the demand to define and damn it before we could even whisper its name. When Max’s lips found mine that first time, I felt heavy, solid things shifting themselves inside me. After the pagan boy, I’d sunk into my misery, worn it like a comfortable old coat, draped with musky incense, minor-key guitar. But I’d held in the back of my mind the possibility of returning to God, a secret coin in my pocket, turning it between my fingers. This kiss, the taste of her, her scent like smoke and leaves—there was no reigning this in. Her amber sea glass eyes. Her narrow fingers. The rain against the windows. My life was petals pelted by rain, determined to bloom outward and outward despite the pounding drops knocking them to the concrete. I tried to cling to tangible things, like the punk rock mixtapes she made for me, the handscrawled Emily Dickinson poems she slipped in my pockets. But I dreamt I was in a car sliding backward down a steep hill. I felt dragged away into

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eternity, unable to stop loving her, unable to stop believing we were damned for it. Flatline The horizon of Max’s set lips across from me in my Volvo that night. The eerie orange streetlight painting jagged shapes across her face, her eyes quivering like the skin atop water. It was too much: the constant holding back, restraining our hands, our lips which once explored each other now reciting Bible verses. Each time, we’d failed, clutching at each other in the darkness, feeling the heavy, metallic condemnation. Stuck in a loop of loving and then repenting. Her mouth was a flatline of finality as she said, I can’t do this anymore. Words bubbled to the surface of my mind and popped, words meant to make her stay. Their futility settled over me like snow, the chill of this knowledge seeping into my bones. We were over. Cloves and Bones The air was thick with salt as I walked up the front steps to the house in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Do you like bones and moonshine, fire dancing and accordions? the Craig’s List ad had read. Lavender-grey streaks of fog danced across the sky like cream in black tea. I shuffled my feet on the front porch, wondering what they would ask, how I could talk my way into this house by the sea. I was afraid of how much I needed this: to let myself be shaped by this city of salt and fog. The man who answered the door was smoking a clove cigarette. He was in his late twenties, tall and tattooed, his eyes lined with kohl, his turmericcolored braid stretching to his tailbone. He eyed my coat with its wide black and white vertical stripes like an old-time prisoner’s outfit, my oversized thrift-store leather boots, and the calligraphic swirls of eyeliner at my temples. “I think you’ll be a good fit,” he said. I packed the Volvo with only a few things: hoodies and headphones, a

39


boombox, a book of Emily Dickinson poems, bottles full of sea glass. I painted my new walls: maroon, forest green, black. I played a CD of Bach cello suites and lay on my back on my new giant futon, watching the ripe orange moon outside my massive window. The fog swirled against the glass like the smoke of ancient fires, painting the mystery of my future. Noreia Rain is pulling at threads on oversized grey sweaters, following their unraveling to a time before, a time of dark, raw music and roses. She is pounding fists against the mirror of mundanity. Her work has appeared in Vast Chasm, The Ana, and Transfer Magazine. She is currently working on a collection of poems titled The Yellow Inbetween. Visit her website www.noreiarainwords.com

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GJ Gil l espie, Fool if you think it's over


Laugh Until You Cannot Mathew Picken We sat outside, a cold November night, or morning, depending on your perception, Under the splintered wooden shelter, side by side, covered in a brown blanket. We didn’t really know each other. He was nice enough. We’ve been at the same school since we were five but always in different classes. I remembered when his parents divorced, and he started swearing at teachers. He probably heard about me setting my blazer on fire in Miss Farmington’s chemistry lesson. Our friend came out, told us excitedly she was taking a girl from the party to sleep in her bed—she had put pillows and blankets downstairs— don’t come up. We smiled; she went off giddy. Content, buzzed from the alcohol tracing through our bodies, happy for the fresh air and the shared glass of water, we stayed outside. “Do you smoke?”, he asked. “I don’t.” He pulled out a tin. Printed on top stood a sixties woman, breast pressed up high in her white frock, pushing down her dress from the wind that up skirted her. It was small and a little rusted at the hinges. The red trim had mostly chipped off, the beige body scratched, whatever brown writing was on their long gone. “Can you fold a roach?” “A what?” He tore off a piece of cardboard from the RAW packet. He showed me how to fold it, tightly onto itself, make sure it’s a roll. “And tight, but not too tight, you’ll need to be able to pull through it.” I fiddled with the piece of paper, pulling it tight, letting it relax again. Looking between the fold to make sure there were gaps. He placed green nuggets into the black cylinder, pushing them down onto the spikes. He closed the lid and twisted. It was dark, the outside light turned off, daylight not yet trying to break through. I could roughly make out his face. His teeth pressing his bottom lip. He brushed his blonde hair out of his face before rustling some baking sheet like paper, into an upside down Toblerone shape. “Hold this.” His voice was neutral, I did as I was told. He sprinkled the grinded nuggets into the paper, took the roach from my other hand and placed it at the end of the paper. “Nice job.” He shuffled the paper back and

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Dan n y Keith , Banana


forth between his fingers before putting his tongue on the edge, licking it delicately, sealing the roll. He placed it to the corner of his mouth. “OK, watch me, breathe it in, in again, and out, OK?” He lit it up and took a ‘toke’. He took a deep breath in then swallowed it into his body. He waited, and released, the smoke clambered out of his mouth slowly, alive. He passed it to me with a grin. I took it between my index and middle finger, placed it between my lips and started the first in. Embers burnt my mouth, the prickling growing sharp. I tried to hold it, but the pain grew, shooting off down the sides of my throat. I spluttered out the clawing grey air. He laughed. I kept hacking while he took another drag, passing me the water. I drank for relief until my throat no longer burned. He told me he was straight. “OK.” He took a deep drag and then tapped me, our faces closer than before, mouths almost touching. His fingers gripped my cheeks, mouth open. The wispy creature, crawled into mouth, travelled to lungs, took refuge, before escaping again slower, and weaker from my own lips. “There you go.” Warmth bubbled to my brain, making everything soft and fuzzy. I tried some drags on my own before he started laughing about blowing into my mouth. He rocked laughing to himself until I started laughing as well. We pursed our lips and pushed air out into uncontrollable laughter. I started blowing at his face, lips pouted, laughing out the last of the breath until my ribs ached. We fell onto each other laughing, my face tucked into his lap, his body over me. We laughed about blowing until we stopped laughing and we were just blowing. He was straight even if he had me in his mouth, in the garden, in the dark. He finished me in his mouth, and I returned the favour. We finished the water, finished the joint, and slept apart on our friend’s couch. Mathew Picken is an author from Yorkshire, currently residing in Lancashire. He is interested in intense emotional moments and exploring queer experiences in short stories and flash fiction. When not serving coffee, he can be found drinking it, typing away on his laptop.

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Target Run Samuel E. Cole I thought I’d forgotten, forgiven, forbidden him. But there he sits outside the dressing room at Target, scrolling through his phone. Less hair, not that his head was ever full. lips that I can still taste, grape G2 Gatorade and cucumber-scented lip balm. Smooth hands that embossed my skin, leaving on it signature tenderness, darkness, and loss. Legs that I continue to run to in wet dreams. Sad eyes that couldn’t reach, find, or secure, belonging with me. * Why am I the one hiding behind a clothes rack? As if I’m guilty of deceit. As if I’m the liar. As if I’m the one who said, I’m sorry. I can’t leave my wife and kids. I can’t be an absent father. * A quick glance grabs us, and for a millisecond we’re back, bonding over Merlot, the sound of music, handcrafted Halloween costumes, and gay movies on hulu and hbomax. Every word in our secret language flashes in big, bold letters: PISACKLY SPECTACK CHARMESE SCHOIKS PARALLELAPIPIDON FO SHO I recall the trips we never took to Vermont, Australia, Texas, the Taj Mahal, the Paul Bunyan Theme Park, and Fiji, places we hoped to journey together. * I care so much, but it has to end. I can’t go on living a lie. I made my choice and you’re not it. * He looks away, and stays away, reaffirming his refusal to reengage. * I follow him. I mean, them. I mean, us. I mean, not us. I browse CDs while he, and his son, Bryce, discuss gamer DVDs.

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Koh l ben Vodden , Blue Rober t


I smell bath towels while he, and his son, Tobias, rub dinosaur-themed sheets against their soft, apple-colored cheeks. I thumb fake lilies while he, and his wife, Lillie, scrutinize different size pictures of lilies, daylilies, two per set, $29.99, full price, which they agree is a great deal. * I should scream his name, make it known to everyone that I know him, intimately, that I too can betray the vow of silence I took when his weakness twitterpated my strength, when my softness buoyed his roughness, when our love overcame the world’s hate, when we became superior to I. * I make eye contact with him in the contact solution aisle. A frown enflames his pulsating nostrils. Bryce, Tobias, and Lillie chat with each other, oblivious to anything beyond their fondness. I know he wants me to quit. I know he wants me to leave. I know he wants me to go away, quietly, as if there is nothing more that I want for him, or from him. * A crueler man might walk up to him, to her, the them, and offer an introduction, a handshake, a this-is-how-I-know-him-and-this-is-why-heknows-me. but I am not cruel. A smarter man might comply, and stroll, head low, through the electronic doors to a mid-sized car in which he and I spoke the words, smitten, falling, valentine, passion, esteem, love. but I am not smart. A weaker man might smirk and whisper, good the fuck riddance, you fucking closet case. but I am not weak. * I set on the checkout conveyor belt one fake lily, one apple-stamped bath towel, one top ten love songs cd from 2020, and one atlas filled with two hundred pages of real opportunity, all mine if I choose them, all open to me if I’m ready to go wherever life takes me, without him. Samuel E. Cole lives in Woodbury, MN. He is a flash fiction enthusiast, a political junkie, and poet. His work has appeared in myriad literary magazines and journals, and he has had five books published: two poetry collections and three short story collections. samuelecole.com

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On Shame: The Strange Sensation of Being a Lesbian in a Women's Communal Shower Robin Kish Every other faucet in the shower room had already been taken by the time I arrived. Under each, a slim, long-legged woman rinsed off beneath the steaming water which, in Iceland, comes in only two temperatures: frigid or scalding. As a rule, I try to avoid public nudity, but if you’re traveling in Iceland, and want to enjoy the country’s plentiful hot baths, a little bit — or a lot — of stripping down is required. The actual pool facilities require swimwear; but pre-swim showers, completely in the buff, are first mandatory. And not just any showers, either. The women’s shower at the Sundhollin pool in downtown Reykjavik consisted of only one L-shaped basin with no stalls, no curtains: just a row of faucets spaced apart every two feet. It was exactly like the shower in the dungeon of the girls’ locker room back in my high school — except there, no one ever took a shower after gym class. The fear of stripping completely in front of one’s peers was far worse than going to Algebra a bit stinky. There were no hooks in the vicinity of the showers so I left my towel on a plastic chair and shuffled across the slick linoleum to one of the open faucets. I kept my eyes fixed in a death stare at the wall as I fiddled with the levers. The water came out first frigid, then scalding. I couldn’t stand facing the wall without it dripping into my eyes. Cautiously, I turned around, my eyes carefully fixed on the floor. I think it’s safe to say that many women, especially American women, feel uneasy being naked in front of complete strangers, even when those strangers are other naked women. Put me in an open shower and my prudish American will come out, silently cursing the lack of stalls and curtains. (How hard is it, really, to put up some damn dividers?) By contrast, the Icelandic women looked… well, bored. They moved with more assurance than I did, gliding gracefully across the tiles with straight backs and confident strides. No one hunched over, tried to make herself small or hide any goddess-given asset. They didn’t bother standing still as statues under the water as I did, hoping to disappear. They spun

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around freely to wash fronts and backs. They raised arms to shampoo, leaving breasts exposed and nipples free to peek about the room. As a woman, I’ve been trained to judge myself in comparison to others. It didn’t help that all the women surrounding me were somehow, ridiculously, the conventional models of feminine beauty. They were all thin. Although not exactly tall, their legs were all impossibly long. They had flat stomachs and small, neat breasts that could rest easily within one’s palm. They had no bulges, no cellulite. And they were all smoothly waxed, their bare pubic bones shining as pale as their breasts. But therein lies the other reason behind the anxiety swirling in my own gut. I wasn’t just another woman: I was a lesbian. Part of me might have been self-conscious but a larger part of me had her curiosity seriously piqued. But rather than feel that I had fallen into some lesbian version of Candyland, my attraction to the women around me reminded me that my sexuality likely marked me as an outsider. True, any of the other women around me could have also identified as queer. Statistically speaking, however, it’s likelier that most of them were straight. When I was growing up, I felt different from the other girls. I was too clingy, too attached, too desperate for female friendship. Eventually, the friend — whoever she was — would grow tired of me. I’d be left to mope, with a sneaking suspicion which I’d somehow internalized: I couldn’t be trusted around other girls. Now that I’m out, this feeling hasn’t gone away. I might live in a world that’s far more accepting of same-sex love than the one I grew up in, but I am still guarded when pursuing female friendship, especially when the woman in question is straight. I still hesitate when mentioning my wife in the presence of new company, for fear of how someone — especially another woman — might react. That self-consciousness is magnified when I’m naked in a shower with other women — not that this happens all that often. Before Iceland, I’d run into this problem while hiking in Japan, a country where volcanic activity makes hot, communal baths the relative norm, especially in rural guesthouses. The baths are small, intimate pools that are conducive to friendly conversation among strangers. On the occasion I encountered someone who spoke English, and she asked me about a husband/boyfriend, I slipped back into the uncomfortable lie: Yes, I had a boyfriend, whose name

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Labdh i Sh ah


— if asked that — was just a few letters off from my now-wife’s name. I hated to lie, but admitting I was gay in front of another naked woman felt even less comfortable. Would she grow quiet, or stammer awkwardly something about a gay cousin? Would she instinctively cover her breasts with an arm? Would her reaction, whatever it happened to be, make me feel like some leering monster, prowling for her next meal? I didn’t have to worry about conversation in the Icelandic shower, whose purpose was more functional. Not a lot of chit-chat happened under the faucets. But if anything, the lack of personal connection amplified my fears: without the semi-awkward small talk, or locals asking me how I was enjoying Reykjavik, I had nothing to focus my attention away from the women’s bodies, turning me into the leering monster I feared they feared I was. Shame is a complex creature. No matter how we twist, it always has us in its claws. I wasn’t ashamed of my sexuality, but I was ashamed at my blatant objectification of the women around me. At the same time, I was also ashamed that I felt shame in this natural expression of my sexuality. What was so wrong with staring at other women? What wasn’t wrong with staring at other women who have no choice but to be naked around you? Sure, I was careful not to gawk like a 14-year-old boy at the first sign of bare breasts. I made sure my glances were quick, delivered side-eyed or when I twisted my head to rinse shampoo from my hair. I was not actually leering like a sleazy stranger you might pass on the street, hoping to either entice or intimidate you with his laser focus. But still, what made me different from a stealth peeping Tom, peeping through the curtains or a hole he’d drilled into a shower wall? Plenty made me different. I wasn’t hiding, for starters. I was as exposed to the women around me as they were to me, as much part of the display as the observer. I hadn’t come in seeking sexual gratification. I wasn’t taking and sharing images of the women, nor would I brag to my bros about what I saw. But for me, this is the dilemma of being a queer woman raised in what is still a patriarchal and heteronormative world: I’m painfully aware of how that world continues to define women of all sexual orientations and identities by how pleasing their bodies are, even as I recognize that I’m driven by the same attraction which inherently leads to the evaluation of

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those same bodies. I can’t just “check out” another woman without recognizing the implications behind my own gaze. And I can’t break down the implications of my gaze without wondering if I’m caving to internalized homophobia. I finished my shower and slunk back to the safety of the changing room. I wrapped myself as quickly as I could into my towel and fumbled through my bag for my swimsuit. I wanted to get myself as quickly as I could into one of the super-heated hot-pot pools and sweat out the shame clogging my pores. Without meaning to this time, I let my gaze fall onto a woman standing a few lockers down. She was completely naked, and in no hurry to dress, as she secured her shower-wet hair into a loose knot at the crown of her head. At the moment I looked her way, she turned in my direction. It was the first, and only, time I made actual eye contact with someone in the locker room. While it didn’t absolve me of my guilt, it did, at least, make me feel less of a leering stranger. I see you, she seemed to say. The woman didn’t seem at all bothered by my gaze. She looked right at me as I looked at her, and then she smiled.

This piece originally appeared online at GO Magazine on Sept 20, 2021, under the title, "Paradise, Prison, Performance: On Being a Lesbian in a Women's Communal Shower.” Robin Kish is a special projects editor with GO Magazine, an online publication for queer women that focuses on pop culture and current affairs. Before joining the staff at GO she received her MFA in Fiction Writing from Indiana University in 2005; her work has been published in Hayden's Ferry Review, The Florida Review, Cutthroat Trout, and other literary journals. When not on assignment, she can often be found on the road, exploring queer communities both at home and abroad.

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A Tale of Queer Sorrow Becoming Unabashed Queer Joy Akhil Mulgaonker Prologue: A Queer Duality Like most people who are different, we negotiate our sense of belonging from a pressing grain of normality. We derive at once joy from an identity positioned contrary to it and sorrow when that identity encounters the grain’s coercive direction. This is the duality of pride and shame that follows all of us. Joy and pride came to me during a time of deep shame and cutting sorrow, showing that we don’t often realize who we are until we confront what we aren’t. I. A Queer Sorrow Shame lowered my eyes when I was with him, when I spoke to him, when I so slightly brushed his arm, and certainly when I glanced sadly at his girlfriend. In a single moment, I unheeded my reticence when his fluffy head fell on my shoulder, resting on a blessed drive back home from a debate tournament. As his warm presence radiated on my prickly skin, time itself melted away. We were in a car like a sun deity’s chariot, racing across the earth’s curvature, bursting with light. He was asleep, the next morning forgetting, as one does, the dreamy moments that flickered by as his eyes were closed. They were indeed closed, then and forever. I went to school the next day, talking, pretending like something wondrous didn’t transpire the night before, exchanging the feeling with you guessed it, shame. For me, the wonder of a first love was a secret, imprisoned by a towering wall, guarded by menacing watchtowers of confusion and fear. Confusion bred desperation: desperation to know what was going on with me, why I felt so warm and fuzzy, and so cold and barren, a shifting condition tied to a single person. I was frantic to grip firmly a slipping gray love, perpetually on the edge: on the edge of being discovered, on the edge of being lost, or worse, on the edge of becoming real and admitting the truth that it was solely my own. I pretended to be his closest friend, his best friend. But to me best

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friend was code for something else, a delusion of being both nothing and something more. I was caught between deep currents of pure feeling and shallower, whitewater rapids of a self-imposed normal, always threatening a head bashing if I didn’t right myself and steer the correct course. Fighting myself and incessantly battling a gushing broken pipe of emotion sapped me. Eventually, the tide of heteronormativity and, even more powerfully, unrequited love swept me away, slowly untethering my mind until all I had left were intimations of love. On one fateful morning, even those whispers left me. I remember looking away from the moment of heartbreak, away from the purposeful eye contact and composed body language to the sparks flying in my field of vision, feeling every sinew, every muscle holding my eyes rip. Salty water quickly rushed to fill the collapsing potholes where my eyes used to be, as gently as it could, guiding them downstream to a shattered valley of despair. A babbling creek of love, which had turned the turbine of my soul, deposited me there, where I was petrified and expired among the littered fossils. That metal water wheel, which had milled every moment with him into sustenance, now grinded against the harsh, hard rock bed. II. A Queer Joy The pain in the ensuing months felt like it would last forever, as if my reason to exist flew away like a sweet mockingbird, its mellifluous voice never again to mingle with my own. But the pain did subside, and the dear mockingbird did return. I ultimately glided towards a more complete existence. In the meantime, I convulsed constantly with random memories of him, evoked by the most mundane things: seeing the first letter of his name, seeing a similar hairstyle, living through political events (Donald Trump = President!) which I could no longer analyze with him, watching the last season of the Colbert Report and Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show without him to laugh with me. Eventually, in his absence, alone with my pain, I grew. I faced a reality where I had become a wisp of person, a person contorted, exhausted, and ready to give up. To suppress wayward feelings, I also had suppressed everything which made me love in the first place: that peculiar attraction to boys (which he illustrated in every look, act, and pose), a devotion to intellectualism (which he oozed), a growing political agitation (which he inspired). With him no longer acting as a litmus test, casting a

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pallor on everything I did, I could reclaim these facets for myself. Losing him really meant losing, too, the constraints and scared moments that made the relationship with him a battle. I confronted the loss not only of someone else but also of a particular self, a self that was a mask, a masquerade, a product of the battle I waged against myself. The resulting vacuum in my psyche was sorrowful, but it opened space for me to find out who I was. Someone I could be joyous about, recovering the same joy that had been sliced and diced into slivered sorrow by a pernicious knife handed to me. I realized the truth: I had been in love, not a simple love, nor an accidental love, but a love ordained by my very nature, endowed by a power beyond any appeal and certainly beyond any knowledge. I learned about a community who recognized this different capacity to love as an immutable part of themselves and as a source of sincere pride. The battle became an uneasy peace; the shame became a hesitant confidence. I came out to my mom and family. They accepted me, leaving behind everything that had told them otherwise. In June, the nation’s highest court recognized the legitimacy and worth of a love with which I had struggled and bore as a burden. A social muscle now reinforced a personal strength. I went back to school after that summer, pink in my heart and skinned on the outside. I was exposed as something else – whether that something else was better needed to be settled. I made a solemn vow to never hide who I was, never be anything more or less than the truth. I made a new friend, a brother, Luke. We shared common spirit. Our conversations and debates showed an abiding sense of who we were; a shared way of looking at the world. I realized through my interactions with him, a real friend, that the other person was not my friend. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have disposed of me; otherwise, I wouldn’t have wanted more from him. With Luke, our bond was exactly what it was, a friendship without interest or deceit. Epilogue: A Queer Beginning Lifted by a new friendship, I embarked on a journey that took 5 years to complete with astonishing results. Now I am writing 8 years afterwards; my fingers moving gracefully, purposefully, typing about a shame I used to feel, whilst wearing bright green, sparkly nail polish, fully gay without even a second thought. I don’t frequently think about what happened. Prior to

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sitting here writing this, before this precise day, I didn’t dare consider myself as someone who was self-repressed. After all, I was born and raised in liberal Austin. But I was, indeed, at that moment in the past: a shame which like a conflagration had razed the life rooted on the red exterior of my heart. In the wake of its destruction, a green seedling sprouted. Over time and properly watered, it blossomed into a joyous sunflower, turning towards Queer Pride like it was a soothing Sun in the blue vastness of my imagination. Akhil Mulgaonker is a history and anthropology undergraduate student at the University of Houston. He wishes to become a historian/scholar of disability and mental illness in colonial and postcolonial India.

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Jae Casel l a, Tati


Jessica Licata, W H AT I AM TO YOU


2 Sad Lesbians Meg Heim At 2:30 am in the cool air outside of a gay bar, I stood talking to another lesbian. She leaned in close to hear me over the din of clubgoers, and we were drunk, so we touched each other in that casual way that actually isn’t casual: she cupping my elbow in one hand, other hand on my bicep, forming a three-sided square, literally making a negative space to bring me in towards her. It’s so special to be touched like that. It was a moment I revisited in my mind over and over again for the next few days. She was so beautiful. And sad. She talked directly into my ear, our blonde hair creating our own stage behind two curtains. She smiled at me with tired eyes, wide flat bags under them with no discoloration. I have no idea how she felt about them, but I thought they were beautiful. Once again, I was drawn into all that wide-open space. We’d pull back from our embrace to react to each other, and then go back into the lopsided square to say something banal – maybe about how a 20-minute professional beatboxing set was a bold gamble to hold peoples’ attention after midnight. My partner of five years, who introduced us, was excited by the chemistry. They asked me if I was excited. If I liked her. I liked the space she made for me, that she barely knew me and that she’d hold me in this way. There’s something really special about intimacy that you can create immediately with someone. I looked into her eyes again. There are these moments that I want to evaporate. Like, if I can disintegrate into particles small enough to ride the wind, then I can be safe because... I can stay with people. If I come to the first event as a fully embodied human, something solid, then there’s a chance I could be shaken for the afterparty or the casual beach hang the second day. This insecurity eats me from the inside out. Sometimes it’s not enough for me to be liked or loved, but this desperate overpowering need to be wanted. The other side of that ache to be wanted is this firm belief that I am not. I see the world in which that belief is what keeps me from getting it. But I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know if I ever like people or if I just like how they distract me from disliking myself. I know that I am both likable and loved, but sometimes I feel I don’t have a space private enough to tell anyone that I doubt this truth except for my therapist, who will tell me it's normal and I will wonder if she thinks I’m insufferable.

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The other lesbian told me that she had just ended her relationship of 5 years. She wasn’t sad about it, but she thought the sadness might come. Meg Heim is a queer writer, filmmaker, and middle child currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-author of the Substack newsletter The Yearning.

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After a Late Night Out Jacob Lopez Shlomi was sitting on the sofa with his guitar case leaning next to him. This was his treasure, he carried it from the restaurant to the bar, and now to Gerry’s apartment in Brooklyn. I said, “Shlomi, play something for us?” "Uh, I don't know. I am very high,” he said as he passed the joint. Leila shouted, “What the fuck Shlomi, play something for us, don’t front.” Gerry turned off the music and said, "You will never have a better audience; we think you’re amazing doll and would love to hear you play. We know you are talented." Shlomi blushed. I wanted to get up and give him a great big kiss on the mouth and take him to an imaginary stage where there’d be two stools, one for him to sit on and a second for his glass of water. "OK, I play something short.” Gerry, Leila, Gilbert, and I clapped as Shlomi sat on the edge of the sofa, his thighs almost bursting out of tight jean shorts. He teased me as he unfastened the top buttons of his shirt, allowing his bare and hairless chest show. He had a necklace made of leather and many bracelets of various colored beads. A sexy hippie. His ankle socks kept slipping off as he reached down to pull them up. I eyed his glistening and sturdy heel, which called to me. I wanted to rip the socks off or watch him slowly remove them after I made the request. He adjusted himself and gave me a look which I interpreted as "I want you, and I will have you." I died. The anticipation was too much for me. I blurted out, "Shlomi, please take off those socks. You know what..." I got up, walked to Shlomi and got down on one knee in front of him. I slowly removed one of the socks. His planter was perfect. As I released the second one, I made sure to place his entire sole on the palm of my hand. I needed to feel the goods. I looked back and saw Gerry, Leila, and Gilbert eyeing me with perfect synchronization. They were all familiar with my foot shenanigans. Luckily, they did not say anything to embarrass me, which was surprising, especially for Leila. They allowed me to flirt and remove Shlomi's socks, revealing his supple soles. The heel of his foot was plump and meaty. The wrinkles created a foundation of sensitive nerve endings that I longed to caress and fondle.

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I stepped back, and Shlomi opened the case and gently pulled the guitar out of its enclosure from its neck. It was a smooth, auburn-colored rhythmic masterpiece that creaked in Shlomi's hands as he nestled it on his lap. He adjusted the pegs that sat on the bridge. You could see Shlomi was comfortable as he melted into the base of the ovular-shaped harmony maker. He glanced at his fingers as he positioned them, allowing the copper strings to nestle in the tiny gaps of his fingertips. He looked up at me, and again I died. I looked over to Gilbert, and he rolled his eyes as he was admittedly jealous of how I easily flirted with whomever I found attractive. Shlomi's right hand began strumming the area of the guitar between the sound hole and the bridge. His left hand fretted the thick bands of the neck, allowing a reverberation of magic to emanate from his torso. We all smiled and swayed as he serenaded us with a brilliant, gentle, and soul brightening lullaby. At 6:15 am everyone was fading as the sounds of stuffed-up noses were heard throughout Gerry's apartment. The sun rose higher into the sky, and we ran out of things to discuss. The massive amounts of cocaine started to bring on a headache. Leila was busy texting and, at the same time, nodding off. Gerry was in his bedroom getting ready for bed. Gilbert was almost out the door. Shlomi and I sat on the sofa. His foot was in my hand as I held it close to my mouth and rubbed and pressed and caressed his vehicles that left perfect imprints. I whiffed for an odor—nothing. The lack of scent turned me on as I loved hygienic, sumptuous, and masculine feet. Meaty ones that supported men who were shy about taking off their socks and showing them off. They never realized how perfect their feet were. These men did nothing extra to keep their soles slick and callus-free. An occasional toenail clipping and nothing more. Yet their feet remained free of any rough spots or disfigurement. Very different from mine, as I always needed to lather my feet with lotions for fear of cracks and unpleasant patches of dead skin. Shlomi’s feet were right where they belonged, in my hands. I wanted to put each of his toes in my mouth one by one and suck as if they were covered in cake frosting. I asked, “Are you sleepy?” "Yes, but that feels amazing. I had so much fun. I am really happy you invited me; thank you, Jacob." "I’m glad you had a good time, you fit right in. Oh, and thank you for sharing. You are super talented."

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El izabeth Baxm eyer , M ountain M usic Ser ies: Guitar


“You are too kind, Jacob.” He was staring at me with his radiant chestnut-colored eyes. I went into my pocket and grabbed the little baggie. I dipped my house key into the bag, which had a little less than a bump left. I leaned over to Shlomi and offered him some. He smiled, waved his hand, giving me the gesture of "No." I brought the last bit up to my nostril. I struggled to sniff as my nose had enough. Shlomi got up, started to gather his things and said, "I must go now. I will be seeing you at soon at the restaurant, yes?” “I think I have a graveyard shift on Monday, but I’m not sure.” “OK, I see you soon." Shlomi leaned in and kissed me on the mouth and said goodbye. Gerry: "OK, dolls. I'm exhausted, time to go." I said, "Gerry, as usual; fantastic time, thank you." "Oh, it was my pleasure, doll, now don't let the door hit you on the way out.” I stumbled out of Gerry's apartment and into the brightness of Sunday morning. I thought about texting Shlomi, but I decided to give it a rest as nothing was going to happen. I was OK with that reality as I rarely succeeded in getting a man who considered himself straight to be sexual with me. I still flirted heavily, and they usually enjoyed my admiration. Many of them even allowed me to massage their feet. I may not get them naked, but having their feet in my hand, is satisfaction. Jacob Lopez is a relatively new writer from Brooklyn New York, currently working on a memoir. Jacob has been published in online publications.

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Rusalka Jael Montellano Through the small oval window in the attic, you look out onto the verdant garden. You can make out the herbs you planted with Aga in the spring, and pushing the pane gently, you can even scent the rosemary threading up its way through the rain, though it’s a miracle you can smell anything. With the patter of water, you cannot hear the goings-on of your house beneath you. You do not know which room your spouse is in or what she is doing. The gray dishrag clouds make it impossible to tell the hour. Noon, dusk; it doesn’t matter. The door creaks and the pale blonde with the aqualine skin swings it open. An oversweet tangerine smell drifts inward, but underneath you smell the pond scum. She cannot shower away the scent of her habitat as hard as she tries. “You still smell like rot,” you say. She chuckles, but the comment has evidently incensed her, a curl on her lip. “You still smell like vomit,” she spits. “Here. I brought you dinner. And a bucket.” She lays the items beside the old mattress that has become your bed. “It’s irrelevant whether you eat or not,” she says. “The less you eat, the sooner you fade, the faster I regain my humanity. We’re just being merciful by feeding you.” We. You note her pronoun choice but it makes you ill again. Your head pounds and your stomach careens. “I won’t eat unless she comes.” “Have it your way.” She shrugs, locking the door closed. When Aga arrives, you are wrecked by the fact she does not come into the room. Your spouse leans against the doorframe the two of you painted together, hands pressed into the pockets of her jeans and she looks everywhere but you. “You’re not eating,” she says in a distant voice. An echo. You were slumped against the floorboards but now you grovel on your knees. “Please, please look at me,” you say, and your throat is choked. You need to see the choice in her eyes. “Baby.” You sound like a frog. She will not meet your gaze. “I am not going to come up anymore.” Your face, which has felt like cardboard, is suddenly streaming. You

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Ch r is D'Er r ico, Stepping Out


curl into the floor because even your spine is weighted and you cannot be upright. You sob and want to bury yourself in earth. Soon, you think, as though the water sprite remains in the attic with you. She takes over your home, your spouse, your life. Aga’s face withdraws behind the door and the sudden wind with which it closes is a slap against your cheek. You wail. The day you finally fade, there is a spider on the window frame. It’s a Yellow Sac, and when its legs scamper over the pane, the light renders it translucent. You think, fear emptied, there was a time Aga killed every spider for you, once. You lift your arm through the morning sun and the light cleaves through. Raised in Mexico City and the Midwest United States, Jael Montellano is a writer and editor based in Chicago. Her work, which explores horror and queer life, features in Tint Journal, Fauxmoir, The Selkie, the Columbia Journal, Hypertext Magazine, Camera Obscura Journal, among others. She dabbles in photography, travel, and is currently learning Mandarin. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @gathcreator.

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The Life Within Me Melissa McKinney For as long as I can remember, I have dreamt of having a baby. Not just one though, three or four, maybe even five. That’s what I think of, as I sit in this empty waiting room. This is what I have always wanted. What I have always needed. I listen to the whirling sound of the fan that circulates hot air and I second guess myself now. Maybe I was wrong to do this without consulting Val. My knee bounces, I don’t know what to expect of today’s appointment. I don’t know how long it will take or how I will feel when I leave. Excitement? Relief? Regret? Val and I had always agreed that we wanted a family but last year, when I brought up my biological clock, she seemed to dismiss the idea. I don’t know what changed for her because nothing had changed for me, but her enthusiasm was fading and that scared me. I can hear the faint sound of slow jazz music coming from the speakers overhead. I hate it. I think about the club. Was Val afraid to lose Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the occasional Wednesday night? Deep bass thumping against the rhythm of our hearts. Sweat pouring down the sides of her face. Our bodies so close together we would fail the “save room for the holy spirit” test. She looks so happy when she dances. She forgets about the struggles of the world for a few hours. Drinks flow. Friends press shots into your hand, so you tilt your head back and let the heat crawl down your throat. It’s an addictive lifestyle. One that raises my pulse with possibility when the weekend nears and then brings dread as the weekend ceases. We’ve been together for six years. That seems like such a long time when I think back to the twenty-year-old girls we were when we met. Full of life and energy. There were so many things we would accomplish over the next ten, twenty, thirty years. But, really, six years is hardly anything when I compare it to the length of time my parents have been together. Val said twenty-six was hardly an age to be worrying about children, but she doesn’t understand the complexity of our situation. The amount of time it takes to prepare your body for the insemination process. The waiting. Would my body agree to the plan? If I waited on her, we might be in our mid-thirties before we have our first child. The odds are slim. That’s what my doctor said when I asked her about fertility treatments. I have a medical condition that keeps my body

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Sh er ee Rayfor d, M y Body, Your Choice


from cycling the way any other girls’ body would. Even if I was in a heterosexual relationship, taking every fertility medication available to me, it would be difficult for me to get pregnant. That was how she explained it. What I keep hearing her say is that it was not impossible. She didn’t say never, she said the chances were slim. It’s in this moment that worry sets in. I want Val at my side, squinting in this barely lit room as she takes in the mind-numbing artwork on the walls. The window blinds are drawn for privacy, or is it an attempt to create a serene environment? I think about the consequences of my actions. It’s all I have been able to think about. Last night I didn’t sleep. I asked myself if I was willing to have a baby by myself. What will Val think when she finds out? No matter what I say to her, how I explain my choices, we are ruined and it is all my fault. I drive home in a daze, still not sure if I made the right decision. The street signs fly by as I cross town, people are walking down the street, thinking about work, about the bills they have to pay, about their children. The last few months have been almost impossible to bear. Morning sickness that turned my nose against me, a sore achy body and then, there is the need to hide all of this from the woman I love. When Val gets home, I tell her where I have been. I tell her my secret. She’s upset. No, she’s angry. She tells me that she should have been there. That this was a decision for us to make together. When she’s done yelling, she falls into the sofa next to me. She pulls me close and says she is sorry. Sorry that I went through the process alone. She’s sorry. She makes me promise not to shut her out again. She pulls back and I look into her eyes. All I can see is her pain. She is struggling to return my gaze but she does it anyway, for me. When we go to bed, I close my eyes, pretending that I will sleep, and I see her tears. I hear her screams and I watch her struggle as the one man pins her down. Face smashed against the asphalt; he makes her watch what the other man is doing to me. Dyke is the word they threw around the most, but there were others. Horrible words, shrieking laughter. We haven’t been back to a club or a bar since. Three months and twenty-six days. Our friends don’t understand and Val won’t tell them why. They used to call every night, pestering us to not be the couple that chooses staying home in front of the television over going out, but now the phone rarely rings. When it does, Val ignores it. I think she

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blames me. Not consciously of course, but it is my fault that we stay home. What she doesn’t realize is that I miss the music just as much as she does. When I first realized there was life growing inside my belly, it was a strange sensation. One I always thought I would enjoy but I can’t find joy in this situation. Val reaches across the bed and places her hand on my stomach. Something she does every night as she drifts off to sleep, but tonight, her hand jerks when it touches me and tears slide down my face. Melissa McKinney is a writer, editor, and narrator. She currently resides in Kingwood, Texas where she leads the Positively Empowered by Literature program which promotes uplifting LGBTQ+ literature for teens and young adults, in an attempt to reduce the LGBTQ+ teen suicide rate. When she is not creating, she can be found exploring the trails behind her house with her wife, son, and two dogs. Find out more about PEBL at positivelyempoweredbyliterature.com, or visit her website at melissamckinneycreates.com.

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H al ey Bar cl ay,Sapphir e


Bare Alisha Waldrop “They said the tests at home aren’t accurate, Raven. The blood tests are better.” Samiya shifts against the leather seat, grips the chair’s arm. She’s trying to calm me. “Yeah.” I answer. But hope feels more like a burden after loss. “We’ll know soon.” I rest my hand on hers. Outside the room’s window, everything is gray—the calm, consistent gray of cold. I imagine inhaling sharp winter, letting it pierce my nostrils and move straight through my ears. I want to breathe anything other than the thickness of this room, again. They bring the results in quicker than last month. Dr. Hoffman follows through the door and skins a strawberry Arcor. The hardness of it is unsettling. It rattles against her teeth as soon as she pops it in her mouth. The sound makes my wrists weak. I pull my hand back, pick my thumb’s quick until it bleeds. She delivers the news by the way she folds her lips back into her mouth, between her teeth, then tilts her head to the side. “You can try again,” Dr. Hoffman says. She shifts the candy to the side of her mouth to talk, like she always does. Bare oaks line the parking lot of Radford Medical Plaza. The limbs are striking in their nakedness. Every dislocated knot, near-broken branch exposed. I like it better this way. I hate the cold but love the way it strips things down. Forces everyone to see how only the core survives. I smile and nod my head, give Dr. Hoffman the comfort she needs to leave us. “I’m sorry—", I say to my wife, but it feels like too much and not enough. “Don’t do that,” Samiya places her hand on my shoulder, then runs it along my arm and my stomach. It stays there, and I have no choice but to look up at her. The blue of her eyes burn me, but I only want to feel cold. She lets my chill seep into her, spread through her, too. It makes my chest go numb, but the back of my throat claws and screams in silence until we are both full

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of everything, together. We stay until we’re ready to leave. Alisha Waldrop is an emerging writer originally from McDonough, Georgia, and holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte in both fiction and poetry. She served as an editorial assistant for the QU Lit Mag, and her writing has appeared in Lady Blue Literary Magazine and Two Sister's Writing & Publishing. She lives in North Charleston, South Carolina with her wife and children.

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Tr evor Eich en ber ger , Queer ness is a Long Thr ead



Body Mine. Text and artwork by Kes Maro This winter, Pinocchio will take up woodwork. He is motivated by practical curiosity and the quiet fear of what happens when the grace of others runs out. Wood splinters and rots under the weight of all weather, but the cold's burden is loneliest. Boys made of pine will always have parts that need mending. He should know how to do it himself. So Pinocchio learns the exact shape of his arms and the size of his torso. He learns how his joints connect, the way his head locks into his spine, and he becomes excruciatingly familiar with the space he fills. He practices first on his fingers and replaces his own knuckles. If he makes his own parts, Pinocchio thinks he will own himself. There is an untouchable realness that's been prescribed to ownership. He wants it. His body will be his. It’s a flawed quest. That kind of ownership, defined by toy shop walls, will never feel honest. But Pinocchio was born here, he learned his body as something to be had, exchanged, or displayed. He hears control and respect as (unhappy) synonyms. Pinocchio thinks that he has a soul and that his soul entitles him to realness. He does not realize it doesn't matter. Men made of soft tissues and beating organs will never grant him their “realness” no matter how hard he tries to play their game. His soul is his body is his soul. Arbitrary groupings of flesh and pine as the basis for what gets to be real are just that. His body and soul are not so separate or mismatched as much as they are profoundly misinterpreted by the toy makers of old. His body is his soul is his body. Pinocchio is a real boy in all his wooden glory. This winter, Pinocchio takes up wood work. He is worried about what happens when they come for toys like him, ones who loved so much they taught themselves to breathe. He thinks that if he can remake his body in his own image, no matter how much they take, when they come for him, there will be something they can’t have. It’s the same flawed quest, but it’s all he has. If nothing else, Pinocchio will be his own.

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Kes Maro (they/he) is a queer artist based at Western Ave Studios in Lowell MA. Their work has previously appeared in Passengers Journal, Prometheus Dreaming, and Poet's Choice: Free Spirit. You can find him on instagram @kes.maro

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One-Nighter Thomas J. Misuraca How long should a post-coital cuddle for a Grindr hook-up be? Is it time to dress and go home? Not like we have anything to talk about. We’re practically strangers. At least he’s not forcing conversation. Though if he says “This is nice” one more time, I’m going to scream. Is he expecting to go again? It wasn’t the best sex I’ve ever had, but certainly not the worst. Was it worth waiting for more? He fell asleep. They always fall asleep. I’m the opposite. I’m wide awake and full of energy after sex. I’d rather be home cleaning my kitchen than hugged by this hairy guy. He is kind of cute. In the dark. It is nice to be held. The older I get, the less men want to hold on. One of us always slips away too soon. I don’t get my friends who are in open relationships. I’m sick of the endless search resulting in nights like this. If those guys found somebody they love, why waste time searching for more? I’d rather be in my own bed. Not on this hard mattress. His sheets smell nice. I should ask him what fabric softener he uses. Or would that be weird? Better he learn immediately that I’m weird. I prefer slasher movies over Auntie Mame. Listen to Vampire Weekend not Lady Gaga. And collect vintage toys. One guy asked when I was going to grow up. I told him never and promptly threw him out of my apartment. After we had sex. My movies, music and toy collection bring me joy. They’re always there for me. Unlike people. I gave up looking for a man who shares all my interests. But I dream of finding one that appreciates them. Oh God, he’s snoring. I need to slide out from under his arms… and now legs… and leave. I get it. I’m not very tolerant. No, I’m not racist. Just have a low tolerance for people’s quirks. Like snoring. Or not having a car. Or being vegan. Or smoking. That’s my number one deal breaker. And birds. This guy had me over and neglected to tell me he had two parrots. They emitted these horribly loud tones all night long. Sounded like a fire alarm. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. After we had sex.

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Dan i Tor r en t, Gr een Sheets


He’s going to want to have brunch tomorrow, isn’t he? He’s nice and all, but not sure he’s Sunday morning material. Or maybe he’ll cook breakfast. What if he’s a terrible cook? Guess anything’s better than a toasted bagel over the sink. Maybe he’ll throw me out first thing in the morning. After using me as his teddy bear all night. I gotta pee. He’s so wrapped around me, I’d have to wake him up to get out. At that point, I may as well go home. What would my neighbors think if they heard me coming in so late? Would they be shocked? Envious? Would they even notice? Feels like my bladder will explode. Won’t get any sleep tonight. No idea what time it is. My cel phone’s in my jeans. And I’d have to crawl over him to see the clock on his end table. After finding my glasses. Shit! Where are my glasses? I put them on this end table, right? It’s so dark in here. Those shades really keep out the light. For all I know, it could be the middle of the afternoon. Oh! He’s getting up. Is he an early riser? One of those horribly happy morning people? No. He’s peeing. He left the door open. It’s too soon for that. Granted, the organ he now holds has been in my various orifices, but have some class. He’s back. Before he grabs me again, I’m out of bed, heading for the bathroom. I shut the door. It’s one of those urinations that’s almost as pleasurable as sex. I wash my hands, something he also neglected. I look around his room. Not that I can see much thanks to those shades. Our clothes are in disarray on the floor. It’d be too difficult to distinguish which are mine. I climb back into bed. He wraps himself around me again. Then kisses me on the cheek. I wait for him to say “This is nice” again so I can silently scream. But like sleep, it doesn’t come. Some point during the night he turned over to the other side of the bed. Sunlight finally creeps through his shades. I’m free. I roll over and wrap my arm around him. Tom Misuraca studied Writing, Publishing and Literature at Emerson College in his home town of Boston before moving to Los Angeles. Over 130 of his short stories and two novels have been published. His story, Giving Up The Ghosts, was published in

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Constellations Journal, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2021. His work has recently appeared in Literature Today, con(text) quarterly and Cosmic Double.

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Travels with My Vag Elaine Bennett Home in the summer of 1980 was my parents’ house in Teaneck. During the last long vacation before I graduated from Smith College, we all decided it was time for me to get a real job—one that would pay more than the $50 a week I’d earned doing summer theatre. And once I got hired, the parents would am-scray to Cape Cod and leave me alone, like the independent woman I imagined myself to be. Job-hunting proved more difficult than any of us had expected, mostly because of my work history: nonexistent, unless you counted my two summer theatre gigs, and no one I interviewed with did. The New Jersey teens applying for the same jobs had résumés stretching back to when they were in orthodontia; I looked suspiciously lazy in contrast. Eventually I found a job in telemarketing, working a six-hour shift beginning at 6 p.m. The law said you couldn’t call people after 9:00 in the evening, so our work moved west with the sun until midnight Eastern time. I’d scoot home, watch a couple of late-night Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns, and sack out until mid-afternoon, except when I had my piano lessons. On weekends, I took the bus to New York City to catch a half-price Broadway matinée. Betsy B. had introduced me to the glories of sex, but after our breakup I discovered that knowing what I wanted in a relationship got me no closer to finding who I wanted. It was like being the new girl at middle school—or trying to land that summer job—the established lesbians at Smith mistrusted my lack of prior credentials. Occasionally I tried stepping outside the bubble of our campus, like when I heard about a gay dance at the nearby University of Massachusetts. Back in the early 80s, “gay” was an umbrella term covering both gay and lesbian, and maybe in some circles bisexual. Transgender people, while they undoubtedly existed, had not yet coalesced around an initial. So, a gay dance, well, you never knew who’d show up. I drove alone to the giant campus and found the right building by sheer luck. Stepping out of the elevator, I encountered a registration table staffed by men in full 1950s Lucy-going-on-a-date getups. I’d never seen anyone so committed to a look, and maybe my surprise showed.

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The Lucys sang a skeptical: “Can we help you?” I was honestly not sure. “I’m here for the…gay dance?” They brightened immediately. “Yes, this is it! Five dollars, please.” That was a chunk of money, but still a good investment if I could meet some new lesbians. I studied the bewigged gatekeepers. “Are there a lot of, um, women in there?” They smiled at each other. “Absolutely!” the blonde said with conviction. “A lot of women,” echoed the redhead. I handed them the cash and tiptoed inside. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I picked out several female figures, many of them in skirts. No self-respecting Smith lesbian would have been caught dead in a skirt and as they swirled past me, their back-combed hair and precise makeup gave them away as men in drag—at least that’s what we called them back then. I scanned the floor for jeans, the ubiquitous uniform of area dykes. Most of the denim-clad folks appeared to be men; the few who might have been lesbians were, as usual, partnered. I hightailed it back to my car after all of five minutes. But I learned my first important Lesson in Lesbianism that night—well, the first one not involving sex: “a lot of women” to a gay man is not the same as a lot of women to a lesbian. * In Teaneck that summer, I resumed my search for lesbionic companionship. I asked my best friend from the Folk Group about gay bars and he dredged up the name of a place that he assured me had a Ladies’ Night. The lesson from UMass fresh in my mind, I called before I drove over. “Yeah, we have lots of women here on Ladies’ Night,” the bartender affirmed. “They come to see the male strippers.” I crossed “bar” off my list. But the college—there was a commuter college just down the street from my house. Maybe…? I called their switchboard and asked for the Women’s Center. They had one! And a woman answered the phone! I hadn’t thought about much beyond that, so I stumbled into the conversation. “I don’t go here but, uh…at the college I do go to, the Women’s Center is…” “Yes?”

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Ol ive H osk in s, Vulva M e


My brain hit the accelerator and words sped down the highway of my tongue. “Well, there are a lot of lesbians there. Are there any lesbians at your Women’s Center?” I heard gasp followed by an emphatic “NO!” The woman packed about three different emotions into that syllable—astonishment, disgust, horror—and slammed the telephone receiver down so hard it might have cracked. Once I crossed “college” off my list, there seemed to be nothing left. Which is how I found myself on a rooftop in the East Village, flat on my back and being consensually fucked by—a man. The day after Pete deflowered me, he showed up at my front door with a fistful of dandelions and a boyish grin. “I hope you’ll give me another chance. I don’t want last night to be your only impression of sex with a man.” “Hmph,” I replied—the closest thing to a word I could form out of skepticism and breath. “I’m not sure that’s necessary.” He followed me into the kitchen as I located a glass and some water for his weedy bouquet. My skepticism wilted as his lips found the back of my neck. I wasn’t drunk or high this time—I was barely awake—but I felt heat course through me. My knees went liquid, followed shortly by a more salient part of my anatomy. I led him to my bed. And it was better that time, better enough that we kept going through the summer. Pete always used a condom—a fact I would be grateful for that a couple of years later, when AIDS slammed the breaks on free love—but since it was my body, I felt I should be proactive, so I visited the local Planned Parenthood clinic to get fitted for a diaphragm. * Outside my parents’ house, the grass was getting tall. Dad wouldn’t dream of paying a lawn guy, so when he wasn’t there, it grew unimpeded. I decided to surprise him by mowing it myself. Problem was, the lawnmower lived in the basement. Lacking the strength to heave it onto the landing, I asked Pete if he could help. Scrawny though he was, he lifted the machine and I pushed it out the back door, off the patio, and onto the lawn—where it stayed for weeks as my resolve melted in the New Jersey heat. I’ll take care of it before Dad gets home, I promised myself. But my parents came home much sooner than any of us had expected. When I returned from a visit to Cape Cod over 4 th of July weekend,

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I found that someone had broken into the house. I screamed for the neighbors to call the police. Then I called my parents, who sweated in holiday traffic all the way back to New Jersey. It wasn’t a sophisticated heist. The perpetrators bashed in the window in the basement door and Turned The Doorknob. The biggest loss was my mother’s leatherette jewelry box filled with costume pieces. She and I both had a sentimental attachment to the sparkly earrings and bracelets she’d inherited from various women in her family—and an ancient peach pit her father had carved into a monkey with a tiny rhinestone eye. Good luck fencing that. “Do you think they were going to take the lawnmower too?” Dad asked. He’d been wandering around the house and yard, conducting an inventory while Ma and I chatted in the kitchen. When she asked about my social life, I’d mentioned Pete in passing. I told Dad I’d been planning to mow the lawn as a surprise. “But how did you get the lawnmower outside?” “Pete did it for me.” “Pete?” he said, his voice warning of a gathering storm. “I’m not sure I like the idea of you having strange people over to the house while you’re here alone.” Ma perked up like a hawk that had just spotted a baby bunny. “Charlie,” she screeched, flying in for the kill, “Pete is her boyfriend!” I braced for impact. If he didn’t want strange “people” in the house, surely a strange boyfriend would be even worse. “Oh!” His voice floated up from the basement, “Well that’s OK, then.” Ma crumpled on the stool as her opportunity to chastise me hopped blithely away. What pulled me back from the brink of disaster with my father? He could be savvy sometimes—had he detected some Sapphic leanings in me? Maybe he’d even noticed them before I did. That word, “boyfriend”, must have sounded like a heavenly choir. Where Ma saw danger and disobedience, Dad saw deliverance. *

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A couple of weeks after I settled back at Smith, Dad called. Now that he was sober, I was always happy to hear from him. “You got a letter here at the house. I had already opened it before I realized it was addressed to you. I’m sorry.” “It’s OK.” I hadn’t been expecting any correspondence; surely it wasn’t important. “The letter was from Planned Parenthood.” He may not have heard the sharp intake of breath as Oh my God he’s going to kill me rushed up and down my brain stem, but he had to notice my stunned silence. He filled it with facts, reading the letter aloud as quickly as he could. “We are writing to inform you that you have a vaginal infection.” Did my father just say “vaginal infection”? Please let it be fatal, so I can die right now. He continued, paraphrasing: “They say it’s a common infection, but you should get it looked at. Promise me you’ll go to the college infirmary this week and see the doctor.” “I—yes, I promise.” “And call me back to let me know what the doctor says. “OK, sure.” I don’t know which of us was more relieved to end the call. Maybe the lawnmower-lifting boyfriend didn’t seem like such a positive development now. Still, 10 points to Dad for not freaking out about my visit to Satan’s most notorious nonprofit. I phoned him back with a summary of my doctor visit and we never spoke of my vagina again. Elaine Bennett (she/her) is an award-winning speechwriter and definitely not the lady from Seinfeld, whose last name is Benes. Her work has been published in The Nasiona and Autostraddle. She won a Queer-Writers' Fellowship to the 2021 Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. A graduate of Smith College and The Brearley School, and a Mets fan who named her dog Fenway, she lives on the traditional land of the Wampanoag, also known as Cape Cod.

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Your Lips Douglas Moser I’m puttering down the West Side Highway in my rickety 1985 Ford Festiva, a tennis shoe with wheels. Your lips. Your smile. I’m thinking this as I glance at the neatly wrapped package on the passenger seat. For your birthday. Your lips. Your smile. Your eyes. Your bronze skin. I make a point of thinking this, reminding myself, because I know your day is special and you chose to spend it with me. Turning down all sorts of offers, no doubt, from your hip New York theatre friends. Your lips. Your smile. Your eyes. Your bronze skin. Your shoulders. You’re the first actor I’ve ever asked out since the breakup. Hell, I haven’t had any more than—what?—two dates before this? After the demise of a 12-year relationship that left me weary and wilted. I’ve slept with maybe seven guys. At 30-something, that makes me a gay virgin. Your lips. Your smile. Your eyes. Your bronze skin. Your shoulders. Your easy enthusiasm. We made love a few weeks ago on our first date. We rolled around at my place in Connecticut, a drafty house built in 1765. After a scary movie. You pretended to be frightened. I pretended to protect you. Your lips. Your smile. Your eyes. Your bronze skin. Your shoulders and teasing sincerity. Your cock. You’re going down on me. Or I’m going down on you. And you look up and say, “I could fall in love with you.” That’s it. The reason I’m repeating this mantra. That little comment. “I could fall in love with you.” It’s a niggling thought trying to take over, a cannon ball blasting a hole through my psyche. It’s too much, too soon, too unnerving. Lips. Smile. Skin. Shoulders. Easy way. Smile. Smile. Cock. Why did I do this? Why did I agree to take you out? On your birthday of all days? I park the car in a garage on 42nd and hurry over to the restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where we’ve agreed to meet. Italian. Vinyl tablecloth. Prixfixe menu. Candle in round plastic-netted jar. I slide your gift across the table. You gush. I’m not sure a Bette Midler CD warrants a gush, but there

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Feder ico Bon acor so, Tir ants Ver des


you are. You do it so well. So readily. In my head I’m repeating and repeating and repeating, because the wine isn’t doing a thing. You ask me up to your apartment, a few blocks away. The wind blows cold across the Hudson and my jacket is too light. You put your arm around me. Lips, smile, shoulders, ass, cock. I’m thinking this, even though you’re right here trying to keep me warm. As if the memory of you can somehow replace the reality of you. I can paint it, revise it. Now we’re in your little studio, the tidy bed right there. You can’t wait to get your hands on me. And I let you. I get it. It’s your birthday and I agreed to this, I guess. This is what a guy does for a boy on his special day. This is how dates go. You sense it. Whatever is going on in my head, whatever mantra I’m relying on to get me through this is slipping. The jittering anxiety, the halting breath—everything is showing. You see. I can’t. Lips. I can’t. Eyes. I can’t. Smile. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. “Do you want to go home?” you ask. You are brighter than I am, and bolder. Intuitive. “Yes!” I say, all too quickly, and I grab my jacket and I’m gone. Down the street, hunching against the cold, to my car, up the highway, heading home, home, home. It’s over 32 years later and I can’t remember us, really. As much as I try. Your lips. Your smile. Your ass. Your cock. I can conjure them if I concentrate, but they could belong to any hot model in a magazine. The only thing I do remember is that I broke up with you. On your birthday. Do you want to go home? Now, I relate this story to friends. Aren’t I a wicked one? I’ve been with Andy for 30 years. Married for 15. When all my friends—all the guys who had their wild days, their casual pickups, anonymous trysts—when they share their stories, I pull out this one. It’s only a line or two. “Well, I broke up with a guy on his birthday…” It gives me an edge, I think. A pardonable swagger. I, too, had adventures. I, too, was admired, desired. I too could break a heart. I rarely think of your side. Of how awful it must have felt. Of how much you must hate me. “The guy who broke up with me on my birthday.” I hope I haven’t forever tainted your special day. Or… Perhaps I do want it to sting. A little. Just enough. To show I

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mattered. To help me believe that I was somebody worth keeping, sad to lose. My lips. My smile. My shoulders. My eyes. My cock. Do you remember? Do you? Can you? Douglas Moser is a writer and director living in Connecticut. Memoir pieces published Echo, Peculiar, anthologies Dating & Sex: The Theory of Mutual SelfDestruction, Volume 1, and One Night Stand. Novels: James & Jim, Exterminating Angel, and Pussy Boy. A companion piece to this story, The Decade of Disco Sally, appeared in the third edition of Beyond Queer Words.

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Cenotaph Elise Konya ONE. You know what it's like down there—the cold, the dark. The sense of being swallowed alive. The cold or the warmth, depending on the time of year; you taught me that, how our sense of temperature is relative, how the summer air made it feel freezing in comparison but in winter, we'd shuck our heavy coats at the entrance. And now I'm going down into the earth because nobody else can do it. That's your fault, too. Just one more thing that's your fault. TWO. I remember going out to dinner with your girlfriend a week after we got back from Cumberland Gap. I was twenty-three, newly graduated, had just landed a USDA job after six months of hunting, and you'd taken me on a trip to celebrate. Not that we needed any excuse; it was our fourth trip to Cumberland in as many years. We went out to dinner with your girlfriend, who was soon going to be your wife, and I thought it would be a good time to tell you— We were out to dinner with your girlfriend, so I said, "Dad, I have something to tell you." I said: "Dad. I have a girlfriend." There was a long, terrible pause punctuated only by the server dropping off another bottle of ketchup at our table. I was young and dumb and green in all the ways that counted, so I thought maybe you were just waiting for more details. "She likes climbing," I tried. One of the girlfriends, your girlfriend, the one who was present, sat in silence. "We had a class together two years ago," I tried. "You'd like her." You picked up your burger, took a bite. Your elbows stuck out from your sides. You were left-handed, and by the time I hit double-digits I knew to let you pick which side of the table you wanted to sit on so we wouldn't bump elbows. "Are you still thinking about grad school?" you asked. "Any university in the country would be lucky to have you." "What?" I said, and then, "Maybe." You were so enthusiastic, all that warmth, all that pride. None of it for what I was talking about. "We're planning on moving in together," I said.

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"Here, have some of my fries," you told me. "I have a friend at Virginia Tech who works in the admissions office. I can give him your email if you want to reach out, see if he can give you any tips." "Yeah," I said, thwarted, spineless. I'd left my spine down in the dark. "Yeah, Dad. That'd be great. Thanks." THREE. The first thing I did was buy boots. If you were here, I'd ask you which boots to buy. If you were here, I wouldn't have to buy boots at all. Maybe, if you were here, you'd have already bought boots for me, kept the unopened box with your own gear in the hope that one day I would turn up and ask you if you had a pair in my size. Maybe I'll find those boots when I finally get around to cleaning out the house and I'll wonder why I stopped coming to the table, why I stopped talking. I buy boots because they're the one thing I can't guarantee you'll have. Everything else I need is in the basement: tackle bag, helmet, headlamp. Backup headlamp. The first aid and trauma kits that you checked meticulously every month. You haven't been gone long enough for any of the perishables to be past their expiration dates. At the last minute, I take the keys to your pickup from their spot on the edge of the counter. Mom had kept a bowl there before the divorce, but it and she were both long gone. I guess she left us both in the dust. FOUR. Before we both had girlfriends, before the divorce, I was lost, too. I did it to impress you. That's something else I never told you. FIVE. Look: I know it isn't a great sign that the NCRC regional coordinator contacted me. He was looking, first, for you; but you'd kicked the bucket, and the little girl was diabetic, and everyone else on the regional coordinator's list was more than four hours away by car. After factoring in the time it took for the girl's parents to piece together what had likely happened and call the police, and for the police to call the central National Cave Rescue Commission line, and for the National Cave Rescue Commission central coordinator to contact the National Cave Rescue Commission regional coordinator, and for the regional coordinator to check

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the list of cave rescue course graduates against his Facebook feed to see who was nearby and available (caving was a small world) before ultimately concluding that the best bets were a dead man and a dead man's daughter, and for me to buy boots and pick up your gear, we didn't have much time. We determined that there was no risk of flooding, determined that we didn't have a spare hour to wait, set a point past which I would go no further. The phrase "exploratory only" was tossed around, but Firehole wasn't a technically challenging cave, merely a cave that wasn't outfitted for tourists with raised platforms and electric lights. I was advised that any decision to proceed was mine and mine alone, but what the hell was I supposed to do— let the kid go into ketoacidosis? I did the only thing I could do. I did what you would've done. SIX. So I go down into the narrowing dark and let the earth swallow me for the first time in years. SEVEN. The parents are grateful. They, a single police officer, and a pair of paramedics are clustered near the cave's entrance. "I tried using my cell phone flashlight," the father explains. There are tear tracks on his face, which is lined and has a crooked nose for its center. He looks kind. He looks like he belongs in a cave with raised platforms and electric lights. He looks like he doesn't belong under the earth at all. The officer tries to keep me from going in, tries to verify that I know what I'm doing. He's eight inches taller than little-old-me. You would've hated him on principle. EIGHT. So I go down alone, into the narrowing dark, with your maps tucked safe in my waterproof waist bag. I let the earth swallow me. It's been four years, but four years is nothing if you're born and bred to it. What I wonder is if you're down here, too—if I'll bump into you just around the corner. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll ask you if you have a pair of boots tucked away in my size. Maybe I'll tell you I threw away all my old equipment, boots included, in a fit of rage after the last time we talked. That was four years ago. Four years have passed since we last talked and four

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months since you died, and here I am again, back in the underworld, recalling how you taught me that biting into a Lifesaver in the absolute dark would make my teeth into flint that struck sparks against candy. I was lost in here once, too, when I was just a little older than the girl, but the only authority you called was yourself, and we both know the dead man's daughter didn't panic. She knew to sit still and wait for you; and while I waited, I thought about how I should've minded your warning against going down alone into the dark. The girl can't be far. Firehole Cave from front to back isn't much more than a mile. I imagine you in the dark beside me, a ghost, an echo, some far-flung memory from an earlier age, and almost I can feel you, there in the dark, walking sure-footed just outside the flat disc of light cast by my headlamp on the uneven ground. I imagine your movements mirroring my own—my movements mirroring yours—I imagine us finding our way together, you helping and haunting me in turns. NINE. I did try to force it, eventually. I said, "Are you going to ignore it forever?" I said, "Dad, you know I'm gay." I said, "You aren't any fucking different from Mom, are you." I think that hurt you; and I was glad. You were hurting me. It only seemed fair that I got to hurt you, too. What I realize now is that you kept coming to the table, you kept picking up the conversation, even if you didn't know what else to say. TEN. I find the girl after twenty minutes, just past a low passage that requires a tall person to crawl or a short person to bend double. She shies away from the light at first, until I resolve from shadow into person. "It's OK, honey," I say. Her eyes are responsive and clear. "Honey, it's OK," I tell her. "Your daddy sent me. I'm here to take you home." Elise Konya lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Al ison Cim m et, Light at the End of the Tunnel


Visual Artists Cover art: Intimate Dresses by David Szauder. Media artist David Szauder, born 1976 in Hungary, studied Art History at the Eötvös Loránd University and Intermedia at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest, and completed a Masters Fellowship at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at the Aalto University in Helsinki. Fabio Ferrari, Tanit. Fabio Ferrari teaches queer studies and performance at Franklin University Switzerland, a small Swiss-American university in Lugano. As a queer professor, Ferrari likes to experiment with forms of expression that bring together creative and scholarly interests. Bailey Graham, The Grand Elimination. Bailey is a native of Canada, moving to London, UK, to pursue her love of the arts. She taught herself to sculpt at the age of 9 with simple craft store playdough, taking photos and creating stop motions. She has carried her love of it through to adulthood, evolving and branching out her passions into different mediums. She studied Fine art at NSCAD University, but really ignited her passion for sculpting and photography after rediscovering it at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Her work reflects nature, and the impact of climate change, 2 subjects that Bailey is very passionate about. Stevie Billow, Mary 3. Stevie Billow is a creator and educator based in Cambridge, MA. Their work can be found in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review and The Blood Pudding. Lou Storey, Hallways and Doors. Lou Storey is a visual artist, writer and psychotherapist. He lives with his husband of 33 years, Steve, and their family of cats, dogs and chickens. Lucas P. Boyle, Quilt and bound. Lucas Boyle is a queer multidisciplinary artist whose work responds to the ways in which social media platforms, the internet, and the mediation of the phone has altered his social, sexual, and emotional development. His photography addresses sexual and emotional discomfort by creating compositions that are serene, comfortable, and often implicit at first being masked by a close proximity and an intentionally short depth of field. He looks specifically at compositions that result from the vantage point of the phone and frequently compose in domestic


environments allowing viewers to be placed intimately and safely near and with the topography of the male body. Trevor Eichenberger, Queer and Proud; Queerness is a Long Thread. Nebraskabased artist Trevor Eichenberger (They/them) uses the vibrancy of color to accentuate the subjects of their paintings. They graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2020 with an English degree and apply their knowledge of storytelling to every canvas to evoke a narrative. Most of their work is dedicated to Queer experience, which allows them to create honest renderings of an often-stigmatized identity. Eichenberger’s artistic influences include Haring, Hockney, and Matisse. Carlos Deleon, Bay Day, 2009. Carlos Deleon realized he was gay when he was 13 and used whatever cameras his New York City-based immigrant Latino family had to hide during family gatherings. Since then, he has taken a camera everywhere he goes so he can figure out what he actually sees when he looks around. He is based in Chicago, IL, and looks to be surrounded by dogs and sweet men. Steven Pennett, Untitled, oil paint on sized paper. Steven’s work explores the relationship between Jungian archetypes and the computational equivalence of complex systems. As momentary decisions intersect and become reinforced through repetition and ritual, practitioners of belief systems become galvanized towards in-group/out-group factions. The viewer is left to contend with varying abstractions of reality, tumbling towards an uncertain future. IG: Steven_Pennett_Yes Sheree Rayford, Read My Lips; My Body, Your Choice. Sheree is a writer, photographer and artist born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. Sheree is currently living in Fairfield, California with her husband and three children. Kala, Garden of the Flesh. Kala is a visual artist and poet based in Chicago. Her art is meant to attune people to the infinite power of the imagination. Dani Torrent, Besties; Green Sheets. Born in Barcelona in 1974, Dani has studied fine arts and film direction, has a degree in Art History and currently works in illustration, writing and painting. From the confinement, he works less in children's illustration and begins his series on male intimacy, which he portrays in all its aspects, from the most platonic to the most sexual, and moving away from stereotypes giving an everyday and positive vision through stylized bodies and bright colors. www.danitorrent.com


Mark J. Richards, Landing. Mark’s paintings are a combination of mind work and body work; thought and action, color and expression. Living in Needham, Massachusetts, Richards’ landscapes are presented as portrait paintings that impact viewers to critically think about their world view, our environment, and their place within it: landscape paintings as being, doing, and finding out. Chris D’Errico, Stepping Out. Chris is an artist, poet and musician living and working the nightshift in Las Vegas, Nevada. Xue’er Gao, Break, lithography, 22 x 15 inch. Xue’er Gao (she/her) is a graduate of the MFA Book Art and Printmaking program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA and has a BFA in studio art, printmaking at James Madison University. Originally from China, she currently lives in Philadelphia. Her work is grounded in Chinese art history and culture, with a studio practice that is based on an experimental approach to materials and processes. Using papermaking techniques and Chinese traditional color, Gao creates artist books, prints, installations, and 3-dimensional forms. Her works are meant to be experimental, fun, and inventive visual poetry. She also works as a freelance visual artist and photographer. Emily Kirby, Kiss II. Emily’s semi abstracted figures are often placed within scenes of nature. Having moved to and lived in different countries, her works often elicit a distinct sense of place and environment in which her subjects dwell. Emily’s work exhibits connectiveness and sensitive appreciation of places she knows well, and frequently returns to in her work. As a queer woman, there is a narrative of representation within many of her paintings. GJ Gillespie, Man Disguised as Spirit; Fool if you think it’s over. GJ Gillespie is a collage artist living on Whidbey Island north of Seattle. Winner of 18 awards, his art has appeared in 53 shows and numerous publications. A favorite quote: The world is but a canvas to our imagination. -- Henry David Thoreau. Danny Keith, Banana, oil on canvas, 2022; Danny Keith is a figurative painter, living in Boston, Massachusetts with a Master of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts. By working with the same models over long periods of time, the paintings reveal a strong sense of desire between the artist and subject. The paintings subtly invite narratives of sociopolitical issues to the forefront of contemporary culture and figurative painting.


Kohlben Vodden @voddenoriginal, Blue Robert. A rising star in the British contemporary art scene, Kohlben Vodden is an Australian-born self-taught artist living and working in London, UK. His work was quickly recognised across the UK and internationally, and has been included in private and public exhibitions in Berlin, Brussels, London, Milan, and New York. Vodden’s unique take on the contemporary portrait has also caught the attention of fine art and culture publications including British Vogue, Create! Magazine, Artist Talk Magazine, and Juturna Male Art Magazine. You can find examples of his artwork and more information about the artist at www.voddenoriginal.com. Labdhi Shah is an Indian Artist currently living in Atlanta, USA. Trained as an economist, clinical psychologist, and art therapist, she is a self-taught artist. She specializes in finger-painted art works created from intuition without any reference or pre-sketch, distilling the purest expression of her emotion into her art. Art seeks to convey the truth of the human experience, in all its complexity. Her effort as an artist is to share the faith she has in the capacity of love, and to accept the uniqueness of every human being irrespective of race, color, gender, and culture. She works with a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, and ink, and enjoys the uniqueness of each medium. Jae Casella, Tati. From all over the place, Jae shares their world with others through a lens of gratitude and romance. The abundance of colors and textures in the palette draws Jae towards nature's light and the access to lifegiving energy. Jae is delighted by tiny details seen up close. Jessica Licata, WHAT I AM TO YOU. Jessica’s art does for her what words can never express. It allows. It gives. It takes. It’s her pain. Her hurt. Her love. Her deep feelings. Her deep happiness. Her deep darkness. that there can be no light without dark. It’s in the dark where she sees the brightest. where she finds her highest self. Elizabeth Baxmeyer, Mountain Music Series: Guitar. Liz Baxmeyer is an artist, writer, and musician living in Sacramento, CA. Recently, her work has been featured on the cover of Beyond Words Literary Magazine and Green House Literary, and was published in the July 2022 issue of Wild Roof Journal. When Liz isn't painting she teaches humanities classes at a health sciences university, plays harp in a Bluegrass band, and raises a creative and rambunctious toddler.


Haley Barclay, Sapphire. Haley is a self-taught watercolor artist born and raised near Chicago, Illinois. She mostly works with figurative art, portraits and animals as she feels these are powerful subjects to provoke thought and emotion. Nature, wildlife and human expressions inspire her the most. Olive Hoskins, Vulva Me. Olive Hoskins is a 23 year old Queer Non-binary artist. Their work is a celebration of Queer and Trans existence, while also exposing the hardships of living in cis-het society. Olive seeks to spread joy and hope by sharing their experience of the world with others. Federico Bonacorso, Tirantes Verdes, alcohol markers on paper. Fede Bonacorso is an Argentinian illustrator. Their works focuses on masculinity, crossdressing, HIV activism and sobriety issues as well as LGBT+ iconography. They lived in Spain for the last 11 years and recently settled back in Rosario, Argentina, their hometown. Alison Cimmet, Light at the End of the Tunnel. Alison Cimmet is an artist, actor, and writer living in New York. Her primary focus for her visual art is mixed-media painted collage work, celebrating vibrant colors and curious textures. More at www.Fancille.com; www.AlisonCimmet.com




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