Q ANTHOLOGY of QUEER CULTURE
VOLUME 1 * ISSUE 1
Q* Anthology of Queer Culture Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by Q* Anthology of Queer Culture All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from the publisher. Printed in the USA
Q ANTHOLOGY of QUEER CULTURE
Founder: Mitchell Wellman Executive Editors: Jack Chellman Drew Kiser Mitchell Wellman Associate Editors: Wendi Chen Jasmine Lecky Pearl Risberg Connor Roessler
ANTHOLOGY of QUEER CULTURE
Q* Anthology of Queer Culture is a student-run annual literary magazine and online platform that publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art related to LGBTQ (or queer) culture. The magazineâ€™s goals are twofold: to create a platform for a range of queer voices by offering authors and artists an outlet to share their opinions and ideas, and to promote dialogue on queer issues between the queer and non-queer communities. As the only student-run journal focusing on LGBTQ culture at U.Va., Q* gathers otherwise untold stories for the University community.
PUBLICATION PLATFORM Q* is a new media platform representing the intersection of print and digital media and is driven by LGBTQ voices. Q* is a medium through which queer writers can experiment with and present innovative forms of writing and art â€” from flash fiction to prose poems to art-verse and slam. Editors select works based on the quality of content and relevance to the LGBTQ community. Student submissions receive preference.
Q*â€™s student editors and publishers have complete creative control over which pieces are accepted, how the pieces are edited, and how the magazine comes together. More specifically, Q* submissions are reviewed by a team of copy editors and a smaller group of two to three executive editors. In a final stage, editors review the content in more detail, refining flow, syntax, and general layout. Approved pieces will be formatted and published online and/or in print by a team of production editors. Print work is selected based on content quality.
LETTER from the EDITORS
15 19 33 37
TABLE of CONTENTS
Subtle Prejudice Pearl Risberg
The Plunge Aurora Heller
Haroldâ€™s Body Edward Strickler
A Biography Devours Itself Rebecca Beauchamp
40 74 NONFICTION WRITING
43 47 51 57 61
Queer Self Discovery Anonymous
Slash Fiction Explained Charlotte Raskovich
Sexuality and Intimacy Logan Hall
Reflections on Selfhood Britt Brown
But Youâ€™re Male Connor Roessler
64 VISUAL ART
66 68 70 72
Melek Taus Wendi Chen
Pretty Boy Wendi Chen
Non-Binary and Cute as Hell Whitney Wu
Love is Love Whitney Wu
77 79 83
Shadowy Contemplation Jasmine Lecky
Around the Table Laura Widener
Pansexual Spoken Word Trisha Hongcharti
An Introduction to MOGAI Terms and Identities Katie Miller
LETTER from the EDITORS
ll too often, mainstream society boxes the various facets of queer culture into neat but oversimplified categories. Labels such as “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual” are more commonly used, and they often fail to encompass the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities. The dearth of creative platforms for exploring LGBTQ culture only serves to compound the queer stereotypes that this oversimplification encourages. We are excited to start Q* Anthology of Queer Culture as a way to address this oversimplification at the University of Virginia. By offering a space for queer literature, poetry, and art, we hope to promote the complexity of LGBTQ culture. Letter from the Editors | 9
No community is complete without an outlet for its creative imagination, and Q* aims to provide that outlet for the queer community and its allies on Grounds. Published annually and containing a selection of poetry, prose, and visual art, Q* will surpass previous precedents in its elevation and celebration of queer voices. Literature and art regarding LGBTQ topics are often simply submitted as part of a class assignment or otherwise offered to a limited audience. Q*â€™s online and print platform not only offers a serious outlet for this previously unpublished work but also serves to inspire the production of future literary material about the LGBTQ community. We aim for Q* to lend permanence and importance to an often overlooked genre, helping preserve a key strand of University culture in the process. Q* makes important headway toward offering an opportunity for LGBTQ students to explore their creativity. Outside the queer community, however, Q* also offers readers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of queer life beyond common media portrayals. We hope individual pieces in the anthology coalesce to create a dialogue â€” a refreshing and imaginative exploration of what it means to be LGBTQ at the University of Virginia and beyond.
Mitchell Wellman Founder and Executive Editor
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Jack Chellman Executive Editor
Drew Kiser Executive Editor
heard from my uncle that his daughter — my cousin — is dating this guy. Apparently, he’s in medical school, super honest, and down-toearth guy. I hadn’t talked to my cousin in a while but was happy to hear some great news like that, so I gave her a call. On the phone, she sounded happy and airy. School was good, the family was good, and so was this guy, Tom. She was so excited to share her happiness with me. Since we hadn’t been in touch, I asked if I could drive down to catch up. It was decided: next Friday afternoon at Atlas Coffee. When I pulled into the parking lot, I found her old beat-up Subaru and parked next to it. In the back seat she had a gym bag, an array of papers, a mug in the floorboard, and a brief case. That was weird — she had always carried a dark red leather bag. It was her signature thing. I went in, and there she was, looking brilliant in a green sweater with Tom sitting beside her. Man, he was good looking, and I could already tell how he felt about her. Tom saw me walking towards them before she did, and stood up to shake my hand. Inviting smile, firm shake, and a glance down at Kat before making some silly face and saying, “Nice to meet ya.” We chatted about random things, but everything was funny. Their happiness was infectious, and my mood rose to the occasion. His eyes barely left her face,
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his right hand barely left her hip. She was happier than I had ever seen her, and I left with every intention to inform my uncle of my approval. *** I heard from my uncle that his daughter — my cousin — is dating someone. Apparently, it’s a girl and my uncle had no idea his daughter was “like that.” Apparently, she’s in medical school, but my uncle didn’t have much else to say about her. He seemed a little shocked actually. I had sort of lost touch with her, so I gave her a call. On the phone, she sounded happy and airy. School was good, the family was good, and so was this woman, Em. She was extremely shy about bringing her up and was even less willing to give up details than her dad had been. I asked if I could drive down to catch up. She was surprised and said yes, next Friday. When I pulled into the parking lot, I found her old beat up Subaru and parked next to it. In the back seat she had a gym bag, an array of papers, a mug in the floorboard, and a pair of black heels that were way too big for her tiny feet. I went in and there she was, looking nervous. Next to her was a very tall woman with a slightly more confident expression. She was relaxed and gorgeous. I could tell she really cared about Kat and planned to take the reigns during our conversation. She stood up to shake my hand and Kat smiled and introduced us. She was smiling openly. Then I hugged Kat, and said I was so happy for her. We chatted about random things, but everything was funny. Their happiness slowly became more evident, and my mood rose to the occasion. When one of them moved, the other followed. Kat was happier than I had ever seen her with this woman, and I left feeling much more comfortable with the idea. I left with every intention to talk to my uncle, as his hesitations were far from necessary. *** So what’s the difference between allowance and acceptance? Allowing LGBTQ members of our society to exist presupposes superiority and makes the assumption that other members of society have the power and authority to allow others to be. Although allowance in comparison to rejection is undoubtedly a good thing, it is not the goal. The ultimate goal for all underrepresented, misunderstood, or minority communities has always been acceptance. African American people don’t want to just bring an end to prejudice against them; they want to be understood and accepted as equals and as valuable additions to American society. Women don’t just want to bring an end to domestic violence, rape, and social inferiority; they want equal-
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ity in terms of respect and opportunity. In similar ways, LGBTQ members look forward to bringing an end to negative stereotypes and prejudice and gaining equality in society. An understanding that the cisgender population must work towards is that LGBTQ members of society are firmly who they are, as much as women identify as women and African American people are African American, and that is not the cisgender populationâ€™s duty to allow them to be that way. Society as a whole will have to commit to finding this acceptance and respect before equality is found. Another important consideration of this framework is that gaining acceptance in society is a long process. African Americans significantly progressed their fight for equality over 60 years ago, and they continue to work for it. On an interpersonal scale, acceptance is an emotional and imperfect process for Kat, Em, and Katâ€™s father. The shift cannot be systematized. Marriage equality and political acceptance are monumental but not fundamental. The changes that pave the road for greater social acceptance cannot and will not originate in these policies. We cannot attack a problem rooted deep in the foundation of society without first acknowledging just how deeply the problem runs. It can be innate, as prejudice slips into conversations unless we work to maintain an open and educated mind. As with other types of discrimination, homophobia exists in varying degrees, both in aggressive ways and to slippery and subtle extents. It is surreptitious and seeps into our perceptions before we notice. As we mature into an age where the LGBTQ community is accepted, we must also fight to keep this new mindset. We must guard against rejection and work to encourage acceptance on individual and personal levels.
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Red, black, white, blue Red, black, white, blue Émilien paced Somewhere in Russia, 1812 Émilien had to keep reminding himself why he decided to do this. “Because I’m strong,” he whispered, “and because I’m going to make my mother proud.” A snicker behind him reminded Émilien of the other reason, the most important reason: “Because I’m all he has left.” “Are you talking to yourself again, Émilien?” Émilien sighed and ignored his brother’s comment. It was difficult not to blame him for the situation they were currently in. After their father’s death during one of Napoleon’s earlier battles Grégoire chose to carry on the family name in the army. And why shouldn’t he? After all, Grégoire had always been father’s favorite. When the time came for his brother to leave, Émilien realized he could not bear being told someone else so close to him had died. He told his mother he was going with Grégoire to ensure he didn’t get hurt. His mother cried, realizing she’d be all alone for quite a while, but he knew it was easier to watch her cry over this than to watch her struggle to make ends meet while worrying about Grégoire. Still, he wished Grégoire could have made some other choice. Even the thought of his gawky brother learning to cobble seemed to make more sense than dim-witted and fragile Grégoire with a weapon.
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Apparently, months of marching left Émilien bitter. “So you’re not going to answer me?” “Grégoire, let’s make a deal. You stop talking until we reach Moscow, and then you can say all you want.” “Moscow is over 120 kilometers away still, and you heard the rumors. Battle might be upon us soon.” His brother’s voice sounded pleading. Émilien realized that Grégoire must be getting scared. Although he was younger, Émilien was stronger and brighter than his brother, and he knew his brother looked up to him. Even so he decided to let him suffer in silence. Émilien resolved to not say a word to Grégoire until the next morning, just to teach him a lesson. It wouldn’t be until the following evening that he realized this was the worst mistake of his life. Paris, 2012 Émilien shuddered in his chair. It was 4:32 a.m. He moaned in torment. He hadn’t slept in around two hundred years, but instead spent his nights in some sort stupor as unwanted images of his past filled his mind. Day after day Émilien sat in this same, worn chair that faced a window overlooking the streets of Paris. From a little after three in the morning until seven he waited for the rest of the city to sleep. At seven he would grudgingly get up, shower, eat the same breakfast he’d eaten for the past thirty years (scrambled eggs and toast), and leave his apartment for whatever menial job he had found for the decade. Émilien looked about thirty. He was built, but he hadn’t worked out a day in his life. He was very tall, especially by Parisian standards, at roughly six feet four inches tall. His dark, curly hair obscured his eyes. Women would have found him incredibly attractive if not for an off-putting aura around him. It was just as well since Émilien didn’t like people trying to get close to him. He sighed, constantly aware that this was the worst decade of his existence so far. The past hundred years had all been dull, but usually there was something to keep him going. He spent the first decade of the twentieth century in Australia sharing in the joys of it becoming a commonwealth. The following decade he went back to his roots as a soldier at the front during WWI and then made his first trip to the United States to enjoy the Roaring Twenties. Émilien watched in England as King Edward VIII abdicated for love in the 1930s. When the Nazis came to power in Germany Émilien decided to take action and spent the 1940s attempting to kill the Führer and save as many condemned as possible. By the decade’s end he managed to save about ten Jews and two Gypsies. Émilien spent the 1950s helping Europe rebuild, partially because he felt guilty for not being successful in his attempts to stop the horrors of the previous
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decade. From 1961 to 1970 he realized that marijuana was no match for his body’s chemistry, so he gave up on an attempt to be a hippy and fought in the Vietnam War on the side of the Vietcong. By the 1970s he was done with heroics. It was this last part of the century that seemed to put the nail in his metaphoric coffin. Émilien had already seen most of the world and knew many of its languages and people, but he never managed to help just as he hadn’t helped his brother. Émilien moved every decade to a different location where he was either a bartender or a blackjack dealer or both. These were, ironically, his favorite decades to date. It was the first time he let his grief and self-loathing envelop him, and he realized it felt good to stop trying to help. He just was. Every day was another day, was another day. For reasons he couldn’t quite explain to himself, he chose to move back to his home country this decade. It was his first time in France since he left for Russia two hundred years prior with the exception of one terrible week in the 1820s. He could still feel his mother’s presence, an aura which only intensified his self hatred for letting her down and imagining how she felt when she was told both her sons had died — a falsehood he never contradicted. His morning routine complete, Émilien walked out the door and set out for the new decade’s job. He wished he’d known that people who order coffee during the day were so much less pleasant than people who order liquor at night. Right, left, right, left Right, left, right, left The anticipation heightened Somewhere in Russia, 1812 Many people have tried to describe war, but the screams and cries that fill the air never seem to be accurately retold. Émilien was fighting for his life, and he was scared. Bodies and blood stained the ground; the air had a foul stench. It was no longer about France and Russia — it was about how he could survive. The fighting came out of nowhere. Napoleon had wanted a battle, and the Russians finally decided to give him one. Moscow was so close and yet so far away. Émilien searched for his brother in the chaos. An unarmed Russian attacked Émilien, and he fought back, fighting fist to fist. Several heavy blows to the head later, and the man stopped moving. The humanity in him wanted to scream, but the soldier in him felt only triumph. Suddenly, Émilien heard a familiar cry. He turned around just in time to watch a bullet tear through his brother’s abdomen. Rage filled
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him, clouding his thoughts. He ran at the perpetrator and suddenly felt himself falling, gasping, reaching. It was as if everything was in slow motion. People carried on around him as his eyes blurred. His hand finally ran across the wound. He did all he could to crawl the half meter to his brother, his chest feeling heavier and heavier. He breathed a breath that tasted like fire, placing his arm over his brother in a quasi hug. He wanted to say something to break the silence from the day before but could not find the strength. Émilien took one last glance at Grégoire’s vacant face before closing his own eyes. Paris, 2012 “Monsieur, my coffee,” the customer said impatiently. Émilien woke himself from his fog, “Sorry.” “Alright, but remember that some of us have important things to get to.” Émilien bent over pretending to reach for more cream and slyly spit in the man’s coffee. He straightened himself, put the lid on the coffee, handed it to the man with a smile, and took off his apron to leave for the day. Émilien walked into the rainy, crowded street and sighed, starting towards his usual spot for dinner. Another day and another ham sandwich because after a couple hundred years even food loses its fun. Émilien wasted time walking around the city until it seemed an appropriate time to head to the bar. He spent hours at the same bar every night. With his body’s chemistry, the alcohol he drank metabolized before he could get drunk. Apparently immortality came with some sort of healing power. He imagined this was also the reason he stayed in such good shape, never got sick, and could slit his wrists without dying. The last was something he only bothered to try once. He wasn’t suicidal anymore, but couldn’t tell if it was because he no longer wanted to die or had succumbed to the fact that he really couldn’t. The bar filled with patrons, but the night felt different. Four beers and two hours later he noticed a commotion by the door. At least five women were standing around a man whom Émilien had never seen before, and he understood why the women were so interested when he saw the man’s clear blue eyes, wavy blonde hair, and expensive suit. “Really? A suit?” Émilien asked. “I wish I were him,” the bartender said in response to Émilien’s comment. “Not me,” Émilien remarked. “A bunch of shallow women fawning? I’d rather have peace and quiet.” “I can’t quite figure you out,” the bartender said. “All these nights at
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my bar and you never leave with anyone, even when it’s obvious that you can.” Émilien shrugged, all the while never taking his eyes off the mysterious blonde. His skin was as white as Émilien’s, but Émilien was almost certain his own complexion was due to his body’s unique chemistry. Émilien noticed how white, straight, and perfect the man’s teeth were, too, and wondered how he had not noticed them earlier. And then he realized, through the crowd of women, the man was looking straight at him and smiling. Red, black, black, white, blue, green Red, black, black, white, blue, green A smile from the black Émilien smiled in response. Somewhere in Russia, 1812 Everything was so still. Émilien gasped for air and rolled onto his back. He could not remember what was going on. Then he saw his brother’s body next to him, and it all came back. He rolled over and vomited, tears streamed down his cheeks. Why was he not dead too? His hand instinctively went to his chest. There was a slowly fading mark, but no blood and no fatal wound. He closed his brother’s eyes and stood up. The smell was nauseating and the cold of Russia hit him hard. Someone had taken his jacket and his weapon. There were so many bodies, so many sons, husbands, brothers, and friends. All were dead, every last one of them. Émilien could not comprehend what was happening as he stood in painful solitude. Everything was so still that he noticed the faint movement of a body meters away from him. It was a Russian. Émilien walked over and kneeled next to the man who was struggling for air. The humanity in him took over. He pulled open the man’s jacket and saw the wound in his lower abdomen, a good location as far as wounds go. The man opened his eyes and looked right at Émilien. He looked confused and scared. As if suddenly noticing Émilien’s uniform, he started to struggle. “No, do not waste your energy on that. I will not hurt you.” The man immediately calmed, too weak to protest. Paris, 2012 Émilien held his breath as he watched the man push through the crowd of women, walking toward him. He walked like a high ranking soldier, not like the soldiers of contemporary wars who did not see war as
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an art form. “Xavier,” the man said as he stuck out his hand. “Émilien,” he reciprocated, finally breathing again. He shook Xavier’s hand and saw the women across the room exchanged baffled glances. “Let’s go,” Xavier said with a smile as he nodded towards the door. Émilien had only talked to customers and restaurant workers for years now. He had no other friends and always shrugged off interactions like these. Émilien sat still while formulating a response. “Now,” Xavier said, a sparkle in his eyes and a confidence about him. It was as if he knew Émilien would accept. The man’s angelic aura was the opposite of Émilien’s. He saw the bartender look at them curiously before following Xavier into the cold. “You have no idea who I am, do you?” Xavier said with a laugh. “No, not at all,” Émilien replied. “Do you want the abbreviated version or the long version?” “Where are we going exactly?” Émilien asked, ignoring the question. “Good, the long version it is then. Here is my car, and where we are going is a surprise. Please get in,” Xavier said, opening the door for Émilien before getting in. Xavier whispered directions to the driver as he got in the back next to Émilien. “You have a driver?” Émilien asked. For the first time in over a hundred years, Émilien felt excitement and desire. He looked at Xavier and felt himself grinning back at the white teeth he saw. “My story starts in 1972,” Xavier said. The colors are now a sea That seems to open its mouth He doesn’t know how to swim But he takes the plunge Somewhere in Russia, 1812 Émilien watched as the Russian slowly opened his eyes. After he had dressed the man’s wound, he carried him a little ways into the woods so as to get away from the bodies. He had laid the Russian flat on the ground next to the small fire he started, but it had been well over a day and Émilien started to lose hope. “My name is Émilien. What is your name?” The Russian looked confused and pained. Émilien realized that this man spoke no French and tried a different tactic. He pointed at himself, “Émilien.” “Fredek,” the wounded man said. “I have some food. I searched the packs of the men in the field. Are you hungry?” Émilien put his hand to his mouth so as to mimick eating.
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“Oui.” “Ah, a French word. I am guessing that is the only one you know.” Émilien gave Fredek some food and watched as he slowly ate. It seemed so strange that this was a man he was supposed to kill in battle. He looked no older than Émilien and seemed just as sad. Fredek said something in Russian before pointing to Émilien, wagging his finger and then motioning to sleep. “No, I cannot sleep. It’s my fault, you know. I could have saved him. I should have at least tried to do something.” Émilien started to cry and Fredek put his hand on Émilien’s before saying something else in Russian. They sat there together in a silence punctuated only by occasional sobs. Paris, 2012 It turns out their destination was this secluded spot in the wilderness outside the city. Xavier described it as his favorite spot because of the clear stars and relative quietness despite its proximity to the city. On the ride over, Émilien heard most of Xavier’s life story: he was forty years old and had grown up in the South of France. When he was twenty he moved to Paris to pursue an acting career. Apparently Xavier was quite the celebrity but Émilien rarely paid attention to the social culture around him, so it makes sense he did not know Xavier was currently starring in two movies. Xavier had described all the movies and auditions, but Émilien was more shocked by other aspects of his life such as Xavier’s family. “Tell me about your mother,” Émilien said. “Ah, my mother,” Xavier said. “She was beautiful, really beautiful. She loved to sing; I think that is where I got my voice from. Each night she would sing me to sleep. When she died I promised myself I would sing every day so that her voice could live on.” “Oh, I am sorry for your loss. Was it recent?” Émilien asked. “No, not at all. She died when I was fifteen. It was the worst day of my life. She had just sung to me, but I lay in bed awake. I normally went right to sleep when she sang to me, but something felt wrong that day. I heard the front door open and heard my father’s voice. My father had abandoned us when I was very young and I only saw him once a year at Christmas. But this was July. I went to my door to listen, and I heard yelling. I slowly crept down the stairs and peered into the living room. I saw them arguing, my mother still trying to use a hushed tone so as not to wake me. Something was wrong and I felt like I should run into the room, but I didn’t. My father stuck out his hand and struck my mother and then again and again. She cried out for someone to help her, but I didn’t. I just could not move. Finally she stopped screaming and moving,
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and my father fled.” Émilien was taken aback. “It’s alright Émilien. I am a famous actor; you could have found that on my Wikipedia page. One day, I just finally realized that I could not blame myself for what happened. I did not kill my mother and intervening might have led to my death as well. My father killed himself the next day.” Émilien did not understand how Xavier was so at ease but still felt a similarity between them. “Both my parents are dead too.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Xavier said. “My father died in battle, and I believe my mother died of a broken heart.” “Ah yes, a broken heart will try to kill most of us at some point. Your father was a soldier, which war?” Émilien was caught off guard. The day had been so strange, and he had never been so honest or had someone be so honest with him. Without much hesitation he replied, “One of Napoleon’s battles.” Xavier just sat in silence as Émilien realized the absurdity of his answer. It felt strangely good to harbor one less secret though. He added, “My mother’s heart broke when she heard that both me and my brother were killed. I promised I would keep him safe, but I didn’t.” Xavier did not question this impossible answer when he finally spoke, “My home is not far from here, would you mind if we went there?” “Alright,” Émilien said. After a silent car ride they arrived at a magnificent house. Xavier sat on a chair in the living room and Émilien sat on the couch. When Xavier finally opened his mouth again, it was to sing. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven They passed too quick to count The colors now with faces Somewhere in Russia, 1812 A few weeks had passed. Émilien had made a small shelter for the two men, but it was still very cold, and food was becoming scarce. Fredek had seemed to gain strength and his spirits had risen. Émilien could not say the same about himself. He knew they could not stay here much longer, but he did not know where to go. He should be dead. He wished he were dead. “Maybe a game?” Fredek said. The men had a lot of time to teach each other their respective languages. Both were now capable of short conversations and expressing basic feelings. “No, we must develop a plan,” Émilien said. Fredek looked confused
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and Émilien realized that he needed to simplify the sentence, “To where from here?” Fredek was quick to respond, “My mother.” Émilien nodded. He knew that this would be the first place he’d go too, if he could. Things were too complicated now though. What was he going to say about his brother — that he broke his promise and didn’t protect him? How was he going to get back to France on his own? It was far, and he did not know the way. What if they told his mother he was presumed dead before he could say otherwise? There were too many questions, and Émilien did not have any answers. “To your mother,” he said as he deconstructed the camp. Fredek seemed confused by Émilien’s suddenness, but he helped pack up anyway. After what Émilien had done for him he would follow him anywhere. Paris, 2012 Émilien looked at the clock. It was one in the afternoon. “My god, I actually slept.” “Yes you did,” Xavier said from the other side of the room where he was reading the paper. “Quite a while I might add.” “You don’t understand. I don’t sleep. I haven’t slept since my brother died.” “And when was that exactly?” Émilien paused before deciding to be entirely truthful to Xavier. He might as well be to at least one person in his life. “1812,” he said. “I want to say I think you’re crazy, but I don’t — I don’t know why I was in the bar last night. I just felt an urge to go someplace different and to get away from all the cameras and fans. As you could tell by the group of women around me, I did not entirely manage that, but there you were in the corner. You reminded me so much of myself after my mother died. Your grief was visible from all angles, and I thought I could help you. I had been there before. I suppose that the fact you are telling me you are over two hundred years old is a bit shocking, but everyone has a past.” Xavier laughed at this last part. “You are taking this so lightly,” Émilien said in bewilderment. “What I am telling you is impossible. What I am telling you I have never told anyone. ” Émilien said, infuriated now by Xavier’s casual tone. “Even if I wanted to back away I can’t now. I’m already too attached to you Émilien. You are something special,” Xavier said as he smiled. Émilien paused for a moment and then continued his story — how he felt when he watched the bullet tear through his brother, what it was like to wake up in a field of dead bodies, how he walked away from Fredek after they kissed. He told Xavier all the major events of his more than
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two hundred years of life — how he finally made it back to France and saw his mother from a distance, how the grief had changed her appearance, and how he watched every day for a week building the courage to speak to her. When he finally woke her, all he found was a stiff corpse. He told him what it was like to wander for decades and see the world, yet not feel a thing. Émilien talked all day, and Xavier just sat and listened. The story finally came to an end, but the moment transpired into much more. The night climaxed in Xavier’s romantic embrace with Émilien. The two shared a mystical kiss. — one that, when they woke up the next day lying close to each other, neither said a word about. Nor did they speak of Émilien’s peculiar past. Four, three, two, one He hit and stood up Then offered his hand Somewhere in Russia, 1812 The two men traveled for weeks. Émilien had changed into the uniform of a Russian soldier that he had found on a discarded body so as not to attract attention. They had to travel slowly because of Fredek’s injury and the onset of the Russian winter. Fredek had to stop often, but Émilien never tired. He figured that if his body wouldn’t let him rest when he should have died, then he probably wasn’t going to be able to truly rest for a very long time. Émilien also barely seemed to feel the cold anymore. A warmness towards Fredek thawed Émilien’s hardened insides. In reality, he did not want Fredek to go home and wished the journey were longer because he would not know what to do without Fredek. Fredek had said something in a mix of Russian and French about Émilien staying with his family, but Émilien knew it was not possible — there would be too many questions, and he would be a walking burden who barely spoke the language. Fredek suddenly let out a burst of Russian, smiling ear to ear. “Here,” he said. “Your house?” Émilien asked. “Oui,” Fredek responded. “I did not know we were so close. Wait here and I will explain to my mother,” Fredek said happily. He grabbed Émilien and kissed him. Émilien gasped and then kissed Fredek again and again. It felt natural, but he knew it was wrong. Émilien allowed himself to think for one minute that everything could work out, that he was not supposed to be dead, and that he could be with Fredek forever. “One moment,” Fredek said, pulling himself away. As soon as Fredek was inside the house Émilien hastily walked away.
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Paris, 2012 A month passed with no one mentioning their past. Émilien quit his job at the café and spent his time with Xavier. He accompanied him to premieres and traveled with him. It was strange to be voluntarily in the spotlight after hiding in obscurity for so long. The tabloids were buzzing about the silent man by Xavier’s side. Émilien had also started to write his autobiography. It was painful to relive everything, but he wanted to come to terms with his past. “There is the beautiful man all the world is gossiping about,” Xavier said as he came into the room and saw Émilien. “Ah, hello. How was your day?” “It’s not your fault.” “What?” “Your brother, it’s not your fault. I started reading your book the other day, and I know you still blame yourself, at least a little. It’s more than that too. I can see it in your eyes and your demeanor. You have come so far, but you won’t just let it go. What do I need to do so you can let go?” Émilien sat in silence. He was a bit shocked by Xavier’s outburst. He thought this was something they would never discuss again. His face flushed thinking about how he trusted and cared for Xavier, but how Xavier would not leave the subject alone. “I am trying to come to terms with what has happened in my life, but I will never be able to forget,” Émilien said, his voice crescendoing. Then he was screaming, “I can never forget, but you needn’t remind me!” He grabbed a knife off the kitchen counter and cut his arm deep, then showed Xavier as the skin and muscle tissues quickly, peculiarly regenerated. Xavier sat silently, already fully aware of his lover’s capabilities. Finally he said, “I don’t believe I asked you to forget. I’ll never forget what happened to my mother. I asked you to let it go and stop blaming yourself.” Émilien wept. “This is just like with Fredek. You think things can be normal, but they will never be normal. What do you expect to happen as you continue to age but I don’t? You’ll eventually die. I never can.” “I don’t believe that. Every life comes to an end — is that not what has affected us both so much? Let the world know. They are capable of empathy and may help you see it’s not your fault.” Xavier smiles and takes the hand Screams of ‘What is happening?’ Relief for the first time Out of obscurity, Émilien has never felt lighter
The Plunge | 29
Paris, 2014 Émilien and Xavier laughed as they mulled over the plan. He was going to let the world know who he was. It took him a while to understand what Xavier had meant that one day, but now he knew. From the roof of the tallest building Émilien peered across the ocean of onlookers, pacing the edge, preparing himself to jump. ‘It was not my fault’ And with that Xavier takes a small knife out his pocket and cuts Émilien’s arm The pain is excruciating And it doesn’t start to heal Red, black, white, blue Red, black, white, blue Émilien paced Right, left, right, left Right, left, right, left The anticipation heightened Red, black, black, white, blue green Red, black, black, white, blue green A smile from the black Émilien smiles in response The colors are now a sea That seems to open its mouth He doesn’t know how to swim But he takes the plunge and lets go One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven They passed too quick to count The colors now with faces Four, three, two, one He hit and stood up Then offered his hand Xavier smiles and takes the hand Screams of ‘What is happening?’ Relief for the first time Out of obscurity, Émilien has never felt lighter
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‘It was not my fault.’ And with that Xavier takes a small knife out his pocket and cuts Émilien’s arm The pain is excruciating And it doesn’t start to heal.
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“Tell me again why we are up here,” Barbara said. “To scatter Harold’s remains,” I replied. Barbara had only recently arrived to Charlottesville from Israel by way of Boston, Los Angeles, and another city that I’ve forgotten. She wasn’t a good nature walker. I had taken Barbara on some drives into the Shenandoah Park, but we didn’t get very far from the car — so this was an adventure. Barbara was good to come. “But we’re going back to the wine garden for that sweet blackberry booze you mentioned, correct?” she reminded me. “At Mountain Cove, right?” “Yes, you’ll like it.” We had earlier in the week sloshed, sniffed, and slurped white and red varieties at Barboursville. Barbara used Harold’s glass, and I had mine. “Ashes or bones,” Barbara asked, “in the box?” “A bit of both, but mostly ashes. Harold thought that Bradlee’s — that’s the Black community funeral home — might not want to handle the body once they found out he was positive. So cremation made the most sense.”
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“The discrimination here is hard to believe,” Barbara said. “Why do you stay here?” “Here?” I emphasized. “That’s not another ‘Southerners are stupid’ jab, is it?” Harold would say, “Intolerance isn’t as much about a red neck as it is about a white collar.” He liked to talk back to the know-it-all TV talking heads and especially the ones with those wide-framed glasses — you know the ones — the ones that construct the a porn geek drag. “Take off those glasses,” Harold would shout, “you’re barely smart, and you’re not Colby Keller.” Harold enjoyed jerking off with Colby Keller sometimes. “Where are we emptying the box?” she asked. “See the rocks ahead?” I pointed my stick, raising the rough end of the dogwood and making circles in the air. “Because Harold saw the future up there.” The thought kept me silent through the switchback. “You’ll have to tell me more about that,” Barbara said. We gently rose up the mountain side after three tough switchbacks. “We always liked hiking up here since it is so close and so different from home,” I said. “Harold liked the spring best, with the hundred colors of green in the new leaves. He thought that so much fresh oxygen was curative. It is cool and sweet to walk in the spring.” We stopped to look out across the open land below. “Harold found a stone one time on a hike up here. He was so excited. He was sure that it was something from early people — Native Americans — but, you know, not the people who met the Europeans, long before ‘the Aboriginals’ as they say in Canada.” I held out my palm, then closed it around the imagined stone. “It was a stone that fit perfectly here, in the palm — a crescent with sharp edges all around. He said that had to be man-made because of the edges. And I think so too: it was something made. Over in the valley we found lots of arrowheads with carved edges.” I felt an earthquake once in Scottsville. It came early in the morning, I was watching TV, and Harold was asleep. It sounded like a train engine, a big locomotive coming closer and closer, roaring. And then it felt like a wave under the house, rattling the glass and things. And then it fled away. More waves of mountain ranges appeared as we walked on, taking tastes of water and slower breaths of air, with the gentle rise toward the rocky belvedere. “Harold Googled the web when we got home, found a report that the last ice age was 10- 12 thousand years ago, and all these hillsides here would have been spruce and maple. The website said that they found a source of flint about an hour or so from here, north, where people had been working the stone because they found fire pits with burned spruce.
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They say the early people here would have found megafauna — you know, giant camels and sloths. That got Harold very excited. He thought that, in this cove, the early people might have made a prairie down there to make a natural corral to hunt giant elk, and that cutting edge he found could’ve been a tool to slice through.” “Where is the stone?” Barbara cut in, understanding but a bit bewildered. “I have it at home,” I said, but I did not. “It fit like this in your hand,” I said, clasping and unclasping my grip. “This is beautiful, like you said,” Barbara said in a comforting way. I smiled back to her and hesitated before continuing. “That story was about Harold’s multiverse. You know how some people seem to live in different worlds at once — in different times or eras?” “Drugs can do that,” Barbara said. “But I don’t mean that about him.” “Well, in the last part of his illness there were drugs, but Harold had happy brain chemicals most of the time without additives.” “I know people like that too,” Barbara said. “You know, being up high now we can see a lot. And I’m not so out of breath. The blackberry wine will be a perfect add-i-tive,” Barbara sang. We rounded a hillside of rock that opened into the forest, revealing a wide and far view with plenty of sunlight. Barbara found a rock and sat, relaxing under the sunlight. We closed our eyes and felt the sun on us, like honey. “Remember at my house when you shouted about the lights in the grass, remember Barb?” “I do,” she said. “I had never seen fireflies before. What a surprise. And then we caught some in the jar, walking through the cool grass and then let them go.” “That’s like Harold’s way of seeing things. Surprise and pleasure. Fireflies from the grass, giant sloths in the trees. Down there,” I pointed. “My multiverse, right,” Barbara said. Harold’s multiverse.
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A BIOGRAPHY DEVOURS ITSELF
y ex and I are still together. Or, to say it more eloquently, we’ve been fucking not dispassionately since our momentous departure at a dimly-lit downtown bar whose fake elegance we hoped could conceal how hackneyed the entire thing was. I drank two greyhounds and then we started over. I cried to give the event a kind of tangibility, even when that tangibility still turns into physical isolation. Continuing to sleep with each other, and hungrily, was a prerequisite to our eventual real split. It’s as though if he tries hard enough, he can fuck the memory of himself and his body out of me, because one can’t be alone without facing a white and unscalable wall of memory. My loneliness from my ex is different from my loneliness from the memory of my mother, who hated him, or the memory of my dead cousin Danny, whose existence was limited to a collection of heavy-metal records and the sensation of my first hit of marijuana. It was different from the memory of the first girl I loved and wanted to touch. Her name was Annie, and I never saw her in any outfit other than a hospital gown. She was so thin, however, that she barely wore the thing. Annie scarfed down food with animalistic rapaciousness at Children’s National, and insisted a stomach virus was making her so thin. This wasn’t the classic case of anorexia and self-denial: Annie’s smile, wider
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than her face, and the mysterious disappearance of her stomach virus upon entering the ward convinced everyone — nurses, therapists, the girls, myself included — that her body starved not from within, like our bodies, but due to something outside itself. I know that in writing about Annie like this I am abstracting from and erasing her. I am claiming her like I couldn’t when she was twelve and I was ten. Her pitifulness was loud, and I felt as though if I stood next to her — close enough to feel her collarbone breaking through yellowing skin — I could cut off a chunk of that effortless desperation, eat it, be transported like Carroll’s lovestarved Alice to a world where thinness just happens. Did I, then perhaps too young to begin to understand love, conflate my desire for invisibility with romance? The anorexic’s journey is one part affectation, two parts genuine egotism. One afternoon when the nurses and aides weren’t watching I asked Annie to kiss me — she did. Her teeth knocked against mine, and after that we barely spoke. I reinvent the story now with an all-too-poetic surfeit of love to get at the feeling of the memory, but I can’t. I loved her as a surrogate for my own body, which I couldn’t touch, even through a religious dedication to hunger. I loved her, and she left the hospital before I did, convinced still that her diagnosis was false. In Kafka’s A Hunger Artist, the subject’s eating disorder is a kind of pious performance art. The man — if you can gender him — at the center of the story is put on display at a circus, and when crowds fall sick of his “talent,” a caged panther replaces him. The panther symbolizes what the hunger artist couldn’t do: scare his audience into adoration and worship. The animal overshadows the hunger artist’s departure from the story. Annie is this creature that blotted me out of the story. Even today, I fear I’m not “disordered enough.” Like Kafka’s heretic, my starvation was self-imposed, false. As I grew older and relearned how to eat, I fell in love with a number of men and women who were always so thin I felt they could replace me as Annie did. Friends say I “have a type.” One of my types, a man, claimed my body like an illness. Shortly after, he became my ex, and one morning after a night with him we ate a breakfast in relative silence. I dutifully purged afterward in the style of devout and routine prayer. “You did the bad thing.” He stood outside the bathroom door, taking up so little space. “It was the right amount of time.” I felt too present, too much of myself, to respond. His face crumbled. Frail thing. I loved him as a surrogate for my own body, which I couldn’t touch. I loved him, and he left.
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QUEER SELF-DISCOVERY: A STORY OF DIARY ENTRIES
5/29/14: “I must be extremely sexually-deprived bc I got turned on @ the dentist today.” 5/30/14: “I just got back from a party. I didn’t really expect it to be what it was. I met this guy. We made out a bunch. I eventually blew him. He came on my chest and I felt like a pornstar. I don’t really know how to feel about it. Throughout the entire experience, I only felt a little turned on but I think that was from having to pee bc after I went to the bathroom, I didn’t feel anything @ all. Kissing him did nothing for me. I’m glad I made him temporarily happy. But I’m very confused. I just really wanted to get out of there. I’m afraid to write down what I’m thinking now but I’m sure my future self will know what it is.” 6/9/2014: “I wish I could get out of my head a little more. I’m constantly having conversations and moral qualms with myself. I can’t tell if this is what everyone does or if I do it to an exceptional degree. I need an older sister or a therapist or something. I’d talk to a wall if it was socially acceptable.”
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6/10/2014: “I have no clarity of mind. Thoughts are constantly bouncing off each other/the walls of my skull. I just want pause. I can’t stop thinking/having conversations with myself about the things I need to change in order to be happy. I want to draw; I want to be skinny; I want a girlfriend; I want to know what I’ll be doing for the next 5-10 years of my life; I want to meet new people; I want to chop my hair off; I want knowledge; I want to watch every movie anyone’s ever told me to watch; I want everything; but I don’t want to move or get hurt or embarrass myself or upset anyone. I want everything but I’ll just keep settling for nothing because I’m a piece of shit ... for now.” 6/13/2014: “A poem about a girl on the metro: She dressed like the weather, Clouds at her feet and rays in her hair, A fly flew by, I want to watch you fade, I wish I could read what I wrote, And say what I spoke.” 7/9/2014: “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this a secret.” 7/14/2014: “Sexuality? Lol who knows?” 8/10/2014: “The clerk at the used bookstore confused me. I’ve been thinking about him a lot. He was attractive to me, which is confusing. I felt like I was beginning to accept who I thought I was. The clerk boy just erased months of internal progress. I like him even though I know very little about him and we spoke very briefly, only about my peculiar “The Pleasures of Cocaine” purchase. Maybe it’s just a result of this craving for companionship, or maybe I genuinely felt/feel something for him. I’d be curious to see if he feels the same way or if I’ve even crossed his mind since I left. I hate that I’m having to validate and justify my feelings in my head, over and over again. I could use a little peace of mind.” 12/14/2014: “I was introduced to a friend’s very gay and open friend via Facebook so I could talk to her about my own sexuality discovery process. I like to think of her as my Gay Mentor.” 12/23/2014: “Girls are lovely. ____ is beautiful. And nipples are salty.” 1/8/2014: “____ is lying in bed next to me, asleep. She’s snoring so loud, and it’s the cutest thing.”
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1/11/2014: “Here are some of my favorite things from 2014: -happiness -music discovery -life talks -____ -Americanos -honesty -emotions -nice pens -nice people -confidence -trying new things -being gay -hot tea -hot baths -hot people -kisses -holding hands -neck kisses -hickeys I’m bored of this — here’s to 2015!” 2/22/2015: “____ is officially my girlfriend!”
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SLASH FICTION EXPLAINED
lash fiction refers to a subgenre of fan fiction in which two male characters are lovers. The writing is deeply rooted in post-structuralism and queer theory, restructuring and reimagining texts through a queer lens. As delineated in Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory, “Deconstruction is aimed at attacking the ideological values of hegemonic institutions by revealing the illusions being created in a text.”1 What is considered by the hegemonic majority to be straight is appropriated and reformed to have a queer meaning. Slash fiction writers are mostly straight women. One might ask why straight women write from the perspective of gay men. The stereotype of a “female fan” is that of a hysterical young girl, a shrieking teenager who worships at the altar of her male idol. Many examples deal with fans of musicians, which involves men who are literally placed above their adoring fans on a stage. This relationship between fan and object of worship is largely passive on the part of the fan. The male musician is desirable but unattainable; the only way to connect to him is through the distant worship of a concert venue or through the consumption of merchandise. This image of fan culture is uncritical, as the “fangirls” are
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“unable to maintain critical distance from the image, they want to take it inside themselves to obtain ‘total intimacy’ with it,” as Jenkins describes in Textual Poachers.2 This image of fan culture is the exact opposite of the participatory, analyzing culture of slash fiction writers. Writers simultaneously explore their sexuality and sexual desires through slash and remove themselves entirely from the text. There are no women in slash who are romantic interests, no women who can be interpreted as a stand-in for the female writer. In traditional fan culture, a woman is hypersexualized even when she is the spectator: “The female spectator herself becomes an erotic spectacle for mundane male spectators while her abandonment of any distance from the image becomes an invitation for the viewer’s own erotic fantasies.”3 Even when a woman gazes at a man, she is still subject to the male gaze. By expressing her subjective sexual desire for a male object, she is nevertheless seen as a spectacle; she lives within a patriarchal and puritanical system in which female sexuality is deviant simply by existing. The male gaze extends to female gazers, and in turn, slash fiction writers remove themselves from their texts while maintaining ultimate control. By exploring sexuality between characters that are at the top of the social ladder (white, male, and originally presented as straight), these writers create true egalitarian relationships for themselves that could not exist in the real world. Not only are women constantly under the male gaze in pop culture, but the stories they would tell — were they stories of heterosexual relationships — would be steeped in the power dynamics so pervasive and ingrained. Noy Thrupkaew posits in her 2003 essay, “Slash enables its writers to subvert TV’s tired male/female relationships while interacting with and showing mastery over the original raw material of a show (key for all fanfic).”4 By placing the characters on equal footing within a white male culture, slash writers receive the freedom to explore “the sensuality that arises in a relational context of actual people being together and actually being themselves—not stand-ins for a gender type,” which “is radically different from that sexuality which requires that the ‘other’ not deviate from a particular standard of sexedness.”5 Jenkins argues that slash fiction explores “alternatives to traditional masculinity” but does not fully reject traditional masculinity.6 Characters retain the masculine personalities established within their original texts. Part of what makes slash so exciting is the juxtaposition of a traditionally masculine character and traditionally non-masculine activities. Authors often explore the struggle to integrate these activities and characteristics in slash, as many stories describe an initial sexual encounter met with some resistance. Traditional masculinity brings the characters together: “As macho discourse would have it, those who spill blood together become close as those bound by it.”7 The resistance of a male character
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is often rooted in his preconceptions of male virtues and shames. Shame and fear of homosexuality is tied to a shame and fear of femininity; inherent to these feelings is the idea that to be a man is to be the opposite of a woman. This narrative of masculinity is extremely limiting, as masculinity is determined as much by what men actively avoid as it is by active posturing. Slash reforms masculinity through exploration of the potential subtleties and variations that lie within the concept of maleness. The characters become androgynous not through bland neutrality but through a lively hybrid of masculine and feminine traits: “Both characters can be equally strong and equally vulnerable, equally dominant and equally submissive, without either quality being permanently linked to their sexuality or their gender.”8 Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory defines queer theory as “a conscious refusal of labels that define what it is against, and it emphasizes a retreat from binary thinking.”9 The men of slash fiction retain their masculine characteristics and oftentimes do not reject their sexual histories with women. Most male characters in slash fiction would be defined as bisexual, breaking the frequently criticized binary of homosexual versus heterosexual. In slash fiction, masculinity is redefined to become something broader — less limiting than what traditional narratives often portray.
Notes: 1. Frederik Dhaenens, Sofie Van Bauwel, and Daniel Biltereyst, Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory: Slash Fiction, Queer Reading, and Transgressing the Boundaries of Screen Studies, Representations, and Audiences (Sage Pu lications, 2008), 338. 2. Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, (Routledge, 2003), 15. 3. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 15. 4. Noy Thrupkaew, “Fan/tastic Voyage: Journey into the Wide, Wild World of Slash Fan Fiction” (Bitch Media, 2003). 5. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 190. 6. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 191-92. 7. Thrupkaew, “Fan/tastic Voyage.” 8. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 200. 9. Dhaenens, Van Bauwel, and Biltereyst, Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory, 337. Slash Fiction Explained | 49
SEXUALITY AND INTIMACY: SEDGWICK’S AXIOMS TOLD THROUGH PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
have often wondered about the evolution of my own sexuality. I never suddenly knew I was gay; I slowly began to realize it, and it was a gradual process. I don’t believe that I have always been gay. Although at this point in my life I am only attracted to men, I do have memories of feeling attracted to women. I think these memories are products of my own sexuality, not what traditional Western culture led me to believe I should feel. Another aspect of sexuality that intrigues me is the interplay between sex and intimacy: sometimes the smallest platonic experiences that may seem trivial, can carry significant meaning, and throughout my life, some of my most emotionally charged experiences have been non-sexual. Conversely, some of the most sensual experiences I’ve had have lacked a strong pre-established emotional connection. In order to further my own understanding of sexual development and intimacy, I will explore two of Eve Sedgwick’s Axioms referring to sexuality that she explains in her book, Epistemology of the Closet.1 Through a comparison of Axioms 1 and 4 with recollections of pertinent experiences in my own life, I will demonstrate how aspects of Sedgwick’s theory become applicable in my own life, while also expanding my thought processes pertain-
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ing to my own experience. Axiom 1: People are different from each other.2 Axiom 4: The immemorial, seemingly ritualized debates on nature versus nurture take place against a very unstable background of tacit assumptions and fantasies about both nurture and nature.3 Ever since I was little, I have been exceedingly curious about people. Sexual feelings didn’t start to develop until I entered puberty, but I believe that social interaction, even at a young age, starts as a platonic affinity and eventually sexualizes us. Although I am quite firm in this belief, I don’t believe that socialization was the sole cause of my homosexual identity. Sedgwick later asserts after covering Axiom 4, “My fear is that there currently exists no framework in which to ask about the origins or development of individual gay identity that is not already structured by an implicit, trans-individual western project or fantasy of eradicating that identity.”4 With this second quote she is defining the aforementioned “fantasies about both nature and nurture.” In the context of nature and nurture, the social aspect of my sexual development would be considered nurture. This half of the debate pertaining to the sexual development of those who identify as gay is often used to label this identity as illegitimate. Homophobic individuals and groups often frame this identity as the result, solely, of socialization. Since homosexual identity is simply a social construct, in the eyes of these proponents of homophobia, it can easily be “cured” or reversed. This type of anti-gay rhetoric is very problematic because it can be used to justify the assertion that being gay is a choice. This can lead to the assumption that choice, the decision to be gay, is a mistake that your average “vanilla” individual should avoid making. My sexuality is not a choice, and I think my childhood proves that. Although my sexual development was undeniably influenced by many years of interactions and experiences, I have a memory from when I was just four years old that demonstrates the presence of the foundations of my sexual identity before I was heavily socialized. It was the first day of the father-son basketball camp, and I was quite nervous. I was clumsy, awkward, and bereft of the motor skills most other kids my age had because of a mismatch with my height and coordination. Despite my fears, I was passing the ball back and forth with my dad pretty well until I noticed the boy next to me. I became distracted and the ball hit my stomach, and thudded to the ground. However, I didn’t notice any of that — I was staring at the boy whom noticed I missed the pass. He laughed, not maliciously though. It was as if he found my clumsiness endearing. I remember smiling back at him, his searing cobalt eyes meeting mine.
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He set his ball down and said, “I’m Aaron.” I remember in that moment feeling immense curiosity and excitement towards Aaron and wanting nothing more than to play basketball with him. This experience illustrates a platonic attraction to males, but I also have memories of feeling a similar attraction to my female childhood best friend, Jessie. We met in preschool when she bumped into me on the slide. She was too eager to slide down, and didn’t wait long enough after I had taken the plunge. We eventually became the type of juvenile best friends who did everything together — bathing included. I remember once right before we got in the bathtub she said bluntly, “You can look at mine if I can look at yours.” In this moment, I felt a fervent sense of wonder towards Jessie that was similar to what I felt towards Aaron. One could argue that I was born with an attraction to both men and women and that my life experience and socialization led me to choose to embrace my attraction solely to men. To my knowledge, though, I have never made a conscious decision about my sexuality. My sexuality developed unconsciously, and I have reacted to the feelings that evolution has produced. At this time, those feelings are attraction to only men, but I cannot be sure my sexuality will never come to favor women. Sedgwick concludes her explanation of her fourth axiom by saying, “We have all the more reason, then, to keep our understanding of gay origin, of gay cultural and material reproduction, plural, multi-capillaried, argus-eyed, respectful, and endlessly cherished.”5 Instead of debating between nature and nurture models of sexual development, it would behoove us all to understand that sometimes the two both shine through, as they have in my own development. I have, in childhood, demonstrated attractions to both men and women, and now at the cusp of my adult life I find my attraction to men has been prevalent for about four years. Intimacy in modern society is mistakenly assumed to mean sex. I have experienced platonic yet intense intimacy, and I believe I am not the only one. Axiom 1 simply states, “People are different from each other.” Continuing this thought, I believe that sexual experience and intimacy are not necessarily always intertwined nor are they representative of one’s entire identity. Sedgwick states, “In this century, in which sexuality has been made expressive of the essence of both identity and knowledge, it may represent the most intimate violence possible.”6 To make sexuality synonymous with knowledge and identity is to assume that the individual differences in these three concepts are negligible. These assumptions define someone else’s experience for them, and that is a fundamental injustice. Consider another memorable experience straddling the intimacy-sex divide: It was between me and a member of the all-male acapella group I was a member of in high school. We were called “The Testostetones.” His
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name was Jason, and he was a functioning alcoholic ever since his brother died suddenly the summer before his senior year of high school. It was three o’clock in the morning after my junior prom — his senior prom — and Jason and I sat exhilaratingly close to each other in the grass on the edge of his garden. The world was asleep, but I couldn’t have been more alert. We had been talking about his recently deceased brother, and his eyes were red and glassy. His fluttering eyelids betrayed hidden emotion. His tuxedo hung casually from his slouched frame, and his starched shirt was unbuttoned so low that all formality was lost. He lay back, breathed in, and his body shivered. His feelings battled against stoicism. I wanted him to know that he could let go with me, that I would never judge him. He rolled away over dead leaves, and I tried to touch his cheek, but he roughly pushed me away. Looking at me, he struggled to retain the comfort of emotionless. I whispered, “It’s all right.” He accepted my embrace between tears and whispered back, “I just miss him so much.” Jason didn’t cry for long. He broke away from me after a minute or two, chuckled, retreated back into stoicism. This experience was the closest I’ve felt to someone emotionally. The connection was real, although it was completely platonic, and for me it defined intimacy. Wondering if that intimacy was somehow false because it didn’t involve sex would be calling into question my own experience and truth. The flips side to wondering whether intimacy has to be sexual is wondering whether sex must stem from intimacy, not just physical attraction. In Sedgwick’s explanation of her first axiom, she asserts, “For some people, it is important that sex be embedded in contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness with other aspects of their life; for other people, it is important that they not be; to others it doesn’t occur that they might be.”7 For some people, it is important that the person, or persons, they are engaging in sexual acts with have meaning and connection. However, some wish to have no connection to their sexual partner(s) outside the very sexual acts that they engage in together. For others, it simply doesn’t matter either way. The first time I had a truly amazing sex was with my first serious boyfriend, Brice. We both had auditions for a theater production after school, but there were 2 hours between the end of school and the beginning of auditions. On that particular day, his parents happened to be working late, and his house was only 5 minutes from school. The situation begged for debauchery. Although we knew his parents were working late, we didn’t know exactly when they would get home, so each moment felt valuable. The urgency with which we made love made each moment passionate. The second time I had truly enjoyable sex was with a dance team coordinator named Vance. We chatted on Grindr and then met up for
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drinks. Once we made it back to my room, he asked to hear me sing because I had been talking about my acapella group. I sang a Frank Ocean song, and he danced to the beat of my voice. There was something so erotic about that moment — my voice and his body moving as one. Suddenly he was on top of me, and my body replaced my voice. I was in love with the first boy and hardly knew the second, but both experiences were enjoyable. As Sedgwick assert in her first axiom, people should not let the enjoyment of sexual experiences rely on their adherence to sexual societal norms. Overall, my experiences reflect the importance of the individual when discussing sexuality and sexual experiences. In the final paragraph of her explanation of her first Axiom, Sedgwick reminds readers, “While there are certainly rhetorical and political grounds on which it may make sense to choose at a given moment between articulating, for instance, essentialist and constructivist (or minoritizing and universalizing) accounts of gay identity, there are, with equal certainty, rhetorical and political grounds for underwriting continuously the legitimacy of both accounts.”8 Theories of nature and nurture (essentialism of socialization) are not universal, and keeping that at the forefront of one’s mind is crucial when theorizing about sexual development.
Notes: 1. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (California: University of California Press, 1990), 1-253. 2. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 22. 3. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 40. 4. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 41. 5. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 43-44. 6. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 26. 7. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 25. 8. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 27.
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REFLECTIONS ON SELFHOOD
ecently, I have been asking my peers who are doing various projects in their academic careers to relay to them how I perceive myself or how I believe a word is perceived in society today. Some of these words include feminism, lesbian, African American, welfare, and affirmative action. They have pressed me to identify how I feel inside and outside about these buzzwords we use all too lightly. The most common questions I received include, are you a feminist?, what is it like being a gay athlete?, and what is like being an African American at U.Va.? I find it harder to answer these questions than I originally perceived. Am I a lesbian? Am I an African American? Do I identify as a female? Yes, I do, but I find it hard to identify myself as one or another or find any of them standing on their own as a descriptor for who I am. I don’t walk up to someone and introduce myself as lesbian — I walk up to others and say, “Hi, my name is Britt. What’s your name?” Might that person infer I am lesbian, or black, or female? Yes, but I hope that the discussion that ensues proves more representative of my character than those descriptors.
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Post 2 I find it hard to label myself as purely lesbian. I find it hard to label myself as purely anything. Some peers find it weird and wrong that I don’t show a stronger outward pride in being a lesbian in the U.Va. community and that I am not as involved in the LGBTQ community as I should be. But I am proud of being a lesbian without wanting to dedicate as much of life to that identity. I appreciate those who do care vehemently about these issues and primarily identify with their sexuality, but I ask they respect my opinions and lifestyle. Some might disagree with the statements I have made, and I am open to that, but I ask you be respectful of my opinions, my lifestyle, and my interests. Post 3 Gay athlete — How’s the locker room? Is it awkward? Have you told them? Are you being treated fairly? Does your team respect you? First, I am not a case study on gay athletes. I didn’t quit lacrosse because I am gay. I am gay, and I use to be an athlete. To me, they do not go hand-in-hand. They are two separate entities that add to the conglomerate of my experience and decisions as a human being. Too many times have people grouped me into categories rather than looking at my character independently of whether they like that character. I challenge individuals to look at character, personality, opinions, and interests rather than using narrow identifiers like lesbian, black, female, and so on. These blog posts are personal and not complete. They don’t encompass all my opinions, they don’t encompass exactly who I am, and they don’t encompass what I believe everyone should believe. They encompass thoughts that have floated through my mind being part of the U.Va. community, and perhaps someone else will find them useful.
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BUT YOUâ€™RE MALE
ender is a salient topic for me, as I analyze situations for deeper gendered divisions, for sexism and heterosexism, and for intersectional inclusiveness. This analysis drove me into a social activist circle that provided me the opportunity to audition for and try to promote feminism in the Vagina Monologues. This seemed like a natural fit for a feminist and queer activist, as I identified, but being the only presumed male cast member seemed like a complication. The Vagina Monologues is a female space both traditionally and contractually that addresses issues of vaginas and women strictly. Entering the space as male-identified was thus controversial. Eve Ensler herself put in the V-Day production that only women-identified or homosexual males could participate. All other eight cast members were women and had vaginas, creating a dynamic in which I was othered. I wanted to act out the the oppression that women and transwomen face daily, from shame to silence to violence, yet I embodied that very sex and gender causing the oppression. I felt I had invaded a space with male privilege, and I felt slightly uneasy. I often kept to myself and observed the other cast members instead of sharing my experiences. They spoke about their But Youâ€™re Male | 61
trials with periods, objectification, and shame in a group discussion while I remained silent. I had to be constantly prodded to contribute to any creative part of the process, even though, when I did, there was support without backlash. I am a white, affluent, English speaking, able-bodied, adult male and American citizen â€” but I am also feminist and queer. I understood my role in the Vagina Monologues as a bearer of male privilege, even though I wanted to identify as a feminist more than as a male. I also feared how the audience would (or would not) understand my involvement in the project. The unexpected male presence might seem like an intrusion and attack on feminism even though it was an earnest presence. How would the audience read a male body on stage acting out and talking about women-centric issues? If the audience focused on my physically male attributes, they might ignore my identity as a feminist and as a queer person, and, instead of seeing my full intersectional story, some may forefront my identity as privileged white male and see nothing else. The intersection of oppression and privilege is variable spatially and temporally, which is notable in this particular situation. I felt that my privilege was a form of alienation. In this way, some privileges lose their power as those who dominate oppressed spaces counter them. These connections between oppression and privilege exists in the Vagina Monologues as well. Faganâ€™s point about the erasure that stems from the nature of non-consensual male privilege is something that affects many queer people, especially in the context of gay men at the University of Virginia. Many privileges are assigned to men and even more to white men at the University. From assumed competence to assumed safety at night, there are many things that white men do not need to be concerned about. Being queer adds some uncertainty to these assumptions. Legitimacy of thought can often be questioned for effeminate men who may also face rejection and threats of violence for their sexual, and sometimes gender, queerness. In the University context, hate crimes due to sexual orientation have occurred and many queer men find more safety, both physically and for their reputation, in the closet and through online interactions. Sometimes these interactions even police other feminine men and worsen queer oppression. These issues placing gay and queer men into self-oppressing relationships, while still maintaining an assumed and non-consensual male privilege, similarly play on a balance between privilege and oppression as did the Vagina Monologues. In this way, people erase and ignore queer identities when they assume that all men are privileged in all the same ways, or that sexual violence and objectification are strictly issues for women. All of this came to a point after the show in my gender studies class.
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We were required to watch the Monologues, so everyone was sharing their thoughts. Most were compliments. However, one person raised their hand and said, “I just did not understand why they cast a cisgender male for the transgender part.” While I did have a role as a trans person and a woman, this question made sense; however, it still seemed antagonistic. When my professor prompted me to answer the concern, I spoke about the lack of trans auditionees and trying to stop trans erasure. I also made the point that had a lot of knowledge and empathy for this issue. But it did not convince the person. My professor stepped in. She pointed out that there were also no elderly women, Bosnians, or Iranian Americans on stage, though all of them were portrayed — that gender and sex are just as fluid as age or racial make-up and that the class needed to stop thinking of such narrow definitions of gender. This comment seemed like a neat bow atop my experience in Vagina Monologues without ever having or desiring to have a vagina.
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MELEK TAUS (The Peacock Angel)
This is one of the Yazidi names for their central deity. Linked far back to Zoroastrianism, Yazidi is a religious practice mainly among ethnic Kurds. Melek Taus rebelled against God, but instead of being demonized for it— as he was according to Islam, Christianity, and other faiths—he was deified. His tears filled seven jars, which then put out the fires of hell. Yazidis believe that both good and evil exist in the spirit of human beings, and it depends on humans as to which they choose. In this decision process, their devotion to Tawûsê Melek is essential, since it was he who was given the same choice between good and evil by God; he chose good.
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PRETTY BOY WENDI CHEN
Often pretty boy is used as a derogatory phrase by men who wish to draw the line between their own construct of masculinity and the other (pretty) boy’s failed masculinity. So “Pretty Boy” represents how easily gender and gendered language can be reversed into a symbol of pride. It’s reclaiming the term and turning it into a declaration of pride.
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NON BINARY AND CUTE AS HELL WHITNEY WU
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LOVE IS LOVE WHITNEY WU
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Deep in the dark I hide, Thatâ€™s where my true self resides. Because out there, my identity Is constrained by the expectations That come with this faux entity. Unorthodox, so I sought out this location Waiting for the day I am unconditional, In a society that seems too traditional. On the other hand, the darkness is bleak; A lonesome totality. Elation plummets when these shackles bespeak Of my dual reality.
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Uncertainty lies in my ability To be genuine, but I can’t ignore the possibility. Realization is that they won’t all appall, But even with this there’s still fright. Then I simply recall Somewhere in the gloom lurks a spirit beautiful and bright. Can’t see light shine from an abyss So here I am, pondering in the darkness.
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AROUND THE TABLE
As I sat, looking around the table, I realized: I’m the only girl. I find myself in this predicament often Surrounded by young men And I whispered, “Oh gosh, this is my life.” And they all looked up and exclaimed, “Write a blog post about this.” So here it is, my attempt at poetry To describe one facet of my life. Around the Table | 79
As I sat around the table, I saw five completely different men: One chatting on the phone about some government issue, Another proclaiming his love for Beyoncé, The third debating about “role models,” One who was in the Navy, And the last quietly sitting there, knowing he had 130 pages to read. We left the room together, Me in front, with four of the five men behind me. We chattered as we made our way up the stairs, And, to me, it was ironic spectacle, A telling image of my life. There’s something you should know about these men, And several other men that I hang around: These men are all handsome, These men make me laugh, These men are all my good friends, That’s really all you need to know. I hate being asked, “Is he gay?” Especially after someone meets him, for the first time. I’m usually at a loss for words Because, quite frankly, why do you need to know, Why do you assume? I know why you assume: You assume because most of my male friends Are part of the LGBTQ community. But is this assumption really fair? The unfairness is in not knowing the person, The unfairness is in not knowing whether or not The person wants this information shared. The unfairness is in the assumption, The unfairness is in the use of the word gay, Not every male who’s asked about identifies as gay,
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And then I must explain the term queer And then explain how some people in the LGBTQ community are redefining and owning the term queer, How it isn’t just a derogatory term anymore. He may be queer or gay or straight. Why does that matter in the conversation we are having? Why does it matter when you meet him for the first time? You see, he is so much more to me than that. He is my best friend, My confidant, My pick-me-up-when-I-am-down, My intellectual, My laughs, My hugs. See, I may sit around the table And be the only female present, And I may joke about it, But that’s not what matters. It’s getting to know the person for who they are, No matter their sexual orientation.
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PANSEXUAL SPOKEN WORD
It ain’t easy being Asian, finding the right occasion to have that talk — Dad we need to talk — talk with the man who’s always had a block between father and daughter ever since building blocks teaching me my ABCs, well the table’s turned now I have something to teach, not preach like all those other religious…well to each his own. We need to talk about something I’ve known for years, but I’ve lied, tried to hide and abide by your vision of a daughter with a closet filled with pink clothes, a sport without punches and blows and a future with a man cause that’s how life goes. But not mine. No, not mine. I’ve got a closet I can’t escape, bruises and scrapes from doing what I love, but when push comes to shove I’m gonna be strong because who I love won’t be wrong. He stares. He stares. As he stares I think of baby footsteps on the stairs where he taught me to walk now we’re having this talk he doesn’t understand. I try to explain how I can love more than just a man, until finally it builds up and I scream, “I’M PAN!” I’m pansexual. Pansexual Spoken Word | 83
It’s like when you need to sneeze, then you breathe, cause you’re relieved that you blow your nose, now he knows what you chose life is full of those, choices we make, risks we take, no matter the heartache, cause it’s your life, not his, that’s just how it is. I forged my path, I’m no psychopath, do the math, add it up, “Dad, what’s up?,” “SHUT UP.” No, I will no longer be silenced when I speak, I will no longer be called a freak. I’m not crazy, I’m not out of mind — I just managed to find that my love is gender blind. This is who I am or who I’ve been all along, it’s not wrong, it’s right, let’s not fight, Dad. This is me. It’s a phase, it’ll fade, you’re nineteen, easily swayed by your peers, you have years to be made. No Papa, I’m not nineteen. I’m fourteen. I’m a fourteen-year-old who after five years is finally showing her Papa who she is.
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AN INTRODUCTION TO MOGAI TERMS AND IDENTITIES
MOGAI: This term can be considered more inclusive than “LGBT,” “LGBTQ,” and other acronyms that make up the Alphabet Soup. It stands for “Marginalized Orientations, Gender Alignments, and Intersex” and leaves room for all relevant identities, both current and future, without some of the issues previous acronyms have been associated with. “LGBTQ” is still the most well-known and used, but this term is gaining popularity. Note: These definitions are very basic and may vary from person to person. One of the most important things to remember is to not make assumptions based on someone’s appearance or behavior, on how popular media portrays their identities, or on what you would expect their labels to mean. Most of us have been conditioned into a binary vision of gender and a heteronormative vision of attraction, but many, many of us don’t fall within those borders, and so we create language and safe spaces to express ourselves as we are. Do not invalidate or challenge anyone’s identities. Talk about or analyze: yes. Disregard or mock: no. MOGAI Terms | 87
WHAT IS GENDER? Gender is an individual’s internal sense of what gender they are. This may or may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. First: there exists in Western and colonized societies a “gender binary,” a restrictive social system which asserts that there can only be feminine women with “female” body parts and masculine men with “male” body parts. This is flawed in many ways, including the erasure of intersex people, who are born with any manner of supposed “ambiguity” in terms of gendered physical characteristics (including reproductive organs, genitals, hormones, chromosomes, or any combination thereof ). Penises and testes are not inherently male, as vulvas and breasts are not inherently female; these features have been classified and labeled by the dominant demographic, which has asserted that such attributes and alignments are the only “normal” options. These medical and social constructs hold up far less than you might think. Second: sex and gender are NOT the same thing. Physical characteristics do not dictate a person’s gender, though some people’s gender affects their relationships with their bodies. Say it with me, kids: We do not identify people based on their genitals, which we also do not ask about. Many refer to sex as being (coercively) assigned at birth — “assigned female or male at birth,” which translates to “AFAB” or “AMAB,” respectively. This identity and its social “norms” are imposed upon them before they can behave and present as they self-identify. Third: These are not new, “trendy” ideas. For centuries (before being colonized) there existed among many peoples non-binary genders, which thrived without restrictive gender roles and body policing. Above all, people are individuals, not walking stereotypes. If you wouldn’t assume that women are subservient and meek and men are dominant and brutish (which you wouldn’t, right?), then it’s not that big of a deal to realize that gendered assumptions and stereotypes influence everyone by assuming that we should be a certain way based on arbitrary social norms. Assuming sex and gender will get us nowhere and hurt a lot of people in the process.
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GENDER IDENTITIES: Agender: having no gender; sometimes defined as being neither a man nor a woman. Androgyne: may identify as somewhere between man and woman or as a wholly separate identity; can (but doesnâ€™t always) line up with androgynous gender presentation. . Bi/Tri/Pangender: may identify as two, three, or all genders all of the time, some of the time, or in flux. Cisgender: describes a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. Demigender: identifying as somewhat one gender, such as a demiboy or a demigirl. Genderfluid: describes a person whose gender fluctuates, at varying times and degrees, between two or more genders. Genderqueer: an identity that is neither man nor woman, is both man and woman, or is distinct from those options altogether. Can be used as a singular identity or as an umbrella term for people who queer gender. Non-binary: can be used as an umbrella term by all people who identify as neither (or not exclusively) a man nor a woman. Transgender: describes a person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
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PRONOUNS AND PRESENTATION: Alrighty, folks: we’ve worked over the (possibly very new to you) topic of trans and non-binary genders. While it might take some getting used to internally if you’re not already familiar with the concept, there are some non-negotiable outward manners to keep in mind even if you don’t 100% understand everything yet. 1. Respecting Pronouns: Beyond “he” and “she” Along with the concept that there are genders outside of the binary comes the requirement for new words and descriptors to describe them. Just as there are terms for different gender alignments, many trans folks use pronouns that fit with their own unique identities. Some common pronouns include: • they/them/their: “Carlin poured themself some wine in their favorite tumbler.” • ze/hir: “Ze went on tour with hir band last month.” • ey/em/eir: “Ey dropped eir notebook, which Dmitri handed em.” There are also personally created pronouns, like “drae/draer.” Ask their pronouns and offer yours, too. I like to think of it as “thinking in they”: refer to people you don’t know as “they” until you know their preference. You really can’t know what someone’s pronouns are until you ask. So, ask. 2. Respecting Presentation: Resisting profiling and assumptions That concept segues rather nicely into our next point. People will dress and perform their identities in a number of ways: as we dissociate certain clothing (skirts, high heels), styles (femme, androgynous), and body types (curvy, flat-chested) from our conceptions of gender, stereotypes of what a gender “looks like” fall apart. People who transcend stereotypes as well as people who seem to fit them should not be assumed as any particular gender, so don’t make assumptions about the neon-haired androgynously dressed person, but also refrain from profiling the frattiest and srattiest of the bunch as cis. Appearance doesn’t equal gender, though it can be an important part of someone’s gender performance. Either way, you know nothing about them until they tell you.
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ATTRACTION: People don’t all experience attraction in the same way — if they experience it at all. It’s important to talk to people and partners about how they feel rather than assuming they relate to people the same way you do or as society dictates people should. Aesthetic Attraction: a feeling of attraction without the desire or drive to act on that attraction sexually or romantically. A person’s aesthetic refers to objects or things that visually appeal to them, like clothes or buildings. When referring to people, aesthetic attraction acknowledges certain features or attributes as visually pleasing and alluring, and may be directed at certain genders. Romantic Attraction: a feeling of attraction that comes with the desire or drive to form a romantic relationship with another person (or persons). This may or may not be accompanied by other types of attraction, such as sensual and/or sexual attraction, and may be directed at certain genders. Remember: romance is not the only kind of love; despite its importance to many people, it is not superior to platonic love but rather is a different kind of relationship. Sensual Attraction: a feeling of attraction that comes with the desire or drive to interact with another person in ways that they stimulate the senses but are not sexual. This especially relates to tactile contact, like cuddling, hand-holding, and, for some people, kissing. For many sexually inclined people these acts may be indistinguishable from sexual contact, but people of other orientations may find the classification useful in establishing boundaries of consent and comfort. Sexual Attraction: a feeling of attraction that comes with the desire or drive to form a sexual relationship with another person (or persons). It may also be thought of as “directed libido,” where a person has a desire for sexual contact with a specific other person or persons. This may or may not be accompanied by other types of attraction, such as sensual and/or romantic attraction, and may be directed at certain genders.
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SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS: Asexual: describes someone who does not experience sexual attraction; this person may or may not participate in sexual activities, have experienced abuse or trauma, or seek romantic, platonic, or other relationships. Bisexual: describes someone who experiences sexual attraction to two (or more) genders. Demisexual: describes someone who experiences sexual attraction usually or only after forming a deep bond. Gay: describes some who experiences sexual attraction to people of the same gender. Grey-asexual: describes someone whose attraction is at some level between sexual and asexual. Heterosexual: describes a woman exclusively sexually attracted to men and a man exclusively sexually attracted to women. Lesbian: describes a woman who experiences sexual attraction toward women. Pansexual: describes someone who experiences sexual attraction to any or all genders, or for whom gender is not a determining factor of attraction. Queer: may be used to describe a person who queers sexual attraction from the heterosexual â€œnormâ€?; due to its origin and history as a slur it should only be applied to people who consent to it.
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ROMANTIC ORIENTATIONS: Aromantic: describes someone who does not experience romantic attraction; this person may or may not participate in sexual activities, have experienced abuse or trauma, or seek some form of platonic, sexual, or other relationships. Biromantic: describes someone who experiences romantic attraction to two (or more) genders Demiromantic: describes someone who experiences romantic attraction usually or only after forming a deep bond Gay: describes someone who experiences romantic attraction to people of the same gender Grey-aromantic: describes someone whose attraction is at some level between romantic and aromantic Lesbian: describes a woman who experiences romantic attraction toward women Heteroromantic: describes a woman who is exclusively romantically attracted to men and a man who is exclusively romantically attracted to women Panromantic: describes someone who experiences romantic attraction to any or all genders, or for whom gender is not a determining factor of attraction Queer: may be used to describe a person who queers romantic attraction from the heteroromantic â€œnormâ€?; due to its origin and history as a slur it should only be applied to people who consent to it
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RELATIONSHIPS: Okie-dokie, Loki. We’ve gone over a bit about attraction and some ways that it can happen, and now we’re moving on to the next stage: what people can do with it when it happens. That’s right, you guessed it (not that it was the title or anything): relationships. There are many ways to have a healthy relationship founded on consent, support, safety, and respect. BDSM: a condensed acronym in which B and D stand for bondage and discipline, D and S stand for dominance and submission, and S and M stand for sadism and masochism. It encompasses various erotic activities that include any, some, or all of the aforementioned components; they often have a strong emphasis on role-playing and may or may not coincide with sexual activity. Preferences and boundaries differ from person to person, so, as with sex, BDSM activities must always be governed by consent, trust, mutual respect, and confidentiality from all parties. For this reason, safe words are often employed in order to ensure consent. Failure to establish, maintain, and respect consent from any engaging party constitutes rape. Fetish: a set of sexual or BDSM desires centering on a particular object or scenario. Like sex and BDSM, exercising one’s fetish must be governed by consent should more than one person engage in a particular activity. Kink: often used as a synonym for BDSM, a fetish or other sexual activities, depending on context. The term can have a negative connotation when used to refer to erotic activities perceived by someone as unusual. Just so we’re clear: “Fifty Shades of Grey” is NOT an accurate or exhaustive portrayal of the BDSM community and is in no way a model for a relationship, BDSM or otherwise. Polyamory: a relationship that involves more than two people, defined by informed consent of all participants. Having one partner isn’t the only way to have a healthy relationship. If Carmen is sexually attracted to Rowan and romantically attracted to Sloane who is akoisexually attracted to Carmen, and they all form relationships based on these attractions and are all aware of and consenting to involving multiple partners, that’s just fine. Dramatic love triangles — who even needs ‘em? Note that this isn’t the same thing as an open relationship (though those aren’t inherently bad either) or cheating (don’t even go there) and that boundaries of the relationship(s) are defined uniquely by the individuals in them. There are also some things that are exploitative and dangerous, which should be avoided and understood as unhealthy. Abuses of power such as those around age, status, and ability and manipulative relationships are included in this. 94 | Q* Anthology of Queer Culture
WORDS: WHAT (NOT) TO DO WITH THEM: We’ve got a whole lot we’ve been over so far, and we’ve established some ground rules, but here’s a general, cohesive list based specifically on language. Check it out, and carry on. Appropriate terms: - transgender, trans - Assigned Female At Birth/Assigned Male At Birth (AFAB/AMAB) - intersex - gay - lesbian - cross-dresser Things not to say: - transgendered (so, “a transgender person,” not “a transgendered person”) - “born a boy” or “was a male” (use AFAB/AMAB & understand the difference) - hermaphrodite - tranny - shemale - homosexual - “a ____” (like “a gay,” “a transgender,” “an LGBT,” etc.) - transvestite Conditionally okay things, if specific people or groups consent to them: - queer - transsexual Terms for the spectrum of queer folks: - LGBTQ+: this is easily the most popular acronym, but it leaves off a lot of identities and tends to get caught up on the L and G. - GRSM: stands for Gender Romantic and Sexual Minorities; it’s problematic because it was designed as a way to include pedophiles and rapists in LGBTQ resources and discussions. - MOGAI: I explained this on the first page, but this term has none of the problematic elements and all of the diversity included.
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ALLYSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY: If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re queer, in which case you can (and should) still learn allyship. There’s also a chance you’re a cisgender straight ally, in which case “Hi,” “Hello,” and “Welcome to the crew.” (If you read that in Davy Jones’ voice from Pirates of the Caribbean 2, bonus points. Also, I love you.) This handbook is chock full of information already, but the last thing I want to do is throw bunch of stuff your way with no idea how you fit into it, whether you had some clue or not about what’s going on. There’s been a lot of terms and rules/mandatory-suggestions-for-being-Not-The-Worst included, and fortunately for you, here are some more! Actually, they’re more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules, but the gist is a) there are general things you can do to avoid being The Worst (I hate the “-phobic” trend, because as Morgan Freeman never actually pointed out, “I hate the word ‘homophobia.’ It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.”) and b) when you mess up, there’s a good way to react to being called out on it. So, here are a few helpful concepts on the long and winding road to respect: Listen. Shut up and listen. Your opinion matters, but unless you’re a member of the identity under discussion, you don’t have priority. It’s like cis-straight guys hogging a discussion on sexism: it sucks. “Make space, take space” is a great principle: recognize how relevant your voice is, think of how much you’ve talked already, and consider whether it’s an epic contribution or a basic, already understood, pointless point. Also, don’t pull the “not all men” BS. If people are angry about their oppression, listen to what is hurting them, make sure you don’t do it, and move on, rather than trying to prove you’re not like that. Actions > words. Emphasize impact over intent. Whether someone means to be ignorant or malicious doesn’t mean that their actions or words don’t perpetuate stereotypes or otherwise harm the marginalized group(s) under scrutiny. Accountability is key. Understand the culture around calling someone out: it doesn’t mean you’re hated, and it doesn’t mean you should hate yourself. It does mean you should apologize without excuses; accept that you screwed up even if it doesn’t make sense to you, and learn from the experience. You’ll get used to it. Chin up, and talk it out. It’s a good thing.
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ALLYSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY CONT’D: Allyship — working to understand, support, and defend a marginalized group that you’re not a part of — is an ongoing and lifelong process that a person can choose to engage in. This isn’t specific to MOGAI communities, but it is an important aspect of inter-community relations. It’s difficult, but it’s important, and it’s an extremely worthwhile effort to make. Though it means different things to different people who participate in different ways, there are a few things to keep in mind about good allyship and how to do it: You can be part of a marginalized group and experience privilege in other ways, which gives you the chance and the responsibility to act as an ally to identities that are othered or marginalized by any of yours. Learn to negotiate your identities relative to others, and understand how you can break down privilege in your own life and in the world around you. An example: a gay cis man may experience discrimination and certain unique difficulties, but he will also benefit from male privilege and can never wholly understand the perspective and struggles of, for example, a lesbian trans woman. Recognize where you have power and how you can use it well. Educate yourself and teach others. It is not the responsibility of marginalized groups to undo your internalized sexism, racism, binarism, and other harmful ideas. When you’re constantly fighting a tide of harassment and invalidation, the last thing you need is one more person — even if their intentions are good — challenging you on basic ideas and information. Engage in respectful discourse with those folks, please do talk about it, but get primed first. Look up what you can, learn from other allies, and take some of the burden from the folks you want to support. It gets exhausting, and this helps, a lot. Accept that not every event or space is for you — and that’s okay. Society already boxes out certain groups of people, making resources and safe spaces scarce. Don’t break in on identity-specific discussions or resources, and don’t push your way in. You’re appreciated for working to be a decent human being, but you shouldn’t expect attention or rewards for it. Just like the “A” in LGBTQQIPA+ isn’t for “ally,” don’t take more space and attention when you have your own already. Yes, really.
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CONCLUSION: Congratulations! You have done the thing. You have read the crash course. You have checked out the epic awesome super fly guide that people worked really hard on. You hopefully kinda learned some things. There are some general things you should come away with after perusing this magnum opus, and I’d hope they’d be these: In conclusion (aka tl;dr but seriously you should read this, okay? okay): We don’t really know anything about people until we ask (or learn in other non-invasive ways). Don’t assume anything ever. Ever. Otherwise I’ll sic the ghosts of the graduates on you. Don’t do it, buddy. It’s not worth it. Fish are friends, not food. See that? The sharks accepted the humanity (or, well, sentient and appreciable nature) of their fellow beings and deconstructed the power dynamics in oceanic society that gave them privilege. Why does this make sense? Because it’s 4:21 AM, it vaguely fits, and Finding Nemo is the best. Check your privilege (un-ironically). Respect people’s pronouns. Even if they’re confusing, even if they don’t make sense to you, even if you think they’re grammatically incorrect, and in that case, you need to look up the history of singular they, how language evolves, and how created pronouns can match syntax requirements easily. Respect people’s orientations whether you relate to them or not. Engage in discussion if you want, but do your best not to say offensive stuff or undermine them. Not okay. Which also brings us to: DO NOT OUT PEOPLE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. EVER. Even if you’re talking to a super awesome queer friend, don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut and do not tell people your friend is queer without their explicit consent. DO NOT DO THIS. Rule #1 don’t talk about fight club.
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SOURCES CONSULTED: Asexual not A Sexual (blog), Tumblr, http://asexual-not- a-sexual.tumblr.com Chiweshe, Manase. “Beyond binary definitions of gender: Acknowledging the third gender in Africa,” United Belize Advocacy Movement, UNIBAM, 2010, http://unibam.org/2013/05/24/beyond-binary-definitions-of-gender-3rd/ “Genderless/agender/neutrois,” Nonbinary Support (blog), Tumblr, 2015, http://nonbinary-support.tumblr.com/post/94612960633/genderless- agender-neutrois Laframboise, Sandra and Anhorn, Michael. “The Way of Two Spirited People,” Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, 2008, http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/twospirit.php Maxxie. “Jess’ Big List of Gender Terms!,” Maxxie Galaxy (blog), Tumblr, 2015, http://maxxiegalaxy.tumblr.com/post/88467957262/jess-big- list-of- gender-terms. Utt, Jamie. “Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter,” Everyday Feminism, July 30, 2013. http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/07/intentions-dont-really-matter/ Veaux, Franklin. “What, like, two girlfriends?,” More Than Two (blog), Tumblr, August 25, 2015, https://www.morethantwo.com/polyamory.html Wikimedia Commons, s.v. “Internet.” Last edited October 30, 2016. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Sexual_identity_symbols
NOTE: The definitions and explanations offered in this article are those solely of the author.
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hat makes a community? For those within a shared cultural or social space, the forest is often difficult to perceive through the trees; our immediate and everyday experiences cloud our ability to understand a community as a whole. This can be even more challenging for those outside of that shared space. The problem lies in that itâ€™s difficult for a person to educate themselves about a community without the critical insight that comes with membership. This is true of the queer community. The near-infinite facets of queer identity make understanding the community as a whole incredibly challenging, both Endnote | 101
for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ identifying individuals. But the pursuit of such understanding cannot be foregone. The fight for queer rights and respect, politically and socially, depends on a consistent commitment to education. Learning about queer identity remains critical to loving and respecting queer identity. We believe Q* Anthology of Queer Culture plays an invaluable role in this process of queer education. Cultural expression — from poetry to prose to essays and artwork — has a way of distilling the essence of a community and offering an empathetic form of education. It also offers a vital opportunity for creative exploration, and many of the pieces highlighted in this edition of Q* demonstrate a commitment to self-analysis and evaluation. As the University’s first LGBTQ-specific literary magazine, we are proud to showcase the incredible talents of U.Va’s queer community and, in doing so, challenge the University to continue celebrating queer identity. We hope you have enjoyed this edition of Q*, and we are excited for the work to come.
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IMAGES Images are public domain and obtained on Wikimedia Commons or Pixabay.
DESIGN Mitchell Wellman
PRINTING Charlottesville Press
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ANTHOLOGY of QUEER CULTURE
Q ANTHOLOGY of QUEER CULTURE
Published on May 15, 2017