The Queer Review | Issue 3 - Queer classics

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Queer Review



issue #3

book reviews · opinion · film

WELCOME Yaiza Canopoli

Beverly A. Devakishen

The theme of this issue was important to me. Queer classics are already overflowing with tragedy, so I needed to make sure that our third issue was bright, colourful, and fun. The cover, artwork, and general design are heavily inspired by pop art, an art movement of the 20th Century, which is also the time when most of the featured books were first published. The enthusiasm with which our reviewers requested the different pieces you will find in the following pages touched me, and it made putting the magazine together that much more exciting; there's nothing quite like editing something with so many different names. I hope you're looking to spice up your university reading list, because it's about to get queer!

Classics have always made me a little uncomfortable. As a queer nonwhite woman, they usually involve some sort of marginalisation of at least one aspect of my identity. So it is refreshing to read of classics that put a minority group in the spotlight. It gives me hope that the literary canon has room to include people who did not conform to 18th-century societal norms. The inclusion of queer novels in the category of ‘classics’ forces literary critics to acknowledge the existence of queer people in a different time, takes a little bit of power away from the cishet white man, and gives it to an oppressed community. I’m not saying that it excuses all the other problems in each classic novel, but at least there’s a way to subvert oppressive narratives.


Deputy editor © Photography by Beverly A. Devakishen, Rachel L. Devadason

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Book reviews

Nightwood Orlando The Picture of Dorian Gray The Price of Salt Giovanni's Room Confessions of a Mask Wings Our Lady of the Flowers


General curriculum or separate modules? Representation for all?



Queer cinema Larence of Arabia Rebel Without a Cause Pink Flamingos The Children's Hour Wings

E H T S A , . S . '. E O G E E G V A A AD WE H N E E B YS ERE' A H ALW

book reviews

BOOK REVIEWS Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

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Orlando by Virginia Woolf

What is there to say about Nightwood that hasn’t already been written in every Modernism textbook? Djuna Barnes’ novel remains one of the most significant queer novels of the 20th Century, and arguably of all time.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a strange, ahead-of-its-time magical realism novel. Framed as a biography, it starts by exploring the life of a young aristocratic gentleman, and ends with the same aristocratic woman centuries later, having lived through numerous famous historical eras and events. The way the protagonist navigates different cultures, societies’ unspoken rules, and the fashions of each age ends up providing cutting commentary on the world that surrounds them. Heavily inspired by Woolf’s relationship with Vita-Sackville West, this adds another dimension to the text itself, as do the numerous famous writers who are dotted around the pages.

In true Modernist fashion, Barnes places style over substance. It centres on Robin Vote, who marries a baron called Felix and has a child with him, then leaves him for a woman called Nora, then leaves her for a woman called Jenny. To describe it as a love triangle is perhaps to downplay it slightly (it is, if anything, more of a love square), but there is no denying that the beauty of the novel lies in its rich, complex, and However, despite its modernity in at times difficult, immersive language. some areas of subject matter, it was still published in 1928, and this shows Nightwood is not a book about being particularly in the way it handles something, it is simply a book about being. colonialism. The experimental narrative Barnes herself famously said ‘I’m not a structure and fantasy elements also lesbian, I just loved Thelma’. In a similar become confusing if not completely way, the character of Dr. O’Connor, baffling at times, but the unquestioning who Barnes uses as a mouthpiece, simplicity with which shifting gender rejects any notion of pre-established and sexualities are acknowledged makes identity by wearing “feminine” clothes it an indisputably important work in and make-up. It is a novel of fluidity the LGBT canon – even if I still can’t – of sexuality, of gender, of prose. say I fully understand the ending!




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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The narrative of The Picture of Dorian Gray follows Gray’s life from the day that a great portrait of him is painted. Although the portrait is created from love and adoration, Gray becomes infuriated that the picture will remain beautiful and youthful, while his good looks will deteriorate. The novel encapsulates a variety of moral and philosophical i s s u e s , exploring the superior treatment of beauty and the value of art. Whilst the forefront of the novel is the Gothic mysteries that take place, we also see a dissection of societal values and the intolerance

towards homosexuality, and although there aren’t any explicit displays of this, feelings of desire and idolatry are present in many charged conversations throughout the book. Oscar Wilde’s prose is exquisite and innovate, making this a must-read.


BOOK REVIEWS The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

In The Price Of Salt, Patricia Highsmith seeks to tell a story that defies the “bury your gays” trope in fiction: the story of Therese, a young stage designer who falls in love with Carol, an older, sophisticated woman going through a divorce. Inspired by a chance meeting Highsmith had with a customer at a temp job whom she became hopelessly infatuated with but never saw again, The Price Of Salt portrays the rapid development of Therese and Carol’s relationship, which quickly takes over both of their lives and further complicates Carol’s imminent divorce. The romance in the book is all-encompassing, taking over every element of Therese's life, from her budding and long-awaited career in stagedesign to her passionless relationship with her boyfriend – everything is put on hold for Carol. Although this could initially be viewed as an unhealthy depiction of their relationship, it becomes clear as the plot develops that this is merely used to showcase Therese's character growth. As the book goes on, the relationship becomes more balanced, and our protagonist matures considerably, marking this as a well-developed coming-of-age novel.

Giovanni’s Room follows David's struggles with his sexual identity, selfloathing, and belonging. Shortly after he proposes to his girlfriend, he starts an affair with an Italian bartender, Giovanni.



Baldwin’s prose is unadorned but beautiful, and the melancholy which he creates is palpable. However, the story never rises to the level of the words telling it. The characters’ continual misogyny and transphobia make the book uncomfortable to read, and, although an introspective look into the LGBT+ community of the 50s, it has little to offer to redeem itself now. The metaphor of the literal room often felt heavy handed, acting as a literal closet, claustrophobic and dirty, infested with the desires of the two men. The novel lacked a genuine sense of love; David’s desire is purely lust driven, while Giovanni’s clinginess and emotional blackmail manifest into a desperate and abusive obsession towards David. Overall, the characters’ lack of agency makes the narrative feel wearisome, and the tragedies that follow them failed to have any emotional impact on me.

© Artwork by Miles Atkinson

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in trans Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask is a semiautobiographical novel following the protagonist as he recalls his life from birth and sheltered childhood, through his teenage years when he becomes aware of his sexuality, until his adulthood when he understands he must hide it and be in a relationship with a woman to fit into society, especially as the Second World War begins in Japan. Confessions is an honest representation of the life of a gay man in 20s-40s Japan, and it stands as an important novel in the queer curriculum. However, the way the protagonist fantasizes about torturing and killing his love interests might appear homophobic to some readers, as it could be interpreted as representing gay men as brutal and immoral. Mishima’s sexuality remains unknown, so whether the thoughts of the protagonist were his own, or were only his interpretation of how a gay man might think is impossible to say. If we assume that Confessions is an own voices novel, it holds incredible value not only as a period piece, but also as a description of the struggle of LGBT individuals in early Showa-era Japan. Although the content may occasionally be uncomfortably gory or sexually explicit, Mishima paints an overall sympathetic picture of the protagonist.


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lation Wings by Mikhail Kuzmin Wings by Mikhail Kuzmin, first published in 1906, is hailed as the first Russian novel focusing on the story of a gay man. It follows the adolescent Vanya Smurov, who moves to St. Petersburg, where he meets his mentor, Larion Stroop. Stroop is a half-Englishman in his 30s, who ignites Smurov’s interest in art, philosophy and literature. After the shock caused by the discovery that Stroop is gay, Smurov escapes into the Russian countryside, where he has a number of unpleasant experiences with women. He soon returns to Stroop’s side and travels with him to Italy, where he continues his studies and enjoys a hedonistic lifestyle. As stated in the introduction to the modern voices edition, Kuzmin had come to terms with being gay by the time he wrote the novel, and his own struggle and eventual acceptance is reflected in Smurov’s character. Concise, yet beautifully written, the novel is partly problematic, as it romanticizes the relationship between an adult man and a boy in his teens, and presents an occasionally misogynistic view of women. However, it is ahead of its time, often arguing that queerness is normal, leaving modern readers uncertain of how they should feel.


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...and from French LUCY CARADOG

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet Jean Genet wrote the beginnings of Our Lady Of The Flowers in prison as an “ode to masturbation” (as Sartre writes in the introduction) – that is to say as a series of fantasies that he wrote in order to achieve orgasm. Although the novel started as pornography of sorts, it developed to be much more. Despite the explicit scenes, I would not call this a book about sex so much as a book about passion, beautifully written in Genet's hypnotic style. The author takes a series of characters, all homosexual criminals, and portrays them as saints. They commit their crimes not for perverse reasons (as stereotypes from the 1940s would have them do), but for existential ones. In doing this, Genet plays with the reader's expectations. However, I found that this, coupled with the at times complex style of the book, created a barrier of sorts between the novel and the reader: I did not at any point feel like I could relate to the characters or the situations, and so I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed the reading experience, but rather that I was mesmerised by it.



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Queer classics -------------general curriculum or separate modules?

Sexuality is a theme not often examined in the literary canon, or at least not in the canon that is studied in most literature curriculums. If you're looking for queer classics, it is easier to seek out modules that explicitly present themselves as queer, rather than pick a more general module and hope that it will include authors who are not cisgender and straight (to the same degree, if you want to study authors who aren't white, your best chance would be to seek out modules specifically on multi-ethnic literature). You might be pleasantly surprised by the queer representation in the more general modules, but you might not. In my experience, in every academic year on a literature course you will get one or two modules that specifically and exclusively deal with gender and sexuality. These are often well taught and well attended; they are by no means overlooked or neglected, and I've heard a number of people finish their degrees and say that these were their all-time favourite modules,

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the ones that stood out to them. This would lead us to wonder why these queer texts are not blended into the texts studied on other modules, as they are certainly relevant to many of them. The only realistic argument that comes to mind, in the politically correct and liberal context of a humanities degree, is that the university is wary of these texts getting overlooked in favor of nonqueer texts on these same modules. I have taken modules in the past that, despite not explicitly having a queer focus, make an effort to include queer classics in their core texts, which is done to various levels of success. A friend of mine who studied a critical theory module said that despite being excited about having one seminar focus entirely on queer theory, she didn't get much out of it, as they tried to overcompensate and pack a

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breadth of texts and theory into the one seminar. On the other hand, I once had a module that made a distinct effort to include texts that represent gender and sexuality, and in that instance did so successfully, leading to interesting seminar discussions on those topics. However, I do believe that modules that incorporate queer texts need to be handled carefully, as there is definitely a risk here of these texts being overlooked or glossed over in favour of non-queer texts. Overall, I think that universities should make a concerted effort to include a more diverse range of authors and books in the general literature curriculum, but I also think that this would call for tutors to be careful to put as much emphasis on these texts as on others, and that specifically queer modules should still be available.


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Queer classics: representation for all? Queer classics are often seen as a breath of fresh air when compared to the stifling fog of heterosexual Victorian literature. As queer readers, we rarely get to see ourselves represented in the literary canon, which is full of 18th-century English novels about straight romances. However, while we celebrate the representation of LGBTQ characters in these novels, it would be unethical to ignore the other, more problematic aspects. Classics were written during a period of intense discrimination against many groups of people. Chances are, a novel will have many problematic areas, even if queer representation is not one of them. Do these novels still deserve to be celebrated? Or will any sort of veneration for these queer classics inevitably be at the expense of another group of marginalised individuals? Take The Picture of Dorian Gray for instance. There is the minor character, the Jewish manager called Isaac, whom Dorian Gray exhibits strong anti-semitic feelings towards.

I was hoping that this was merely Oscar Wilde's commentary on a cruel society, but Wilde exposes his own antisemitism using his authorial voice, describing the 'fat Jew manager' as the man with the 'oily, tumulous smile'. Wilde then reverts to racially profiling the manager as greedy and untrustworthy. Furthermore, his portrayal of female characters is questionable, with many of them being stereotypically objectified. We can enjoy the fact that a gay character is taking centre stage, but we do need to keep in mind that not every group is represented well in the queer canon. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde suffered imprisonment for being gay. Shouldn't we celebrate the fact that he was brave enough to even write this novel instead of tearing it apart? The answer lies somewhere in between. We do not need to discount Wilde's courage in order to analyse or criticise his novel. In fact, there are throngs of literary critics that pick apart classics as part

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We can enjoy the fact that a gay character is taking centre stage, but we do need to keep in mind that not every group is represented well in the queer canon.

Most queer classics will be problematic. Not many authors were fully aware of the oppression of groups outside of their own experience. By accepting this, we can begin to have more open conversations about the literary canon and its flaws, instead of being overly defensive of a specific novel.

The celebration of a queer classic should come in the form of detailed analysis and include a scrutinisation of the socio-political factors of that time period. Oversimplifying the novel as a win for representation for the queer community does no one any good, and we should be brave enough to admit that we can certainly do better.


of their day-to-day jobs; queer readers are the ones who understand the importance of representing marginalised communities, so we should be the ones who are sensitive to the portrayal of other oppressed groups.

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R E E QU A M E CIN CHLOĂ‹ MURRELL Video essayist Sage Hyden (Just Write) once pointed out that much like queer history itself, the progress of queer cinema has not always been linear. Movies from the twenties included onscreen homosexuality in ways that, sixty years later, would be banned, much like how those everyday queer Ancient Greek practices

would be considered inappropriate now. It's a strange phenomenon, and a damning argument for those who claim queer representation, spaces, and activism are "just a trend". There has been a lot of flip-flopping around the subject, and much of it can be explained by everyone's favourite fascist concept – capitalism.

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Film companies only really cared about content when it came to who they could make the most money from. (So, not unlike today.) The Children's Hour makes for a pretty good anecdote here: it's a play about lesbian teachers at a boarding school, where the central plot is derived from lesbianism, and how the issues surrounding that affect the women's lives. Guess which part the 1936 adaptation cut out? Yep. The whole thing. It's a wonder they even managed to make the film at all. But they did, because films make money, and films that no cinema will show do not, and apparently there were no other options for source material than to eviscerate a fundamentally queer piece of drama. In terms of human history, cinema is very, very new, barely a century old, but it's had a tumultuous childhood when it comes to sexuality on the big screen. It's been held at the mercy of not just corporate greed, but religious backlash, as well as critical events such as the AIDS crisis, which

all factor into a perhaps confused history of queer film, but certainly one richer than you'd guess from the state of LGBT+ movies today. Love, Simon felt revolutionary, but so did Brokeback Mountain, and so did Wings before that. As the adage goes, we have always been here. One of the greatest differences between then and now is that we are the ones making the films now – it is queer voices telling queer stories, instead of being stereotyped and dying within half an hour. We are starting to get a hold of the narrative, and, hopefully sometime soon, we will start to control it.

Love, Simon felt revolutionary, but so did Brokeback Mountain, and so did Wings before that.

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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

When I sat down to watch Lawrence of Arabia, a 1962 British epic historical drama based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, an archaeologist, military officer, diplomat, and writer who is renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, I admit that I already had some biased opinions about it. Of course I’d heard about Lawrence before; hailed as a British hero of the First World War, there is also a debate surrounding Lawrence’s sexuality. There is strong evidence in Lawrence’s writing that suggests his queerness; he writes about samesex male relationships and love with a tolerance and kindness that was unusual for his time, and there are allusions in some of his poetry to his own romantic attraction for men. Lawrence himself confirmed in private letters that he’d never experienced a sexual relationship, leading many of his friends to believe he was asexual. But queerness represented in 1960s media? I prepared myself to be severely disappointed. Except, I wasn’t – at least, not entirely. Lawrence of Arabia is an epic packed with subtext about race, imperialism, hubris, and violence,

but also queerness and sexuality. When we first meet Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) in Cairo, his superiors don’t know what to do with him, so the first task we see him doing is colouring in a map, rinsing his paintbrushes in a flower-patterned vase – far from the ‘warrior’ he’d been described as previously. Lawrence’s superiors send him to ‘Arabia’, in the hopes that it will ‘make him a man’. Over the course of the film, Lawrence’s intimacy with his male companions is blatant, and, as I discovered later, intentional on the part of the director, David Lean, who strongly believed Lawrence was queer. Indeed, an enormous part of Lawrence’s character is his struggle to know who he should be, something that resonates deeply with LGBT+ people. He’s not a man in the way society or his superiors want him to be. ‘Tribute for the prince, flowers for the man,’ his companion Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) says, to which Lawrence replies ‘I’m none of those things’. ‘What then?’ Ali asks. Lawrence replies, ‘I don’t know’. However, Lawrence of Arabia is, ultimately, a relic of its time. Its

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FILM treatment of people of colour is appalling, and Lawrence’s white saviour complex is, at best, irritating. Additionally, there’s a heavily queercoded villain in the film in the form of the Turkish Bey, who abuses Lawrence. I won’t get into it too much, but for me, Lawrence of Arabia’s failings are too great to cement it as any kind of queer classic that I’d recommend.

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It's an honest coming of age movie following three teenagers, one of whom is James Dean, as they do cool, teenagery things, but with the added dimension of an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking love story between the two boys. Plato's infatuation with Dean's character Jim is woven into the story with an artful balance between explicit and subtle. The director, Nicholas Ray, was bisexual himself, That being said, I can see why and fully intended all this, so rest asLawrence of Arabia has the legacy sured it's not just me grasping at straws. it does. It is an artistic film based on the incredible story of an enigmatic A quick note: unfortunately it man, and whether the real Lawrence doesn't pass the bury-your-gays was queer or not, the film did resonate Bechdel test, but in its defense (or with me whenever Lawrence seemed to its pity) it probably started it. to question himself – ‘a man … cannot want what he wants.’ It’s a heavy watch, It seems odd that this movie was made and not one I think is representative of sixty years ago and yet resembles so the queer community, but it is a film many of the coming of age, vaguely that is celebrated as one of the greatest existential European LGBT+ movies ever made, a title that will most likely in the Netflix tab. It certainly has that stay with me for a long time to come. timeless quality of the fifties, but in its ISABELLE SIDDLE queerness it also seems timeless in the sense of the universal queer experience. It still touches people's hearts and Rebel Without a amusingly distresses straight film critics. More than anything it's a film about Cause (1955) longing, longing for something you This truly is a classic, but probably not can't place, can't have, can't seem to be. in the way your grandparents meant. CHLOË MURRELL

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972 'filth are my politics, filth is my life'


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Pink Flamingos (1972) ‘KILL EVERYONE NOW. CONDONE FIRST DEGREE MURDER. ADVOCATE CANNIBALISM. EAT SHIT. FILTH ARE MY POLITICS, FILTH IS MY LIFE.’ Worthless, questionable, unconventional, mildly insane, homosexual; these are some of the definitions of the word ‘queer’ listed by MerriamWebster. John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) is queer in every sense of the word. The film c e n t r e s on queen of counterculture

Divine, who, living under the alias of Babs Johnson, attempts to defend her title of ‘filthiest person alive’. Connie and Raymond Marble (played by Mink Stole and David Lochary respectively), a couple who kidnap and forcibly impregnate women, sell the babies to lesbian couples and use the money to deal heroin to schoolchildren, believe they are worthier of the title. The film contains a number of atrocities, from killing and eating a police officer, to very graphic motherson incest, so much so that the original trailer contained no footage from the film at all. At one point Divine receives a package containing human faeces, which she calls a ‘grossly offensive act’ – ironic, considering it is one of the more pleasant things to take place. Pink Flamingos encompasses a sense of rebellion, of refusing to conform to what is ‘normal’. So, it is no surprise that it turned into a queer cult classic.


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FILM effect provides the film with not only a commentary on the perception of homosexuality in the 1960s, but also plays upon the importance of social status and the power of words. However, perhaps most refreshingly, the narrative dismantles the myth of young girls as the image of virtue and purity, and Balkin’s exhilarating performance makes up for the mostly static cinematography by making each frame linger with an unsettling aftertaste that had me engrossed and anxious in equal measure.

The Children's Hour (1961) William Wyler’s second adaptation of The Children’s Hour (1961) is a profound, sharp, compelling drama, which, unlike the earlier These Three, stays true to the homosexual themes of the 1934 play by Lillian Hellman. The film follows two young friends, Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha (Shirley MacLaine), who inaugurate an all-girls school. Difficulties ensue once a malicious student Mary (Karen Balkin) retaliates after being punished and convinces her grandmother that the two women are lovers. The rumour’s tragic domino

Despite the film’s melodramatic flare, it feels ahead of its time. The comingout scene shifts from a portrayal of homosexuality as revolting and damaging to the themes of a crisis of identity and unrequited love. Karen breaks off her engagement, and shows love, support, and openness to her friend, consequently abandoning heterosexual family ideals despite desperately wishing to conceive. This is noteworthy in itself: though not explicitly lesbian, the film portrays a strong female friendship, and blurs the lines between romantic and platonic love.

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FILM Wings (1927) Wings is best known as being the first movie to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but many people do it a disservice when they describe it as merely a film about flying. Sure, it is probably the best flying film there is, and undoubtedly the most successful, but it is also one of the first movies to show an explicitly homoerotic relationship between two men throughout. It is highly character-driven, with the story following two friends who fall in love with the same girl, making it all the more important how the two act towards each other. This can be

'a captial E event in the history of queerness shown on

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encapsulated in that famous kiss. It wasn't playing around. The fact that Wings was so wildly popular speaks for itself as to how entertaining and driving this dynamic is. Who would've thought such a thing could win awards, when last year people were praising Call Me By Your Name for making it into mainstream cinemas at all? It's all-over very fun, very dated, and pleasantly surprising in a number of ways; it was definitely a captial E event in the history of queerness shown on the big screen, and a good watch if you can bring yourself to do so unironically.


the big screen'

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And the award goes to ... Jacob Chamberlain Judith Howe Ellie Robson Lucy Caradog Sara Lapin Ola Jankowska Thank you for contributing!

(There's no actual award. Sorry)



Chloë Murrell (TV & film editor), Isabelle Siddle (artist), Chloe Ann P-H (proofreader), Miles Atkinson (artist), Yaiza Canopoli (editor-in-chief), Beverly Anne Devakishen (deputy editor)


Coming January 2019

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Twitter @queerreviewmag © Photography by Sylvie Tan

Š Cover artwork by Isabelle Siddle. Lettering by Beverly A. Devakishen. Logo by Isabelle Siddle

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