For the love of [Queer] lit

A small sampling of Queer literature found on my shelves.

A small sampling of Queer literature found on my shelves.

As Pride winds down, I have some thoughts about literature, especially following the Stonewall Rally in New York.

Will books save us right now? Probably not. At least, not by themselves. After all, the fascist right in our country has invested no small amount of their resources in dictating which art our culture produces is permissible and which is not, so a budding white supremacist on his way to full blown neo-Nazi can avoid ideas which might challenge the approved dogmas. This in and of itself suggests the potential power of the verboten art in question.

It also suggests two separate target audiences: those who oppose the authority the current administration and those who are somewhere in the middle ground—either because they are uninformed, unexposed, or simply too comfortable to push the curtain back too far (or are lazy or unbothered by what does not affect them—but they are likely beyond all help, anyway). Into this scenario, I introduce a book club.

Some context: I have a day job. It means I spend less time writing, but it also means I spend less time wondering if the bank is going to reclaim my house or wondering if I should go to the doctor when I feel ill. 2019 saw the launch of our Queer Business Resource Network—among a couple of others.

When it came time to define what kinds of programming we would have in accordance with our values as a BRN, I suggested a book club. I wanted to signal boost great Queer writers and amplify intersectional Queer voices. I wanted to allow my fellow Queers to be seen, and allies or potential allies to see.

We’re still fairly new out of the packaging, can in fact maybe still smell it’s lingering out-gassing on the product itself, but I’m hopeful that the future will provide an engaging voice to many different stories and experiences. But, I also worry. Am I investing work hours in a project that is ultimately only something for me. That doesn’t really boost anyone. It provides no spotlights, nor opportunities for recognition. Time will tell.

We have a significant population of Queer employees, covering an expansive range of identities. How many of us were exposed to ourselves through story? Found that we were not alone in our identity or our tastes, but were merely one individual part of a kaleidoscope of celestial Queer beings walking this earth? Can a book club for a corporate BRN crack open that kaleidoscope for others to see themselves and each other? Is that some very delusional idealism going on? Perhaps, it is.

If I am honest, I question every step I take these days. In an era of righteous injustice, with our government taking heinous, fascist, and incalculably immoral steps to torture, assault, and kill people who are expressly not white or wealthy, I question every single act I take or don’t take. If this isn’t the time for radical action, when is? I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied that I am doing enough to make a difference. I don’t believe I am, and I don’t know for certain what to do when the stakes are so high. (Though, I will say that if I have learned anything in my experiences in organizing against government injustice, it is that someone is already working on the problem you see, so tap into those resources and collaborate.)

At the same time, in this exact moment, publishers are desperate not to be seen on the wrong side of history, by their own admission, so this may just be something of a golden age of Queer publishing. Time will ultimately determine the fall out and legacy on that score. Given that so much of the attention seems to come down to appearances, we’ll see if the tokenism opened doors to us that we will keep open, wedged if necessary. (Or if a new age is coming that will render that metaphor an anachronism.)

So, while it really isn’t much, it is something to have a Queer book club for our company’s Queer and ally population. While it is nowhere near enough, maybe it opens eyes to necessary, living perspectives that shift the conversation or the thinking around who is made vulnerable despite your comfort. Maybe. Perhaps.

I don’t think it is enough for middle class, white Queer people to just exist. That may have been radical enough once upon a time, but we’re allowed to be too comfortable, despite the lingering risks we take to hold hands in public and march in Pride; because the fact is that our stories are normalizing in some areas of our larger mainstream culture and existing is no longer part of the Resistance for us. So existence is no longer enough. Not when transwomen, especially those of color, are being murdered; not when we are separating families at the border, torturing, abusing, and ultimately killing children; not when our kaleidoscope of Queer identities is disproportionately seen among the victims of gun violence.

But, it is a small thing that may drive the urgency of a vote, that may spare someone from the psychological aches that lead to suicide, that may give one more person the courage to come out and stand up. And more practically, in a capitalist society, it may just be what helps get another Queer artist paid, if nothing else.

 In the meantime, enjoy (responsibly—adult content for sure) Roya Marsh dropping some gold that she shared at Stonewall 50 this past weekend. (This presentation, below, was obviously recorded for a separate event.)

Roya Marsh, the 2016 NUPIC Champion, representing Nuyorican Poetry Slam, performing their poem at the 2016 National Poetry Slam Finals in Atlanta, GA.

Raspa Issue 6 Captures the Radical Act of Existing as Queer Latinx in the US Today


I subscribe to lists announcing lit mags with open submission periods. Sometimes there is a lit mag caters to a specific group of which I am not a part, so submitting doesn’t make sense, but supporting these creators often does. Following the description for Raspa, I found a beautiful treasure trove of Queer Latinx writing and artwork. Perfect new reading for Pride.

The first thing I noticed was how colorful Issue 6 was. The sculpted masks of Joel Hernandez are the only artwork appearing in the journal, adding color to the to the written work of the seven contributors. In comparison to many other literary magazines, Raspa has a brevity to it that makes it a simple task to take in the whole work, guided by the visual accompaniment of a single visual artist. As a result, I felt the stories and poems inside landed with more impact and their echos were more concentrated than I typically experience with more densely packed lit mags.

In its very conception, Raspa is radical art. Layers of Otherness in a hostile climate, where we are literally placing the Latinx people [humans!] who come to our borders in states of desperate need into concentration camps, housing them in ice boxes, separating children and babies from parents, and insisting that basic hygiene isn’t a right; to say nothing of the ongoing erosion of and assault on LGBTQAI+ rights in this country and the challenges of being a Queer Latinx individual writing Latino culture. It dares to give voice to these authors and their experiences and I’m grateful I get to listen. As the editor says in introduction,

The work of queer Latinx artists has taken a heightened role of activism, visibility, and healing under an administration convinced that we are not worth the ideals of the “American Dream.” Our community is especially vulnerable due to the fact that our identities lie at the intersection of race, gender, and class…

The featured artists, diverse in background, present work in this issue that I believe have an impact beyond the page. Pieces that move writing forward through technique, experimentation, and have an emotional impact that I hope our readers will find inspiring. The featured work is meant to serve as the catalyst for healing, coping, and action.

These writers write about life. Tori Cárdenas, for example, writes about a family divided by money in the wake of a death. Oswaldo Vargas writes about being love-struck at the taco truck (and swallowing the city of Morelia).

They write about the collected mysticism of their heritage. Shanya Cordis writes about the collected feminine power of African and indigenous lineages ready to unleash itself in resistance to white colonial imperialism. (Tangent: I want to take all of the courses she has designed and prepared to teach.) Joel Hernandez, the visual artist for the issue, explains in the artist statement about how they drew upon the tradition of masks used in storytelling to create modern masks and stories that grace the pages and cover of Issue 6. He draws on Mexican, Mexican-American, Gay culture in his work.

They write about restraint and release. Marcos Santiago Gonsalez writes three scenes about the compulsion to restrain oneself in the public spaces of the US where immigrant and brown bodies are vulnerable as compared to the stolen moments of release in private spaces. Joseph Delgado-Figueroa, on the other hand, writes of a confusing experience of combined release and restraint, an almost sexual awakening without full consent—of calling the devil and being terrified at its approach—in which, self-awakening is partially initiated, but simultaneously cruelly constrained. It is at once erotic and deeply worrying.

And they write about how complicated love and wanting can be. August Huerta, for example, writes two poems about a frozen moment if snow cave and unrequited love, respectively. While Aaron H. Aceves writes a short story about wanting between two men, in which the narrator wants to be the better choice for the other man.

Issue 6 of Raspa is beautiful: visually attractive, yes, and full of beautifully written poetry and short stories. These are the lit mags, like Raspa—the work of Editors César Ramos and Mónica Teresa Ortiz, and Art Director Sixto-Juan Zavala—that deserve our support, the least bit of the reparations we owe these artists and creators, and opportunity to share them further. Issue 6 is not sold out, yet.