Prism & Pen
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This is an email from The Digest, a newsletter by Prism & Pen.

Choosing to Be Me: A Queer Performance

Weekly digest — September 27, 2020

by James Finn

Deciding to be queer. Do people decide such things?

It’s true nobody DECIDES to experience sexual attraction or gender identity in particular ways. But people DO decide to be gay, bisexual, transgender or otherwise — in the sense that they choose to identify as such to themselves and others.

People also can decide to act on their identities in particular ways, or obviously, not to act on them. This week in Prism & Pen, Dr. Thomas J. West III writes about how he decided to “be gay” during his time at university. College student theoaknotes writes about his own decision to act on his transgender identity.

Scroll down for their stories and more about daring decisions and performances.

Remember, you don’t need to be a Medium member to read Prism & Pen stories. Just click on the underlined links to bypass the paywall.

Editor’s Picks —

Creative Nonfiction
A Queer Vision About Love and Family

Coming from a highly conservative culture that disapproves of gay identity, Mohamed Maoui faced his own difficult choices while doing graduate work at one of the world’s finest universities. He agonized about love and family, asking what life could possibly hold for him as a queer man. Here are some questions he posed to himself. Read his story to learn how he answered them.

That time I realized that it was time to come out to myself first, and I was able to bolster enough courage to do so, yet I didn’t know what that could mean. A million questions have formed in my head: will I be alone all my life? Will I die on my bed without having someone holding my hand? Will I be able to have someone to wake up next to every day?

Memories Spent and Memories Lost

In an achingly beautiful work of poetic prose, trans man and university student Artemis Shishir explores melancholy, perhaps unintentionally highlighting similarities between the isolating experience of political and ethnic displacement with the all-too-common isolating experience of queer life in places where it’s not much welcome.

Evening falls, the blowing of a conch shell is heard. Warm air with a hint of burning incense stick wafts up to my nose. It’s the time I await eagerly, to talk to the grandmother next door while she washes the clothes.

But she doesn’t come. Not anymore.

In Rehearsal

If, as Dr. West observes, being queer is in some sense a performance, then Zach J. Payne’s carefully constructed sonnet is an ode to the virtue of artful, consuming practice. Can one, after all is said and done, perform without rehearsing?

I swallow him: his eyes and song and voice,
and hypnotize myself into a state
of listening, absorbing every choice
he’s made, the prayers he’s uttered, wipe the slate
of self away, his bones become my own

Creative Non Fiction Selections —

A Little Tour Across One Gay Man’s Life

Steve Alexander spent a lifetime choosing and performing. In his P&P debut piece, he writes about a difficult process of continuous becoming — choosing not just to become an attorney, law clerk, and litigator, but an openly gay man. Steve has led a fascinating life, and he’s quite the captivating storyteller. I can’t wait to share more of his stories with you.

I’m a dinosaur, … well, perhaps not; I still roam the Earth. I come before you a humble old man with not a little experience under his belt and many stories to tell.

I love the English language. I love writing. I was a word mercenary beating up horribly on horrible people. Society not only approved but also paid me well. Now, I’m engaged in using words to explain, portray, lobby, or cajole rather than as weapons.

Getting Lucky (When It Comes to Top Surgery)
by theoaknotes

I wasn’t expecting to hear from them until December at the earliest. When we’d initially met, Kirstie mentioned that the top surgeons at my local hospital were completely booked through November. Without getting my hopes up, I answered the phone.

Don’s miss the rest!

Why I Decided to Be Gay
Dr. Thomas J. West III

… I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I rendered myself explicitly feminine, but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to perform maleness in the way that many of my classmates, and best friends, did. I didn’t play sports. I didn’t ogle women. In fact, I didn’t really talk about sex at all. I obviously thought about it a lot, but speaking openly about it always felt…rather crude and crass.

Oh, how things have changed!

Poetry Picks —

Rainbow Season
Joining Zach in crafting a sonnet, Esther Spurrill-Jones writes of the healing nature of autumn, for her a season of rainbow colors, “something weird and strange and rather gay.”

The leaves are changing: maple, birch, and oak,
And apples hang so ripe and rich like wine,
While pumpkins wait like gemstones on the vine,

Writing Queer —

Writing Queer: General Workshop #1

Distinguished creative writing professor and P&P contributor David Wade Chambers offers a continuing interactive series of workshops for any writer wishing to polish their prose.

This is a link to his first workshop, but feel free to give any of them a click. You’ll find links to Writing Queer at the top of every P&P story. Don’t worry; we aren’t collecting email addresses to pitch you a “webinar” in future. Prism & Pen is all about encourage and nurturing queer storytelling. These workshops are Wade’s freely offered contribution.

That’s a wrap for this week! I hope you give Prism & Pen a browse and think about choices and performances.

Writers, we have a new prompt coming out later today. Quills out!

I’ll see you next Sunday.

— Jim




Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling

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James Finn

James Finn

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Act Up NY, and an agented but unpublished novelist.

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