Powerful Personal Essays from Queer Folks
Prism & Pen Queer Storytelling — March 28, 2021
by James Finn
This week on P&P is the week of the personal gut punch. So many writers submitted cutting perspectives on queer life, I can’t begin to sum things up. From a 19-year-old trans thinker on the West Coast, to a gay man approaching 80 who grew up in New Orleans, to a bisexual woman terrified of school in Beirut, our rainbow flag snaps in the wind.
Dive in for some powerful reads, but be prepared to duck and weave. →
(Writers, please remember to clap for the Digest to help promote your work and your colleagues’ too.)
Editor’s Picks —
This is one of those weeks where P&P includes so many powerful personal essays that featuring only one is painful. I urge you to scan down the list and check out the diversity our writers represent. Maria’s essay speaks to me in profound ways, so since I have to choose, here you go:
This will resonate with a lot of people from homophobic towns or families, but there is a certain violent hatred in the Middle East towards LGBT people that is deeply terrifying. There wasn’t anything for me there.
Growing up, I was often witness to sanctioned acts of barbarity, such as a same-sex couple being beaten up, but what shocked me the most was how ingrained homophobia is in the school system. I went to a Lebanese middle school in Beirut, a private, expensive, respected establishment where you had to wear a uniform and you could only wear white socks. It was a horrible time of my life …
Emma is busy rewriting the Oz stories as a parable of gender discovery. She’s thrown funny but important spins onto all the major characters. This week, witches and flying monkeys! (Here is where I admit that as a small child, those monkeys terrified me so much my dad would carry me away from the TV with his hands over my eyes.)
As we settled down for the night, we knew instinctively that the surrounding trees would turn hostile if we burned any of the dead wood lying around. I snuggled up between Andi and Judy for warmth. Harley was content to sit watch for us holding the axe for our protection.
It was creepily quiet, the kind of quiet you can feel, where the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise.
Abbie’s poem speaks for itself with raw, angry power. If you want the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, listen to the audio version.
Let me tell you about a little word: Pride
Pride is what happens when you decide to stop letting shit slide
When you take the barbs, and you take the slights
When you claw from the depths and scale the heights
This week, Curtis joins Larry Best serializing a long read on P&P. (Any other writers want to try their hand at long form?) Curtis dives deep into the anatomy of an abusive relationship. His story of survival is honest, vulnerable, and raw. In Part I: Mapping Out The Trauma, we learn he came out the other side relatively intact. In Part II: My First (Only) Serious Relationship, he shows us how it all started. Four more parts will follow.
My friends say they’d never let him hurt me if he came back. That’s comforting, and it also speaks to how much stronger I am now in who I am and the life that I’ve built. But I still can’t help thinking, “You don’t know him. You wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d destroy you.”
A Gay Man’s Survival of an Abusive Relationship
Part II: My First (Only) Serious Relationship
Creative Non Fiction Selections
Larry’s immersive memoir continues this week as he shows us how he lived for decades without realizing he was gay, even in the face of powerful same-sex attraction.
In Sex Education for a Gay Boy Who Wasn’t, high-school-age Larry meets a book that stirs him in ways he can’t understand. In A Bubble Bath and a Femmy Little Fop of a Boy, his teenage self is horrified to encounter home movies of his effeminate early childhood.
My name is Abigail Imogen Drake. I am a transgender woman, and I am a witch.
This is my tale of transformation.
In three days’ time I’ll be fifty.
When I saw who the email came from, I dropped my phone. My first thought was that it had to be fake. Why would a renowned former head of state write to me? But I only needed a few moments to verify the source.
As a soon-to-be 32-year-old gay man, I’ve been blessed with many life-altering experiences. Getting called “faggot” for the first time at 11 destroyed my confidence with peers. The first time I watched porn at 13 changed me because it planted the seed for my body dysmorphia. At 14, I was told I would burn in hell for all eternity for the first time …
I still cringe at the memory of a yoga class I took one day in downtown Tempe …
I had already been self-conscious walking in. My body’s unfortunate maleness is on extra display inside a studio, where we all bend and sway every which way with a teacher (not to mention mirrors) keeping vigil over our every move.
Bisexuality is so often seen as a “fantasy” rather than a sexuality. Of course, there’s the usual “you have to pick” or “you’re just confused,” but from my experience as a bisexual woman, we are mostly fetishized … It seems to be completely acceptable for people to ask me how many men vs. how many women I’ve had sex with, and they always, always, ask for a threesome.
I have nothing against drag queens. They have an absolute right to express themselves any way they choose. Being transgender, who am I to throw stones? They are essentially clowns who use extremes for maximum comedic effect. They are cisgender men who exaggerate elements of femininity to show flaws and generate laughs. They are an art form.
I get it.
But I never liked circus clowns. They have always been disturbing to me.
The concept of having trans elders is beautiful, yet misguided. I want the transgressively gendered community to have role models, but I do not think it wise to make pedestals.
I’m reminded of a passage from Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993)…
There’s this idea that women don’t feel self-conscious about their bodies around other women. That it is only when confronted with the male gaze that a woman starts to question the way she looks … However, I argue that in today’s society dictated by impossible body standard and Instagram filters, women are self-conscious all the time …
I’ll always be haunted by this Margaret Atwood quote: “You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
Welcome to my closet! Watch your step. It can be very treacherous. Let me attach a safety rope to your waist for protection and please don’t forget to wear your boots; we will be wading through some really deep ignorance …
I am now into my fifth year of gender discovery that includes the realization that I am transgender, which triggered explosive suicidal panic attacks and in my 60th year, let loose a gender dysphoria attack on my heart, mind and soul.
Masks are a beautiful thing — in every shape, size, color, and pattern, they protect us from not only the deadly pandemic coronavirus that has transformed our daily lives, but smaller things. Allergies. The common cold. Or even the actual cold with just enough coverage to protect against the crisp winter air.
And big things, too. Like dysphoria.
Oral Roberts University has the religious freedom to teach whatever they like, to assert whatever Christian dogma pleases them. But they should not and must not have the right to expel students like Chance Bardsley.
Schools that expel LGBTQ students for being LGBTQ must not be allowed to participate in NCAA sports. Will you join me in urging the NCAA to enforce its inclusion policy? Will you tell them tolerating intolerance is not a virtue?
The NCAA Has a Huge Homophobia Problem
Oral Roberts University, anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and conversion therapy
Poetry Picks —
Heavy on the gas
so he claims for me to be.
I think he’s right, as I drive ten above the limit
on the drive to Phoenix.
Lost in the voices I play from the speakers;
anthems of what to overcome.
I find myself in shadows in between,
In spaces blended, clouded, varied, grey;
In places not so simple, plain, and clean.
I live in all the colours that array
Between the dark and light, the night and day;
That’s it for this week. I hope you dive in for some fascinating reads!
Writers, I’m going to keep plugging my tutorial on images and titles, because if you read it and pay attention, it’s going to help you find a lot more readers.
And get set for a new challenge later today. As soon as I have lunch and come up with an idea.
See you next Sunday!
Esther Spurrill-Jones, BFoundAPen, Zayn Singh, Ainsley L, Kathy Lee Tolleth, Brian Pelletier, Fred Shirley, Ikedi Oghenetega, neil chapman, David Wade Chambers, Artemis Shishir, alto, Sean Stephane Martin, Gabriela Penelope Carolus, Lois Shearing, b.henriques, Carl Rebeiro 🏳️🌈, Rodney Frazier, Simon, Carl Rebeiro, Brian Fehler, Deneishia Jacobpito, Chris Hedges, Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle, Kathy Lee Tolleth, Brian Pelletier, Alex David Bevan, Ikedi Oghenetega, David Wade Chambers, Sean Stephane Martin, Gabriela Penelope Carolus, Lois Shearing, Valentine Wiggin, b.henriques, Carl Rebeiro, Rodney Frazier, Simon Z. Brian Fehler, Cassie Brighter, Deneishia Jacobpito, Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle, James Patrick Nelson, Brigid Maloney, Gabriela, Presley Thomas, Evan McCoy, Loren Olson, Ken Wilson, Chandler Myer, NaNa’sworld, Arabelle J., Liam Heitmann-Ryce, Edis Rune, Prickly Pam, Dawn McGrath, Jonathan | sex & theology, Tabitha Lowndes, Emma Nwosisi, Melissa Speed, Dr. Thomas J. West, Till Kaeslin, Dave Smurthwaite, Ellie Rebecca, Zoey Milford, Edris Quinn C., Dennett, Michael Constable, Jim Martens, Stephen Foster, Kravitz M. Kristen Nadel, William Kuhn, Denisa Bogdan, MSci, Rafaela Mempin, Tre L. Loadholt, theoaknotes, Rachel Brindell, Elle Fredine, Jess Darnell, Emma Holiday, Gabe Evaristo, Joshua Mackey, Steve Alexander, Stevie Wilkinson, Andy Killoran, Nick Bundarin, ElMehdi El Azhary, Bradley Wester, Stella Luna (they/she?), Chuy G. Gonzalez, MS, Aaron W. Marrs, Zada Kent, Tima Loku, Cam, The Transgender Therapist, Sean Bennett, Ty Bo Yule, Alessia Autumn, Allen R. Marquez, Spencer James, Mary-Ellen Maynard, Gaby Spadaro, Elena Joy Thurston, Mina Krane, Jason Masters, Jeff Harvey, Laurence Best, Don Stouder, J. S. Richards, Fiona Feng, Yvonne Borgquist, Sarah McManus MSc, Annabelle Rose, Laura Silverstein, LCSW, Kyla Sawyer, Ellen Caminiti, rowen maeve, Rafaela Mempin, Punch Drunk Cola, Jeff Poole, Mrs. Capricious, Justine L, Patsy Fergusson, John Westphalen, Curtis Harding, Phoenix Huber, Val Servino,