Queers Support Palestine, Affirm Trans People, and Work Towards Love

Prism & Pen Weekly Digest — May 5, 2024

James Finn
Prism & Pen
16 min readMay 5, 2024

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by James Finn

This week in Prism & Pen, we explore why queer people are especially likely to resist persecution of the marginalized, like the slaughter the State of Israel is raining down on Palestinians. Plus …

  • We explore problems inherent in common language about “victims.”
  • We take a deep dive into the life of a queer woman in Ghana who is definitely not a victim, despite … everything.
  • We pull apart new statistics that demonstrate how cisgender-women athletes are not victims of transgender-women athletes.
  • We examine the illogic of a fringe group of cis-gay people who claim that affirming trans people is homophobic.
  • We celebrate the life of a recently passed, truly groundbreaking lesbian activist.
  • On the arts front, we celebrate The Talented Mr. Ripley as pioneering queer cinema, and we explore five great novels about gay men written by women.
  • Also, we’re writing lots of open letters, including mine to a Roman Catholic neighbor who happens to be a bishop indirectly responsible for hatred and violence in Michigan.

Ready? Let’s go! 👇

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— Editor’s Picks —

Why *Wouldn’t* Most LGBTQ+ People Support Palestine?

Kayla Vokolek

This week, I attended a die-in outside of the then-occupied, newly christened Refaat Alareer Memorial Library at Portland State with several fellow classmates and friends. Most of us identify as LGBTQ+, which is not surprising: the vast majority of my queer friends are deeply passionate about the cause, in contrast to all my sympathetic-yet-passive straight friends.

However, a too-common argument is that we must be misinformed or stupid to support a country without LGBTQ+ equality. Such comments are not limited to occasional argumentative Instagram users (who I should really stop engaging with), but rather reflect deliberate marketing campaigns by Israel. As of 2015, “the Israeli government [had] allocated more than $90m to fund the campaign that included promoting Israel as a ‘world gay destination.’”

Read in P&P

Why Can’t Queers Just Stop Being Victims?

J. M. Tolcher

Language is important. The way we use words matter. And some words can become so laden with ill-meaning that they become unusable.

White people can’t use the N-word, for good reason. (I’m white and won’t use it.) Straight people can’t say “poof” or “faggot.” (I’m gay and use them, and I even wrote a whole book about the subversive importance of doing so.) …

But there’s a much more sinister word that has been warped and twisted against marginalised groups.

And if you’ve noticed, everyone seems to have a different definition of what it means.

Victim.

It’s a loaded term with a myriad of negative connotations.

Read in P&P

I Tried to Pray the Gay Away: What To Do When Demonized for Existing?

Torshie Torto

In 2009, a new chapter of my life began. Freshly graduated from junior high school, I couldn’t wait to start senior high.

In Ghana, junior-high-school graduates are assigned schools based on their Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) results. While I didn’t get admission to my first choice despite passing with distinction, I still got into one of Ghana’s finest all-girls institutions…

As a Christian missionary institution, lesbianism was the gravest offense a student could commit in my school. Mere accusations could lead to stigmatization, and ultimately expulsion if proven true. I guess we were lucky — in boys’ schools, it could quickly escalate into a police case (homosexuality is a crime in Ghana).

While all these are harrowing experiences, the worst part about the whole thing — in my opinion — is the tainted lens through which people perceive you.

Read in P&P

Olympic Study Challenges Assumption Trans Women Have ‘Male Advantage’

Kaylin Hamilton

A new study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) … is among the first to systematically compare cisgender and transgender athletes under lab conditions.

The research provides much needed data to counter the ideological sexism and transphobia that have characterised the debate around trans women in elite sport and justified their exclusion.

The findings show that trans women are at a disadvantage compared to cis men and, on some measures of performance, at a disadvantage compared to cis women as well.

Importantly, the findings indicate that equating trans women’s performance with that of cisgender men and suggesting the former therefore have a ‘male advantage’ over cisgender women is incorrect.

Read in P&P

Gareth Roberts Says Accepting Trans People Is ‘Gay Shame’

Tucker Lieberman

Gay Shame: The Rise of Gender Ideology and the New Homophobia was released on April 25 by Forum, which publishes other anti-trans books too. [The author] is gay. He prefers the word “homosexual” as he perceives it to deemphasize identities (which are cultural) and recenter genitalia (which are biological). He’s cis, though the word appears only three times in his book…

Roberts refuses to engage the academic work or even the mere existence of trans people; he briefly name-drops only a couple prominent trans women, while the only trans man he names is a deceased murderer. Meanwhile, gay trans men, he assures his readers (stage whispering in the presence of this one who’s a gay trans man), are “very little discussed” and “much less known.”

In short, this is an ordinary “sex-realist” book: deliberately insulting, repetitive, and hanging on very few facts about anything. One thing I’d like to note about Gay Shame, though, is the timeline he’s more or less borrowed from the other “sex-realist” writers …

Read in P&P

Open Letter to Robert Gruss, Anti-Gay Catholic Bishop and My Neighbor

James Finn

Dear Robert,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name even though we don’t know one another. I’m writing you human to human, heart to heart, as your neighbor…

Robert, you supported Fr. Tom’s decision to ban people like me from parish classrooms, as if we are too toxic and dangerous to be in the presence of children. I understand I might be reducing your support to one unfair dimension, but I ask you to carefully examine how your support for homophobic stigmatization is itself one dimensional and unjust.

If we got together for a beer and a chat, who would you see? The man who spent a decade caring for the grievously ill, expecting nothing in return? The man who spent years caring for a grievously wounded child despite suspecting I would not be able to truly help him?

Or would you only see a gay man who must be unwelcome in your diocese because of that single characteristic?

Read in P&P

In Defense of the Gay Mr. Ripley

James Patrick Nelson

With the release of the long-anticipated Ripley series on Netflix, starring Andrew Scott, copious outlets have done retrospective articles about all the previous Ripley films and which ones were better than others and why.

The series is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s first Ripley novel, in which Tom travels to Italy and becomes obsessed with a wealthy American expat, Dickie Greenleaf, who Tom eventually kills, then assumes his identity...

For many in my generation, The Talented Mr. Ripley was the first big-budget queer film we ever saw. And despite how representation has improved in the past quarter-century, it’s still one of the most intoxicating queer films ever made. Such an important milestone deserves further consideration.

Read in P&P

Remembering Madeline Davis: Little-Known Pioneering Lesbian Activist

Clay Hand

An octogenarian when she passed, Madeline had lived a life of queer trailblazing. In 1972, she taught “Lesbianism 101” at the State University of New York at Buffalo — the first U.S. university-level course on Sapphic history and culture. With Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, Madeline co-authored Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, the first comprehensive history of a lesbian community.

And she composed the first gay liberation song, Stonewall Nation

Davis spoke (and sang) in ethereal and melodic tones — there’s a Joan Baez lilt to her voice. Her words were select, tender and erudite, her youth of digesting Beat poetry served her till the end.

Read in P&P

5 Great Novels by Women About Gay and Bisexual Men

John Peyton Cooke

Here, I highlight some amazing novels about gay men that were written by women. These are relatively famous works that have remained popular over the years. They deserve all the praise they’ve received.

One unfortunate fact about each of these novels is that they have generally been considered “gay romance” novels. This has unfairly pigeonholed them in the “romance” category, which is not really appropriate…

I’ll start by saying The Charioteer is one of my favorite novels period, much less one of my favorite gay novels. It’s an absolute masterpiece. That’s one reason I put it at the top of this list.

At the time The Charioteer was written, Mary Renault (a pen name for Eileen Mary Challans) had published five previous novels, including the lesbian-themed The Friendly Young Ladies (1944).

— Essays & Creative Nonfiction —

Being Transgender Isn’t What You Think, Unless YOU Are …

Saoirse

Growing up, I didn’t want to be transgender. I didn’t even know what transgender was. It was the 1970s, and I was in elementary school and high school. I believed I must be sick. I thought something was wrong with me. I hated myself, because society ridiculed and obviously despised those people who were anything remotely like me!

Is it a coincidence that I thought of suicide? Is it a coincidence that I attempted suicide? Do I need to explain why I fear for the youth today who are being bombarded by political statements that who they are is not real? Can you imagine how that feels? I can!

Read in P&P

I Thought I Was an Incel Until I Realized I’m Trans

Piddling Piddles

I used to think I was an incel.

Rather, I used to fear everybody else thought I was one, if they weren’t busy assuming I was gay. And if they actually did, I didn’t have much room to blame them.

On the surface, I was the perfect profile: perpetual loner locked in my room struck with a clear inability to forge a genuine romantic connection. I wouldn’t be surprised if people pitied me or assumed I’d developed some poor thoughts on the “opposite” gender.

Read in P&P

Transgender Longing vs Reality

Emma Holiday

Many of us have experienced longing in our lives. Sometimes it involves missing another person who is no longer part of your life either through death, break up, or physical separation. Other times it is a wish for something missing in your life.

The feeling of longing is a partly melancholic state because we feel sorrowful about our separation from the thing we yearn for. However, it’s also sweet because there’s at least a small possibility that we’ll achieve our dream.

Since I was five years old, my dream, my wish, my longing was to wake up one morning and be who I always felt I should be, a girl.

Read in P&P

On Worth: Can the Gay Asian Community Overcome External Stereotypes?

Shaun Pezeshki

A recent TikTok video by Kevo (@ktvvill_) cast a spotlight on the delicate issues of validation, racial fetishization, and self-esteem within the gay Asian community. Watching his story prompted me to reflect on my similar experiences. His discussion sheds light on how we often find ourselves caught in cycles of seeking validation, yet he hints at an even tougher reality: the environment we are a part of not only complicates our efforts to break these cycles, it often actively supports them.

Read in P&P

Anti-Trans Policies Hurt Everybody: An Open Letter to Politicians

Jennifer Nelson

So-called “gender-critical” activists want people to be worried about “men pretending to be women” committing crimes in women-only spaces.

It’s important to note, however, that studies have shown no correlation between policies allowing people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and increases of assault, sex crimes, or voyeurism in public restrooms, locker rooms, or dressing rooms.

If men want to hurt women, they don’t need to “dress up” to do it …

Read in P&P

Announcing ‘Dreaming Queer Futures,’ a Community Workshop in LA

Josie Defaye

Dear Pro-Queer Community,

In a world constantly policing our desires, how may we reclaim the power of wanting? How may we wield our longing as a weapon against the forces seeking our erasure? And how may we do so together, as a community?

At Trans/gressive Writers’ Workshop (TWW), we believe that daring to desire is an act of defiance — a defiance we’ve practiced weekly in our generative writing workshops in Silverlake, LA each Sunday morning over the past three months.

Read in P&P

Nobody Likes the Transgender Rule-Breaker

Emma Holiday

I am a rule breaker.

Since I don’t play by the rules, to many in the world, that makes me a villain, an outcast, a pariah, and a social leper. There are people in the world who believe that I should be penalized because I have strayed outside the rules of the gender game book.

I am transgender.

Read in P&P

Navigating Labels in the LGBTQIA+ Family: Am I the Drama Bear?

NorBears by Lenso

Let me share a recent experience that had me questioning a few things. I got into a heated debate with someone I know — not quite a friend, more of an acquaintance. As many of you know, I’m a vocal advocate for human rights, a strong trans ally, and proud to be part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Here’s where things took a turn. I’ve never really resonated in my inner self with being “queer,” so I don’t use it to describe myself. I respect and celebrate others who do, but personally, I identify as a gay man. The Kinsey scale would place me somewhere around 4.5 to 5.5 over the past decade. My mission remains the same: advocating for acceptance, respect, and equality for everyone in our rainbow family.

Read in P&P

Oh, Canada! Can We Please Stop the Hubbub about Trans People and Pronouns?

Piddling Piddles

We’ve got two funny little habits up here in Canada concerning our neighbours to the south.

First and foremost, lots of us have got it stuck in our gullet we’re better than America. For a long time, it’s been a point of pride for some among us that we’re not Americans…

Respectfully, we’re the little brother with a hell of a yap and a thorn in our side about our popular older brother. And much as we may deride or make fun of big bro, we end up making the exact same mistakes as him in a year or two’s time.

Read in P&P

A Letter To My Homophobic Brother-In-Law

James Porter

I’m writing this after living more than fifty years surrounded by your anger and then your disgust about the person I have become.

You always looked at me warily. Even when I was a young boy I felt your eyes on me, assessing me, ready to judge.

You are everything I am not. Your scowl demonstrates your anger, your sharp words express your hate.

Why do I care? Because you are my sister’s husband and the father of my nieces and grandfather to their children and their children’s children. Our paths are forever entwined, whether you like it or not.

Read in P&P

I Spammed a Government Anti-Transgender Snitch Site

Sarah Thompson-Cook

There must have been local elections this week, because the U.K. government has proposed more anti-trans policies, including proposed changes to the NHS Constitution to actively exclude trans people from single-sex spaces that align with their gender identity. It’s a distraction from record hospital emergency (A&E) waiting times that they have no plan to address…

Badenoch’s understanding of the Equality Act seems to have switched despite no changes being made to it.

Suggesting that trans people do not have the right to access single-sex spaces according to gender identity even with a GRC — she’s only gone and set up a snitch site!

Read in P&P

Gay Reflections on the Tyranny of the Normal

Henry Lee Butler

… As I read Dr. Cervini’s work, my mind is drawn beyond the substantive matter of the book to the environment in which it was written and published. Anytime a member of a minority takes on the task of telling their story, they do so in a hostile environment. As long as we are unseen, the majority can live comfortable lives secure in the knowledge that they are upstanding, moral citizens. Once we open the closet door and show the world what it is like to live as an actively suppressed minority, the beliefs of the majority about themselves are drawn into stark contrast with the reality those beliefs make possible.

That discomfort provokes a reaction.

Read in P&P

Taste the Rainbow, Avoid the Gluten: the Overlap of Celiac and LGBTQ+

Eleni Stephanides

Around twenty years ago, I realized I was gay — though it would take me six years to come out and begin engaging with the LGBTQ+ community.

Three and a half years ago, I discovered I had celiac disease…

Although these two experiences weren’t identical, I couldn’t help but notice some unexpected parallels. So, without endorsing the outdated classification of homosexuality as an illness, I thought it’d be fun to explore the commonalities between these two minority experiences.

Read in P&P

Cracking My Transgender Egg or Opening a Russian Nesting Doll

Sarah Doepner

Ahh yes, The Transgender Egg Crack! That singular moment when darkness is lifted, and the pure light of the truth bathes us. That moment when all the scales drop from our eyes, and we see a clear gender path forward. That was the way it happened to you, wasn’t it?

I can almost hear a chorus of voices yelling “Nope! It wasn’t that way at all!”

There was one moment I believe was THE egg crack on my journey, but it was one of many hard-sought revelations and choices finally acted upon that got me here.

Read in P&P

— Short Fiction —

The Gay Detective: Death Visits the Vicarage

Elle Fredine

As I handed Ian his glass, Marc bent his brilliant green gaze on me. “You weren’t there tonight. Not a fan of the symphony?”

I smiled again. Urbane as hell. “Not a huge fan of Mahler.”

“Oh, no. Ian, tell me he didn’t mean that.” Marc leaned forward, his hands outstretched in mock supplication. One hand paused over Ian’s glass. WTF? Did he just dose Ian’s drink?

He swept Ian into an animated debate — German Baroque versus neo-classical composers. Ian loved anything modern, so watching him go head to head with a fan of the traditional was a treat. Or would have been, if the stakes hadn’t been so high.

Read in P&P

Editor’s note: Elle’s gay detective appears in other stand-alone stories. If you enjoy the characters, you’ll find links inside, and another story will appear in P&P next week.

— Fiction Series —

The Medellan Conspiracy

Click here for an intro and chapter links

By Grayson Bell

Ancient relics are turning up, and one contains a video that might upend what Jevan’s people think of who they are and where they come from. Is that why a secret society keeps trying to kill Jevan and his cross-species bondmate Ardyn?

“That video certainly confirms she was Medellan,” Andreesen said, getting up to pour himself another drink. “Her dialect was a bit unusual, but I still understood most of what she said. The only word I wasn’t familiar with was godforsaken.”

“That’s the only word my translator had an issue with as well, which is remarkable considering how old that recording is,” Laeyral said. “The Athla’naa language has changed much in the twelve hundred years since Ardyn’s ancestors crash landed on Med’nor. It’s unusual that your language would have changed so little, over roughly four times the same time span.”

Jevan snorted with derision. “Add that to the list of mysteries we don’t understand.”

Read Episode 61: Betrayal
Read Episode 62: Undercover

That’s all for Prism & Pen this week, folks, so happy reading!

Writers, we have a new prompt: Let’s Write Very Queer Letters to Politicians and Community Leaders!

It’s proving popular. Have you started your letter yet?

We’ll see y’all next Sunday for another Digest. ❤️

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James Finn
Prism & Pen

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