Happy Pride Month! This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Pride Parade in New York since the Stonewall Riots and the inception of the parade itself. This is a month where those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community can celebrate who they are and not only express their pride, but share it with others! For this month’s 5×5, we asked five LGBTQ+ authors five questions pertaining to pride month itself. Here are their responses!
1.This year is the 50th NYC Pride Parade, but due to COVID-19, we expect it won’t happen. How will you be celebrating this year, and what message do you have for LGBTQ+ people?
Walter g. meyer
I will be creating a video of my coming out story and what Pride means to me for San Diego’s virtual Pride site. In light of the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, I would remind the LGBTQ+ community that Stonewall, Cooper’s Donut, the Compton Cafeteria and so many early galvanizing moments of cohesion that led to pushing for civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community came in resisting oppression by police.
Walter G. Meyer is an author, a renowned public speaker, and a fierce anti-bullying advocate. One of his books, Rounding Third, is a powerful story about a young boy, gay and bullied for it. Meyer regularly speaks on air, in schools, and in public talks. He is an inspiring author whose stories of love, hate-crime, and family in the LGBTQ+ sphere have taken the community by storm.
image via Meyer’s site
In thinking about answering this question I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating about the word “celebrating” and what that means (or can mean) in the middle of two deadly national public health crises, the crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis that is systemic racism (which, unlike the coronavirus, is not “novel”). And from my positionality as just one individual I’ve been thinking about what “celebrating” means (or can mean) for me, which has everything to do with the fact that I’m a queer woman who is not a Black queer woman. And that I’m a queer cisgender woman. And that I’m a queer woman who has retained her job and her health insurance throughout the pandemic. And that I’m married and a homeowner and living in a city that isn’t a hot spot, in a state whose governor’s responses to the virus and to the murder of George Floyd have evidenced a concern for preserving and promoting human life and dignity over preserving and promoting the status quo and its systems. So I’ll be celebrating by acknowledging all of those privileges and thinking about the contributions I can make as a teacher and writer to doing the antiracist work of witnessing and supporting the experiences of BIPOC, and, in the wake of more murders and more violence from our administration, witnessing and supporting the experiences of the trans members of our community, especially trans BIPOC. I won’t be attending the NYC Pride Parade or running the Front Runners LGBT Pride Run, but I will be supporting the national and global protests that are slowly making necessary changes in our country—which has never been a safe place for all of us to celebrate. As one individual I can’t speak for or to all LGBTQ+ people with any sort of singular message; instead I’ll just say that I think all of us as individuals should be reflecting on our own positionalities and what our individual celebrating can mean and can do.
Because things have seemed bleak with all that is going on in the world, specifically in America, I’ve decided to give away one of my books each week of pride month. It’s a small way to give back to people who are looking for a bright spot in these dark times. And I think my biggest message for people is to protect each other and never stop fighting against those that would see injustice done toward the LGBTQ+ community. As a group we are no stronger than our weakest members so we have to fight for everyone.
I will celebrate Pride this year by sharing the stories I have written. I will mail personalized cover letters and my stories with gay pride themes to dozens of my friends and family. Yes. I actually buy super cool stamps from the post office and prepare hand written letters to mail along with many of those stories I have created. It is an amazing and exciting way to bring that spirit of Pride into the homes of so many people in my life. And it is personal so it goes right to the heart of all those who are the recipients of my proud gifts.
What better way to celebrate something so important than to share this season with those closest to me. Just like the holidays!
Kinyatta e. gray
Without doubt, my book Passing As Straight is an honest, raw and compelling resource for women who may be struggling with their sexual identity. In my book, we encourage women to do deep reflecting and to try to get to the root cause of the fear that may be holding them back from their true happiness. Several readers have indicated that my book “Passing As Straight” was purchased for the person who was struggling to love them. Most women who read this book will be able to relate to one or all of the 6 co author’s stories in our book and it is through those connections that we hope they will see that they too are not alone, and will gain an understanding of how someone else when faced with the same life choices, eventually made a choice that led to their happiness. It’s also worth mentioning that as a result of someone reading my book Passing As Straight, they gained the courage to walk in their truth and began dating one on my co-authors and they plan to get married in 2021! Passing As Straight has been hailed as a life-changing book.
2. How important was it for you to include LGBTQ+ stories in your writing?
Walter g. meyer
In my novel, Rounding Third, the crux of the story was two shy boys trying to befriend each other and then get up the nerve to be something more than friends. But even when I am writing other stories where a character’s gayness isn’t the plotline, I do like to include LGBTQ+ characters as I like to include people of color and people with disabilities to be as diverse as the world is.
Speaking of clichés, there’s an old (and sometimes problematic) cliché in the creative writing world: “write what you know.” Here that applies for me because as a poet I write largely from personal experience—that’s not to say that the speakers in my poems are me, at least not all of the time, but it is to say that my own positionality, which includes my lived experience as a queer woman, inflects my work and its concerns. So I’d argue more that it was “inevitable” that my queer positionality would inform my work than that it was “important.” I often quote Tami Spry, who, in her essay “Performing Autoethnography: An Embodied Methodological Praxis,” argues that “[t]he text and the body that generates it cannot be separated.” Though as a poet I don’t write “stories” in the same ways that a fiction writer, for example, does, I would say that even my poems that aren’t narrative poems are often engaging with cultural narratives. This is how I’ve described much of the work in my latest book Was Body (Indolent Books, 2020), which mythologizes my own coming-out/coming-of-age story as it grieves, among other things, the loss of a romance between two women.
Billie Tadros is a writer, poet, Assistant Professor, and ex-runner, whose works explore queer grief and mythology, alongside her own coming out story. She speaks to the ways of writing, and how her book, Was Body, in particular, has served her in in defining what being queer means for her as well as to the ways in which she’s creating spaces for amplifying the work of both published queer writers and undergraduate writers.
image via amazon
All my works of fiction feature f/f romance and that is very important to me. I came out later than many people and fiction was how I discovered those truths about myself that were previously hidden. Even when I’m writing science fiction or fantasy, I’m putting myself and the people around me into my craft. I think I would have come out sooner if I’d had access to the kind of fiction I write, which is strong female characters who can be heroes and don’t have to be cis gender or heterosexual.
It’s been great to share LGBTQ stories in my writing. It allows me to give a much-needed voice to marginalized communities like ours.
Kinyatta e. gray
Compiling six very individual, personal and courageous stories in my book from six different women, on different paths in life, who were holding the same secret about their sexual identity was exhilarating and liberating. Their specific stories are unique, and in some cases, my book also served as the vessel for them to “come out” to the world. I am incredibly honored that I created a trusting platform for these six African-American women to share intimate parts of their lives so that others could learn from their experiences.
3. How do your characters face similar coming out stories to you or someone you may know?
Walter g. meyer
None of Rounding Third was made up. It didn’t all happen to me, but every incident, even the horrific ones, happened to someone I know. I just created a mosaic of various stories to create one cohesive novel. Parts of the story are based on my own struggles in high school. One of the characters grows and matures through the adversity he faces. The other main character crumbles under the pressure, which is again, what happens in real life.
I’m a poet who mostly writes from the first-person lyric tradition and rarely writes strictly narrative poems (or “stories”), but because I write from my own experience (if not always about my own experience), my work absolutely reflects my positionality as a queer woman, and my most recent book Was Body mythologizes moments from my own coming-out story. That’s to say that the speaker in those poems (the voice, the “I,” in those poems – and it’s mostly the same speaker throughout) is grappling with the stories she has culturally inherited about what it means to be a woman and to love women and is working to figure out what these identities mean for her within and outside of those cultural narratives.
In my contemporary fiction some of my characters were patterned after myself or my friends. Everyone seems to have a different story. I don’t write that kind of tale in my speculative fiction works. I think it’s because I want to show that there are worlds out there where sexuality and gender don’t matter. I wish for people to know that a good story starts with what’s in the heart, and that there are stories for queer people where we get to be the hero.
Many of my stories use my experiences as a muse for characters. I have also been on a quixotic cross-country journey of meeting complete strangers each day over the last five years as I work toward reaching a symbolic goal. I explained this odyssey and it’s significance in a TEDx talk I gave.
Along the way I have met thousands of LGBTQ strangers one by one who have shared so many of their experiences in life with me in ninety-four languages on 494 giant foam poster boards. I take many of those incredible stories or traumas and triumphs from these individuals to help me create even more characters for my writing.
Ron Blake is an activist, writer, and speaker who has written over 200 stories for 25 different LGBTQ+ publications in the past 13 years. Blake wrote a series of articles addressing the injustice he faced from the police department after being a victim of sexual and domestic violence. His writing topics include discrimination, coming out, religion, historical LGBT people, Mayor Pete’s campaign and general life for people in the LGBT communities.
Image via YouTube
Kinyatta e. gray
My book Passing As Straight is a non-fiction six-woman anthology. We all had one thing in common, which was we all were concealing our true sexual identities over long periods of time, until we each experienced different turning points in our lives and decided that we wanted to walk in our truth as lesbian and bisexual women. My book describes in detail what the catalyst was in each of our lives that led us to come out of the closet and live our lives unapologetically and free.
4. Was your own coming out aided or inspired by any character in literature? If so, how?
Walter g. meyer
I didn’t have any good gay role models in the books I read when I was growing up. If gay characters showed up at all, it was as something perverse. It was not until I was already well into my coming out process that I discovered books with LGBTQ+ characters and it reassured me that I was not alone.
Around the same time I was coming out, I was enrolled in an American women’s literature class, and we were reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, which had just come out (no pun intended) a year prior. (I should add here that my father had died by suicide two years prior.) So, as I was reading the first chapter of this memoir for class, I kept asking myself, Why am I identifying so strongly with this? Is it just because it’s a lesbian memoir? Is it because Bechdel is describing growing up not far from where I’m currently in school?And then I hit the last six frames before chapter 2 in which Bechdel reveals that her father, like mine, died by (what is presumed to be a) suicide when she was a teenager: “It’s true that he didn’t kill himself until I was nearly twenty,” she writes, “[b]ut his absence resonated retroactively, echoing back through all the time I knew him.” So I think, in many ways, that book made me feel witnessed, both as a queer woman and as someone who had lost someone to suicide. I’m neither memoirist nor cartoonist, but my first book of poems The Tree We Planted and Buried You In (Otis Books, 2018) similarly explores the intersections of my own dad’s suicide and my own coming-out.
Honestly? I realized I liked women after stumbling across f/f Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction. How cliche, right? I didn’t even watch the show. I just knew that after reading a few f/f stories it was as if a lightbulb clicked on over my head. Everything in my life to that point suddenly made sense. Less than six months later I’d ended my engagement and moved out to start a new life.
Kelly Aten-Keilen is an award-winning author who specializes in speculative fiction, focusing on extraordinary women who are as flawed as they are compelling. She has written a variety of science-fiction and fantasy novels with heroines in LGBTQ+ narratives. Her novels, aimed at making people #Think, #Feel, and #Discuss have been well-received the world over.
image via amazon
There were no characters in particular that inspired me in my coming out. But I do believe each of us are an amalgamation of all the people and experiences that have made their way into our lives. Each gay character in every book or movie I have read or watched has very much contributed to my coming out story. I am a puzzle put together with the pieces of 1,000 fascinating characters.
Kinyatta E. Gray
No, however, as the compiler of the 6-woman book anthology, this book was inspired by my personal journey and my decision to walk in my truth. I decided that I wanted to give other aspiring authors an opportunity to share their similar personal journey along with me in our book “Passing As Straight”.
5. What is the importance for LGBTQ+ people to have friends or peers to support them? Is this something you thought of when writing your book?
Walter G. Meyer
In my novel, Rounding Third, part of the problem that the two main characters, Rob and Josh have is that they have no gay peers, no support group. Eventually some adults step in to help them, but the isolation they feel was a big part of the book. How for a while they only have each other and nowhere else to turn. When I have spoken about the book in California, students always ask, why didn’t the characters in the book just turn to their GSA or contact GLSEN. (The book is set in Ohio.) When I have spoken in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and rural western New York, none of the students have ever heard of a GSA or GLSEN. I spoke at my high school in Pennsylvania and of the 1,400 students there, there was not one openly gay one. There was no GSA and there were no resources if anyone wanted to come out.
This is massively important, and arguably the only reason I felt able to come out at all. I did lose a few friends when I came out, but on the whole I had friends who both witnessed me and learned with me. (And I say “learned with” because, having grown up as someone who knew almost no LGBTQ+ people who were “out,” even when I myself identified that I was queer, I had to then examine and resist all of the assumptions I had been handed about what that meant. So it wasn’t just my straight friends who were supporting me and un-learning/resisting those assumptions—I was doing that work right alongside them.) Because my most recent book comes out (pun intended this time) of this particular time in my life, I was absolutely thinking of these friends and peers as I wrote it. In fact, the final acknowledgment in the back of the book speaks both to these friends and peers and to the earliest queer romantic relationships I had: “And, finally thank you to the women with whom I shared a river—and the formative moments that preceded this mythology.” (I did absolutely also have friends of other genders who accompanied me through this time in my life, but my friendships and romantic relationships with women were those most crucial to my coming-out.)
None of us is a monolith. All of my books feature aspects of either strong family bonds or strong friend bonds, and all of them highlight that we can do better as a team than alone. Even when other people or family are against us, I like to show that we don’t have to face things by ourselves.
Having the support of friends and peers is critical. We all want to be loved. We all deserve to have love. We all want to give love. Friends and peers let us accomplish all of this through that essential bonding.
Kinyatta E. Gray
I can’t emphasize it enough that it makes a tremendous difference when you have the support of peers and friends who are experiencing the same or similar life experiences or are at least compassionate, open minded and willing to be supportive of you, even if they lead very different lives. When I met the five co-authors of my book, we forged a deep connection and sisterhood because we had led somewhat similar lives and found solace in each other. We knew that we were not alone and that we could exchange our stories and feelings in a non-judgmental zone and feel each other’s warmth and support. We created a sisterhood that exists to this day.
Kinyatta E. Gray is an author, travel influencer, and CEO of FlightsInStilettos. Her book, Passing as Straight, is about the personal and complex stories of lesbians whose true sexuality went undetected to prevent labeling, judgment, or even death. Gray herself did not live life as a queer woman until the age of 35.
image via gray