Gay Junk

The gayest road in Reykjavík, where I’m currently doing a writer’s residency

Last June I tabled at a Pride event with my husband. This might sound strange to hear, but he and I are both queer. Gay, if you like, though we’re gay for each other too. 

The event was hosted by the South Street Art Mart, a shop that carries my books and zines. For a few years now the owners of the store, Nicole and Nicole, have been kind, supportive friends to me, and being a part of the community they’ve created went a long way in helping me feel safe to finally, after all these years, come out—first to myself, and then to other people. It meant a great deal to me to be included in their Pride festivities: my books in the front window alongside work by other queer artists, me and my table out in front of the shop one Friday afternoon in June.

Things meaning a lot to me usually manifests as getting really nervous and putting a lot of thought into my outfit, and this occasion was no different. If you’re curious, I wore my dark denim A-line skirt with a little bitty black crop top and chunky black shoes, which is a summer outfit I consider makes me look both cute and tough. I also wore my beloved dragon pendant, privately referred to as DT or Dragon Tits because of where it lands on my chest, because I always wear it when I need extra protection. The dragon is curled around on herself in a circle, sleeping and looking pretty, but ready to leap to my defense at the first sign of trouble.

There was no trouble, though. Tabling at Pride—for it is a verb, to table—was life affirming and sweet. Joe and I arranged our books, tapes, and zines on the table, two perpetual kids with a lemonade stand, and friendly people from the shops nearby came out to smoke cigarettes, shoot the breeze, and buy our stuff. A good number of our friends surprised us by stopping by too. One adorable human from the daycare up the street chatted with us for awhile, making us laugh with charming and somewhat horrifying childcare stories, and bought some zines. When I looked at Venmo later that day, I saw the note they’d left to indicate what the money was for: “gay junk.” In some not-so-small way, it made me feel like a part of the club.

That was my first Pride as an out queer-bisexual-whatever person, and here it is, a whole year later, Pride Month again. I find anniversaries to be useful, and this one has helped me see how much my understanding of myself has deepened over the past year. I mean, I was happy and relieved and proud to come out last June, but it didn’t necessarily feel that good to do. I was scared and uncertain about what, if anything, it might mean to ask people to start thinking about me differently, especially since doing so came with the assumption that they bothered to think of me at all, which is something I’ve never been entirely willing to believe. Talking about my sex life, however obliquely, felt weird too. The whole thing has taken some getting used to, but as I now see, coming out isn’t something you do just once anyway. It’s a process, baby, and I am letting it unfold. 

For instance, at some point last year—even before I “officially” came out—I got brave and changed the bio on my website to add gender and queer stuff to the list of topics I most often write about because, well, it’s true. It’s always been true. There’s a certain power in pointing it out, though. In claiming it. All year long I’ve carried my little backpack purse with a beautiful pride flag pinned near the top, the one I bought at the Art Mart, wondering if people noticed it as I walked away, hoping they did.

It turns out that the people I’ve needed to see me, have. Chosen family is a big deal for queer people, and it always seemed so wonderful to me, the idea of belonging to people that way, not by chance or obligation but by intention. I thought I didn’t deserve to claim this kind of community, to go looking for it, but when I started feeling brave enough to tell my people, one at a time, that I’m queer, actually, I looked around and saw that I already have it. I’ve already chosen the people who matter to me, and for the first time I can see, with a feeling of deep gratitude that does not come easily to me, that they choose me, too. My friends, most of whom are gay and queer, have so easily accepted this thing about me that we’ve hardly needed to talk about it at all. Unless, you know, I wanted to. I can’t tell you what a big deal it not being that big of a deal is. It turns out that “taking up space,” to use one of my therapist’s favorite turns of phrase—to finally accept that however I am right now is honestly just fine—makes me feel a kind of safe that I’ve never felt before. I can feel it in my body right now, that safeness, in my arms and across my chest, a warmth and a sensation of light constriction, almost like being held. 

So yeah. I’ve only been out for a short time, but of course I’ve been queer all this time down deep in my gay little heart, and I’ve always read a lot of queer writing of different kinds. I thought I’d tell you about the most recent gay junk I’ve read since it’s helped me on my path, which I’m happy to say has been long and winding and full of surprises. 

Mylxine #20. Erica Dawn Lyle is a musician and writer who, as the creator of Scam zine, I’ve admired for a long time. Now she’s more famous for playing guitar in Bikini Kill (!), and she’s an out transwoman. Scott, who’s been doing Mylxine since 1995, interviewed Erica at length for issue number 20, and she talked with a ton of insight and sensitivity about her early life and the things that led her to a deeper understanding of her queerness. She also talks about childhood trauma and addiction. I’ve read the interview a few times and I find it so instructive and deep. The idea that stands out to me as being the most useful is something Erica said about questioning being central to the experience of queerness. This opened up for me the possibility that I might never stop feeling uncertain about who I am and what I want, and that this is okay … and might even be something to enjoy.

Bi All Means is a stylish and posi anthology of art and writing by bisexual people that I found on Instagram. Its creator, Julia, runs the Munich Zine Library, a queer feminist zine library out of Germany, and a few of the pieces in this zine are in German. The rest are in English. They all bravely claim an identity that has often been minimized and maligned, and share stories of both triumph and disappointment. I recommend it, especially to people who are newly exploring their sexual identities. 

Pretend I’m Dead and Vacuum in the Dark, by Jen Beagin. These two dark, funny novels both feature the same protagonist, Mona, a cleaning lady with a truckload of a trauma. We’re happy to follow along on her misadventures because she’s smart, unusual, and on her way to becoming a serious artist whether she realizes it or not. She’s also into both guys and girls, which we know because we’re privy to her pervy imagination, and because she addresses it directly, just once, in a conversation with a housecleaning client who she’s joined for a cigarette break: 

“Can I ask you a personal questions?” Lena said.

“Sure,” Mona said.

“Are you straight or gay?” Lena asked. 

Mona blew smoke toward the sky. “Neither. Or both.”

“Ah,” Lena said.

“Why do you ask?”

“A few years ago, my daughter left her fiancé for a woman,” Lena said. “An older woman she met at a coffee shop. They ran away together. I never knew she had it in her to do something like that. She’d always been so boy-crazy.”

“There’s a place between straight and gay,” Mona said, “and it’s a very real place, but most people think it’s an imaginary place. Some fake, slutty island or amusement park.”

Lena smiled. “I don’t think that.”

“Right,” Mona said. “But there’s a stigma. I’ve never liked being labeled bisexual—in fact, I can barely bring myself to say the word.”

“Maybe you should give it your own name,” Lena said.

“Sometimes I tell people I’m part fruit,” Mona said. “I mean, if it comes up. It’s like being part Spanish or whatever.”

There was a silence.

“Which fruit?” Lena asked, and smiled.

“Lime,” Mona said flatly. “I’m part lime.”

“You sound bitter,” Lena said. “Which I love.”

Healing Your Magical Body: Crystal Quartz, by Jo-Jo Sherrow. This one isn’t gay, but it is queer, if you feel me. Author Jo-Jo, a longtime zine buddy of mine, includes in this zine a section on what she calls Wrong Planet Syndrome. She shares that she has often felt lonely and even like she doesn’t belong on this planet, and she lists a few kinds of people who might have experienced the same feeling, including those who are queer in their gender or sexual orientation. It resonated with me deeply. Jo-Jo’s conclusion, after doing lots of spiritual work and self-reflection, is that we all have a place; we belong here, right where we are. We’re all called to a specific purpose. I think I’ll hold onto that idea and try to remember it the next time I need it, which should be any minute now.

Queering Your Craft, by Cassandra Snow. I’ve read a lot of books on witchcraft, but rarely—if ever—have I sat down to read one of them with a highlighter in my hand. This book inspired me to do that. There are just so many ways in which I feel seen by this writer. She refers frequently to healing from different kinds of trauma, and she doesn’t assume she knows how her readers feel about anything (though she’s sensitive enough to make some darn good guesses), and in so doing she makes this book a place I can return to and feel safe. With great warmth and tenderness for her queer audience, Snow affirms that a practice of witchcraft is really a practice of love, for ourselves and each other:

“Proper self-care is also important for your craft and is especially important for queer people, disabled people, trauma survivors, and people of color trying to survive the systems that drove us to the margins in the first place. Pleasure is resistance. Self-care is resistance. Period. It feels like it’s not important, but what you’re doing when you’re taking care of yourself is telling those that do not love or support you that you are fine without them.”

She also acknowledges that many amongst us may have been harmed by religion in the past, which can make connecting to the divine feel very difficult, even for people who hear a call to a spiritual path. She coaxes us along gently: “If you try a prayer to the Earth, a god, your ancestors, the Universe, love, and it doesn’t work, if your inner critic comes out or your trauma screams “wrong,” that’s okay. Step away for a few minutes. You’ll get there. Try easing into it slowly. A quick prayer that is literately just “thank you” when you get unexpected luck or a despairing “please help” when you’re feeling your absolute worst is enough. The intention is clear. The Divine is listening. You’ll grow slowly from there.”