An Homage to LGBTQ Literature

Sunday Spotlight

I’ve always found a home with books, and it wasn’t until I started reading queer literature that I found a home within myself.

The beginning was with a book called Tibok, a compilation of Filipino-American (even Canadian, I believe) poems, stories, comics and others. I started hunting for gay and lesbian literature then in used bookstore jaunts, because I knew that there were no LGBT lit in the traditional bookstore in my town or even in Manila.

I remember spending hours at book sales while my parents and my sisters shopped for shoes and clothes. Most of the time I wouldn’t find any LGBTQ lit, but I would always walk away with a title that intrigued me.

Two books that brought me significant joy throughout my adolescent years were from used bookstores in Angeles City: The Swashbuckler: A Novel by Lee Lynch and a fiction title about lesbians in rural Montana whose title I’m struggling to remember.

The presence of these books in my life represented a contradiction that many still face today: these books were brought by American soldiers who stayed in the military base nearby. While I was ecstatic with my finds, it also meant that the Philippines was under heavy military subjugation by the United States.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004, I found solace in books. I immediately got library cards to the San Mateo County libraries and in San Francisco. I discovered Jeanette Winterson, Rita Mae Brown and other Naiad Press writers. And then I started working at Borders Books & Music, and each day I discovered more and more titles that I wanted to read. The rest is history.

As a queer Filipino immigrant navigating life in the U.S., I’ve been fortunate enough to come across the work of queer writers who’ve saved, taught, inspired and moved me: Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, Nikky Finney and as of late, Juan Miguel Severo, Ocean Luong, r. erica doyle, Saeed Jones and Danez Smith.

This Pride month, I want to honor the work of queer writers who’ve continued to propel me in ways I’ve never imagined. I want to highlight four specific books from queer writers I’ve featured in the blog, and pay homage to their work:

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This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. I read this anthology at a very critical time — I was going through a breakup and it helped me move on in a different direction. Instead of mulling over my breakup, I was inspired to create more, to write more, to understand myself more in different ways.

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarinsaha and Jai Dulani. Most of the queer people I know are activists and this book is a meaningful resource on how we love and protect each other amidst difficult and challenging work. I also wrote a review of the book and you can read it here.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. This is one of those books that really make me feel lucky to be alive in this time, because I get to be a witness to the majesty and the importance of his work. I must’ve cried numerous times after reading this, and his pieces will stay etched in my consciousness for life.

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964-1980 by Susan Sontag. I first heard about Sontag through Brainpickings and then through Teju Cole. Reading her journals have taught me so much about myself; her thoughts on every single thing from politics, to being a mother, an artist, the way she sees herself are all revelatory.

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Do you have any LGBTQ book or literature which have influenced or inspired you? Do share in the comments below!

 

Heart Work: Within & Beyond Activist Communities

Book Reviews

People are fired up, ready to organize.

I felt the energy of folks in Oakland last Saturday at the Women’s March and it reminded me of the first time I ever attended an action (an anti-war protest at San Francisco’s Civic Center). That was back in 2006, about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been a part of various movements — from Palestinian liberation and BDS groups, anti-war movements and international non-profit organizations until I found my political home in GABRIELA USA, a grassroots, anti-imperialist organization of Filipino women.

While I’ve witnessed many victories and forward motion, I’ve also had my fair share of burn out, of adopting different ways of taking care of myself (some worked, some didn’t), of witnessing destructive and harmful behavior. What I’ve learned is that in spite of committing to radical intentions and revolutionary ideals: we’re all (and still) human.

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Which means we are prone to making mistakes, f***king up, hurting those we love unintentionally, and possibly replicating harmful ways of living, loving and relating. Just because we are community organizers and activists doesn’t mean we are immune to the frailties and vulnerabilities of the human condition. It is in this vein that I started reading The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (Amazon | Indie Bound) edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

The book is a compilation of essays, personal accounts, poems, guides and strategies for confronting abuse, rape and intimate partner violence within activist communities from all over Northern America. Many of the pieces were written by people who founded and/or worked with nonprofit organizations. They wrote about the ways they’ve dealt with violence from a macro-level perspective, to dealing with violence from folks in the same community.

There are three major things that I learned from the book: 1) the rise and implication(s) of the nonprofit model as a means for social change, 2) abuse faced by people who are differently-abled and 3) the mechanics of community accountability practices.

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