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!

 

Sunday Spotlight: 5 Queer Poets of Color You Need to Know

Poetry, Sunday Spotlight

There’s nothing like queer poets of color who can speak truth to power, paint the most intimate landscapes, reach the most vulnerable parts of us and simultaneously make us swoon / ache. The recent deaths of 49 queer Latinx and Black familia in Orlando cannot impair resilience — it will continue to light up the deepest tunnels where hatred and violence live, the way poetry illuminates and gives life to things we are often afraid to say.

In the face of racism, homophobia and xenophobia, here are five queer poets of color you need to know:

Denice Frohman is an award-winning poet and educator, whose work explores the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and the “in-betweeness” that exists in us all. She is the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, 2014 CantoMundo Fellow, 2013 Hispanic Choice Award, and 2012 Leeway Transformation Award recipient. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post and the forthcoming book, Jotas: An Anthology of Queer Latina Voices.

Saeed Jones received his MFA from Rutgers University – Newark and is a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in publications like Hayden’s Ferry Review, StorySouth, Jubilat & The Collagist. He is a regular contributor to Ebony.com & Lambda Literary. His chapbook When the Only Light is Fire is available from Sibling Rivalry Press. He’s received fellowships from Queer / Arts / Mentorship as well as Cave Canem.

Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Arts Movements. She began reading and writing poetry as a teenager growing up in the spectacle and human theatre of the deep South. At Talladega College she began to autodidactically explore the great intersections between art, history, politics, and culture. These same arenas of exploration are ongoing today in her writing, teaching and spirited belief in one-on-one activism. She is the author of four books of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, RICE, The World Is Round, and Head Off & Split, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011.

Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, Ocean has received honors and awards from Poets House, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and a Pushcart Prize. His poetry and fiction have been featured in Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets.

Danez Smith is the recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from Poetry Magazine & The Poetry Foundation. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the McKnight Foundation, Cave Canem, VONA, & elsewhere. Danez is the author of [insert] Boy (YesYes Books, 2014) & the chapbook hands on ya knees (Penmanship books, 2013). Danez is the winner of the 2014 Reading Series Contest sponsored by The Paris-American & was featured in The Academy of American Poets’ Emerging Poets Series by Patricia Smith.

This Pride season — in memory of the 49 queer Latinx and Black lives lost, in memory of the lost lives of Black transwomen, in memory of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson — we vow to fight against cultures of violence and systems of oppression. May their souls keep on dancing, may they rest in power.

Happy Pride!

#GetLit: Standing Strong with Orlando

#GetLit

We didn’t take no shot from nobody. We had nothing to lose. You all had rights. We had nothing to lose. I’ll be the first one to step on any organization, on any politician’s toes if I have to, to get the rights for my community. -Sylvia Rivera

The last time I celebrated Pride was back in 2010. Since then, I’ve associated Pride with Backstreet Boys (who performed at Civic Center that day) and rainbow tutus (wearing one isn’t really gay solidarity, if you ask me).

I’ve also come to detest the co-opting of Pride celebration — where companies could instantly attach a rainbow flag to whatever they deem appropriate while failing to address institutional discrimination, class and gender oppression within its structures.

But waking up last Sunday with news of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club made me rethink of Pride celebrations in a different way, with a heavy heart. Clubs were safe havens when I was in my early 20s, where I knew I could be myself in the dark, against bodies pulsating to the rhythm of music, dancing to the beat of my own queer heart.

The politics of dancing is the politics of feeling good; the politics of dancing is also the politics of willing yourself to feel good. Pop is replete with miniature psychodramas in which memory and desire, subject and object, play out on the dance floor. (Only When I’m Dancing Can I Feel This Free)

The last thing anyone would think of happening after going to a gay club was to be killed. The deaths of 49 gay Latinx and Black folks and the wounding of many others pierces through the soul, a testament to the vulnerability of gay people wherever they are.

While the shooter’s intentions are sliced and diced by the media, while the public is bombarded with Islamophobic messages, it is worth noting that LGBTQ lives suffer under continuous oppressive conditions in immigration, job discrimination, state violence and police brutality, homophobia and transphobia. Rampant racism and xenophobia occur everyday.

Contrary to what the media and mainstream LGBT organizations and publications are depicting: the victims and survivors are Black, Latinx, AfroLatinx, Trans, Gender Non Conforming, undocumented, and working class.

These identities matter.

They matter because of the US occupation and militarization of Puerto Rico and Latin/South America due to US sanctioned economic violence. They matter because our communities have to make separate Latinx nights at clubs due to racism even within the LGBT community. They matter because Black and Latinx club sanctuaries and safe spaces (like Starlight in Brooklyn, Club Escuelita in Manhattan) are routinely shut down due to rampant gentrification and increased policing of our neighborhoods. (Do Not Militarize Our Mourning, Audre Lorde Project)

The lives lost last Sunday brings into focus who we’re fighting for — and the things we must do to prevent the kinds of violence we do not deserve. Audre Lorde once said that we were not meant to survive. We must do everything we can to find the will to fight for our communities, for our friends, for our (chosen) families, for ourselves.

We call on our communities and allies to join us in these conversations and build solidarity together to ensure not one more of us have to live in fear – for the victims and survivors of the Orlando Shooting and the countless others who remain nameless and unaccounted for. (GABRIELA USA Mourns the Massacre in Orlando and Pledges Solidarity for Victims of LGBTQGNC Hate Violence)

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All The Dead Boys Look Like Me
For Orlando
(Loma)

Last time, I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez
A 17 year old brown queer, who was sleeping in their car
Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I died in Orlando. And
I remember reading, Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed
I was studying at NYU, where he was teaching, where he wrote shit
That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible. But he didn’t
Survive and now, on the dancefloor, in the restroom, on the news, in my chest
There are another fifty bodies, that look like mine, and are
Dead. And I have been marching for Black Lives and talking about the police brutality
Against Native communities too, for years now, but this morning
I feel it, I really feel it again. How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native
Today, Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves
When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? Once, I asked my nephew where he wanted
To go to College. What career he would like, as if
The whole world was his for the choosing. Once, he answered me without fearing
Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father. The hands of my lover
Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made the angels from my lips, Ave Maria
Full of Grace. He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral, in NYC
Before, we opened the news and read. And read about people who think two brown queers
Cannot build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss
A funeral plot opens. In the bedroom, I accept his kiss, and I lose my reflection.
I am tired of writing this poem, but I want to say one last word about
Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life
He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear.
And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.

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To honor our dead, and fight like hell for the living, we need a new vision for safety that prioritizes human rights and does not facilitate deadly violence. We need a world that realizes that the word “terrorist” is not synonymous with Muslim, any more than “criminal” is synonymous with Black. The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism.  These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.

Until these systems are defeated, until anti-Blackness no longer fuels anti-Muslim and anti-queer and trans bigotry, exploitation, and exclusion — we can never be truly free. (In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black — We Will Be Free, Black Lives Matter)