“We’re looking for stories about queer joy. Joyous queers. Happy queer stories. No homophobia/transphobia. Happy endings.”
“We want authentic queer narratives.”
When my mother explained to me what being gay was, she bent and whispered it in my ear, so no one else in the house would hear her say it. I was eight. I remember thinking that doesn’t sound so bad but everyone–my classmates, my church, my family–was convinced. My father caught me reading a story someone wrote about their lesbian characters in the Sims 2 and installed a parental controls module on the computer.
Two years later, I had a crush on the captain of the girls’ soccer team, and I was horrified with myself. I vowed to never tell anyone, to keep it a secret from everyone I knew until my dying day. I was eleven and I thought I would be tortured in hell for all eternity because I liked how shiny another girl’s hair looked in her ponytail.
I spent my childhood in a state of terror that still haunts me. Not to sound dramatic–most queer people do. You grow up. You do the work of putting yourself back together.
And then you tell your story.
One of my most profound moments of queer joy: I’m a few weeks from graduating college. Me and a group of trans friends I’ll be parting from set up a kiddie pool on the dorm lawn at 3AM. We float in the water and sing hymns from the churches that rejected us. The next day, we’ll go back to the hometowns we’re not safe in and build ourselves some lives from toothpicks. It’s the Last Supper and a baptism all in one. God is in the water.
Queer joy. We want queer joy. I hear it over and over in publishing circles. We want queer joy. But I have never experienced any kind of ‘queer joy’ that hasn’t been touched–or given meaning–by the circumstances that marginalize queer folk to begin with. A bawdy joke in a bowling alley. The celebration when a friend leaves an unsafe household. The invisible language of touch in a gay bar saying things you cannot safely share out loud.
There is joy and then there is queer joy. To me, queer joy is rooted in overcoming oppression, in dodging a gender norm, in seeking love and community against the odds. Queer joy is not permitted. It’s something illegal, taboo, something that must be stolen. I can write a queer person experiencing joy at finding a nice pair of shoes on sale. But to explore why that joy is queer, I need to hold in my head the laws and customs that deny us the right to self-expression, the consequences and complications and the intersections that go into something as simple as planning an outfit for a night on the town. Other authors may not, but I do.
When I turn to queer literature, I look for stories about navigating the complexities of queerness–how you can belong in one moment and be banished in the next, how you can be hyper-visible and invisible all at once. I look for queer depression, queer anxiety, queer trauma–for queer characters who bear the scars of living in an unfriendly society and yet move forward. Other people want to read about people without trauma falling in love and expressing their gender how they please in magical worlds without homophobia and this is their right. But unless we invent a time machine and I can drag Baby Me to a kinder, safer era (whenever that may be)–queer joy with no homophobia is as alien to my authentic lived personal queer experience as life on the moon. And to build a literary canon that represents queer life, we need to keep the doors open for stories about pain.