Pride Month Blogathon: Day 10 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Kheryn Callender
I didn’t like myself very much when I was younger. I was the only black student in my private school for a few years, and whenever I left my school, which was deep in the countryside where many white people from the states lived, I was surrounded by locals from St. Thomas who thought I acted too snobby, who thought I spoke with a stateside accent because I didn’t love my island, who thought I acted too “white.” It seemed wherever I went, whichever community I was in, I never really belonged.
It didn’t help that I knew I was different in other ways: I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t know what it was called, but I began to read books about boys falling in love with boys and girls falling in love with girls, and I knew there was something about these stories that spoke to who I was, also. I began to write stories like this too, and my favorite character was one that had an unknown gender, where no one could look at them and decide their identity.
Fast forward a few years: I left St. Thomas to go to a small college in New York where I was, once again, one of the few people of color. But at least in college, I found myself surrounded by people who were openly gay—and proud of it, too. Words I’d only heard of in negative contexts, like “queer”, were being used not only casually and in positive ways, but in classrooms. My language, my identity, my world began to shift as I began to think of possibilities for myself. I told my roommate, “I didn’t even know it was an option for me to be gay.” After all, the stories with gay boys and girls, and even the character I’d written and with a non-binary gender so many years before, were all white.
A memory is seared into my mind: one where a family member debated whether black people from the Caribbean could be gay. “That’s a white thing,” he said. “And if any black person from the Caribbean thinks they’re gay, it’s only because they met a gay white person.”
I’d known he was wrong, but for some reason, I never thought that being a queer person could be my experience. I knew that my assumed identity of girl who falls in love with boys wasn’t right, but every story I’d read, every TV show I’d watched, never had a queer person of color. Every queer person I’d ever seen in books and TV and movies, until college, had always been white.
Sometimes I still struggle with ideas of how I’m “supposed to look, supposed to act”, when I don’t have many role models to validate myself, to see myself in, to feel like I belong. But once I was in college, I made friends who were queer people of color. I watched TV shows like Noah’s Arc and The L Word that featured main queer characters of color. And more and more, I could see that my own feelings, my own identity, connected to the queer characters surrounding me. It was easier to see that my identity connected with the queer community once I could actually see myself—people who looked like me—in that community.
The power of stories and books never escapes my attention. I didn’t like myself when I was younger because I thought I was too different from everyone surrounding me—too different from the white students at my school, too different from the black locals in St. Thomas, too different from the queer people I saw in books and on TV. My loneliness, my isolation, often grew to a point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore, and I considered taking my own life for years. How different would my life had been if I’d had books about young queer kids of color like myself? Would I have realized I’m not so different after all? Would I have felt just a little less alone?
It’s been said before many times, but it bears repeating for anyone who might not yet be convinced: books save lives. They connect readers—and let some know that they’re not as alone as they think. In a world like today, with an administration like the one we must suffer, where violence is celebrated and perceived difference is feared—and where people are taught to react to their fears with violence—books with queer characters, written by queer authors, are more necessary than ever.
Kheryn Callender is non-binary and uses the they/them pronoun. Kheryn was born and raised in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, and has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College as well as an MFA from The New School’s Writing for Children program. Their debut novel, HURRICANE CHILD, is due out from Scholastic in April 2018. Kheryn resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 9 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by L.D. Lewis
It’s 2017 and the world is on fire. Whatever day it is you’re reading this, you probably woke up lost and groaning. Maybe while staring at the ceiling or at nothing in particular in the mirror, you idly pondered what sort of distant, existential crisis would manifest itself in a very real threat to your being today and if/how you would react to it. Survive it. After all, yesterday [wasn’t so bad/was utter trash]. How much should you reasonably be expected to endure?
Disclaimer: I am no good at stringing together words of comfort. Even my silver linings require a somewhat grumpy sense of humor to really enjoy. I despise the nonsense platitudes that have persisted for generations under the guise of being inspirational. Words, after all, mean things. Among them is my least favorite:
That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Unless it doesn’t. If we are fortunate, our trauma leaves us with the tools to overcome greater harm in the future. But I can think of a dozen ways in which what doesn’t kill us may leave us debilitatingly fearful or fractured. The world as it stands today, yesterday, and tomorrow as far as I can tell, is doing its best to break a good many of us with some new struggle everyday. Our thresholds for what it means to “break” are varied and often bolstered by the time we are allowed to heal between the trials and assaults we experience. Sometimes there isn’t enough.
Summer 2016 nearly broke me. I don’t remember my process for recovering mentally from Pulse here in Orlando. My first mass casualty event as a first responder and it was an attack on my queer family. Twenty-four days later, unarmed Black man Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge. On the twenty-fifth day, unarmed Black man Philando Castile was killed by police in Minnesota. And I am Black. The twenty-sixth day was my birthday. I could have taken the day off but I was terrified by the thought of another unarmed Black person dying at the hands of the cops I worked alongside while I was home licking my wounds and unable to intervene.
A few years ago, I picked up Nassir Ghaemi’s A First-Rate Madness, which explores the links between mental illness and successful (read: effective to their own ends, not necessarily moral) leadership through profiles of political figures and the like. I live with Bipolar Disorder, and it intrigued me because although I am a creative, the correlation wasn’t between mental illness and creatives for once. Among the examined figures were Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and others. The premise is a nuanced one, of course, and requires quite a bit of supplemental reading in order to confidently establish a correlation between success and illness one way or another. And who knows how different leaders would have addressed different crises if influenced by different/the absence of diagnoses or dropped into a different place in time, so on and so forth.
The question of who we are more inclined to follow in a crisis — someone who has been through something, who has met with struggle and prevailed, or someone who has never known adversity — is answered by our daily lives. How we handle stress determines our qualifications for jobs; the question finding its way onto employment applications. It determines how equipped we are to be leaders of movements and communities. In my reading, I got to view the illnesses of these leaders as quiet traumas, things that had to be overcome on personal levels in order to make them effective. I drew parallels to my marginalizations — the things I have had to embrace and simultaneously survive — and where I might similarly have more of myself to offer.
Calling up Trump’s, uh, sudden and vexing insertion into the White House, communities of color were less surprised than nonplussed white citizens. We did, however, watch as white liberal friends, colleagues, and neighbors scrambled for some semblance of sense behind what was happening after living lives of relative comfort for, in some cases generations longer than PoC groups. An SNL skit starring Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock even parodied the real-life division in our reactions. The reason? Well, PoC (in this case Black folks) are used to a certain level of disappointment, of struggling beneath oppressive governing and institutional bodies regardless of who is in office. The election was a symptom of a reality we’ve always lived. We could roll right into protest and protection measures from what would undoubtedly be escalated abuses against our communities. We were immediately equipped to answer the pressing questions of what’s next? How do we fight this?
The same is true for the LGBTQIA+ peoples. By virtue of being born into a society unequipped or unwilling to protect and defend your humanity, you (the young) are quietly, naturally operating at a heightened state of awareness. It may not feel like it at any given time, but you have a particular set of skills those with the privilege of not needing to insist on their own survival may come to rely on, though you will need to look to your elders to learn how to use them. It’s people within our intersections and with more marginalizations than we possess who have the most to teach.
I am a queer Black woman of young-auntie age and experience. I am grown and I will still never learn more about my strength, its applications, and its immortal depth than I will learn from older queer Black women and femmes. These are people who have been able to create the joy to keep surviving in a burning world. It is their experiences that make me stronger.
As queer kids you have different struggles, sure. Your battle scars are borne differently and are caused by different experiences than were had by preceding generations. But the surviving elders of every marginalized community have fought more battles, endured more brutality, more abuses, than their descendants can imagine most days. And they’ve developed the thicker skin and mental and emotional faculties to combat the dangers resurfacing today.
The world is not now the best it’s ever been or better than it ever will be. That’s the nature of progress. But do try to remember that it has been on fire before and that we live among quiet legends with oral histories of greater infernos. Here is where I would clumsily invoke Sir Isaac Newton’s “on the shoulders of giants.” But as you may recall, I’m not much a fan of platitudes.
L.D. Lewis is a coffee enthusiast and writes mostly novel-length fantasy with a particular enthusiasm for villains (who also drink coffee). She is an ASL teacher and medic in Florida. Her essays “On Walking My Fault Lines”, “Incidents at the Intersection of Black Mental Health,” and “Things I Learned from Nina Simone” are featured on BlackGirlNerds.com. You can find her novelette CHESIRAH in the inaugural issue of FIYAH. Follow her on Tumblr and Twitter @Ellethevillain.
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 8 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Anna-Marie McLemore
I love fairy tales. I love them so much that even when I don’t mean them to, they find their way into my stories. But my third book, Wild Beauty (October 3), may be the story I’ve written so far that looks, from the outside, most like a fairy tale. It’s a book of secrets, pretty dresses, and magical gardens. It’s the story of a generation of cousins who are both haunted by their family’s legacy and enchanted by their own fierce hearts.
It’s also a book about bi and queer Latina girls. The princesses of this story are young women of color, and they love in ways that are mysterious to their mothers and grandmothers but very clear to them.
When I wrote Wild Beauty, it was with the nervous effort of wondering if I might be doing something wrong. My agent and editor were, as always, supportive of me writing queer girls of color. So why did I keep checking over my shoulder as though I might get caught? It was like I thought someone might take my notebook and pen out of my hand and remind me that Latina girls did not belong in ball gowns and enchanted gardens.
I still worry about that sometimes, as I write fairy tales where queer girls of color are the story’s princesses, and the princes are not quite like the ones I grew up seeing. I don’t know if that will ever go away.
But there were two things that made me ready to let my queer Latina fairy tale out into the world. The first was the people I get to work with and know in the book world; their enthusiasm gave me courage to write the kind of girl I am into spaces I thought I wasn’t allowed. That’s the strength of having supportive and encouraging people around you. They tell you that you are allowed. I wish I didn’t need that sometimes. But I think a lot of us do, maybe more than we ever admit.
The second thing was Wild Beauty’s cover, designed by the brilliant Danielle Mazzella di Bosco. Danielle gave the Nomeolvides girls the kind of full-out fairy tale cover I didn’t think stories about queer Latina girls got. Every time I see her beautiful work on this book, I feel a little more like a girl who might belong in the magic places my stories draw me to.
(A fellow queer girl friend also pointed out that the flower colors that stand out most on the cover match the bi pride flag. I will never unsee that and I don’t want to.)
I was a girl who grew up both loving princess movies and feeling left out of them. Disney princesses did not look like me. Their families did not look like mine. And those princesses did not love like I loved.
This is the thing that has been so hard for me to learn, and that I’ve been so slow to believe: That even in worlds where we don’t yet have places, we are making them.
We are writing our way in.
And this is what I most want to tell those who fear the very idea of girls like me: We don’t want to deny anyone their stories. We don’t want to take your stories. We don’t want to take anything away from you.
We just want a chance to be where you’ve been. We want a place in the enchanted worlds we’ve stood outside watching for so long.
Because that’s the thing about fairy tales. They exist in every tradition because of how they speak to us. They reveal how we are both flawed and miraculous. They make us see each other and ourselves. By making space for all communities and all identities in our fairy tales, we make our real world more inclusive.
Our fairy tales so often declare who is and is not welcome. So often, our stories tell us who we are, and tell us how to look at each other, how to consider each other, how to meet each other in both the world we know and the worlds we imagine.
Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is the author of Morris Award Finalist The Weight of Feathers and Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Wild Beauty will be released on October 3, 2017, and Blanca & Roja is forthcoming in 2018. You can find Anna-Marie at annamariemclemore.com or on Twitter @LaAnnaMarie.
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 7 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters, June is a month of pride and celebration, and the high point of that month is the Pride Day Parade. Pride Day is a spectacular and colorful event. But there is a whole lot more to Pride than rainbow flags and amazing outfits. So what exactly are we celebrating on Pride Day? How did this event come to be? And what does Pride mean to the people who celebrate it?
Last year at ALA, I got to chat with author Robin Stevenson about her new book Pride. Pride is a non-fiction Middle Grade book that explores the history of pride and what pride means today in an accessible, fun, and informative way. It is one of the most inclusive books that I have read, and is an incredible resource. I highly recommend it for your Children’s Section and/or Middle Grade collections!
Vee: I’m here with Robin Stevenson, the author of Pride and Under Threat and I know a bunch of others but I don’t remember what they’re titled. *laughs*
Robin Stevenson: Inferno is one, that had a lesbian main character.
Vee: Okay, I clearly need to read more of your books. I did read Under Threat and that was great.
Robin: Oh I’m glad you liked it!
Vee: I forgot to bring it with me and I’m so upset. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to do this interview!
Robin: Oh no, thank you! I’m so glad to I finally get to meet you after chatting online– Yeah, it’s great to be face-to-face and have this conversation.
Vee: So your new book Pride is for ages 10-14 or so?
Robin: Yeah, 9+.
Vee: It’s a nonfiction book about the history of Pride. And it’s really cool because as far as I know, it’s one of the only books about Pride for that age range. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about why this book was important for you to write, or what gave you the idea?
Robin: I think it was important for me to write in part because I am a parent, and I have a son who’s 12. He was about 10 when I started writing the book and I was very conscious of how little there was out there for Middle Grade. We’re seeing more YA which is great, but very few books with LGBTQ content for Middle Grade and I don’t think that there were any books that we could read together that had any queer content at all other than a few picture books we read when he was small. So I wanted to write it for Middle Grade. There wasn’t really anything out there about Pride at all and I thought it would be interesting to look at a bit of queer history and queer rights and who’s in the LGBTQ community. It actually began because my publisher talked about starting a new non-fiction series about different cultural celebrations– they were talking about doing books on Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Passover– so I had thought maybe we should do one for Pride day. It didn’t end up being part of that series since it’s a bit different, but that was where the idea initially began. It’s interesting because in the process of writing it and all the people I met in the process of writing it and… it’s been only two months since the book came out, but visiting schools and libraries and talking to teens and kids about it, I think it’s more important than I realized when I began writing it. Which has been a really great experience, and it’s been really significant for me. It’s really changed my relationship to Pride in ways that I didn’t anticipate.
Vee: Oh that’s awesome. Your publisher seems really cool by the way.
Robin: They are, I have the best publisher. I am so lucky.
Vee: They were some of the best people who I met here at ALA.
Robin: Yeah, they are just the best group of people. So supportive of Pride and they really get that this book is important and why it’s so important. I really couldn’t have a more supportive publisher.
Vee: That’s awesome. So what was the research process like? There’s so much information out there, so how did you decide what to include, what not to include and all that?
Robin: Well it was really interesting because this was my first Non-Fiction book too, right? It was my 20th book, but the others are all novels, so I usually get to make stuff up! So this was like, okay, I actually had to do research for this book. And I mean you do a little for novels but not in the same way. So initially it was a lot reading, watching documentaries, talking to as many people as I could about what pride means to them.
Trying to decide what to include and what to leave out was really hard because it was important to me that the book would talk about the history of pride in a way that was really inclusive, so I wanted to include as many different voices and experiences as I could. So much queer history has glossed over the contributions of trans people, people of color. We often get a very white gay male version of queer history and I didn’t want to repeat that.
Because it’s a kids book, I wanted as much as possible to include as much voices of kids talking about what Pride meant to them so at the end there’s a number of profiles of kids and teens and then shorter notes from both kids and teens so both kids who identify as queer themselves and kids with queer parents and so on, just to include those experiences and keep the book accessible to kids. There’s a lot of complex ideas when talking about LGBTQ identity and I didn’t want to gloss over the complexities, but I also wanted to make sure that a 9 or 10 year old could understand it.
Vee: Right, so it doesn’t turn into heavy queer theory.
Robin: Exactly. So there were a few pieces that initially I wrote and had to be like, okay, so this isn’t a university text, this is for kids. I had to keep it simple and accessible without glossing over or oversimplifying. I didn’t want people to read it and feel like their identity got totally oversimplified right? So trying to find that balance as well. So I think those were the pieces that I struggled with.
Vee: I so appreciate the focus on inclusion, because like, maybe I’m just reading the wrong books, but all the books on Stonewall and history of Pride I’ve read totally erase trans and bi people and people of color and it’s just, like, why? Like what are you? What? So even just flipping through your book was incredible. I mean, there’s one book about Stonewall that uses the word bisexual like once and the word transgender three times and… I can probably find those words on every other page in your book.
Robin: That’s good!
Vee: Yeah, so that was really awesome.
Robin: People were very generous with sharing information and sharing photographs and sharing their experiences so the research was a really enjoyable process, I got to talk to a lot of wonderful people.
Vee: That’s so cool. So, you were talking about school and library visits– could you talk more about those?
Robin: Yeah. I spent a couple of weeks in Ontario and in Quebec visiting schools and libraries and talking to groups of kids and teens about Pride and about the book which was wonderful and which made me realize the importance of the book. Like in one school where there was total silence when I began speaking, people sort of seemed really uncomfortable. One teacher said “we’ve never actually talked about this before” and I said “wow, that’s amazing” and I looked and there was this one girl at the back of the room who was giving me two thumbs up and she had tears pouring down the side of her face-
Robin: I almost started crying and I just realized that this is still something– I live in a bubble. I live in a bubble with people who talk about this stuff all the time, right? And that’s not the norm for every kid. For many. And that just made me realize how important this is. And this has made me realize how much resistance there is still. I had a visit booked at a library where there was a couple of grade 5-6 classes that were booked to come talk about Pride and at last minute, the principal vetoed the school visit so I showed up to an empty library. And I have never had that happen, in ten years of doing presentations. So I really think there’s something that needs to shift there. A lot of parents do support LGBTQ inclusion, we do want this stuff talked about in our kid’s classrooms but they’re not exactly vocal about it. And I would just love to see it shift to a point where teachers and schools are worried that parents will complain if they don’t cover this stuff. Right?
So I was at a conference recently. It was an LGBTQ youth pride organized conference called “Love is Love”, organized by some teens at a high school GSA, and it was fabulous. They put on a full-day event and it was great. And one student put up her hand– I had just done a talk on history of Stonewall and Pride– and she put up her hand and said “I didn’t know any of this but why did I have to come here to learn this? Why isn’t this taught in our schools?” And it should be. It really should be, but I think there’s a huge shift that needs to happen where it’s the norm to include this. And not something where teachers feel they need to send home permission slips or that they have to worry that they will have parents complain. So I’d like to see all the parents who support it tell every single one of their kid’s teachers that they want to see this stuff included.
Vee: That is an excellent perspective. Yes yes yes.
Robin: So let’s make that happen!
Vee: Could you talk a bit more about, not the book you were talking about Under Cover, but-
Robin: Inferno is an older novel of mine, it came out in 2009. It was on the Rainbow List in 2010, so yeah, it has a queer protagonist. Gosh, I haven’t talked about that one in a long time. So what was that book about? What was my spiel for it? haha.. it was interesting because when I was writing it, which wasn’t that long ago, there wasn’t as much LGBTQ stuff published
Vee: When was that?
Robin: I was starting to write it around 2007. And I remember my partner saying– she asked about the book, and I said oh it’s a queer main character and blah blah blah– and she said “do you wanna get published?” So her sense at the time was that it would be a real barrier, you know? And I think even in the past few years since it’s been published that we’re seeing more. I don’t know if people would still really be asking that question. In such a short time… But yeah it’s about a girl who’s under a lot of pressure from her mom to conform to a certain image of femininity which doesn’t fit who she is, and she’s had a relationship with a girl at school who everyone knows is her best friend, they weren’t out about it, and her friend didn’t want to be out about it, so her friend’s moved away and they’ve broken up so she’s really grieving the loss of that relationship but isn’t able to talk to anyone about it
Robin: Since she wasn’t able to tell anyone, and she’s just changed her name from Emily to Dante, a reference to Dante’s Inferno since her school is the ninth circle of hell in her mind, and she’s gone back back to school and then she meets this girl who’s hanging around outside the school who’s handing out flyers that say “school or jail, can you see the difference?” and is protesting the idea of compulsory education and is sort of at the heart of this activist group and her name is Parker. And Dante is really drawn to her so she starts talking to her, and hanging out with her and her group of friends. So that’s the starting point for that.
Vee: I don’t think that’s on my TBR list, so I’m definitely going to fix that. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Robin: Oh gosh, I have questions for you! But I know you’re supposed to be interviewing me so I’m kinda just holding on to my questions. Uhm, no, it’s just really good to meet you. I’ve enjoyed your tweets and your blogging, I can’t believe how much you’ve got done in the last while. It’s a full-time job that you’re doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot… I mean, I know I find it enormously helpful so I’m sure there’s a lot of people who you’ve never heard from, that it reaches more people than you know. I was in Quebec and a librarian was asking me about my recommendations for LGBTQ books and I was like this is who you need to follow. It’s a great resource you’ve created.
Vee: Ah that means so much! Thank you for this interview and thank you for that.
Robin: No thank you! And thank you for taking the time for this interview.
by Danny Lore
There are a lot of things in this world that our conservative nightmare of a government will try and take from you. That’s undeniable, even though we’re going to fight our asses off to make sure it doesn’t happen. They want to limit our access to healthcare, our ability to support ourselves, to educate ourselves— all while trying to convince us we don’t count as human. I’d be lying if I wasn’t upfront about that. Hell, that’s why you’re reading this in the first place, to figure out a way to slog through this GOP horrorshow.
They’re going to try and take it all, but don’t let them take your writing from you. This is yours, our stories are ours, and in this battle to keep from breaking down, your writing can be both your greatest offense and defense. I’m speaking from experience here, not just from the election, but from all the Bad Shit of the past year.
You might have noticed that I said the “past year,” and that wasn’t a mistake or a case of rounding up too much. My battle started in April, when my father died. I’m not going to go into details, because I’m not here to make you feel worse. What I will say is that it happened with the shocking speed and unexpectedness of Trump winning the presidency, and the gut punches bruise the same. I got to the point where I asked myself why bother? Why bother, how should we bother, when we’re scared that, with a cartoon villain grin, a quick signature, and a clammy handshake, our current government will declare us all not-human?
But I still wrote. I’m still writing. This is where I gained my coping tools, and so I’m going to talk to you the way I talked to myself, and hopefully it’ll help motivate you for the bumpy road ahead.
Don’t let someone take this from you. I mean it. When I realized that my dad wasn’t going to see my name on the cover of a book, I wanted to give up, much like when I saw the results of the election. Or the weeks afterwards, with every nauseating decision this government has made. The thing that kept me from giving up was the moment that I got pissed. When Trump was elected, I saw it as a clock: if I don’t push myself, who knows what’ll happen a month from now, a year from now. Just like I couldn’t let myself fade when my father passed (because dead or alive, he’d find some way to give me hell if I gave up), I didn’t want to let the world of the GOP leave me nameless. I couldn’t let them erase me. Definitely couldn’t hand them my unrealized legacy on a silver platter— they’ve got enough of those. And so I had to take control, get up, and make it to my computer.
That’s where you have control. That’s where you can scream, cry. That computer screen, that blank sheet of paper- that’s where you force the world to move forward, even when it’s threatening to (very literally) threaten your life and put up every wall possible. If you stop, the wall will always be there, but if you take your sledgehammer to it…?
And a sledgehammer is exactly what our stories and voices are. Every story or idea you commit to is another bit of force, of pressure, to push back conservative bullshit. Getting your story out is a weapon. It’s a weapon you can yield when protest crowds are too much, or when you get off the phone from calling your representatives, or when you have to sign off the internet because it’s all too damn much.
It’s a shield and armor as well. Use your voice to build that world that you deserve, even if it comes to you in the trappings of space travel, mermaids, and street magic. Use your stories to protect you from yourself— to get that rage and frustration out from under your skin and put it somewhere you can manage. Give it to a character, give it to a plot, to a magic system, to a romance. And when you’re done with that, give those characters, plots, magic systems and romances to someone else. Because your stories, by their mere existence, shield and armor others for their battles.
Which is where my second piece of advice comes in. In this battle, because for me I saw it— still see it— as a battle against the world, played out in prose, the other thing that saved me was seeking community. I don’t mean ‘being in’ a community, but actively seeking one (multiple) out and making a home for myself there. Because there will be days when you deserve an award for opening your eyes in the morning, let alone getting words on the page. There will be days when the news you just read on twitter is so earth-shattering that the only thing that makes it out of you is salt tears and shaking. I’ve had those days. I had one of those days a week ago. I’ll have another one of those days in the future.
The thing that dragged me out was finding ways to not be alone. That’s what this government wants. It wants us in small pockets, too small to matter, easy flames to snuff out. We’re not though. You’re not. A good community— could be physical, could be digital, could be a combination— will hold your hand on those days when you can’t write. It will tell you that those days are okay- but also push you to use your weapon and shield again.
It doesn’t have to be a major thing. I’ve been fortunate to find writers’ groups and mentors, but there was a period of time where it was just me, on social media, going ‘okay i’m going to get out 1000 words today,’ and all I got was a single like. Or maybe no likes. But doing that every day it made all the difference.
Communities help focus our anger. They work through both our stories and our emotions. And you might not realize it yet, and it might seem impossible, but that community is out there for you right now. It’s the other people reading this blog. it’s the person you follow on twitter or tumblr who was just complaining they were short their word count or totally demolished it, or complaining about desperately needing to edit. When you reach out, or they do, when you realize you’re no longer alone, it makes each word a little bit easier, because you’re not the only one writing anymore. Your words are part of a bigger work.
Our community is the bigger work, and it is a work so worthy, and so great, that those in power have declared war against it. Every word you type is a battle that you’ve already won. Soldier on, and remember that you aren’t alone on the battlefield.
Danny Lore is a queer writer raised in Harlem and based out of the Bronx. They’ve got an upcoming story in FIYAH magazine, and expect more soon. They live with their partner and the world’s best black cat. Follow them @weredawgz on twitter.