Coming into your voice and learning how to use it is a process. I began finding my literary voice at a time when there weren’t many platforms for sharing stories, especially those speaking from marginalized spaces.
I began writing memoirs to tell the world who I was. It was 1993, and there was precious little literature reflecting back at me the most crucial facets of my identity. That I was queer, for starters, that I’d grown up in a rough and low-income place, unprotected. Yet even though there was precious little literature I identified with, what I found was indeed precious.
The works of Sarah Schulman, Eileen Myles, and Dorothy Allison were everything to me—and they weren’t enough. I wanted to throw my story in among them, to widen the pool, and to be part of the conversation. And I wanted, most urgently, to find my people.
I discovered works depicting lives struggling to get by and smart girls fighting their way out of poverty despite the constant sting of microaggressions. I read about experiences of striving for the love of cool girls and literary greatness. I encountered snapshots of low-income, queer, and immigrant urban neighborhoods that felt an awful lot like San Francisco’s Mission District, where I’d unwittingly landed in during my early 20s. The works of Sarah Schulman, Eileen Myles, and Dorothy Allison were everything to me—and they weren’t enough. I wanted to throw my story in among them, to widen the pool, and to be part of the conversation. And I wanted, most urgently, to find my people.
Zines were my lifeline. With my first tiny publication, produced for free by a high school friend who had access to an office copier, I set my writing loose for the first time. It was reviewed in a punk publication that was a clearinghouse of zine info. My post office box was soon stuffed with zine trades from other queer zinesters. I was starting to find my people.
Next, I discovered the spoken word scene in San Francisco, which in 1993 was having a heyday. You could wander into any bar or coffee shop and hop on an open mic. The host would call your name, and you would summon your courage—often fortified with whatever beverages were being sold—and read your poem, your manifesto, your vignette, into the microphone. My work magnetized the people I needed toward me, as their work drew me to them.
There were Ali Liebegott’s epic poems of violence and wage slavery; Marci Blackman’s coolly delivered pieces about racism and relationships; Beth Lisick’s witty, manic slices of life; Justin Chin’s darkly funny take on living with HIV. Together we grew as writers and as people, traveling the US on poetry tours or leaving it for writing retreats. We read from each others’ works at book parties when we began to get actual book deals—small press, no money, but you could find us in bookstores. We’d successfully inserted our stories into the culture, our works becoming touchstones for quirky outsiders, just as the books we adored had guided us.
The promise of the internet has delivered in a significant way. There are so many platforms for people to amplify their voices, especially for queer folx and people of color, for disabled folx and economically disadvantaged folx, and everyone speaking from the margins. And the culture is more vibrant because of this. People used to grumble about the internet killing zines; today, we complain about how our devices seduce us away from our piles of unread books.
But since this year’s COVID-19-driven social distancing commenced, the internet’s facilitation of sharing our stories, whether in blogs, virtual readings, or an articulate Facebook rant (they do exist), has been powerful. Since the pandemic, I’ve sat on an online memoir panel, visited a virtual memoir class, and participated in an online roundtable with respected writers. My daily Instagram scroll regularly features a beloved poet reading her favorite poems, or a former writing student sharing theirs. Lists of book recommendations were an early sheltering-in-place trend. Now, as the country crescendos in a desperately needed call for justice for the lives of Black Americans, bookshops report an uptick in stories about the Black experience. The internet has given us a place to speak to our people. It also provides us with a destination for listening, something that is of the utmost importance for White people right now, as we seek to become better allies to the Black community.
This year’s Pride events were already canceled when our streets burst with Black Lives Matter protestors. This spirit of No more reminds many queers of Pride’s radical roots, when in 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, led by queer and trans people of color, fought back against police brutality, changing our world forever. This Pride Month, I’m sending my support to my queer, Black family, reading their stories in books and online, as we all strive together for a real reckoning with racism and its impact on the people of this country. We can remember the pivotal event of Stonewall and take energy from that moment in our intersectional history, as well as from the anti-racist movement we are growing in 2020. We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. Happy Pride, and stay safe and strong this summer, everyone!
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