The following writing was inspired by a prompt during our magical non-fiction workshop. It began as an “epistolary” and I drew from some other writings written during the workshop. It is a love-letter of sorts, having spent a precious and transformative week amongst other queer writers with whom I have so deeply bonded, an experience I will never forget. At the end, I have included excerpts of some of the comments we shared with one another (in emails) after the retreat.
Here I am amongst a gathering of writers—we queer ones—to commune and collect our thoughts and goals and express our passions which pour onto the page. Sitting in our places in the circle, created by pushing several tables together, close enough for contact yet also firmly situated in our own selves. We continue to occupy the same seat in this room during our mornings writing and sharing together. A bonding ritual of sorts, generated from the first evening we came together. Diana conjured us, summoned us to appear. The first night she reassures us that we are the ones who are supposed to be here. It is fated.
We queer writers, critical thinkers, dreamers, cultural boundary interrupters, in our particular diversities and textures, we are the voices that need to be heard, to contribute to the dialogue, the discussion, the insights that are so desperately needed. We may be the very ones to articulate the moans and sighs and exaltations, to confront and celebrate, discover and disseminate. We are the hope givers, the rhythm and change makers, the seers.
As I enter this third floor, passing through the halls, I am struck by its similarity to other campus floors, especially the spanking new ones, like in Santa Cruz where I was a graduate student and teaching assistant and, briefly, an instructor so many years ago. And the last college I taught at, a private one on Vancouver Island, with its mixture of just-built and original buildings, much like the different eras represented on the Berkeley campus of my undergraduate years. Schools and classrooms have been openings to me, as a student awaiting to be in collaboration with others, as a teacher breaking down the divisions and barriers between my students and myself.
Feelings of familiarity and uncertainty wash over me, as I search for the correct room. My heart races as I acknowledge the trepidation I feel about attending this retreat. Ambivalence and insecurities flood my thoughts as I wonder what I am doing here and why did I even want to attend. I craved the validation of being accepted into this utterly unique gathering of queer “emerging” writers and, at the same time, unsure of what I am going to find.
Where am I from, I am asked. Sort of from here. I return to my birthplace, this city of angels, from where I so desperately needed to escape. After high school, moving northward to attend university in Berkeley—I often credit this as the most significant decision I ever made in my life—entering into the tumultuous and frenzied anti-war movement filled with demonstrations, arrests and radical politics. Then, I journeyed across the continent for a brief detour to the middle of Vermont to attend a wildly progressive and permissive college and my introduction to feminism, sex with boys and marijuana. Then my return to the Berkeley campus (knowing I could re-enter after the departure) into the radical criminology department, which focused on the crimes of racism, sexism and imperialism. While critiquing the (unjust) criminal justice system, I became part of an anti-rape collective, a member of a socialist-feminist women’s union and experienced the beautiful and sometimes painful ramifications of coming out as a lesbian and entering into my first lesbian relationship. After heartbreak and graduation, moving two hours south to enter an interdisciplinary graduate program at U.C. Santa Cruz in the redwoods by the sea. And later, moving northward into Oregon and to the city of roses and rivers in Portland with another lover. After a few years, leaving her and traveling back and forth again, to Santa Cruz and then Oakland and commuting to another graduate program in San Francisco that I completed as I entered into a long-distance relationship (between Oakland and Portland). And, with my master’s degree, returning to Portland to live with my lover-girl life-partner. Then, finally, immigrating together to another country on the island paradise of our dreams in British Columbia.
We are asked during our retreat workshop to write about the main purpose of our writing. “Community” is the word that comes to me—creating community. This is perhaps the most vital aspect of what I am writing about. That without other folks, communing with others in whatever way you are, you’re not doing the work that needs to be done. We’re doing some of it here, amongst one another, our bodies on our chairs in this room, exchanging breaths, exhale, inhale, our fingers tapping on the keys or sliding our pens across the pages. This is so important to me and I would not be able to exist without it, without you and your ancestors and all of those you touch. We are a humongous circle of energies, bringing who we are into connection, communication, community.
And I know that the internet is a resource (I get it), but it doesn’t take the place of THIS. I am a junky for THIS. I feel that we are supposed to be doing THIS. Here and now and where we now live. And it is messy and it hurts, but I also know that I feel accepted here, that my heart feels open, more sometimes than others, but still open. I feel that life is somewhat worth living, yes, definitely worth living, to be able to feel alive in this moment, even as we are all tapping away on our screens or gliding our pens along the pages.
I reflect upon the “queerness” of this, our coming together as queer-identified people that I am convinced is such an immense part of the magic of our being together. This mixture of our genders, sexualities, racial, ethnic, class, generational identities—such a rich and potent cauldron. And this combined with the astute and incisive intelligence, insight, perception and experience that we each bring during our discussions, interactions, critiques. A rare kind of richness and depth of feeling that is so foundational to the hearts, minds and spirits we share within this brief week of being and coming together.
This is the thing—we must feel part of something so that we can feel wholly accepted, which is utterly different from being merely tolerated, and truly accept ourselves. When we share who we really are, our pains and pleasures, the fullness of our experiences and the richness of our coming together, we are being truly alive and we are being activists. I hope that we continue to feel this kind of opening, even if not everyone this room feels this at this exact moment. I am being moved and you are moving me and I am part of this. This is the essence of collectivity, of collaboration, of truly creating community with one another and amongst others.
To have hope in times of despair is the very thing we all need, every single one of us. Queers and peoples of colour and the disenfranchised and the invisible–those of us on the margins, which is actually the majority of us, though we are led to believe differently–we are the ones who are creating the stories and leading the struggles and calling out the contradictions and working to save our planet and our world from homogenization and a really bleak power-over that will destroy our lives and life as we envision it could be.
The lesbian feminist revolutionaries of the seventies inspired me to see the reasons for massive transformational social, political and personal change. Feminists could not have existed without the models of protest and challenge that came before. The civil rights movement for racial and economic equality (because poverty was and is also a major concern) spawned other liberation movements including those for women’s liberation, latino/a rights, native rights, disability rights, welfare rights, prisoner rights and, of course, the gay, lesbian, queer, trans and now LGBTQ+ movements and all the vibrant and inspirational movements for change that followed and flowed throughout the decades since I was born.
We are all doing what we are doing because other brave, courageous and regular folks have resisted, spoken out, gathered with others, protested or just said “no.” They had the resilience to continue to live their lives, show up, take stands and feel that they are part of something larger, more vast than themselves.
I, for one, want always to honour these, our ancestors, our mentors, our activists and know that every day, each moment, we have the opportunity, the possibilities to bring these life-robbing systems down and listen to and learn from those who can show us other ways. Are we listening?
I hear Audre Lorde’s voice, that is as potent and relevant as it was when she voiced it forty years ago, in a talk she gave (in person) at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel”:
“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?…The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of the differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
Today, in my black buddha-covered book, I found words I copied from last December 2016’s Lambda Literary Review by Justine Torres, a past Lambda Literary fellow:
“To my mind, queer literature is about the respect of difference, not the seductive respectability of sameness. To my mind, queerness has always been about identification and solidarity with the objected and the devalued the tossed off. Queernesss has always been attracted to the forbidden.”
What we are doing here, and at our desks and in our offices and at our workplaces and workshops and classes and meetings and demonstrations and protests and homes and beds is vital to sustaining and nurturing queer voices. I pledge to re-member each one of you and the exquisite mixture of just the perfect people to create our magical, meaningful, enriching, inspirational queer non-fiction writing circle. We are witnessing one another and, as queer writers, we are breaking the silence by doing what we are doing.
This is the power of the circle, that we are all here together, open, opening, receiving, witnessing. I hope we can hold this connection within and continue to move it out into our worlds, into other worlds, directly, fervently, passionately. This is our gift, our artistry, our response-ability, our inheritance as the queer writers that we are.
What follows are some messages from our communication with each other after the retreat. (There are thirteen of us.) Put that in your cauldron!
We gave each other so much. And I am grateful.
Back to civilization, and it is NOT even remotely close to the comfort and sophistication of being around you all. So much love—let’s keep it going year round.
I feel like I have a new found confidence and sense of purpose that I would not have without you all. I’m here for you and I know you’re there for me.
I have so much regular life stuff to catch up on and it is all so boring compared to being with our group. I miss you guys. What a strange yet awesome thing to be together all day every day.
Just sending some love out. And just generally missing our 9am to noon magic. xoxox
So much busy & not enough “comfort and sophistication” of you all! I’m also happy to keep sharing work, inspiration and encouragement.
As I sit here and write, I can literally feel you all around me.
I hope you all are doing well. Miss you more than you could ever know.
But now, at least, I have last week, to remind me of what’s possible, that my voice is not like anyone else’s, and that our stories need telling.
THANK YOU SO MUCH. Also, send me your shit! I want to read it and give you feedback.
I still hear your voices and feel your support here. Missing you all very much.
I’ve been reflecting a lot and I am just so thankful for the space that we shared. Community often looks and feels different than I expect it to. Thank you for being brave queer folk.
I am missing EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU! So much love and inspiration from you. With so much love, longing and queerness.
Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. New York: Crossing Press, 1984.
Justin Torres. “Don’t Get Used To It: Queer Literature in a Time of Triumph.” Emerge: 2015 Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology (Volume 1), 2016.