Defining Queer Embraces
As a young child, I was always drawn to language and creating different worlds. As a young child, I also recognized I was somehow "different" from other kids in ways I wasn't able to describe at the time. Now, as a 23 year old queer writer, currently living and working in San Francisco, I'm ready to make sense of my queer identity, what it means to be 'home', and how experimental forms of writing that work across genres can best represent these experiences.
As part of my MFA program though Goddard College, I am required to complete a full-length, publishable manuscript. It is my intention, in focusing on various places I've lived in, and other spaces I feel some attachment to (for reasons not entirely clear), I'll better undertand how concepts like 'home' and 'embrace' matter to understanding queer desires. At the same time, I hope to map out a way of embracing on-going forms of activism and education about LGBTQ experiences. As I say in the introduction to Queer Embraces: I write this text to stand apart from the others. I hope to ask, "What, exactly, does it mean to stand apart from the others? And how can you embrace that?"
I was born in Wisconsin, but sice I've left in 2006, I have lived in Western Massachusetts, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and, finally, San Francisco. In those years, I've traveled to Seattle, Portland, Montreal, and Buenos Aires, trying to figure out what it is about belonging that feels so elusive. Beginning on May 1st of this year, I would travel to Portland and Seattle before presenting a piece of creative writing on anonymity and gay experience at the University of Vancouver, British Columbia. Often, as a queer man, I've encountered an uncomfortable anonymity that continues not to be talked about enough in an age of visibility politics.
I would then return to San Francisco for a few days before heading off to Brazil for a month, working in mostly in Sao Paulo, staying with locals and beginning conversations with experimental writers there, most notably Lucas De Lima, whose myth-inflected chapbook GHOSTLINES was recently translated into English. I would also head to Rio De Jainero for a week, a place with a rich history of underground (and now not so underground) queer life. While the airfare to/from Brazil is paid for, housing and travel between cities is still unpaid.
In mid-June, I would fly out of Sao Paulo to Philadelphia, my home for a better part of 2011. I would head to New York City for roughly a week, which coincides with Pride. Though I typically don't have positive ideas about Pride celebrations, in 2011, shortly after my gay bashing in 2011, I had a chance to ride in the parade. This experience gave me the courage to move forward with my undergraduate thesis. From New York, I would head to Vermont for my college's twice a year residencies that last 1 week each. From Vermont, I would go to Montreal for roughly 10 days, to enter into conversations with friends and fellow queer writers I admire. Something about Montreal still calls out to me.
The final leg of my trip would take me back down to New York, where I would fly to a few places that I've been removed from the longest, and which present the biggest gaps in memory for this Queer Embraces project. I would first travel down to Milwaukee, heading back to my hometown of Kenosha, WI for a week, while making a day-trip to Chicago. From Milwaukee, I would travel to New Orleans, whose landscapes of disaster post-Katrina inspired to look beyond sexual identity as the only lens through which I see the world. Finally, I would fly into Los Angeles, visiting a slew of talented queer writers at CalArts, before returning back to my present home, San Francisco.
This is a whirlwind tour of various queer spaces throughout the Americas. From West Coast to South America to Canada to the Midwest, there will be English, French and Portuguese spoken. But my identity as a young queer man cannot be confined to the bubble that is San Francisco, nor does it reside only in the present day 2013. While I have generous friends opening up their homes in many of these places, these funds will allow travel otherwise impossible, and enable me to most fully realize this project. Because of this support, I will be able to break down boundaries between past histories and present realities that have seemed so problematic for LGBTQ individuals.
Funding Breakdown & Fun Perks
So what, exactly, does 2400 dollars get me? The bulk of this money will go to housing for the month in Brazil, including Sao Paulo and Rio De Jainero, and travel costs outside of the already paid-for flight to/from Brazil. More detailed, the breakdown is:
- Travel for Leg 1 (The Pacific Northwest)- $290.00 (This includes a flight from SFO to Portland, a bus from Portland to Seattle, a train from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, and a flight back from Vancouver to SFO.)
- Housing & Intracity Travel (Brazil)- $1250.00 (This includes housing accommodations through AirBnB, a popular San Francisco based company that allows locals to rent out rooms or whole apartments. Also includes is a rountrip flight between Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro.)
- Travel for Leg 2 (Northeast & Canada)- $210.00 (This includes travel, via bus, from Philadelphia to New York City, train travel from New York City to Vermont, bus travel from Vermont to Montreal, and a return train trip from Montreal to New York City.)
- Travel for Final Leg (Midwest & South)- $650.00 (This includes the airfare from New York City to Milwaukee, from Milwaukee to New Orleans, and from New Orleans back west to Los Angeles.)
Total: $2400.00 (Should this full amount not be reached, the travel for the final leg can be reduced, or the travel can be arranged for the middle leg out of pocket. Whatever the case, covering the expenses during the Brazil leg will be first priority.)
Why This Matters
The best way I've described writing recently is something that is an obsession. The word 'obsession' often has a negative connotation, but for me, the reality is that I am so heavily invested in telling my desires, dreams and expectations for living as a queer person in the world that I cannot stop writing. This project would personally be the culmination of 8 years of coming out, writing about sexuality, struggling with homophobic violence, and finally finding a way of transcending the hauntings of this past. There are still many gaps until I can feel truly comfortable with this mode of expression.
Taken for its outside impact, Queer Embraces is a counter-narrative that challenges assumptions I've seen floating around that 'everything is okay' for LGBTQ people. The reality is far from it. In talking openly, and sometimes uncomfortably, about HIV/AIDS, self-inflicted violence, poverty, homelessness (or displacement), grief over some sort of loss, and the power of embracing desires, I am confident Queer Embraces will be document that does, as Adrienne Rich says in What Is Found There, "re-read and re-recognize (as in 'know again')" the traces of queer past that are being forgotten. Writing and thinking about LGBTQ life is not coming to a place of greater visibility; instead, forms of being queer are gaining traction to the detriment of other forms being erased. I want to ask, very pointedly, "Can we reconcile these two forms of movement?"
While I've never embarked on such an extensive series of travel in such a short period of time, I spent a year writing the beginnings for this project, a 180 page collection of essays, titled Queerstory: Notes on an Architecture for Desire, that used artistic texts to reveal truths about my own contemporary queer experiences through writing. I have also worked independently and remotely since 2009, both in my school work, freelance writing, and paid employment. The movement for this project extends, as I said at the beginning, from a compulsion to document what I perceive is being unspoken. Now, more than ever, I'm ready to register the unspoken on the page.