Posts in Creative Writing
All Gays Go to Heaven
 

By tanea lunsford lynx

uncle-rodney-1

We passed each other under the veil.

In heaven, he’s doing backspins and practicing footwork to a house remix of Minnie Ripperton’s “Inside My Love” while smoking a joint intermittently. My uncle Rodney died of AIDS-related illness exactly four months before I was born. The truth is that he’s also everywhere.

He was his father’s favorite son.

Growing up, I didn’t know much about him except that he died early. As I got older, more truth began to be casually fed to me. Information is a rite of passage in my family. When I went to college, I was given more access, to conversations that I’d never entered. Every sentence about my uncle Rodney seemed to start in the middle.

He danced at the discos in North Beach until morning. Ultimately he moved back into his parent’s house with his boyfriend before getting sick.

Uncle Rodney 2.jpg

In his twenties, my uncle Rodney married a woman, a friend of his mother’s, who offered to pay for the marriage to help her citizenship. He had already been out as gay to many of his family and friends but walked a cognitive dissonance line with his parents. To retain his title as favorite son, Rodney obliged his parents and legally married a woman. It was clear the two weren’t a couple, but Rodney’s parents tried to re-write his legacy after his death.

He was a geometry whiz and an intellectual. A trickster who replaced his father’s diet coke with real coke when he was angry with him. He was a nerd who threw tantrums when he got a 3.9 gpa. He grew weed in the windowsill of our family house in San Francisco’s Lakeview, telling his mother (an Afro-filipina who migrated from Subic Bay to San Francisco after the japanese occupation of the island) that it was an “experiment for school”.

I came out to my family after college. I didn’t know how my family would respond about my queerness when I moved back home. Homophobic language was a norm for certain households in my family. Meanwhile, at five years old, I began noticing my delight and confusion, desiring other girls. Girl-queerness was an oddity not discussed outside of Halloween and Pride events in the Castro. I looked forward to attending, closeted.

I came out like this: one day I called my mother shaking, asking for her advice. I began by saying I had a date (a lie.) and needed help choosing an outfit (another lie. Like my uncle Rodney, I’ve always been fabulous with an outfit). I went on to mention that my date was a woman. I said I needed more advice. “About what? What’s the issue?” my stomach turned thinking that maybe she hadn’t heard me correctly. “Well, I’m afraid about what grandma will say about me dating a girl.” (not a complete lie.) It was my way of steering my mother toward the reaction and affirmation I needed from her. I knew that naming my abandonment or rejection would provoke fierce support. I was in tears before we got off the phone.

“Don’t let nobody tell you how to live your life. You make yourself happy. That’s the most important. You are phenomenal and you deserve to be happy.” I cried for a long time after hanging up. I’ve been building a home for myself in my own little queer heaven, ever since.

He had a smart mouth and a quick wit and a huge heart.

When I learned about ancestral worship and healing, I was offered a place to sit finally through the practice of ceremony, altar building, and prayer, after running forever. Before learning about the practice, I’d always felt guided and protected but I didn’t have the understanding to extract meaning from situations that often left me feeling lucky/cursed, sensitive/psychic, and crazy/weird.

Uncle Rodney 3.jpg

If he were still here, he’d be fighting for his rights.

After my practice developed, I was called by spirit to visit my uncle’s grave. He is buried beside his mother (my great-grandmother), his father, and his sister in a family plot near Half Moon Bay. I read the simple headstone marker for uncle Rodney, “Beloved Husband”. I began to fume. I couldn’t unwind the screws smoothed deep into the placard. I sat for a long time at his grave, trying to fathom why his parents chose this marker for him. I was furious at the erasure of my uncle as a gay man. Were they ashamed of his queerness? Fearful of his fate as a gay man? Afraid he would go to hell because he was gay?

Didn’t they know that all gays go to heaven?

I’m working to create a place where we belong. Even if just in this body at this moment. Heaven. I hope Rodney has glimpses of his own, wearing a handkerchief in his back pocket, finally leaning into the natural sway of his hips, sliding vaseline across his lips, skipping down the back stairs two at a time to get to a party after everyone went to bed, wrapping his arms around the necks of lovers. He feels it as I do now, draping my legs on the side of a wide-backed chair, dancing in shorts and long socks to Chaka Khan in my living room, going outside in my suit and tie or my too-short dress and forgetting my knife at home.

It’s all heaven. Each act of pleasure, madness, throat-exposed joy allows me to see my uncle Rodney more clearly in heaven, among all the other gays where he belongs: Where none of us has to wait in the bathroom line. Where the morning music greets us and our afros are even on all sides. And someone speaks in our register above the oblivious heads of the normative, offering us a corner mouth smile, a corner seat on the couch, their heavy head on our shoulder in a sigh accented with love. Where the warm wind dries the sweat on our necks and the day unfolding feels like infinite possibility instead of labor, again. Heaven is a second chance at living in joy. It’s in the ethers. In the blood we share.

Joy is our job. We do it and carry it for all of those who came before us, who couldn’t in their lifetime. We made a pact when we crossed under the veil.


NOTE

*I’ve used ‘gays’ here because my uncle Rodney identified as gay among his close friends, chosen family, and loved ones when he was alive. He lived much of his life closeted and being able to be out and gay among trusted people and community was really special to him. During his lifetime identities such as ‘queer’ were still in the process of being reclaimed. I’m not sure how he would identify himself if he were alive today, but it brings me much joy to think about it.

tanea lunsford lynx

tanea lunsford lynx

Tanea Lunsford Lynx is a writer, abolitionist, and fourth generation Black San Franciscan on both sides. Tanea is a proud alum of Voices of Our Nation (VONA) and the Lambda Literary Retreat. In 2018 she co-curated 'Still Here VI: Existence as Resistance', a performance featuring queer Black San Franciscans as a part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Tanea has been awarded residency at Mesa Refuge, the Rising Voices Fellowship at Vermont Studio Center, Ox-Bow, the Erica Landis Scholarship at Squaw Valley Community of Writers, RADAR's Show Us Your Spines in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library and the Grace Paley Fellowship at Under the Volcano. Her work is published in Foglifter, the Lambda Literary Anthology, Nat. Brut, Argot Magazine and in "Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Black Voices on Activism, Resistance, and Love". She has more than 10 years of experience as a performing artist, curator, activist and educator in San Francisco.

 
and i tell them how, when watered by blood, flowers will grow facing two things: the moon & a soft rebellion

By Quinn Edlin

you see yourself against her eyes, glazed and sleepless
the first mirror you’ve looked in
since the sun fell from your sky & the ground turned parched beneath
the contorted souls of your feet

it is ninety seven degrees outside,
she wipes sweat balloons clean from off your upper lip

kisses the pad of her thumb like your perspiration
resting between the prints of her finger
read the lines
to
her new favorite poem, or
the lyrics to a gospel song.

and you have never been reaped from the land of your own making
unearthed & carried home like this

how does she consider you something worth praying to?

she tells you that you are what sings beneath
unruffled soil
& what nestles in the arms of a bright moon

that
there is something to be said for a
body torn by its
own war
stitching itself back together with barbed wire

for hair
finally growing between brows
again
like bean sprouts among pummeled land

that
what you call
a lonely desert of too much quiet
carried by rageful wind

can sing
& you were a pool of melted, melted, melted
for ages

until you let


lightning grapple with your pupils
and win; thunder hiss in your ear, a hiss drenched in syrup
asks if you remember what it shook into you
everything true and
earlier, mighty hard to hold onto; said:

your tongue is a veined clay pathway at midnight,
watch as stars and dead hummingbirds
dance upon your tired
teeth

turn your waistline a bent tree branch
& sink into
yourself
frightening and earnest

rattlesnake fangs may seek comfort among your
barked torso
let them sink
into
you
carry heavy venom with a shy wickedness
and feel pretty with it

tie antelope intestines around tattered curls
& when malevolent mouths yearn for a halo of raw meat,
call intestines
just
pink silk ribbons

be blood cozy at the edge of a dull knife,
be the blood, honey and salted and stained

kiss the blade
leave your pools of melted metal sword
amid shaken dust
and dance to the orchestra of
grinding molars and wild, unbeaten skin.

and in the frenzy of this thing she calls
a ceremony
she reminds you

that there is something to be said for desolate land
quenched by a gentle carnage

how unexpected, that she be the lighting and the thunder,
& i be the desert and blooming again

Quinn Edlin

Quinn Edlin

Quinn Edlin is a poet from Berkeley, California. At the age of fifteen, Quinn began writing with Youth Speaks, an organization that supports her in cultivating her essence as a writer and performer. She is a finalist of the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam. She has performed in the Sydney Goldstein theatre for Youth Speaks’ 'Bring the Noise for Martin Luther King' show, along with other performances at venues including the Masonic. Quinn teaches weekly workshops in her High school's Spoken Word Club. Quinn roots her work in the revolution of the Queer and Black/Brown body, and the world surrounding it. She cherishes the impact of art that serves to create community, whilst simultaneously allowing for introspection.

I Am Done With Guilt

By Nneka Jackson

is this my birthright
as a black woman
as a black dark skinned woman
as a black dark skinned queer woman
as a black dark skinned queer femme woman
to be tethered to a space of judgment
I’d be rich by now if I collected
all the 2 cents motherfuckers constantly try to fling my way

I wonder if I will ever truly know
what it means to relax my shoulders
what my body is like without tension
I’m fucking over
my stomach tied in knots
anxious about occupying a displeasing space
I don’t need permission but they’ve made it damn near terrifying
to just fucking say NO

EVEN WHEN IT’S THE ONLY THING I WANT TO SAY
EVEN WHEN IT’S THE ONLY THING I FEEL

somehow I am still so anxious
because because because
so many reasons
so many excuses
for why my time shouldn’t be now
lies to justify all of this waiting they’d rather I do
for permission to belong to MYSELF???

I was not born free
every ounce of freedom I reclaimed with bloody
nails
tears
scars
I had to earn each boundary
etch them in my flesh

I am absolutely fed up with this prison of guilt
they only gave me a spoon
rusted bent used
barely a spoon at all

but I’m digging my way the fuck out
I take up all this space on purpose
I need some fucking room to breathe
I need some fucking room

it’s a hard education
learning how to tell people to back the fuck up
Take your foot off my identity
Take your eyes off my SPACE
Take your hands out my pockets!
Take your OPINIONS out my ears

there’s a collective FUCK YOU in my stomach
this is my birthright.

Nneka Jackson

Nneka Jackson

Nneka Jackson is a queer Jamaican legal analyst, creative writer and poet currently living in Los Angeles, CA.

Emergency

By Ninamarie Ochoa

We still use the terms out of the closet or coming out to describe someone’s announcement of or openness about their queer identity. It strikes me as meaningful because “coming out of the closet” conveys emergence.

Emerge: from the latin ex- meaning “out,” and mergere, which means to “to plunge.” To merge is to be plunged into that which is like you—or that to which you become similar. To emerge is to plunge in reverse; in its earliest form, the word emerge meant “brought into the light.”

“Bring to light”: for facts to become known. “Bring to light”: for light to shine on someone or something. It’s significant that this latter definition bears resemblance to the Spanish phrase dar luz, to give birth.

What does this tell us? “Coming out,” or emergence, signifies both new knowledge and a birth. Coming out indicates an individual’s recognition of or knowledge about their own identity, and it signals the illumination, the coming into the light of knowledge, of others.

To emerge is to plunge in reverse, it is to distinguish oneself from the similarities of others by delineating the boundaries of the self. To plunge in reverse, to un-merge: if the closet is darkness, then it is the darkness of fear, of not knowing, of possibility unfulfilled. To merge is to become like the darkness into which you plunge. But to emerge, to “come out of the closet,” is a stepping into the light. You can become the darkness, but in emergence, you are born as light.

This is the story of my queerness—how I “came out.”

But here’s another word in this linguistic family: emergency.

A girl I love told me once that we come out for straight people. Imagine: a performance of emergence to prove a difference that exposes you to censure, even violence. It’s announcing the drawing of your borders outside expected boundaries, like a reminder that the Chihuahuan Desert occupies both sides of an international border.

Borders and deserts: I was born on a day the desert flooded. Soy una fronterista—ni de aquí, ni de allá.

An emergency: the desert flooding. An emergency: plunging in reverse, trespassing my own borders.

Liminal, from the Latin limen, or “threshold.” When I reach a threshold, is it a doorway or a limit? Is a threshold where you walk in, walk out, kiss hello, goodbye; or is a threshold a tipping point—the moment you say that you’ve had enough?

I saw my students, young people others assumed were women, establish and protect the borders of their own queerness, had heard their stories of being locked in offices and threatened with expulsion until they came out. Locked in, coming out. (Enough.)

I sat, once, supervising a philosophy club meeting while my students discussed stereotypes about all-girl schools.

“Everyone is gay.”
“After four years, you are gay.”

It didn’t take four years, it took two. (Enough.)

A threshold is a proximity. Close to an entrance, to a limit, to emergence.

Emergency: coming out.

The closet is a threshold.

Nine months later, I told my dad that I was queer. Queer, not gay. Queer like curious; queer like strange; queer like the expansive alien landscape of mi frontera. I was sitting on the banks of Lake Michigan backlit by an unnaturally bright dusk. The lights in Indiana were already visible across the water.

The first thing my dad asked me, smilingly, when I came out to him was, “Is that it?” (So casual, so accepting; this elicited a smile.) Later, he asked if this meant I was going to cut my hair off. (My answer was “no.” This, an eye roll.)

My mom refused to speak to me. This was “a phase.” (A frown.) I was “confused.” (A frown.) I didn’t know any better. (A frown.) Had something happened to me? (A frown.)

Only later did I cry. Hysterically, I thought. Hysteria from hystera, Greek for “womb.” That which made me also wounded me: “Her wounds came from the same source as her power.”

My tears tasted hot and salty, like baked earth. Tears that choked me like learning to swim. Tears like a flooding desert.  I was twenty-four. I was at the threshold. I was whole.

This was enough, this was my emergence, an emergency.

Emergence: plunging in reverse makes you visible. You are a manifestation, a spaciousness, a reification.

I’m not speaking in metaphors when I say that I am light.

(Do you realize that we turn refracted light into electricity? So I have only ever experienced my body as light. In my mind, I am the chemicals and electricity traveling between synapses. I am energy coursing across thresholds.)

Both emergence and the closet assume darkness. Darkness like a tomb; darkness like a primordial field of possibility.

“I loved you in the darkness in the center of light.,” but my emergency is lightness.

I witnessed my reflection weeks later.

(A witnessing, not a recognition; I only approach my self asymptotically.)

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” but love was just a chemical reaction cloistered in the darkness of bone and tissue.

I am light and electricity coursing across thresholds, and the voice over the line was waves across space.

“Do you have a plan?”
“Yes.”
“You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

Emergence. An emergency.

Ninamarie Ochoa

Ninamarie Ochoa

Ninamarie is a bruja and high school teacher living on the border. She completed her bachelor's degree in English literature at Oxford University and The University of Texas at Austin, and her master's degree in the humanities at The University of Chicago. She splits her time between El Paso and San Diego. Ninamarie finds joy in heart-to-hearts with her students, the smell of creosote when it rains, and being mimis by 9 PM.