Queers!!! Lambda Literary Foundation is asking us about what LGBTQ books saved our lives! They have started crowd-sourced campaign to collect brief videos or photographs that spread the word about inspirational books, poems, graphic novels, or other life-changing pieces of literature with the world. Contributions will become part of the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards celebration and help build up their social media efforts to increase the visibility of queer writing both within and outside our community! More info here
I had such a hard time picking which books to talk about! but finally selected two very different but well loved books:
Yesterday I had the amazing surprise opportunity to meet CeCe McDonald!! It was a tremendous honor to have the chance to meet her, and then something truly unexpected happened. Jac Gares the filmmaker who is working with Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald on their upcoming documentary just so happens to be the filmmaker who I worked when when Kicked Out and I were featured on In The Life a couple of years ago – tiny tiny queer world!!!
As we were talking I couldn’t believe it but CeCe recognized who I was!!! While she was locked up, CeCe had been sent a copy of Kicked Out (huge thanks to the Kicked Out reader who sent it her way!) and she loved the book!!!! I was completely in shock – lets be real, I still am in shock. Kicked Out began as such a tiny dream, and I’m still completely blown away by the tremendous community mobilization and energy that has and continues to surround this anthology.
HOLY SHIT CECE MCDONALD READ AND LOVED KICKED OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I want to get back to more frequent blogging. It’s been interesting for me to see the ways the frequency of my blogging here comes in waves, how when I am at my busiest writing times my blogging tends to slow down. This most recent quietness here fits that trend I’ve been so busy writing on the book that all other writing has been on the back burner a little bit. 12 years ago this week I became homeless. It was fast and sudden and unexpected. One day I was living with my dog trainer who had helped me escape my mom, the next day she read my journal, realized I was a dyke and called my school to tell me she wouldn’t be picking me up that day, that I shouldn’t come “home” again. The days that followed were the inspiration for what became Kicked Out- and it’s incredible for me to look back at that time. I never could have imagined that 12 years later this would be my life, that I would have this incredible queer family, and an incredible community that includes all of you!
I mark the things that matter the most to me in blood and ink, being selected as the recipient of the emerging author award from the Lambda Literary Foundation and walking across the stage at the Lammys to receive the ward this year is one of the biggest honors, and most important things that has ever happened to me. I knew instantly when I got the award that I needed to make that moment physically part of me. I couldn’t get the tattoo right after the Lammys because it was summer and I had beach vacations planned, so this winter was the ideal time to make this experience permanently part of me.
Lost Boi, my new novel which is a queer/leather retelling of the Peter Pan story has captured me completely and has been a primary focus for me. In December I sent out the first draft to a group of beta readers. It’s so important for me as a writer not to exist in a vacuum and to get feedback on my work, sending out early drafts is also a super vulnerable process especially since most of the content of Lost Boi was very raw and although I had talked through some of the plot points with people close to me, the story had never been read. I got some amazing and truly valuable feedback from readers and spent the month of January and the first part of February incorporating all of it into a reworking of the novel. This week I finished the rewrite and couldn’t be more pleased with how it has come together. I think that this new book is the best thing that I’ve ever written, its plot challenged me in new ways and I’m thrilled to see what the community thinks of it when it goes out into the world! I’m currently working on query materials and really look forward to seeing what the future holds for this novel.
Although my primary focus of my creative work has definitely been on Lost Boi, I’ve also been trying to do lots of other writing, I’ve had some work accepted into upcoming anthologies that I’m very excited about, and I also was invited to write a chapter on how to write about trans characters for an upcoming YA writers guide (more details on all of this very soon!). It was fun to work in short form again and reminded me how much anthologies have been an important part of my literary life both as a reader and as a writer. My little pink planner (I went back to a physical planner for 2014) is filled with deadlines for other anthologies whose calls for submission have captured my interest and sparked the idea of a story. I’m hoping to find (and prioritize) the time/focus/inspiration to write and submit stories for at least some of these projects.
Outside of writing I’ve been keeping busy. The big project (other than writing Lost Boi) I’m working on right now is the Queer Book Diorama exhibit I’m co-curating Hugh Ryan! The book dioramas will be on display at the New York Public Library Jefferson Market branch in August/September. The exhibit is being supported by the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, and the Lambda Literary Foundation and is going to be an incredible time for the community to come together and explore together what queer books mean to us. So far Hugh and I have gotten proposals from all over the United States, Canada and even from several countries in Europe! Have you been impacted by a queer book? Have you as a queer person had a powerful connection to a book? Have you submitted your proposal yet???? More info here
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which writing, activism and identity go together. Last week I was included in Marcie Bianco’s article “Queer Writing and the Strictures of Identity Politics” on Lambda Literary exploring Queer literature as a genre and what it means to be a queer writer, or a writer who is queer (the former is more accurate for me, the later for some of my peers. It was a interesting conversation, and one that I was really honored to be included in. I know that this is just the beginning part of a larger conversation that Marcie (and others) are interested in having, and I’m really excited about continuing to participate from the perspective of someone whose goals are to write niche stories by/for queer audiences. Check out the full conversation here
Several months ago I recorded an interview with the Prairie Schooner’s radio show Air Schooner about writing and activism. The show which also included my buddy Kit Yan as well as essayist Katie Hogan is focused around queer activism within the written word, and the way that writing can be a form of activism. The interview came together super well and I’m so pleased when I see literary publications tackling the intersections of queer politics and creativity! Check out the episode here.
Writer Sumayyah Talibah was moved by having read the Kicked Out anthology and wrote the following poem titled Street Symphony. and be sure to checkout more of her work on her website sumayyahsaidso.com
we lived underground
in bunkers and stations
fallen out of use
and slept on grates
in the alleyways and played dress up
from green and blue boxes marked “free”
on a stained couch
with a friend or three
in an overcrowded room
in a rundown house
was a delicious dream come true
counting out dimes and nickels
drooling at the sight of
ignoring the smell
of fried chicken and roast beef we’d never see
hawking our wares on the corners
before the dawn light broke the sky
lighting candles filched from temples
whose doors are closed to us
for the dead
This time of year I talk a lot about my own experiences with chosen family and reclaimed holiday magic, in so many ways this is my most favorite time of the year, but it’s also not always easy. I have never regretted my decision to runaway, to save myself, but I’ve also never forgotten that first thanksgiving when I had no family, when my beloved queer family hadn’t yet solidified into something I knew I could depend on. I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go, and what it’s like to be someone’s pity invite. Sitting with someone else’s family, trying not to take up too much space, and trying to disassociate into the gravy bowl. For me being a queer writer means capturing those hard moments with as much intensity as I write about the beautiful moments of us coming together and creating queer families. For me this is true in both my fiction and nonfiction writing and in my novel Roving Pack that meant I wanted to capture that feeling of chaos, rejection, abandonment, and anger that Click experiences when ze grapples with Thanksgiving:
From Roving Pack
“Date: November 28, 2002
I called Mrs. Snow back after all the crazy shit at the hotel. I had to apologize because when I hung up the phone I said I would be calling right back, and then of course I didn’t. She said it was ok and that since she had heard a bunch of yelling in the background she was just glad to hear I was ok. It was only a couple days ago that I called her, and when I filled her in a little bit on where I’ve been the last year or so, she asked if I had thanksgiving plans. I said no. She said I had to come to her house and have thanksgiving with her family. I didn’t really want to go, but I said ok after she told me I should bring Orbit.
I woke up late this morning, it was hard to sleep knowing this stupid holiday was going to be there in the morning. Billy was gone. He spent the night with Hope at her squat because they had agreed to try to see their parents together today. I didn’t even want to come over to Mrs. Snow’s place but I’d said I would, so I had to. I asked if I should bring anything and she said no so I didn’t have to do any cooking, just get myself cleaned up. I took a shower and re-shaved my mohawk. I thought about dying it again but I was out of green dye and of course everything was fucking closed today for the holiday. My work pants were mostly clean and I put on a black button down that I snagged for fifty cents at the thrift store a couple days ago.
Dinner was awkward. Orbit and I got there right as everyone was sitting down to eat. It was Mrs. Snow and her husband, their two little kids, and another grownup couple with their three kids. I sat at a table with all these parents and little kids and I realized that there was pretty much nothing about my life that was safe to talk about. I ate turkey. The kids couldn’t sit still for very long and kept running around the room trying to get Orbit to play with them. They asked a lot of questions about my hair, piercings and tattoos but then their parents would shush them. I wonder what Mrs. Snow told her friends about me. After dinner they were all going to wander around looking at Christmas lights.
Mrs. Snow’s youngest kid was cold and had to go to bed so I came back to the house with them. On the way back, Mrs. Snow said she’d run into my birth mom again and mentioned that I’d be coming for Thanksgiving. I know Mrs. Snow probably meant well but I was really angry that she’d say anything about me to my birth mom! She said my mom got really weird and told her to be careful because I was a drug addict. I was so mad. Orbit came and sat in my lap, and I tried to explain to Mrs. Snow what XXX means but she said she had to put the baby to bed. I saw a computer in the living room. I asked if I could check my email before I left and she said of course which is how I’m online right now. I’m getting out of here in a few minutes. I don’t know why I tried to get back in touch with her in the first place. I really hope that Billy’s around when I get back to the apartment.”
This is a complicated time of year for so many of us. I’m so blessed with my chosen queer family and the way our connection has turned the holidays from something that I dreaded into my most favorite time of year. That said, I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe every time someone asks/assumes I’m going “home” for the holidays. This is probably my biggest pet peeve this time of year made more frustrating because it’s such a blanket assumption that seems to permeate every area of our society from television commercials and casual checkout line conversations, and even all to often our own LGBT community. One really easy way to be an ally is to strike that line from your conversations and replace it with a more open question like asking what someone’s plans are.
I know that this time of year is really hard for a lot of us. If you’re someone whose struggling with the holidays a lot right now.
You are not alone. Let me repeat that again. You are not alone. If you are in the states you know that tomorrow is a rough day for many of us. It’s a day when society tells us that we should feel ashamed of who we are because our family doesn’t look this iconic image of what family “should” be. Take care of yourself. If you’re struggling, I suggest staying away from television and radio (they will just be full of ads that will make you feel worse), go to a park, take yourself to a movie, take a bath, write a story, talk to a friend, or counselor, or hotline, eat cupcakes, draw pictures, workout. Essentially make time even if it’s just five or ten minutes to honor that this is a rough day and that you deserve to do something that makes you feel good about who you are. There are thousands of us for whom to varying degrees today is rough. Take care of yourself, and each other, and remember that you’re not alone.
Here’s the thing- if you are lonely or struggling with family rejection this thanksgiving weekend I’m not going to try to minimize how you’re feeling, but what I can tell you is that you’re not alone. To help you feel less alone, email me at KickedOutAnthology AT gmail.com and I will send you a ebook copy of Kicked Out. The whole point of that anthology was to build community, to foster kicked out families. This time of year can be hard, and sometimes reading the stories of other folks who have had similar experiences.
I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that this fall I had the opportunity to partner with The Center For American Progress. They are a brilliant research institute in DC that have given us some of the best and most nuanced statistical understanding of LGBTQ youth homelessness as an epidemic in this country. This month CAP released a new report “Seeking Shelter The Experiences and Unmet Needs of LGBT Homeless Youth” and I was honored when I was contacted by the writers and asked if I would be willing to contribute to it from a personal perspective.
I immediately said yes and then had to give some thought to what I wanted to say. They wanted me to tell my story of having been kicked out and what it was like to be a teenager. I wanted my contribution to this report to take things a step further, to not just talk about what it was like to be kicked out, but to give voice to the ways in which as queer homeless youth we built our own families, grow each other up, save each other in ways that no one else could.
“I rode busses for two hours to get to the city of Portland. I held my breath and walked into the queer youth center for the first time. It was all concrete, spray paint, bike parts, glitter, and BO, but for the first time I knew that I wasn’t alone. I learned the beginnings of trust from other kids who had lost everything. We swore allegiances to one another, built families in the back rooms of that youth center, in parks, under bridges, in punk houses. We kept the promises we made. We grew each other up, saving one another in ways no adults, no social workers or agencies ever could.”
I take every writing opportunity I’m given seriously, especially ones like this where I’m given the chance to speak to a group of readers who might not otherwise come across a story being told not from the perspective of a researcher, but from actually having lived this experience, and I’m so grateful that COP prioritized the inclusion of current/former homeless LGBTQ youth within this new report.
The Center For American Progress released their report at an event in DC last Thursday and I was shocked and honored when I turned on the live video streaming to hear the event open with my words being read aloud. “Listen when we tell you our stories”
For the past couple of months I’ve been writing a weekly column over at Dogster. The content of the column is mostly little stories about life with my dogs interspersed with training advice . This past week though I focused on my oldest dog Mercury and our experience of coming together shortly after I had been kicked out, and the past 11 years that we’ve spent together (his birthday was last week). The piece has been successful, and much to my surprise late last night I saw that it has been pickedup and reposted by Huffington Post!
This week has been pretty exciting on the policy front for LGBTQ homeless youth. Re. Gwen Moore (D-Wis) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis)- who is one of six openly gay members of the US House, have have introduced a beill into the House to support LGBTQ homeless youth! The bill hopes to amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act known as the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act. The Act is up for reauthorization this year and these two representatives want to make it LGBTQ inclusive.
If the act passes with the inclusive amendments, it will require that any homeless shelters that receive federal funds will not be able to discriminate against LGBT youth! The bill will also mandate that the Family & Youth Service Bureau at the Department of Health & Human Services would compile comprehensive data on the pervasiveness of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
Interested in keeping up with Sassafras and hir work? Follow hir main blog at www.SassafrasLowrey.com for updates on future books, life musings, touring, and how Lady GaGa opened for hir at NYC Pride (sorta)!!!
There’s something outrageously special about being honored by your hometown, to have the place that raised you up look at where you are and the work that you have done/are doing and not only respond positively, but honor you for it. I’ve had a lot of really special moments with the Portland, Oregon queer community in recent months. I was asked to keynote this year’s Oregon Queer Youth Conference and now the youth book group at SMYRC (the queer youth center where I grew up) is reading Roving Pack!!!
“We thank you from the bottom of our queer hearts, Sassafras – we know we can survive whatever the LGBTQ-hating adult world can throw at us, because you did”
This is one of the most powerful compliments I’ve ever received. I’m humbled, and honored that my hometown thinks of me and my work so highly. The last two weeks have been an incredible whirlwind between this and the Lammys, I am even more committed to writing the kinds of stories that people can really connect with
The Lambda Literary Awards were Monday night, and I’m still coming down from accepting the Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award and as such, what was one of the most incredible experiences not only as a writer, but in my life as a whole. I got my start in writing as a queer punk zinester, not unlike many of the characters who appear in my stories. I started writing first to save myself, to make myself feel, even for a moment less isolated, and a little more alive. Then, I began writing as a way to connect with others: folks, other queer kids trying to save themselves would shove crumpled dollar bills into envelopes that wound their way through the USPS (and numerous change of address forwardings) and in return received zines in their mailboxes. We were writing the stories we had been told not to, the kinds of stories we had never seen on a library bookshelf, the kinds of stories that made everything hurt a little bit less.
I don’t have an MFA. I am, at my core not only a community based writer, but a community educated one as well. As I said, I was a zinester; most of my writing skills have been picked up, or made-up along the way. For a while, especially when I was working on Kicked Out, this was something I was ashamed of, something I tried to hide. Somewhere about halfway through the Roving Pack manuscript I found the power in claiming that, and moved forward with the intentional decision to keep the raw and grittiness in my writing that I believe comes directly my creative roots. I write queer stories, explicitly with queer readers in mind, and as such I can think of no bigger honor at this point in my career to have received this kind of recognition from my queer literary community.
As I sit here looking at the beautiful blooming bouquet of flowers my partner Kestryl brought home as a surprise on Monday, my mindkeeps replaying snippets of the Lammys. From the moment I learned I had received the award, until the Lammys themselves I continued to use the word “shocked” to describe what it felt to know I was receiving such an award. I still feel that way: the surprise that someone like me, from my writing background, could be at this place where the most important organization in queer literature believes that my work embodies “the future of LGBTQ literature” completely blows my mind. But, at the same time I walked away from the Lammys feeling like in one more way I’ve found a home, my queer literary home.
Nicola Griffith who (along with Trebor Healey) at the Lammys received the Mid-Career Award gave a beautiful acceptance speech where she talked about having always felt like an outsider be it because of her nationality, disability, and/or sexuality but that there, on that stage at the Lammy’s she felt as though she’d been welcomed home, as though she belonged within this queer literary world. She said it far more beautifully than I am paraphrasing here, but her words resonated deeply with me. This award means so much more to me than I have even fully understood, it’s a validation for the path’s that I have walked as a writer, and the stories that have come from that place.
We didn’t have long for acceptance speeches (with good reason these kind of award ceremonies are always VERY long) but I tried my best to pack in as many thanks as I could. I discovered while writing the initial drafts of my remarks just how many people I had to thank, and how many seconds it takes to do that! Most important for me was to thank Kestryl who for the past 9 years has stood by me and all of my creative projects, my chosen queer family, the authors that have in some way taken me under their wing – especially Kate Bornstein, independent feminist bookstores, the queer youth center that raised me up, and my first writing teacher Linda Hummer – who taught creativity and healing classes in the women’s studies department at my college (where I almost flunked out numerous times) she was the first person to tell me I was a writer, who handed me the books that have changed my life and shifted my career, who died right beforeKicked Out was published. I also wanted to thank all of you who read my books and stories, who write me letters talking about how something I wrote really resonated with how you see and experience the world. You are my biggest inspiration to keep writing, and I wanted to say that from stage.
I’m so grateful that Kestryl was able to capture on video my acceptance speech so that I could share it with all of you
When I first began working on Roving Pack I conceptualized of the book as being outside of the general course of my work. I saw Roving Pack as a story that needed to be told, but in some ways separate from what I generally do. I thought of it as a fringe book, small project that would appeal to a small niche of the community. I didn’t expect the kind of widespread response that the novel and I received. I especially didn’t anticipate that I would fall so deeply in love with writing queer fiction. What began two and a half years ago, as a creative experiment has become my home, but also my future.
Now the work begins. I’m so intensely grateful for the ways that my books have been seen and validated in such an official way. I never expected to be here, but now that I am I intend to take full advantage of every opportunity I’m given. This is not in anyway to say that prior to this award, or without this award I wasn’t driven to continue putting these kinds of queer stories into the world, I absolutely was. However, I would be lying if I said something hadn’t shifted within me as a direct result of receiving the Berzon Award from the Lambda Foundation. This award is a validation it means that my work an I will be taken more seriously in the literary world, and as such I believe that with this award comes a responsibility. I must continue to be worthy of having received it. I cannot be lazy; to write the easy story that is less threatening, or more comfortable (to me, or readers), and I must do what it takes to get those edgy stories out into the community and into the hands of the queers that need them. I see it as my obligation write the best and most dangerous queer stories that I can, and to continue to queer the future of LGBTQ literature in every story I write, and every book I publish.