I suppose I might be known for tearing some hearts up and stomping on them in my writing past. Trauma, homophobia, unrequited love, horrible parents…death. My novel-writing history is littered with victims, both fictional and real. Readers of my works have suffered nearly as much as the characters I put through the wringer.
Don’t ask if I’m sorry; we know I’m not. <insert evil grin here>
Like many queer people my age or older, I feel that I grew up believing that life as a queer person is destined to be traumatic. To constantly be filled with struggle and sorrow and loss. Even when my life was anything but bad, that belief stayed with me. Because that’s what I grew up seeing and was told was true–by the church, by friends, by society.
And it wriggled its way into my writing.
Now, here’s the thing, I think that queer trauma absolutely has to be discussed–brutally honestly–because it is a part of our culture. People need to be aware of the full scope of what it means to be queer. The struggles we go through. How society treats us. The bullying. Laws that seek to invalidate us as humans. Religious trauma. Sexual trauma. The self-loathing at times. Queer Trauma is a part of Queer Culture. That’s undeniable. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we seek to find community with each other so desperately–that shared trauma.
Being queer is not always traumatic, however. Somewhere along the way, I, along with many other queer people, forgot to tell the stories of our joy. We’ve forgotten to tell about our successes and happiness and love and community and who we are as people aside from our queerness. We’ve allowed our collective trauma to shape and guide the stories we choose to tell. And while, as I’ve said, trauma is deeply embedded in our history, it is not the complete story.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I write–as I always do this time of year–and what I have to say as a queer male writer. Am I telling stories just to tell stories, or is there something of import and gravity that I want to contribute to the zeitgeist? What do I have to add to the rich history of my community that will be enduring and paint a picture for future generations of what it meant to be queer during my lifetime? What snapshot do I want to add to the community album illustrating our history?
I’ve written about ethnic and racial identities, coming of age, immigration, xenophobia, bullying, sexual trauma, assault, mental health issues, child-parent relationships, and more. But I’ve rarely written stories simply about Queer Joy. I tried–with the help of J.D. Wade–in the book A STRAIGHT LINE, but it was a brief moment in my writing career.
It was fleeting.
Today I find that due to my personal circumstances I’m more interested in telling stories about Queer Joy. Healthy relationships, found family, enduring love, resilience, success, and happiness. Never forgetting our traumatic history, of course, but I would prefer to weave the tapestry of my stories with the joy that arises despite our trauma, instead of the other way around.
I want to write about queer people finding happiness while threading those stories with our rich history to give those stories gravitas. I don’t want to torture my characters–or readers–anymore simply for the sake of being an Edgy Queer.
There’s a place for joy. In fact, I don’t think there’s been a better time in recent history for stories about Queer Joy. It’s desperately needed. This next generation of queer kids moving up in the ranks need to feel we are not going to revert to a baseline of trauma, but keep working towards queer people being as deserving of joy as any other group. We need them to know that joy is accessible and normal. When those I love get older and read my stories, I want them to experience the history and the joy. I want them to see me–and all queer people–as complete people.
So, moving into 2023, look for happier stories from me. Stories that celebrate our history instead of simply mourning it. While I won’t be sticking to one genre of queer writing, I’m hoping to weave Queer Joy through them all.
I can’t wait to go on this new leg of my writing journey with all of you.
Tremendous Love & Thanks
One thought on “Queer Joy”
I always find your blog posts super duper interesting. I totally agree with you that there’s a place for trauma and a place for joy. More often than not, I include a mix of both in my stories because life (for most people) is a mix of both. And, really, the joy has more impact in the context of the trauma.
One thing I’ve received criticism for a few times as publisher at Deep Hearts YA is the use of f*g in our young adult books. I think there’s two aspects to that criticism — one is that some readers don’t want trauma in their books (which is valid, of course), but I think the bigger reason is that we’ve been told that slur is so taboo and harmful (which it is) and thus has no place in books for teens. But if we’re writing books that are meant to reflect who we are as people and how we find joy among the trauma, can we really do so if we decide we can’t say words that have been hurled at us in our formative years?
F*g is used quite frequently as an insult, both in everyday life and in the media. Sometimes it has a place in media (like a queer story) and sometimes it doesn’t (I would argue the movie Whiplash overused he word and it was inappropriate to use it in the first place). Queer books — especially queer books for young people — should have space to explore this trauma. The most powerful books allow readers to see themselves in the narrative, and for a teen that gets the f-slur hurled at him daily at school, seeing it in a book and overcoming it is going to be a powerful reading experience and he is more likely to connect deeply with the book than if the book had carefully skirted around its use.
In addition to books exploring where we are as a people, books are also a tool to explore where we want to be as a people. This is absolutely the place for queer joy. That same kid that gets the f-slur hurled at him daily — after reading a book that deeply reflects him, maybe he wants to read a book that is entirely and completely uplifting and hopeful and loving. We deserve these stories.
With yesterday being World AIDS Day, this topic has been on my mind. The state of HIV+ queer characters is, well, not so great. I remember the first HIV+ romance I read and it was all about a guy falling in love with a positive guy in his dying days. It was all about death and loss (but packaged as a romance). It was traumatic, but it had it’s place I guess. Over at Deep Desires we’ve got a few books with HIV+ men who get happy endings and lemme tell you, Chasey, I am so flipping happy that this author took a chance and pitched these ideas at us. We need more queer joy with these characters and I am so thrilled that I got a chance to be a part of it.
Well, look at me writing a comment that’s almost as long as your blog post. I’ll wrap this up. Keep doing what you’re doing, Chasey. The trauma has its place and the joy has its place and you should be proud for bringing both to your readers and to the communities that need these stories.
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