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Part III: Is Queer Fiction about doing something different?
I’m twenty-one. Alone and cold, I step off the Megabus onto the Paris streets. My clothes are heavy, my bags harking down on my shoulders. I’ve come to visit my friend Dionne who I met when I was in America. One night, after a few too many wines, during a Skype where she showed me her small flat, I booked the fifty pound tickets with Megabus (the perks of a student life) to go to Paris. Now I’m here.
I’m on the metro, making my way to her side of town where she meets me on the streets full of snow and cold and we make our way through arched doorways and a courtyard of stone to her apartment. It consists of a bed, a bookshelf and a small kitchen. There are two doors in the whole place – the front and bathroom.
I spend four days here and the snow beats down against the doorframes. We spend our drink red wine and watch Lena Dunham’s Girls, much to my request after Dionne shows me the first episode and I become hooked. One morning she goes to her class, studying at the University for a year and I tell her I’ll meet her after. I spend the morning in her bed watching more episodes, neglecting Paris. Paris isn’t going anywhere.
But I get up. I venture out and everything is different. I am in another world, another place of tongues and streets so different from where I am. I fall in love with the difference of it all, the change it has, the new ways of life, thought, etc. I start to think about books, especially as I see a shop of French languages piled together on the streets. I think of different books, strange books. I think of queer fiction. Queer meaning strange. Strange meaning different. Queer fiction appearing odd as well as relating to the LGBTQ+ community. Difference in writing: due to the the writer or the story?
Growing up gay, you know you’re different. School demands children wear uniforms, not to make them belong but to maintain ownership. School did not teach me about being something important it taught me about being one of many, part of the robotic channel of children created under the roof of rules and Facts. Difference was not accepted, difference was punished by detention and bullying. I went to a Catholic school where mornings were spent muttering ‘Our Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’, praying to a God I found to be the definition of different – a God who created talking snakes and women coming out of men’s ribs, obedient animals, murderous parents.
I meet Dionne after her class and we walk to Shakespeare & Co book shop. Her accent is Scottish, thick, I call her Jimmy sometimes. She and I were the only two out of six British people going to America who weren’t English. Nevertheless, my faint Welsh accent disappeared on the Americans who asked me if I had tea every day and went to school like Harry Potter. Sadly, dear American children, we Brits do not. Not all of us, anyway. Dionne and I, Scottish and Welsh, from North and South, different from the others.
Is, then, queer fiction determined by a different way of thought? This box we all propelled into, is it that we jump out of it, stand and think? We break out into Queer, into the large, round ‘Q’. That night, Dionne and I hear the news that a new Pope has been chosen. The two of us consumed two bottles of wine and Dionne, whilst smoking a cigarette screams out of the window, “We have a new Pope!” to her sleeping neighbours. Popes and Bishops and Angels and Demons – it’s all a bit queer.
I’m twenty-three. I sit in Elly’s flat, full of hot air balloons, Elvis and Angela Carter. There’s a new kind of difference. A few months ago, Elly identified herself as bisexual, the neglected B in the LGBTQ circle. This got me thinking about how I used to see bisexuality. As a teenager, ignorant, mouthy, I called bisexuality as ‘greedy’. Looking back, there is only shame at myself for saying such words. Bisexuality, this ignored, misunderstood part of the queer world. It’s been five years since I came out and within those five years I have learnt the fluidity of sexuality, the appeal, the desire, to step into the queer world and become a part of it maybe for a while, maybe for longer. There are so many of us registering, connecting with the queer parts within us.
And what then of the Q? What of all the other different things? Edinburgh, to me, is this fairy tale place, not the fairy tale of pixies and dust but arched towers and dark werewolf corners. There is beauty in the darkness as there is beauty in the difference. I’m working on a story I started at University, a Young Adult piece that my tutor, Philip Gross, said I should finish. I’m writing away, using characters from children’s stories, mashing together the beautiful difference that the other writers began.
The story is, at its core, for me. I imagine it would be too difficult to publish – a Young Adult novel with trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay and straight characters. Feminism and politics is at its core, the characters pulled out from their original habitats, forced into danger, magical creatures and Fact ideals surrounding everyone. Would this piece – would anything I write – be seen as Queer fiction? I said this before, that when I was a teenager I was terrified of being labelled a ‘Gay’ writer. Maybe it was because I wasn’t out yet, maybe there was still an element of shame, shame that was absolved months after I let everyone know my secret.
Writing is about a lot of things and one of those things is contributing to the conversation. In this ever changing, ever accepting, society we now live in, we need to not ignore the difference – the queerness – in all of us. To honour and not distinguish, to recognise, not ignore. Being different is something to be honoured, valued. Queer fiction has fought its way into the literary world, demanded to be taken seriously but labels don’t aid our fluidity – the fluidity of sexuality, of genre, of sex, of writing, of all the things that make us the book loving, story hunting, imagination addicted people that we are. At Edinburgh, past all the buildings, Arthur’s Seat and the Walter Scott Monument, I write and wish that the label, in its honour of difference, will break.
Thomas Stewart is a Columnist for Litro NY and has had his fiction, poetry and essays published at The Stockholm Review, The Cadaverine, Storgy, Vada Magazine, Anomaly, Agenda Broadsheet, among others. His debut poetry pamphlet, 'Creation' is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press. He has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and a BA in English from the University of South Wales. He enjoys folk music, horror films, suburban fiction, watches, cooking, patterned jumpers and beat poetry. He is afraid of the dark.