Dear Queer Diary: On Pens As Secret Handshakes

Welcome to Dear Queer Diary, a column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We’ll be cracking open our tiny notebooks and breaking out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

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According to one of my favorite children’s books, “The ballpoint pen has been the single biggest factor in the decline of Western Civilization. It makes the written word cheap, fast, and totally without character.”

While I must admit that the age-old combination of pragmatism and laziness has made me a frequent ballpoint pen user, I have always been drawn to the romance of this sentiment from The View From Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg (who made gender-ambiguous initials cool before J.K. Rowling had even so much as written the words “boy wizard” on her legendary paper napkin).

This (attractively Instagrammed) book contains all of the things I loved most as a child. Among them: trivia, tea parties, and the musical Annie. Via To Be Shelved.

This (attractively Instagrammed) book contains all of the things I loved most as a child. Among them: trivia, tea parties, and the musical Annie. Via To Be Shelved.

 

My mother can attest to the fact that I was the type of kid who frequently attempted to write using bird feathers I had collected from the yard, and my childhood penpal still has letters that I painstakingly scratched out with a calligraphy pen I had found in a box in the basement. It is obvious, then, that since way back in my youth, I have been fascinated by the world of writing utensils—and it is equally obvious that, since way back in the very first installment of this column, the Straddleverse has needed to talk about pens:

Far be it from me to ignore such a request as this one.

Far be it from me to ignore such a request as this one.

As an English major (who is dating an English and Gender Studies double major!), I feel pretty comfortable stating that the pen is a phallic symbol. However, this is all the more reason why we girl- and boi-types should whip out our goose feather quills and rollerballs in order to appropriate said symbol for our own uses. Whether you prefer to dip into an inkwell or pull out a ballpoint, our pens are our swords in the swashbuckling fight scenes of self-expression.

For me, the Excalibur of pens will always be the Pilot G2 Retractable Gel Roller, preferably with green ink and an extra-fine tip. In high school, the G2 was the official unofficial writing implement of the Colorado high school speech and debate circuit, so it was with great joy that I discovered my own (gloriously rainbow) eight-pack in my Easter basket circa 2006. I guarded this first set of pens carefully, as though they were my children, or the equally cherished A.P. European history notes that I used my G2s to write during the fall of my senior year.

Pro tip: photos tend to come out better if you don't take them in your poorly lit apartment at 11:30 at night.

Pro tip: photos tend to come out better if you don’t take them in your poorly lit apartment at 11:30 at night.

Today, my collection of G2s contains none of those original pens, whose smooth-gliding rollerballs ran dry long ago. Instead, I have a varied collection that contains practically every color currently in production (after the original green, my favorite is probably hot pink) and which I have used for everything from making birthday cards to grading paper to yes, you guessed it, writing in my journal. In spite of the many exciting options available to me, I almost always use black for diary entries. Call me a purist, but there is something extremely satisfying about black ink spreading across white paper.

But let me return, momentarily, to The View From Saturday. Although there is not a single gay character in the novel, it is my not-so-humble opinion that TVFS falls into the vast category of children’s and young adult books that—while they don’t explicitly address queer themes—are about as gay as two naked ladies playing hopscotch under a rainbow flag. (I have a related theory about the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special we can talk about sometime closer to Christmas.)

Herbie may not like to make toys, but I hear that he loves reading Autostraddle.

Herbie may not like to make toys, but I hear that he loves reading Autostraddle.

The View From Saturday, my dear queer diarists, is not about kissing girls or coming out, but it is about Being Different, something that we queer folk know a great deal about. Its characters are too nerdy, too polite, too kind to be cool in their sixth grade world, but in the book, they find their people—the other kids who are similarly nerdy, polite, and kind who just want to sit around drinking tea and talking about Alice in Wonderland. It’s wonderful and adorable, and if you haven’t read it, you should remedy that situation immediately.

The world of speech and debate, like The View From Saturday, was, if not explicitly, at least implicitly queer: a community of people who for the most part did not belong to the mainstream teenage culture, who may or may not have dressed in conformity with gender norms, who put on funny voices and spent hours arguing the same cases over and over. Rather than spending our Saturdays at lacrosse games, we sat in school cafeterias, practicing our speeches and listening to kids from other teams play the banjo.

My G2s were like a secret handshake, a coincidentally rainbow sign that I belonged to a world where being different—awkward, nerdy, highly freckled, athletically disinclined—was the norm. Now, perhaps, it is the aesthetic or tactile pleasures of the G2 that keep me coming back, again and again, to its gel-filled cylindrical form. But then? I think it was more than just the particularly fine point and excellent selection of ink colors.

These DIY feather pens are about as rainbow as they come. Via Idle Wife.

These DIY feather pens are about as rainbow as they come. Via Idle Wife.

Tell me about your favorite pens, Straddlers! I want to go to my nearest office supply store so I can buy them all and add them to my journal-writing stockpile.

Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. I used to have a tonne of pens (every time I liked a new brand/type I went out and got all the colours) amassed from the earliest years of school to university, but then it all burnt in a fire. So now I just have black/blue School Pens, i.e. whatever does the job during 3h exams, and I write with pencils. Actually pencil, singular, and this pencil in particular: http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-BeGreen-RexGrip-Mechanical-51222/dp/B0027EMPY6/?tag=autowin-20

    I remember I used to love TVFS, but now I honestly cannot remember what it was about. I feel this describes most of my childhood memories.

  2. I went through a very long period in Elementary school where sparkly gel pens were my Thing. I had a terrifyingly large collection that I put to use by writing top secret coded letters and very astute observations (like, “Mom is cooking soup for dinner. She is wearing a green shirt a chopping onions.) my spy notebook.
    As an ex-debater, I am still rather partial to Pilot G-2 pens. They were a hot commodity during tournaments. You could leave your computer or phone unattended for hours and it would be exactly where you left it, but if you took your eyes off your pen for a second, it would be snatched up.

  3. G2s forever! Did you know you can just buy the ink refills? It makes me happy that I don’t have to keep buying new pens and throwing out the sad, useless shells. Also, I’ll mix and match the ink so a blue pen writes with black ink and confuses people.

  4. My favourite pen story is my friend’s experience on our school exchange to Japan… she bought about $100 worth of stationery in the exchange school’s stationery shop, lost them all on the train, and then bought them all again the next day. There went her souvenir spending money for the trip…

  5. Ahhhh, this makes me so happy! I got my first girl crush the day the curly-haired blond who sat next to me asked if she could look at my Levenger catalogue with me. We giggled together over pictures of candy colored fountain pens, she touched my arm, and I was smitten. Sigh. I found out after we’d graduated that she was gay, forever solidifying my belief that fine writing instruments are queer.

    As for pens being inherently phallic: That same year I made a prototype for school of a more comfortable pen. My young, innocent mind was aiming for “ergonomic”; in retrospect, I created a pen that can only be described as “strongly vaginal.” I was the twelve year old Georgia O’Keefe of pen design.

  6. Those G2s are my favorite too. I really liked the Foray brand fine tip but nothing compares to the retractable convenience of the pilot G2. Although I’ve started to loathe the purple ink one due to my chair’s thesis edits.

    You guys, what did we do before gel ink? Seriously.

  7. I’m probably going to sound strange here but for me the point is the most important part of a writing utensil. In fact, I prefer to write with a standard HB2 pencil but that comes with a lot sharpening. If must use a pen, Papermate makes a good one with a .5m tip… I weird like that.

    • I’m a pencil person too! Because sometimes I just write whatever comes into my head, but other times I want to find exactly the right words to describe my feelings. I don’t like crossing things out, it’s too messy. My feelings are messy enough, I don’t want my journal to be messy too.

  8. I’ve only started using G2s… I’ve LOVED Pilot’s G-tec 0.3mm pens FOREVER. It’s a shame they’re not sold in office supply stores, you have to go online to get some. I’m more on fine ink vs thick.

    If you’re not the gel type of pen person, I’d recommend Jetstream by Uniball. 0.5mm or 0.7mm. Very smooth. Also Vicuna by Pentel. My co-workers have said they’re very nice to write with. I usually like retractable more, I find it such a hassle to take the cap on and off. LOL.

  9. Forgot to mention Pilot C-tec which are similar to the G-tec I mentioned but they come in a LOT more colors like pink, dark blue and mauve. They also come in 0.25mm (SUPER SUPER SUUUUPER FINE) and I think they go up to 0.5mm. They’re very good on any type of paper too, the colors stick out. Only downside to these and the G-tec is the point itself. One wrong drop of the pen with the cap off could fuck up the needle and you couldn’t use it anymore. -____-“

  10. Any other fountain pen people here? Fountain pens have been my utensil of choice since I was about 10 or 11 – usually some kind of Parker model, always with blue ink. I don’t use them exclusively, but they’re my preferred tool if I’m going to write more than a handful of words.

    I am also a fan of Pilot pens and use them all the time for correcting students’ work.

    • Yes! I love fountain pens, also since I was ten or so. My go to is a Cross pen with converter (I like purple or green inks best, so I have to buy them in jars, usually), but I also have a few old beat up pens I’ve scavenged or found at antique stores over the years. If you like Parkers you should check out a few antique stores – there’s always one or two sturdy old workhorse pens that just need to be cleaned up a little. I love imagining the many years of life that pen had in someone else’s hand, before it ended up in mine.

    • Fountain pen geek here. I was a little late in discovering them, but my path as a pen lover led me to a couple of pilot varsities. I try to use them exclusively, unless I’m in an environment where I can’t. I also prefer bottled ink over cartridges because it’s fun filling up a converter or piston with different colors. I tend to prefer Pelikans and Sailors, though I do have a handful of Parkers.

  11. I’m a fellow fountain pen enthusiast. Being left-handed I prefer the fine nibs, forever afraid of getting ink all over my hand and thus leaving my entries illegible.
    I treasured up ink wells in all colours of the rainbow. Herbin has beautiful inks with cute icons for each colour, there are so many different hues available, just like tea ink, coffee ink and cocoa ink and those aren’t even all their hues of brown.
    http://jherbin.com/fountain_pen_inks_colors.shtml
    And Caran d’Ache has brilliant colours. I have so many fountain pens that I lost count of them. Calligraphy fountain pens, plain old school fountain pens… My favourites for writing diary entries with are a Parker Urban Metro Metallic and a Lamy Logo 05, both with a fine nib.
    Some gel pens work pretty well for me. Uniball Jetstream ftw!
    Ever since I can remember I loved stationary, pens and pencils.
    So many feelings. :)

  12. A few weeks ago, while my girlfriend was studying for an exam, her ultra fine G2 pen ran out of ink, so she made me go to Meijer at midnight to get her another one. She refused to use any other pen. I thought she was being ridiculous, but then I tried it, and now I’ve seen the light.

  13. While I have used the G2 pens, my favorite ones are Tul .5mm tip black pens. I get the clicky ones so I don’t use the cap, and they help make my handwriting look nice. Recently I bought a rainbow 10 pack of the InkJoy pens, that I use to highlight readings for grad school, they also make my handwriting look nice, which is my principal quality for pen selection.

  14. I have kept a journal in some form or another since I was eleven.

    I have only ever written in black pen in it, although sometimes I use other colors of pens. I like Pilot G2 Pens, but i also like Pilot pens in general.

    Am I the only one who used Gelly Roll pens? I was obsessed with those when I was younger. Not anymore, but they’re still awesome. I found one in my house earlier this week and I was like awww yeah Gelly Roll pens.

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