Queerness doesn’t have to be a burden. That’s what I wish I could tell my younger, lonely, and confused self. It’s what I want to shout in crowded streets when, time and time again, dominant depictions of queer, trans, and gender variant folks involve suffering and despair.
I Feel Love: Notes On Queer Joy — an anthology edited by Samantha Mann — shows us that suffering and despair are not our destiny. Instead, the book shows us that we can achieve, and are worthy of, happiness, freedom, and love. Composed of twelve creative nonfiction, memoir, and poetry pieces by beautifully diverse writers, we see a celebration of identities and how each identity influences how each writer navigates the world. Each story serves as a vehicle for building community and connecting to something larger than the self.
Even though the anthology is centered on joy, guilt is the feeling we are first introduced to. In her foreword, Mann expresses guilt over achieving the dream: living an average domestic life with her wife, freely and legally married, with their child. She compares her life to the countless lives of LGBTQ+ individuals that were cut too short or were limited by laws, social attitudes, and other similar forces. Mann describes this inner dilemma as “survivor’s guilt” — why does she get to have it all while so many others have not? Her happiness exists because generations before her paved the way for it, and while the book’s main goal is to rewrite the narrative of queer lives, it also honors our queer elders who fought hard for things to be the way they are today. We should appreciate what our elders went through and allow ourselves to relish in the outcomes of their efforts. We should also continue their hard work.
All the contributors of the anthology go into detail about how they found their queer joy. For Esther Mollica in “You Gotta Have A Little Faith,” that joy was found in kissing another woman at a gay bar. For Greg Mania in “Permanent Record,” he found his by getting tattoos. What I love most about this collection of stories is how it shows how joy and discovery can be embodied in myriad ways — there is no right, single way to reach them. Another thing I loved about the stories as a whole is how each of them felt like they were being told by a friend. Like the writer and I were sitting down drinking coffee, the writer unafraid to show their messiness and fuckupedness to me as they share their story.
Em Win, one of Autostraddle’s lovely team writers, eloquently writes about their complicated relationship with religion in “Rings and Other Shapes I’ve Known.” Win displays the tension between God and sexuality and goes through the personal journey of finding reconciliation. While there are funny moments such as getting a purity ring because of the Jonas Brothers or partying in a $5 kiddie pool from Walmart, there is also the larger theme of desiring to be something you’re not because it’s what you believe you should be:
“I enjoyed the social exhilaration of straightness and assumed the role of a public heterosexual. I invited boys to proms, I went on celibate dates, and I became obsessed with the idea of “FBO” (Facebook Official)… More than anything, I wanted to fit in with girls who seem to have it all together: the skinny, white, girls with Christian bible studies and a ring before spring (A cultural phenomenon in the evangelical world where senior girls get proposed to by the Spring semester of their senior year).”
Going off on the subject of intersectional identities, I especially appreciated stories that weren’t just about queerness. In “The Ridiculous Flamingo Dilemma,” Aïda Yancy’s Black, neurodivergent, and mother identities hold just as much importance as her queer identity. They are interconnected and influence one another. It seems obvious that we are kaleidoscopes of identities. We’re not just the neighbor across the street or the classmate that sat to the far left of the classroom. However, in hegemonic LGBTQ+ communities, exclusion and oppression are rampant. White supremacy operates in LGBTQ+ communities. Ableism exists in LGBTQ+ communities. These communities are just as capable of erasure as hetero-dominant and cis-dominant spaces.
It feels fitting to have read Mann’s anthology during Pride Month. Beyond the pages, I’ve seen queer joy all around me. At New York City’s Dyke March, I saw someone express how whole they were at their first pride event, their happiness affirmed by their partner who placed a gentle kiss on their lips. I’ve seen it at the school I work for, with an eighth grader proudly displaying their rainbow and trans flags in their hair. I’ve seen it in myself when I’m cooking dinner with my partner or we’re reading books together in bed. Queer joy is everywhere. Queer joy is in us, whether it travels inside our bloodstream or it’s waiting to be found. Each writer in I Feel Love has found it. Read their stories. If you, dear reader, think queer joy is an impossible destination, you’re damn wrong.