Feature image photo by Erdark via Getty Images
I haven’t done one of these in a little while, and if I’m being honest with you, it was because not that many people were reading them. But if this week is supposed to be about reflecting on the things we’re thankful for, this is one thing I appreciate about the work I do here at Autostraddle: Traffic and hits are just one metric by which we evaluate posts, and we only really do so because we’re forced to by capitalism, the tumultuous online media industry, and the impossible competition we face as an indie site. It’s not that we don’t care about traffic; we have to care about traffic. But the pieces we prioritize, solicit, approve, and write ourselves do not have their value determined solely by clickability. I started writing Short Fiction Playlists for myself, really. It gave me a chance to actually read the short stories I want to read instead of letting them languish in tabs. It gave me a chance to discover new LGBTQ+ writers who weren’t previously on my radar and also hype up the ones I already love. Short fiction never gets enough love. Queer short fiction writers make magic all the time. They put themselves out there by submitting and submitting and submitting, even the best of the best fielding endless rejections.
So, anyway, I’m back with another Short Fiction Playlist. Not because we needed to fill a gap in today’s publishing schedule but just because I want to. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the folks who might be alone tomorrow or otherwise not doing much for the holiday — either by choice or circumstance. I wanted to keep the anti-colonial, queer, community-oriented, reimagined Thanksgiving vibes going, so I’ve approached my curation with that general sentiment in mind. If you want a chill day of reading queer short stories tomorrow, check some of these out. Follow the writers, preorder or buy their books, learn their names. I’ve picked a range of lengths and tones so that all can be enjoyed in the span of a day.
“War Kink” by Bobuq Sayed, published in The Drift
War softens dicks. I couldn’t blame the men I slept with for losing their erections. I’d never fucked an Afghan either. The pressure to repopulate a dying race was a major boner-killer. No one should be thinking about babies mid-coitus.
In attempting to pick an excerpt for this story, I ended up just reading the whole thing again. It’s so good, and if you only have time to delve into one short story tomorrow, let it be this one. And if you do read it and find yourself drawn to the particular queer aesthetic Bobuq writes into (which is distinct from a lot of mainstream gay fiction in its refusal to perform a softened, palatable, gushy queerness for straight and/or straightlaced readers) then I also recommend you read them on Paul Dalla Rosa’s story collection An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life in Astra Magazine. “War Kink” is as sharp on the zoomed-in interpersonal and cultural impact of war as it is on the nuances and dynamics found within queer sex. Even the title alone is evocative. Just trust me and read it.
“Wild Man” by Nic Anstett, published in Outlook Springs
After five years of nothing, my father called and told me that he had shot a Bigfoot dead in his backyard. He asked if I would come identify it because I used to be a park ranger. I had actually been a ticket booth security guard for a state park in Delaware during my gap year after undergrad, but I didn’t correct him.
Nothing says “Thanksgiving” quite like a story about reconnecting with an estranged parent while cleaning up the dead body of a Sasquatch, amirite? In all seriousness, this mordantly funny and strange story about a trans woman helping her father after he has killed a Bigfoot packs a punch for a very short story. Whether you have daddy issues or cryptid issues, this one’s for you! No one does monster fiction quite like queer folks. If it leaves you wanting more from Nic, she has written a couple pieces for Autostraddle, too!
“Talking Fowl with My Father” by Lori Ostlund, published in New England Review as well as the story collection The Bigness of the World
Last year, my father’s doctor gave him a list of safe foods, foods recommended for someone in my father’s condition. Turkey was high on the list. My father has never liked turkey, except at Thanksgiving and only then because it comes with all sorts of things that he does like—fatty skin swaddled in strips of bacon, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls and butter, ham (yes, ham). My father has always managed to treat turkey as the annoying but harmless relative who shows up once a year on the holiday, but now, now turkey has become my father’s enemy.
That excerpt alone makes this seem like an obvious pick for this playlist, but this story is ultimately neither about Thanksgiving nor about fowl really. It’s about intimacy and complications of it; it’s about a fractured relationship between a lesbian and her father. It is also not the first time I’ve shouted out this short story, which I first encountered when my girlfriend read it aloud to me on a trip to Los Angeles. I’ve returned to it many times since and also to her brilliant analysis of it for Ploughshares.
A Minor Chorus excerpt by Billy-Ray Belcourt
An almost animalistic instinct compelled me to turn off the highway and into a predominantly white hamlet named after a French Catholic priest from the early twentieth century. I wanted, for the first time as an adult, to return to the site of the Indian residential school my relatives were forced to attend as children. It was one of dozens in Alberta intended to brutalize rather than educate. This was an era of horror so prolonged and systematic that it continued to permeate the larger Indigenous consciousness. We are still haunted by it.
This is indeed not a short story but rather en excerpt from Billy-Ray Belcourt’s new novel, A Minor Chorus. You might already be familiar with Belcourt’s work by way of his nonfiction and poetry, but this is his first novel, one that further proves my long-held belief that poets can write anything. This small, haunting excerpt published by the Toronto Star tracks the protagonist — a queer Indigenous doctoral student trying to write a novel — as he arrives at the remains of a residential school. Read this excerpt and then buy the book.
“This Is Not a Poem About My Mother” by Sreshtha Sen, published in The Margins
Over the phone, my mother says: “Everyone has father issues these days. To be a successful poet, you should make up mother issues.”
Sorry for tricking you by slipping a poem into this playlist of short stories, but it’s my series and I’ll do what I want! Sreshtha — who has also written for Autostraddle before — is a maestro at the sexy-sad poem. Thinking about your mother at an inopportune time? That’s GAY and also HOLIDAY VIBES imo. If you want more poetry recommendations, Dani Janae will never lead you astray with her series, In Verse.