Nonfiction From the June 2015 issue: The Queer Issue VI
As I write, the Irish people have just approved a constitutional amendment in favor of same-sex marriage, the nineteenth country to recognize this right. In the US the television program Transparent, about an older man transitioning to female and his self-absorbed family, entered its second year of critical acclaim and industry prizes. And, as in every June, cities around the world are building up to a month of celebration and reflection, noting the progress made since Stonewall and the work yet to be done.
These are stirring notes as we launch our sixth annual Queer Issue. In the time since our first issue in 2010, we’ve worked to represent the spectrum of queer writing in a comprehensive, inclusive way, with themes and perspectives ranging from personal to more broadly political, and have endeavored to reflect social developments in our literary offerings. This year, we’re presenting what we feel is a particularly strong selection of prose and poetry on a wide range of topics and viewpoints. Throughout, connections are missed and made, as characters circle each other and the truth.
Two pieces in this issue find characters coming out in midlife and later, rocking their families as they propel themselves into new lives. Swedish writer Ester Roxberg’s Story of a Secret depicts her dumbfounded response to the news that her middle-aged father will now be known as Ann-Christine. At their first meeting after he begins to live as a woman, her exasperated reaction to his appearance—advising her father to lighten up on the perfume and be more careful shaving—suggests the more complex emotions beneath the surface: “My dad,” she writes, “is in the process of disappearing.” In an excerpt from Zuzana Brabcová's Year of Pearls, a Czech wife and mother of an eighteen-year-old comes out as a lesbian in her forties and leaves her husband for a younger woman. Sifting her past in search of keys to her present, she stumbles upon revelation in the form of an unsent letter.
In another family story, poet Dragoslava Barzut’s bereaved protagonist travels to bury her parents and unearths painful resentment. And in the created family of a neighborhood, Sylwia Chutnik’s garrulous, affectionate apartment dwellers speculate about their bachelor neighbor, the talented and enigmatic Mr. Pawlikowski, benefactor to all and husband to none. His popularity with the women, his skills in baking, embroidery, and other fine work, his impeccable appearance, all lead to one conclusion: “He’s a Ladyman. But he's our man.”
Two wildly different stories describe commercial transactions that bleed into emotional terrain. In Switzerland, Max Lobe’s canny African immigrant surmounts his limited prospects to become a high-priced escort with a lurid specialty. Mastering his seedy Geneva milieu, he avenges a nation’s invasion and oppression; in bringing a masochistic new client to his knees, he strikes a blow for his colonized country and his own restricted opportunities. And Italy’s Giancarlo Pastore tells the story of an elusive florist, his smitten customer, and their fragrant affair through the language of flowers. Mapping their relationship as it blooms and withers in a sequence of symbolic bouquets, Pastore proves that translation is at the heart of all understanding.
Taiwan’s Chi Ta-wei’s “Faun’s Afternoon” deploys Debussy’s pastoral air as the soundtrack of a gritty urban tale. A random encounter in a bathhouse leads to a disastrous miscommunication and a violent, startling conclusion, as stark realism shades into the otherworldly and a spurned advance turns a gift deadly.
The Slovak writer Zuska Kepplová sets her troubled lovers on an idyllic beach at the end of Europe. The Danube Delta provides the backdrop as one woman tries to mold the unformed other into the latest of her series of ideal women. And in poetry, Pedro de Jesus finds reality in and with his loved one.
It is our hope that the next year will see further advances in both civil rights and social acceptance for the queer community; we have no doubt that we will continue to find a wealth of literature by and about its members. In the meantime, we invite you to explore these multiple narratives that both provide fresh perspectives on familiar territory and stake out new ground within the queer literary experience.
Susan HarrisSusan Harris
Susan Harris is the editorial director of Words Without Borders. With Ilya Kaminsky, she coedited The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry.
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