Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, edited by Amy Sonnie; Alyson Publications; 259 pages; $11.95.
Every year "The Book Nook" marks the end of a calendar year by honoring a "book of the year". Because of this writer's inability to read every lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender book published during the past twelve months, I make no attempt to determine this year's "greatest" literary work.
Rather, I try to choose a book that I believe is exceptionally unique, original or important. Such a choice is naturally subjective, but not more so than the winners of the Lambda, Publishing Triangle or ALA book awards.
This year's most famous queer youth is "Justin”, the 17-year old newbie in Showtime's Queer As Folk television series. Justin is male, "masculine" and white. He is handsome, healthy and has no physical or mental disabilities. He comes from an affluent, suburban family and goes to a good school. Though his parents have concerns about his sexuality, they try to be understanding. Justin does not have a drug problem, does not try to kill himself, and knows how to protect himself from AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases.
In other words, Justin does NOT represent the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth. The views and voices of the "un-Justins", the ones you will never see on TV, are featured in Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, this year's Book Nook Book of the Year.
Most books by or about gay youth tend to be coming out stories, erotic stories, or "how to"manuals. Revolutionary Voices does not try to impose boundaries on itself or its contributors.
The only requirement, according to editor Amy Sonnie, is that it be "written and edited by youth for youth, not by an adult who analyzes and filters our experiences for us." "To create a forum that reflects divergent as well as common histories, Revolutionary Voices presents a multicultural, multigendered, multigender cross section of today's queer youth movement."
And, as an antidote to a culture that portrays its queer youth as so many "Justins", Sonnie "deliberately created a collection that prioritizes the voices of the traditionally underrepresented: young women, transgender and bisexual youth, youth of color and mixed-blood youth, differently abled youth, and youth from low-income backgrounds." The forms that these young people use to express themselves are as diverse as their backgrounds, and include prose, poetry, art and performance pieces.
I hear that it's easier to come out now than it was in my time (early seventies). No doubt this is true if you are QAF's Justin. But if you are Margot Kelly Rodriguez, "a queer Chicana mixedblood who grew up in a racist world of violence and survived to become a warrior-poet", coming out is quite different.
If you are Alegría Sonata Barclay, "a 23-year-old mixed-race queer poet of Vietnamese/Scottish/Swedish descent", you are "still trying to figure out what home means and is, and where I will ultimately reside." At least Rodriguez and Barclay feel safe enough to use their real names. This is not the case if you are "Anonymous", "a 17-year-old female-to-male transgendered queer . . . a nerdy bisexual activist and aspiring writer. . . . I look forward to the day when my real name can accompany my writing without money!" We only hope Revolutionary Voices will help.
As a work of literature, Revolutionary Voices is a work in progress. How many of us reached our literary peaks when we were between 14 and 26, the ages of this book's contributors? If you consider the conditions under which some of these young people were writing, it's a wonder that they could express themselves at all.
Though not all of the contributors will go on to lifetime literary or artistic careers, there is so much good material here that I hope that many of them do so. Mark my words: here there are more than a few future Lambda Literary or Publishing Triangle award winners!
Alyson Publications realize that Revolutionary Voices is not your ordinary gay or lesbian book, and its commitment to this book has gone beyond publishing and promoting it. Alyson has donated copies of Revolutionary Voices to any and all LGBT youth organizations that requested it. It co-sponsored a tour of young queer artists, writers and activists who participate in performances, open mics, workshops and discussions at university campuses and LGBT centers.
The publication of Revolutionary Voices in turn led to the creation of a new organization, RESYST, which editor/co-founder Sonnie described as "offering education and cultural resources to young queer activists and educators." "Our vision is to further build a community of queer artists and activists that recognizes the role of art and writing in social change and seeks to develop those skills as weapons against oppression." For more details about RESYST visit www.resyst.org or call Amy Sonnie at (415) 643-4619.
This Year in Books:
Revolutionary Voices was not 2000's only LGBT literary news. Equally notable were new publications by some of our community's most beloved and enduring voices: Christopher Bram, Pat Califia, Joseph Hansen, David Leavitt, Armistead Maupin, Leslea Newman, David Sedaris, Gore Vidal, Edmund White, Barbara Wilson and Jeanette Winterson. Here, alphabetically by author, are a few other 2000 titles that I enjoyed:
1. Anderson, Eric; Trailblazing, Alyson Books.
2. Belasco; The Brothers of New Essex: Afro Erotic Adventures, Cleis Press.
3. Bell, Peggy Ullman; Psappha: A Novel of Sappho, Upstart Press.
4. Brent, Bill & Carol Queen, ed.; Best Bisexual Erotica, Black Books/Circlet Press
5. Brass, Perry; Angel Lust: An Erotic Novel of Time Travel, Belhue Press.
6. Gallotta, Paul; Living and Dying in 4/4 Time, Upstart Press.
7. Grinker, Roy R.; In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M Turnbull, St Martin's
8. Johnson, Toby; Gay Spirituality, Alyson Books.
9. Quinn, Jay; The Mentor, Harrington Park Press.
10. Stein, Marc; City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves, University of Chicago Press.
Hence the AIDS Diary. Taking its title from a line in a Jimmy Buffet song,
Living and Dying in 4/4 Time is one man's take on the AIDS epidemic from
the mid-80's to the present. It is also the story of Paul Gallotta, his
growth and development. "If you come away from this book with anything, I
hope it's this: if a drug-addled borderline psychotic piece of trailer-trash
such as myself can make a difference in other people's lives, anyone can."
The AIDS epidemic has been written from the perspective of the PWAs, their loved ones and their doctors. Living and Dying in 4/4 Time is one of the first AIDS books written from the point of view of the social worker.
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