I've finally stopped pretending I'm not nomadic. Since 2006, when I moved out of Wisconsin, I've lived in five states and as many cities, from the rural Great Barrington, Massachusetts to New York's urban jungle. I now reside in San Francisco and, having started an MFA program recently, have begun calling myself a "queer writer." But arriving at that label, I know what I am, but the question, "Where is home?" remains unanswered. While I may know what I am, not knowing where I belong has left me feeling isolated. And, in my confusion by what 'home' means as a queer person, I've been forced to question how I can attach myself to LGBTQ histories when I feel such a distance.
As a writer, however, I believe David Wojnarowicz's adage in Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, "The imagination is the last space left for radical gesture." I latch on to the ability to use language as a means of escaping this isolation and insecurity. I use words to find connections between places and people and histories. I don't resign myself to dislocation and alienation, but instead toward connections with other queer writers and activists, however tenuous these connections may be. How can I, for instance, use an imagined conversation with Arpad Miklos, the porn actor who recently committed suicide, to reveal the prevalence of self-inflicted violence in the queer community? How can I, for instance, jump from me in 2005 when I first came out to 2011, in New York City, on that March day when I was gay bashed in the West Village, to recognize how unsteady progress is?
In thinking a lot about place, time and the impact of past traumas against LGBTQ people, I decided to develop a book project called Queer Embraces. Last October, when I returned to Philadelphia from my new "home" San Francisco, I organized a reading at the University of Pennsylvania's Kelly Writers House. Bringing together authors, educators and committed advocates to speak on shame in queer communities, a conversation emerged where we all recognized the difficult necessity to be honest about the things that haunt and terrify us, still, even in the wake of numerous political advances. I soon found myself thinking that while visibility is no doubt great, when we focus on the things that we have accomplished as an LGBTQ community, we begin erasing, as others did in the past, the things that make us different from other groups -- namely our resiliency, persistence and boldness to love our different aesthetics, sexual practices and histories, even through all of the painful memories and traumas.
Queer Embraces is, thus, my attempt to set a record straight. While I don't claim to write any definitive history, I want to write a history of the nomad. I want to write a history of a young man, from Wisconsin, who grew up loving Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich and through other words began thinking that rigid boundaries of identity were incomplete in understanding why lesbian feminists many years old resonated so potently. Queer Embraces is the history of embracing the essential difference of these queer histories, of saying that maybe, just maybe, not having any strong attachment to home is a productive thing -- both for LGBTQ writing and for the communities that have formed because of this writing.
Like most things the nomad does, the end result is still intangible and even a little bit impossible. But to not write, to not travel and traverse distances in place and time, brings me back to a poem by Adrienne Rich, in which she talks about famous scientist Marie Curie: She died a famous woman denying / her wounds / denying / her wounds came from the same source as her power. As a queer person, though I struggle against dislocation, it's also the place of radical gesture, the place in which some chain of silence and erasure is broken because, to quote David Wojnarowicz, "to speak about the once unspeakable can make the INVISIBLE familiar if repeated often enough in clear and loud tones."
I will repeat it again: I am a nomad, but here, only in transit, can these invisible traces of queer history be touched, tasted and revealed.
For more on the Queer Embraces project, click here.