Screen Reader Compatible Version for the Visually Impaired
Volume 1, Issue 1
Authors/Artists retain all rights to their work
Copyright © 2017 Arttitude
Cover Art by Lava Brown
Copy Editing by Michelle Josette of FictionEdit.com
Editor in Chief
Megan M. Opperman
I debated for many months how I would put into words the vision I had for this special issue of Opaline Magazine which is also the inaugural issue of what I hope to be a lifelong project. Truly, this began as I stood on the corner of Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn in Dallas looking up at the sea of people who had gathered at the Legacy of Love monument to send a message of unity to the LGBTQ, immigrant, minority, and other diverse communities in this time of political uncertainty.
But it was in an auditorium that the words came to me which I feel embody the heart and soul of Opaline and the goals behind the “Resist!” issue. The speaker that day was an African American man who had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement and he spoke of peace and cooperation coming from sitting down together and talking through differences, but when he was introduced, the well-meaning presenter mentioned having been raised in such a diverse community that he was taught “not to see differences; not to see color.” While the heart of what he said was pure and good, I realized that too often we attempt to ignore differences, throw people into the melting pot if you will, so that everyone is equal. The problem is the erasure of the very facets that should be celebrated about diverse people. I seek to find equality by bringing out the differences rather than downplaying them in hopes that by doing so, more voices will be heard, just as they are, without the pressure to assimilate to what is valued as “normal” by mainstream society. I also seek to give diverse voices a seat at the table every time, not just in a special issue here and there and not confined to highly specialized publications. For that reason, Opaline will celebrate diverse narratives, all of them, in every issue.
Opaline comes from the word Opalescent which refers to the reflection of various colors coming off of an Opal. This name fits the vision I have for a magazine which reflects the many colors of the American people in a platform accessible to all.
I was incredibly pleased with the quality of works submitted to our first ever call for submissions and I am excited to finally put them in the hands of our readers. The following works of creative writing and art are in response to resisting. A “what does resistance mean to you” so to speak.
Megan M. Opperman, Editor in Chief
Originally published in Deaf Poets Society,
“Crips in Space” special issue
Tomorrow, Melanie will fly off to her new college. All will be new. She dreams.
It’s the dream of the forest of quadruped giant legs. Wrinkled, in dark colors, the legs march, majestic. She sees one wrinkled mass, a muscle contracted, skin in folds shifting against the backdrop of another giant pulsing piston.
She realizes she is tiny, a dewdrop, clinging on. A tiny-ness beyond words, her eyes too small to take in these dinosaur legs articulating against one another with each long stride.
Earth is a round marble on the edge of a hair’s hair. Deep in her dream, she feels the infinite smallness of her home, and herself. Every time the dream comes to her, the smallness constricts her throat, her torso, breath barely escaping. These dinosaur legs are too big to notice her existence, earth too small to warrant a brush. So small that even touch would not dislodge the round planet, so small that it would pass between molecules, hovering without gravity, held by frictional affinities. Earth is insignificant. It will not matter. The legs will piston on, and Earth is gone or not, oxygen or ozone, radiant or radiated. It has no bearing on the course of the big creature striving toward something she can’t hold in her mind.
The dream contracts again. Melanie’s hip distances itself from her collarbone. Small displacement. A vertebra nudges itself toward the left. A lung alveolus twists out of place, into the new hollow released by the bone’s curve. A hair’s breath’s shift. Yet, Melanie’s respiration charges through her chest, unfamiliar territory opening under her pelvis.
She remembers the time her dentist left a ridge on a tooth’s filling, shifting her bite. She had been in agony for weeks, trying to adjust to the new slivery reality of this jawbone’s articulation against the skull. She hadn’t been able to, and had to go back, ask them to file down the barely noticeable edge, embarrassed by the side eye of the dentist.
Now, here on her bed, she can feel the energy leaking out of her right side, the kink of dream torsion deflating the internal balloon between hip and shoulder. In her half-sleep, Melanie is close to weeping. Hates sensitivity, her inner space rigidity. The single tear, when it tracks loose from the eyelash, is lava on her cheek. Salts burn epithelial cells.
Near dawn, Melanie shifts, volcanic terror at her core. Then, a cool web drapes over the sensations, pulls down, and cradles her into sleep.
The assassin waits for his target, lets the motor idle cool as an air-conditioned cat at the foot crossing, rivers of people gushing out of department stores and fast-food joints, hip-hugging bags clutched to sweaty bodies long overdue for a sit-down, sundown, a space of rest unburdened by Monday mornings.
Akilah walks along the street.
Never oblivious, never just stepping, her feet mark the hot pavement, a faint indentation of her heel remains in the tar. Akilah’s hair magnetizes the gaze of the white man on the scaffold, the white man in the subway station, the white woman at the coffee store.
Across the well-travelled road, the assassin marks the woman named Akilah, compares her to the photo in the folder. Hair, posture, the tilt of the neck. Yes.
He rolls into traffic, carefully, slowly creeping, like a tourist ready to be unpredictable, unclear, lost in the big city.
Akilah cannot demagnetize her hair, drape it casually, thrown into the wind. She remembers other spaces. She remembers home space, family space, a diaspora she reaches toward, where the cut of her cloth or the pattern of the skirt mark her, not the hue of her skin, the flap over chastised bones. She walks.
His foot descends, clutch into gear, shift space, forward motion glued to his victim’s retreating back. Akilah arrows, and he can see that she has not a care in the world, bone certainty about her goal and her destination: the next protest action, standing in the wave of white and standing proud.
Akilah walks, forty years and counting, walking the ruins of slavery’s game. She does not look anybody in the eye. Cattle calls of city center, she despises the easy money, easy clothes of the whore brides, the fat barons that trample the pavement into uniformity.
The assassin in his car is nearly level with Akilah now, the game thinning, his game sure as he slides the gun out of the shoulder holster, its fine calf honed to the softness of an inner thigh. He does not know how often he fingers it, deep beneath his clavicle, his buffalo refuge, veldt certainty of the side his fingers are on. It’s a tell, and he had to work to control and suppress the urge, the fingering, now only in free flow when he knows himself to be alone. Or just before he kills.
Akilah moves eel-like now, a clot of people stopping the road, cuing for theater admittance for the Saturday matinee. Her shoulders slope past ermine, white softness with a deadly odor. Shimmering sequins, high-hipped on high heels. Here, Akilah enjoys the press, the give, the weft of her dreadlocks swishing over velvet, her own sharp short blazer cutting into a common cloth. Fish weave, water flow.
He has not lost his target, follows easily along in the street, through the throng of people in front of the theatre. Akilah’s high coiffure, knot upright, one lance of lock sticking straight, points the way. The gun’s plastic in his hand is warm, smooth. Check.
Akilah exits the crowd, her hips shimmy from the warm human sea. This is home, too: the easy weave in a sea of excitement, anonymous fish swish. Alone, now, forward.
The assassin is pulling level, the street emptier now, soon, soon.
Akilah has escaped the policemen in the riot, in the car check, at the protest’s borders. “Are you carrying a gun, ma’am?” “Step aside from the crowd, ma’am.” “What is in your pocket, ma’am?” Akilah hears the echoes in her head now, oozing out of the pavement’s cracks. Her feet lose purchase. She does not want to hear the questions again, wants to go about without anybody assuming she’s packing, wants to undulate her spine without anyone profiling her, charting her course. But the questions press in, surround her, arrow in.
The target is weaving, like drunk, like infected with the high spirits of the crowd, like poisoned by the SoMa vibe, a spirit high. He is wondering, comparing the picture one last time to this woman on the street. This is her, right? Akilah, cell organizer, protest queen, defiant woman pushing her chest high, her forehead open and lofty into the wind? No mistake.
Silent startle scream sticks in Akilah’s throat. Where is she? When is she? Had she lost track of side streets, of the pavement’s direction, of the place where she can step without encountering memories too hard to process, black skin splitting open on police batons, purple welts rising against rough brick walls? She goes down.
What happened? The assassin has lost sight of Akilah, hair bobbling down as passersby obscured his vision. He looks, hand shoves plastic stock back beneath his jacket, mustn’t offer a tell to the street. Where is she?
The crack in the street, widening, moaning downward. Sadness pouring in dark tears, a wailing. Akilah falls into the street, beneath it, away from eyes and calls, from hails that forebode no well wishes. She falls, and she knows she does not need to scream. She gives. Cloth smooth, equatorial warmth, streaming reds and oranges. Akilah releases, opens, knees soften.
The proud black woman is gone. The federal assassin scans back and forth, has stopped the rental car at the side of the road. He looks back – no opening in the facades, just placid blank walls, no shops with open doors or invitations. Gone.
Akilah comes to, assembles, a calm over her. Twists wrist, clavicle shrug, knits pelvis to spine. She’s lying on something rough, scaly. It is dark. There are glints in the darkness. They move. Is she moving? There is wind against her skin, in spurts: something seems to be pressing her along, in convulsive turns, but the something is too large for her to feel a direction. She is lying on a surface that shifts in space. That’s all she knows for sure. To keep her fears beneath her, she presses her palms down, feels rills beneath her fingertips. She spreads her weight, in control.
The rills: these plates are not machined, not smooth-poured metal. These are organic grown things, accreted. She scratches with one fingernail, like meeting like: is this horn? She is back at the image of a scale, articulating against others. She palpates. Akilah contemplates standing, but a sense of wind bursts dissuades her. She inches across the plate by turning on her front, on her hand and knees, pushing forward. Soon, she reaches the outer edges of the plate: a thick rind-like edge, horn, yes, layers and layers, as her hand reaches down. She lies on her belly and stretches. Her fingertips reach another surface, beneath, and yes, there is movement between that next plate and hers. Articulating scales or plates, indeed, in a counter motion, as if wrapped around moving limbs of some unseen giant beast. Akilah scrambles sideways, maps the contours of the plate. The shape feels ovular, but it’s hard to be certain.
After a while, Akilah lies down on her back, face upward. She takes stock, retells what happens to cover over a blank in her mind: from the San Francisco street to this strange bed of darkness. She remembers the sidewalk, moving amid the theatre crowd, on her way to the protest action, the thinning of the sidewalk, even, now, in the back of her mind, the slow car advancing, a sense of dread that stumbled her feet. The sidewalk, opening like a door, a crack too regular for a normal earthquake, and her falling. She breathes, and senses behind her collarbone an answering breath: a beingness. A perceptual opening. Akilah is not sure what that means, exactly, but she takes it. She walks through.
“I am glad you are here.”
“Where am I?”
“You are safe, for now. Safe from the gun. From the assassin. From the street.”
“I belong on the street, though, with my sisters.”
“You are a fighter. We know. We need you.”
“Who are you?”
“We have been prophesized. We are here.”
“What are you?”
“We are breathing beneath you. We hold you and see you. Receive this.”
There is a pouring, a warmth, a water liquid, starting from a point inside her head. She accepts the water, diffuses it throughout her aching body. Fear trembles, then drowns.
She remembers when she had made that decision before, accepting the water. She had been six years old, and she had been visiting, her one visit outside the US. She had been flown all alone to Guyana, to grandmothers she cannot quite recall now, ancient hands with calluses caressing the spaces between her hair, a strange tickling. That day, she had been playing outside, near the jungle’s edge, and there was a little stream, just so small, just the width of her young thigh, and she had knelt in it. And the water had swarmed over her, had climbed over her brown twig legs and arms. It had dripped off her head, spurted across her chest, glided down on her narrow back. And it had spoken, too, a faraway murmur she only now remembers again:
“We are here.” Deep liquid inside her forehead, inside the precious round, a peach stone warming outward.
Akilah remembers telling one of her Guyanese grandmothers, in the home by the side of the road, on the porch nibbled by creepers.
“The little river spoke to me.”
That’s all she had said, and then she had fallen silent, and just stared at Nan’s face, the mouth open, golden yellow teeth an intricate gate to a different world. A curled tongue hovered, trembling, in a pink gullet.
Akilah hadn’t been scared then, not of the voice, not of her grandmother. She had been interested, had leaned into Nan’s void, until the old woman had snapped shut her mouth, and had not spoken. Akilah knew then that the small hidden river had to be hers alone. The waters dripping so freely, so wide, was something that had to be kept apart, even from this elder love. And so she had shut it away, a turn of an iron key sealing the memory.
Now, here, on this scale, the key had shifted, had turned, and she bathed in the warmth of her six-year-old self, the flooding of sense and contraction new to her limbs, the ache of liquid love.
She wasn’t hurt, and wouldn’t be, not by government assassins, not by anybody. She was safe. But she was alone, and she missed her comrades. What world was this?
Tony shovels forkfuls of salad into his mouth. His left hand grips the edge of the table, hard, energy humming through, rattling the bolt that runs down into the floor’s steel plating.
Arina speaks quietly, but with insistence. He lowers the fork, consciously releases his death-grip on the steel tabletop. Opens his hand a few times, shooing away the cramp that threatens to descend. His ears are full with waves, with sounds like steel wool scratching: the planes thundering outside, beyond the plate glass window, the passers-by, thousands of feet drumming just feet away. Tony’s heart beats alongside their pounding. He looks over his shoulder, till he feels Arina’s cool hand on his arm.
“It’s OK. She will be back soon.”
He is not sure that he wants to hear the platitudes: his daughter has flown the coop, is off to school, a few states away, and he had not even been allowed to drive her there, collapse her wheelchair for her, ready to pack. His daughter, who wants to take on the world, all the time, has to chain herself to inaccessible school buses, defy drivers who try to carry her up the bus stairs. His pepper baby.
He turns toward Arina’s voice. There is her beloved mouth, still naturally pink against her wheat-white skin, small lines weaving across the fullness as if someone was making sure to focus hard, to paint each corner of this little face. He smiles at his wife of forty years.
Then he stares over Arina’s shoulder at the concrete apron of the airport. Out there is Melanie’s airplane, maybe waiting, last pre-flight checks, maybe already in flight, the old days of tracking the planes as they rumbled on their ballet long over. Out there.
Something is not right.
The concrete valley in front of his restaurant window heaves upward, a depression, then a boil, a breathing up and down. Halfway between their terminal and the opposite side, on the desert smoothness of light grey, something is being born. Up again – the yellow demarcation on the concrete shimmers in the afternoon sun as it undulates across the tarmac.
Arina turns, looks where Tony’s staring.
She looks, first quiet, and then begins to scream when the first tentacles begin to shoot in the air.
Tony is up, shoving Arina in front of him as they shove backwards from the window. He runs, dives into the main corridor of the terminal. Arina has not stopped screaming, and she is running out of air. He lifts her, a small weight compared to the heavy machinery of his body shop. They sprint toward the exit, out to the other side of the airport. He looks back, backs away from the nightmare, wet-looking fronds waving, tangles, growing out of slits in the concrete, weaving on the other side of the glass, exploring the airliner still peacefully waiting next to the bridge. Is this Melanie’s airplane? The tentacles taste their way over the curved white skin of the plane.
The terminal doors still open, the electrics hadn’t had enough time to shut down and lock down the airport. He rushes through, his heart pounding too loud in his ears. In the body shop, the heavy machines get moved about by cranes now, and it has been a long time since he carried something as heavy as a body through the world. Arina glides from his suddenly limp arms.
“Tony. Sweetheart. Not now! Focus!”
With an immediate task at hand, Arina takes charge, and hits Tony across his massive chest, startling his heart back into their predicament. Yes, he can walk. His girl might be in trouble, tentacled trouble beyond imagining. He turns, and tries to sprint in bursts back into the terminal. A river of humans passes by. They see people drag carry-on suitcases along, nearly falling but reluctant to release their grip. One family is running from the terminal, blood dripping off the mother’s face, a cut flowing freely. Many have dumped their bags, and run with the abandon of unfettered limbs. Others, seeing their example, seeing the blood, drop their bags, too, and start to sprint away. The bags remain, though, and create a new obstacle course, spin with their old momentum only half spent. One large purple bag rolls down the slope under its own steam, trundling across the intersection, and folds into a thin white woman, knifes her legs out from under her. Tony sees it, and sees it for what it is: the beginning of a deadly panic. Some of these people will be trampled, long before any monster can reach them.
Arina wails, claws at him, tries to reverse their direction and leave this space. He pulls them both out of the main flow, back toward the windows, tries to quickly explain what he saw, the tentacles tapping their way over the airliner.
“Arina. Wait. We need to check on Melanie. What if she’s still in the plane out there?”
They turn, together. Look out of the huge bay windows, out at the airport. Beyond the terminal, on the tarmac, it happens. It blooms. The tip of the airliner is sucked in, then out, shooting outward on a fire storm. The plane is an inferno, its flames a heatwave rushing outward. Tony sees the tentacles in the airfield loop, then whoosh down, vanish. Time expands, then the deep boom of the explosion travels over Arina and Tony, and all the other fleeing people.
Melanie isn’t on the disintegrated plane, bombed to bits by terrorist fire. She isn’t on the tarmac, either, burning up in kerosene flames. Melanie isn’t quite sure where she is, at this point. She saw the tentacles emerge on the runway, saw a rubber-like tip entwine the titanium spokes of her wheelchair, carefully, lifting her high up, and then down, through the earth, just as a boom above sent a heatwave down after her.
She is in darkness. A deep vibrating sound pulses through her bones. She is lying against a giving wall, not cold exactly, but cooler than flesh, warmer than earth. Smooth, with ridges that press into her own contours. She can’t quite get the sequence right. Mum and Dad had driven her to the airport, sure, had hugged her goodbye, and she had wheeled through security. She had been ready to enter the airplane, had been about to transfer from her wheelchair onto the aisle chair to be loaded. And then…
She just can’t quite recall, although there is a ripping sound in her head, a sound sheet metal might make if sheared apart, a spatial sound, like something shifting direction as the metal curves downward. Then the tentacle, grey and pink, and so careful and caring. Are her parents alright? What happened to everybody? Now there is … thickness and rubber. That’s what the surface feels like, like the inside of a car tire, not the smoothness of the inner tube, but the rough substantial feel she remembers from crawling around her dad’s wrecking yard, playing hide-and-seek in the tire pile.
Her hand explores. Tire, tire, tire, rubber welt, another – then a slit. Her hand goes in, sideways, deep. She immediately takes it out again, not sure what her left pinkie fingertip had felt deep in there: slime? Water? She pulls the hand closer, in the darkness, and smells the side: no odor, really, just a whiff of airport soap and, just beneath it, something a bit mold-like, dank. Huh.
Melanie remembers old cellar rooms, Michigan basements, with that smell deep in the corners where the spiders live. She had enjoyed visiting with the spiders, bumping down the steep stairs on her butt. As a tiny one, she had delighted in the feel of small legs on her limbs, the frantic spider climbing a smooth, white, rolling mountain.
Laying her hands again against the rubber, she concentrates on her feet. She can feel them, much more than usual. Secure, on a small ledge or ring, circular, raised against the equally circular wall she’s leaning on. She tests the ring, and it holds as she drops her weight harder, bounces up a little, as much as her weak knees allow. No problem there.
And then there is. The curved surface in front of her shifts in the darkness, and gravity becomes a player. And tips her. Her weak feet lose the ring ground, and grope, scrabble, as the ring lifts backward, away from her. Her hands hold on for a second more, tension between them creating an adhesion, but not for long. Melanie falls, but everything feels too close, too dark, to really panic. She stretches out both arms as she tips backward, spread-eagled in descent, eyes open. No light falls in.
Falling. Is this a second yet? She is curiously comfortable. Melanie is not counting, is spinning silk in her mind, ropes to hurl and sail on. Concentrate.
Abruptly, she stops falling. Without much sensation, she is pressed against a second hard surface, this time against her back. Her hands feel out, and again, the feel is hard, hard like old rubber, like rubber past oil and street grit and water hosing and maybe even a fire hard. There are ridges, again, these ones uneven, older, as if more exposed to the elements than the earlier surface.
There was no impact, and she does not hurt. She can hear that she is no longer alone. Which feels good.
Melanie asks of the scrabbling off to her side, a human touching noise, not an insect pattern.
“Hello.” The answering voice is deeper than her own, but a woman, too. Alto. Calm.
“I just arrived. Where am I?”
“I do not know. I arrived here a short while ago, from a pavement in San Francisco.”
“Really? I was at Denver Airport, just getting onto a plane. I had just left my parents. I need to make sure they are OK. But where are we?”
“Can you remember what happened?”
“No, not really. Just a sound. An opening. A tentacle lifting me up. Then falling downward, but soft.”
“Yes. That’s me, too. No sound, just a sensation of going down in the street. Like something opening. No tentacle, but yes, some kind of creature. Big. And now I am here, and there are voices.”
As Melanie reaches out with her mind, full of curiosity, she hears them, too: voices around her, beneath her waist, echoing in her lungs, trembling along her femur. She sits up, much easier than she had ever done in her wheelchair, and listens inside.
Melanie hears the voice, recognizes its cadence, as if all terror and uncertainty rush out into the world in one word, then transform. She faints.
Akilah hears the tumble in the blackness of the scale night, and rushes forward. Melanie folds into her arms. They sit, one draped over the other, on the scale moving in the night. Akilah fears nothing, knows no pain, as she sings to and is sung to by the voices, waiting for Melanie to come back. She is a young one. She is glad to have a comrade again. A girl, twisted lower body and legs, but breathing.
Melanie’s eye lashes flutter against Akilah’s neck, her breath changes rhythm. Now she is back.
“What surprised you?” a warm mouth whispers in her ear.
“I know that voice. It’s been a long time, I had forgotten.”
Melanie whispers back, keeping close to the warm human skin and blood that is holding her now.
“It’s the spider voice. In the cellar. Spun me in softest silk, right across my eyes, one night….” Melanie’s voice recedes a bit, in memory, soft like a warm river in Akilah’s ear, open and vulnerable.
“I heard it too, before, in a small river far away. It’s good.”
“It’s good. It has come back before.” Melanie remembers nights that had terrified her co-protestors, lying on cold pavements in schoolbus yards, limbs twisted over chains they had padlocked shut. Campaigning for ramps and access points, against nursing homes and locking people away. Bringing it all out into the open. They had thrown the keys away, long parabolas of tiny silver twinkles into the far bushes. She had heard the spider voice then, rolling, holding, spinning cocoons. She had heard the spider voice when they broke into a juvenile care facility, lifted each other over broken windows, to visit with incarcerated youths, their alter egos, holding each other on slim cots. The voice had draped silks over her and her cot mate, a round brown teenager, hair shaved, softest down, eyelashes trembling. The voice had whispered to them. The youths they visited had been frightened, elated, and then exhausted, adrenaline mixing with the juices of lying close, of sensual touch. Melanie shakes away this memory, uncurls from Akilah’s lap just a bit, to open a space for talk.
“What are we doing here? Where are we? Who are you?”
They shift apart, introduce themselves.
Melanie. New student, disability activist, access specialist. On her way to head out to Pitzer College, Southern California.
Akilah. Poet, dancer, on her way from a Black Lives Matter protest in San Francisco.
They are flying, alive, into the night, together into their futures. This scale is too small to hold them, and it is not their place to stay here, they both know that. They are needed elsewhere. But it is clear the world is shifting, something is being born. What does it want of them? Melanie thinks of her parents, misses them. But that is not the way forward.
Melanie takes Akilah’s hand. She is ready to respond to the voice. Akilah is ready, too. She grasps Melanie’s hand, transmits her resolve. They get up. Melanie teeters on her weak legs, leans against Akilah, feels her own side melting into Akilah’s hip. In that other woman’s hip, she can feel echoes of water, rivers, of green against street grey. Melanie is full of resolve, of spider warmth, metal spokes, and tensile strength. Akilah feels the smoothness, clarity, in Melanie’s warm palm.
The darkness around them is full and warm, an entity pressing against their eyes. The voices come.
“Help us rebuild.”
“Where are my parents? Are they OK?”
“We do not know.”
Akilah hurts knowing there is no one person who claims her heart right now. Her grandmothers are dead, her parents, long settled far away. Her comrades, in fight.
“We do not know, but we need you. They need you, too, after the bombs and the fires. We need to build. Are you ready?”
Together, they step to the edge of the scale.
They step off.
I’m good, thanks.
“But there are all-female gyms too - and I can’t get in those.”
I wanted to tell him that he’s a piece of shit, spit it in his face, pick up that hot lattée and pour it in his lap, over his cock, praying it was still hot enough to leave a lasting scar, make him impotent perhaps - or at least cry out like a little girl. His little girl - he calls me that. My little girl. He says it when I suck him off. He moans and groans it with a greedy expression. Little girl. Ah, my little girl. While I’m choking on his cock. Sucking. Spitting. Retching. Repeating. Until he jerks it in my face or on my tits, into my mouth, on my hair, or the clean shirt I put on that same morning. I wonder how the porn stars make it look so easy, sexy and delightful somehow. Tasty. As if they were yearning to be silenced, craving to choke on somebody’s genitals. And all the way through they smile large and bright smiles across entire faces, wide and open - delighted. Choking delightfully. My little girl. I wonder if he’d have in fact preferred a little girl to a grown woman. Maybe he imagined someone else instead, maybe he truly imagined a little girl, someone like his cousin Tanja - only 12 and still flat-chested, hairless soft vagina, untouched, unblemished, innocent. Sometimes he tells me how he dislikes that I’ve had so many men before him. Every time he does I’m perplexed. I count them in my head once again. Round them all up, sort the men I was with in chronological order. Only the ones I actually fucked. There was Matt - I was seventeen and we were in love for a teenage-while. Then there was Boli – summer-job colleague - we did it at my place, my parents were on vacation and I was nineteen. We did it only once but I never felt him inside. (Under the circumstances he shouldn’t even make the list.) And Dennis - he was sweet - but he would tell his guys about our intimate encounters and later he met someone else, fell in love for real. That’s it. One. Two. Three. Three men before I met him - I was practically a virgin.
“That’s the point.”
“See, so they too have exclusive clubs - for women only.”
I knew what the grin meant. Condescending. Smug. Devious piece of shit. Arrogant as fuck. It comes with the money and the suits, I sometimes think. Attached somehow.
“It’s not a club, not the kind—”
“Must be some lesbian thing anyway...operated by dykes who wanna court or be courted by other dykes. Obviously.”
It was seething in my chest. I checked my phone. No messages. Still early. I faced the window, staring out mutely. He kept educating the left side of my face on the obvious purposes of all-female clubs, gyms, whatever. His reflection stopped my gaze on the pane - I was dumbfounded for a second - I couldn’t believe I’d be going home with this man.
He wasn’t stupid. And yet in some ways he was. Or ignorant. But those two usually go together. I mean, where’s the fucking difference really? Maybe it came with the money and the suits he wore to work to his ivory tower where all the people looked and behaved like him. Dipshits. And then he used that word. To sound educated? Gallant? Mocking piece of shit. As if that’s what men like him do in gyms - court. Right. He wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly what ‘dyke’ meant coming from him - from someone like him. What it implied. What it could unleash.
I sure would have preferred a man who understands, who uses words purposefully, who doesn’t pronounce words in ways everybody else does just because, who doesn’t insist on being sucked off - forcefully pulling hair and pushing the head. Someone who’s interested, who cares, who wants me to speak, who likes to listen when I speak. Someone humble and giving - modest - because he knows female struggles. Or perhaps that’s too much asked. That’s probably too much asked.
“Hey! Where you at?!” He snapped his fingers in my face.
“I’m sorry, I was just—”
“Stop fucking staring at the waiter!”
“I wasn’t staring at...I was...”
“Relax, I’m just fucking with you.”
At least he looks at me. Notices me. Notices when my mind goes astray. Isn’t that something? Sometimes he utters a kind word, genuine and honest, passes a compliment about my appearance, my hair or something. No subtle irony. No mockery. It feels good when he does. It feels real, like it could last. For a while. Or forever. But I was brought up to become a failed realist - indoctrinated by romance for one childhood only to battle the dark side as an adult, trying to dismantle - to unlearn - the ideology as an educated woman, an academic while my money was running out. I know ‘forever’ is the most silly thing to hope for. At least, sneaks in unannounced. At least he perceives me.
“Same with gay rights. Why should I as a shop owner - hypothetically speaking - be prohibited to decide who is allowed in and who not - all-female gyms do it, and night clubs do it too. So why not a grocery store or a restaurant? Why would I not be allowed to refuse service to gays?”
My head was spinning. That’s what Nazis said about Jews too. That’s how it all started and they were carted off into ghettos and then into their very own camps, exclusive centers, Jews only. Though that’s not true either, crosses my mind. They were not only Jews. There were other minorities too. Gays and lesbians and gypsies and dissidents and traitors and so many other groups I can’t think of because my head is still fucking spinning, fuming, almost exploding. How did it come to this? How did I fall in love with this? They say there are other men. Not like this. Other men. Good men. They say there are good men. Seems like all the good men are in places I’m not. Or maybe they only have eyes for good girls - and we all know what good girls look like. I could never compete. And suddenly I wonder: was being alone worse than this? Why did I give that up? Why did I think he was worth it? What was I so desperate for? What was wrong with sitting in cafés without some dipshit’s logic in my face? Was I this desperate for company, for attention, for human touch? Any kind of touch?
“Don’t you think?”
Some of his questions were actual questions.
“Ah, forget it. Want anything else?”
No. I’m good, thanks.
Adventure as Resistance
with excerpts by Sam Doran and Kala Dunn
Protesting alongside students -- a "Choose Your Own Adventure" project.
In the twelve years I have been teaching literature and gender studies at the university level, I have noticed a common trend among a majority of my students: they enjoy – even love – the material we study, but they often are not successful at convincing others about the importance of such work. They struggle to grasp that studying queer literature is an act of resistance that also teaches how to resist. We are thinkers, critics, analyzers, arguers; we understand the paramount importance of clear, concise, forceful thinking and writing. We also firmly grasp the necessity of being able to identify and analyze the narratives put forth in our world; few disciplines delve so deeply into the many facets of human nature and labor both to understand and improve the human condition. When I teach queer literature, I add several dimensions to our studies by frequently bringing up issues of activism and social justice work – issues that tend to overwhelm, even frighten, many students, while energizing others. In those moments, students begin to sense that our work is not the hermetically sealed, dry stuff that so many of our critics seem to believe it to be. In fact, they start to see that studying literature, and especially queer literature, has serious, real-world implications; the connections we make and the engagement the material demands moves us into a space of resistance and engagement.
Ironically, the move toward resistance and engagement – at least insofar as it involved my queer literature students – was more straightforward over a decade ago when I started teaching college. In those days, my classroom was populated almost exclusively with queer students, the majority of whom were politically engaged. They choses to study this literature because they identified with it in profound, meaningful ways and even in 2005 or so, it took serious courage to enroll in such classes. This choice performed as a kind of coming out, and a risky one at that: some students worried about their parents seeing the course listed on their transcripts, while others expressed concern about their friends and acquaintances finding out. I even had students request the academic version of the plain brown paper wrapper: “would you let me take the class, but register for it as an independent study?” The answer, of course, was yes because I knew it would be listed with a generic course signifier that would not cause problems in other areas of their lives. I always figured it was more important for students to have the experience of studying material about which they were curious rather than demanding exactitude on their transcripts. The community in those particular classrooms was at once curious and wonderful, as a kind of subversive camaraderie existed amongst us all.
In the intervening years, my queer lit course has become more diverse; students from all sorts of backgrounds take part, whether for credit as an English major, as part of a Gender & Diversity Studies minor, or as an elective. This represents progress, to be sure, but it imports a certain level of apathy, too – especially in terms of fighting for equality and social justice when it comes to queer people. Now that marriage equality has been achieved, it has become fashionable to assert that parity has been reached and that it is uncool to focus upon the inequities that queer people still face. Well, it was, anyway, right up until November 8. It was a curious experience to battle the malaise I describe in the former condition for more than half of the semester and then watch it evaporate, almost overnight, when the election results came in. Suddenly students were awake again and I was reminded of the “old days,” when my students considered activism and resistance essential.
Prior to the election I had been employing various strategies to enliven my students in that regard; after the election the relevance of those strategies, particularly the “Choose Your Own Adventure” assignment, demanded far less explanation. Teaching queer literature changed tremendously several years earlier for both me and my students when I started insisting that they engage what we were exploring and discussing in the classroom with the world outside. I wanted them to grasp in a meaningful way that studying and critiquing literature prepares us for navigating the world; for understanding, at least partially, and learning to appreciate the experiences of others. I want students to engage and summon up a desire to improve our world if they can. I want them to learn to resist what they find objectionable and to take action when possible. I want them to see, too, that resistance and action often are not successful in any traditional sense.
To prepare them for that possibility, I assign Jack Halberstam’s treatise on failure in which he asserts, “The Queer Art of Failure dismantles the logics of success and failure with which we currently live. In certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world” (2). This proposition has become central to how I teach queer literature because it frees both me and my students to experiment without the expectation that we are going to achieve success, at least in the ways any of us is used to. As a result, each time I teach the course, I ask students to complete an assignment called “Choose Your Own Adventure” that requires them to venture into the world and spend 4-6 hours minimum seeking out “real life” connections to the literature and theory that we read.
Many students, despite their high ideals and hopes for change, find this to be an intimidating requirement. Many of them seize up at the idea of answering an assignment that reads like this:
The title of this assignment says it all. I want you to go out into the world and have an experience of your own design that connects meaningfully with the queer theory and literature we’ve been reading. I want you to seek out opportunities to address issues you find troubling; to disrupt the narratives offered by people around you. I do not, however, want to tell you how to do that because I believe it squelches and/or unduly influences your creativity and ingenuity. I have been offering this opportunity to students for several years now and they never fail to surprise and delight me with the adventures they create and experience. So, that’s what I want you to do. Think big and push your boundaries; teach yourself and the rest of us something new. Fight for a change; make a powerful statement. Ideally, you’ll spend 4-6 hours on this project. You will connect it in a significant way to the course material. Then you’ll report back about your experience in a video – yes, a video! – of yourself describing the experience and offering clear, explicit connections to the course.
None of them, at least in the beginning, find it fun being pushed so ruthlessly out of the cozy nest of our classroom. Though it seems obvious to me from my perch, it does not seem to have occurred to many of them that our work should have a practical application. Many students at this point start to wheedle: “what have other students done for this project?” or “could you give us a hint?” Like Bartleby, I invariably respond politely and unaffirmatively. I prefer that they find a path of their own and then lead the rest of us down it.
I remind them at this point of one of Halberstam’s arguments: “learning often takes place completely independently of teaching” (12). I follow that up with what I consider an important charge – and one that aligns nicely with studying queer issues and art – to become their own teachers. “You are only in this place with me for the space of a few months,” I say, “and you need to take charge of teaching yourself and seeking out opportunities to further your own education.” Then I work to model some of the ways I have done this in my own life. I tell them about how, as a graduate student, I became enamored of an author who was almost completely unknown in the halls of my university: Beverley Nichols, whose work they read later in the semester. I originally discovered his work thanks to a short blurb in a magazine touting his “gardening” trilogies – he produced two – as great holiday gifts for women gardeners. Their recommender was so enthusiastic that I could not help but seek a volume out. What I found was a droll narrator who was as queer as could be; he told hilarious stories about buying old houses and renovating them and their grounds into fabulous showplaces. While he had precious little practical advice to offer readers, I believed he was engaged in a subversive plot to infiltrate middle-class homes and deliver unto them narratives about queer community to change their attitudes about queer folks in mid-century England, and really anywhere the books sold. The trilogies – written in the 1930s and 1950s – have never gone out of print and still enjoy a wide readership today. I was totally smitten from my first read and I wanted to write academic articles about their importance. My doctoral advisors, however, were decidedly less enthusiastic. They thought the work was too mainstream and not literary enough; yes, they agreed, the writing was witty and entertaining but it was, perhaps, a bit too “unserious.”
I remained unconvinced and chose my own adventure instead. I started giving presentations about the author at academic conferences and at various brown-bag lunches on campus. I marketed Nichols’s work as a kind of precursor to Martha Stewart’s, only with far more political punch. I fought to engage folks and make them see what I saw when I read those trilogies: humor masking a deadly serious desire to create inclusive communities that look quite different from traditional patriarchal ones. Slowly, my advisors started to come around and that particular adventure laid the groundwork for what would become the centerpiece of my dissertation. I reminded them that throughout the early phases of that particular crusade – which might have been a better word choice than ‘adventure’—I felt great trepidation defending work that I was unsure I could convince anyone else mattered. I worried that my advisors and the audiences who attended my talks would find my assertions ridiculous and my choice of subject matter absurd. However, using the tools my advisors equipped me with and relying upon my own sensibilities and aesthetics, I forged ahead and in the intervening years I have published multiple journal articles about various aspects of Nichols’s work, including one with a grad student in queer lit. That particular example offers them another perspective about what resistance and activism can mean and illustrates the concrete applications of our work.
Getting real with my students and offering them insight about my experiences frequently helps us forge bonds; I consider it the best way to model engaged intellectualism and an eagerness to learn and experience. More and more – and perhaps this was always true though it seems more pronounced recently – I find that my students are hungry for models to consider as they navigate the world. When I lay bare my own passions, quirks, and affinities, I find many of my students come to life in ways I do not believe they ever would have if I remained impersonal and removed. My own scholarship is frequently reviewed – perhaps even dismissed – as surprisingly personal, and yet I elicit strong positive responses as a result. I am a queer educator going about educating queerly – as my own form of resistance – and I want to engage in teaching akin to Halberstam’s: “An ‘open’ pedagogy, in the spirit of Ranciére and Freire, also detaches itself from prescriptive methods, fixed logics, and epistemes, and it orients us toward problem-solving knowledge or social visions of radical justice” (17). I believe we arrive at those possibilities not by retreating into so-called professionalism or by distancing ourselves as educators, but by revealing the vulnerability of our own subjectivities and proclivities and making them accessible, at least partially, to our students so they may identify a kind of kinship and even belonging that fosters exploration and possibility, even in the face of potential failure.
Some students, and this has happened frequently enough to bear mentioning, decide at this stage of the course to resist the assignment. They find the prospect of venturing forth and undertaking this small measure of their own education too daunting, perhaps even frightening, to overcome. Occasionally, though very infrequently, I lose students altogether at this point in the semester. A very few have dropped my course when we start to discuss this project and while I cannot definitively prove that it was the cause, I certainly think it contributed to their decision. Others opt to fail the assignment, usually using the excuse that they could not come up with any ideas or that they do not think it is fair to ask them to participate in this way. I do not dismiss or take these responses lightly; I want my students to learn and engage. I fail as an educator in those moments to move my students toward the challenges they face and I have not yet found an adequate solution for this problem. I consider it frequently, however, and I cannot help but hope that learning still takes place when those students resist this assignment or other parts of the course. I believe they discover some part of themselves in the process and while I cannot know if that knowledge is satisfying, I have reason to believe it might be in some cases. After all, we cannot truly resist until we actually know what/why we are.
For example, several years ago I was giving an anti-homophobia talk on my campus for the queer-student group. One of my colleagues decided to bring his entire freshman composition class to the event, unbeknownst to me. I have always had a policy against requiring entire classes of students to attend these events because someone invariably objects and can really derail the entire learning experience in registering their displeasure. While I think those moments can still be productive, the other attendees tend to disagree and I like to honor their wishes if I can. On that day, though, my colleague made the choice for me as he marched his students into the auditorium and asked them to be seated. I had not been speaking for more than a few minutes when one of his students loudly stated “you can’t make me sit here and listen to this” and dramatically bolted from the room. Being fairly used to this response, I did not miss a beat. The audience, however, was visibly stunned and it took nearly fifteen minutes for them to appear engaged again. After the talk, I talked with my colleague about the experience and he was genuinely rattled at the student’s virulent response. I commiserated momentarily and then largely forgot the experience since it had become a commonplace in my work.
Several days later, though, my colleague approached me again and said that when his class met for the first time after the talk that he was met with angry recriminations from several students who questioned his right to force them to attend an anti-homophobia event. They threatened action against him with our dean and the university’s president. This also was not new territory for me, but he was definitely on unfamiliar terrain. The student who departed the event was the most angry and for weeks afterward the subject kept resurfacing in class discussion. My colleague’s decision touched a nerve and sparked what appeared to be unforgettable discomfort for his students and while many educators might find that unacceptable for no other reason than the unease it creates in the classroom, I remain unconvinced that it did more harm than good. Here is why: despite the defector’s anger and vitriol, he went on to sign up for two additional electives with my colleague. A year and a half after my talk, that student mentioned the incident again and told my colleague that his anger had given way to embarrassment and that he had actually attended another one of my talks of his own free will. He was not ready for the moment my colleague manufactured, but if he had not experienced that discomfort, dissonance, and anger, would his mind have ultimately changed? Sometimes failure plays a serious role in educating us, uncomfortable as it may be.
In his study of failure that I have cited repeatedly – and that my students never fail to love reading because it is smart and accessible – Halberstam argues,
I believe in low theory in popular places, in the small, the inconsequential, the antimonumental, the micro, the irrelevant; I believe in making a difference by thinking little thoughts and sharing them widely. I seek to provoke, annoy, bother, irritate, and amuse; I am chasing small projects, micropolitics, hunches, whims, fantasies. (21)
While I love this mindset and its creative potential, it is the word antimonumental that sticks out most. The entire sentence succinctly characterizes the outcomes I hope to elicit with the “Adventure” project, but no other word makes more clear that the value of the assignment need not be crushing. I believe that all my students upon their first encounter with the assignment imagine themselves undertaking some permanently life-altering project, demonstration, or act of resistance, even if they cannot imagine what that might be. They think I am asking them to mastermind the impossible, and while I admit that their results frequently do blow my mind, I request no such thing. I respect that each student is different and that they must establish their own parameters and ethics as they imagine engaging queer theory and literature in the real world. Some students arrive sophisticated and seasoned, especially since my Gay & Lesbian Literature course always includes graduates and undergraduates, though I would be foolish to assert that one of those groups falls into that category and the other does not. Other students appear with greater critical thinking and savvy analysis skills. The secret to the assignment is that I want my students to demonstrate sincere engagement and authentic investment, no matter the scale of the project. I want to know they pushed their own boundaries and demonstrated that they see how studying literature and theory translates into living and those who accept that challenge never actually fail, even if they do not achieve their desired results. To better illustrate this point, consider the resistance reports of my co-authors, two exceptional graduate students at Murray State University:
A Lesbian Film Festival in Paducah, KY by Kala Dunn
When I first saw the “Choose Your Own Adventure” assignment on our syllabus, I briefly considered dropping the class. I visualized my grade point average going down in flames. I was so accustomed to conventional essay writing that in the face of complete and total autonomy, I had no idea where to begin. But perhaps more significantly, as a then-closeted LGBT person living in a very intolerant area of the country, I recognized that this assignment would force me to face my own discomfort in a real-world way that no essay ever had. After much consideration, I decided to stay enrolled in the class, and I chose to attend an all-lesbian film festival that was going to be held in a nearby city.
It was possibly the most influential experience of my life to date.
Participating in this adventure was significant on a personal level in that I gained courage from seeing a roomful of out-and-proud lesbians making powerful films. But it was equally important for me on an academic level in that I was able to connect the films on the screen, the life experiences in the room, and the literature I was reading for class. I realized the texts we were studying were more than hollow words inked on paper; they actually represented the lives of human beings, and by engaging with the literature I could gain a more complete understanding of the people around me. As I watched the films and the response of the crowd, I thought about our class readings on religion and the LGBT community. I thought about the violence that community experiences. I thought about the ways that community forms itself and the pressures it collectively faces. And with all of these thoughts, the literature came alive. Dry words on a page suddenly breathed and walked and spoke.
In addition to invigorating the body of LGBT literature, this assignment taught me to be an emboldened scholar who takes chances. Going to that film festival may sound pretty tame on the adventure scale, but for someone who grew up in a climate of religious intolerance in rural Kentucky, this was a monumental experience, and it was an experience I actively chose to have. I learned the importance of taking the reins in my own life and choosing to try something intimidating, whether that be going to a movie theater or clicking “send” on an email to an academic journal. Since completing this assignment, I have submitted articles, sent in papers for conferences, and decided to pursue admission to Ph.D. programs – things I never would have done had I not realized my own agency. Sitting in front of that movie screen, I discovered that what had seemed like an impossible leap between the paper academic world and the fleshy real world was actually just a short step across the threshold of a theater. While it sounds hopelessly melodramatic to say that a college assignment changed my life, this one really, truly did.
Fear, Adventure, Agency by Sam Doran
To say that I was hesitant when first assigned the “Choose Your Own Adventure” project would give me far too much credit; I was absolutely mortified. Shy, socially awkward, and confident in little apart from my own inadequacy, the prospect of complete freedom held a terrifying potential for failure. Compounding upon that fear, the assignment called for real-world interaction regarding queerness; as a lifelong inhabitant of closets, this counterintuitive, dangerous prompt left me feeling paralyzed. I spent weeks in a state of horrified contemplation, convinced that I was incapable of completing this task, until a frightening but appealing idea occurred to me.
I am transgender, and at this point I had just started transitioning; while I had disclosed my identity to my family and friends, I was not out at work. As an administrative assistant in a very conservative office on campus, I had often heard my coworkers belittle LGBT people with particular disdain reserved for trans people. However, the strain of inhabiting two different identities had begun to wear away at me, and while the prospect frightened me, I felt ready. I decided to come out as trans at work and observe my coworkers’ responses. Once I had decided on the subject of my project, I found a fervent sort of excitement in mapping out my methodology. My boss supported me fully when I approached her with my plan. I composed a meticulously crafted email, revealing my identity and explaining the changes needed in the workplace, including changing to male pronouns. My boss then forwarded this email out to my colleagues within our department, adding a message of support in which she clearly set the expectation for compliance in gendering me properly. Cynic that I am, I had assumed that I would face some minor harassment, but happily I have not; the only overt responses I received were unexpectedly kind words of encouragement from several of my coworkers.
In hindsight, I used the assignment to give myself a sense of distance from the vulnerability of this incredibly personal endeavor; in viewing coming out as coursework, I could observe my coworkers’ reactions as a sociological experiment and detach from the real-world ramifications of any backlash. This assignment also served an extra incentive to spend time thoroughly examining all my options and planning the most effective course, allowing me agency over my disclosure that I lacked in previous extemporaneous encounters. While I may have come out in less than ideal situations in the past, I would not take any chances with my grade on the line. The flexibility of the assignment allowed me the potential to address a pressing problem in my life at that particular moment: ridding myself of the need to hide for eight hours of my day has given me so much confidence, and the process itself was equally liberating. Using creative, independent thought to navigate through fear is a powerful tool that made this assignment one of the most rewarding experiences of my formal education to date.
Though these examples may strike you as extreme and extraordinary – and they certainly are – they were executed without my guidance beyond the original assignment. Both students wrote papers about their experiences; each surprised and delighted me with their thoughtful analysis and the connections they drew between their experiences and our course material. Each staged a form of resistance pertinent to their places in life and against the resistant backdrop of conservative rural Western Kentucky. In other semesters, students have engaged in similarly astounding, meaningful self-authored projects of a variety I would never have imagined had I carefully delivered an assignment prompt for them to complete. It is important to note here, too, that the results are frequently exceptional; I have not just cherry-picked the best examples I could find – though they are certainly remarkable and worthy of admiration. I could compile an entire volume of student writing wherein they would explain their adventures and what they learned and each of the entries would be on par with these, I assure you. Corny and trite as it may sound, these students teach me something profound each time they choose an adventure and then report back about it – after they move past the initial dismay and paralysis, that is.
In closing, I would like to say that some students design adventures that do not work out for a number of reasons. Some have successfully tried out drag; in such a role some shine and others struggle. Some report feeling deeply embarrassed or even unable to perform once they have transformed themselves. What we learn – my students and I – when we discuss these moments of failure is that the emotions those experiences evoke bring the literature we read alive, even when the feelings are ones typically considered negative. One student wrote a moving paper and gave an eloquent presentation about understanding public shame stemming from one’s difference in a new, profound way after discovering the courage it takes to perform in drag. As a straight man, he reported, he had encountered little resistance throughout his life; the opportunity to feel acutely self-aware and ashamed proved to be as temporarily debilitating as it was lastingly revelatory.
Some students have pushed themselves on a smaller scale by visiting gay clubs or lesbian bars for the first time. While their classmates sometimes find those particular efforts rather tame, I respect those students’ fear and discomfort. Some come away with an air of nonchalance: “that wasn’t a big deal at all,” they assert. For others, though, even that level of experimentation can prove frightening and overwhelming, but I have yet to encounter a student who has not left those adventures without a better grasp of the queer literature we read so closely and care about so deeply. Others have designed anti-hate campaigns that they launched on campus to varying degrees of success. Others start to engage with activist possibilities on campus and in our community and organize full-fledged campaigns to change policy or protest injustice. Because of their admirable efforts, some change has come and formerly quiet, if not silenced, voices suddenly found the monologues and dialogues that literature teaches us so much about. No matter what, they always make me proud – primarily because they learn how to teach themselves and apply their work in the world. In other words, they breathe the life into queer literary studies that was always there but somehow got stifled by the boundaries the classroom created between them and the world I am trying to prepare them to engage. In that way, in the classroom I create, they choose my adventure for me.
Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke UP, 2011.
PTSD: Why I Resist
A recent story on the local news reported how the Austin Independent School District (AISD) police mishandled the evidence in a pre-K rape case, and closed the case prematurely without pressing charges against the teacher who allegedly raped the 4-year-old. I’m not surprised this happened, as I have had a rather unsettling experience with the AISD police in the past.
I am Deaf, and my hearing aids offer a little bit of assistance with communicating with hearing people but I still rely mostly on lip reading. I identify as genderqueer, but I was assigned female at birth, so you get an idea of my physical looks. I graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in Austin, Texas. At Austin High, it is common for graduates to return to visit their old teachers and say hi to their friends who have not yet graduated and talk about how college/life is going, to motivate the students to work hard to get into college. To my knowledge, there have never been any issues with former students returning, even though most of the time, they don’t sign in at the attendance office as visitors, and they waltz into classes that are in session to mingle.
I decided to participate in this tradition by returning a year after I graduated. My dad had drilled it into me that I needed to sign in as a visitor so I wouldn’t get in trouble, so I went directly to the attendance office and asked where I needed to sign in. The attendance lady was an older woman whose personality was as prickly as her short white hair. She told me that the person I needed to sign in with was out for lunch. I asked if it was okay if I just visited a few teachers since it was during lunch, and the attendance lady said okay, and I left the office in good spirits.
I stopped by my old golf coach’s classroom, but he had a class in session, and I was pretty shy at the time, so I didn’t want to interrupt. I moved on and chatted with my senior English teacher who wrote my letters of recommendation for college. I told her classes were going well, and thanked her for all her help when I was in her class. I then moved on to visit my old media teacher, since I was in the film program at my college. We were in the middle of discussing ways to get jobs in the film industry when the classroom door opened and two male AISD police officers stepped in. They looked at me and called out my name.
Confused, I replied, “Yeah?”
“Come with us,” they said as they stepped outside the door.
I told my media teacher that I would be right back, and followed the officers into the hall.
One of the officers I knew from my four years as a student. He knew me as well and knew I was Deaf, as he and his previous partner had always joked with me about my hearing aids being a music device, which wasn’t allowed in school. The other officer was new and I didn’t recognize him at all. They told me I needed to leave and gestured toward the stairwell. (I was on the third floor, and the stairs led directly to the front entrance.) I was confused, as I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue, so I said okay and began walking toward the stairwell. Next thing I knew, one of the officers grabbed my arm. As he held to me tightly enough to leave bruises, he pulled me back toward him. Reflexively, I jerked my arm away, and, immediately, both officers proceeded to tackle me onto the ground. I landed on my elbow, felt a pop, and my lip ring busted when my face hit the ground. One of the officers had his knee or foot on my back as he put me in handcuffs and jerked me up, which did not make my elbow feel good.
Everything started flashing before my eyes, and I went into shock. My heart started pounding, my whole body went rigid, and I started panicking, thoughts flying through my head. This has never happened before. I thought the one officer was my friend. Why would he hurt me? I didn’t do anything wrong. I did what they asked, right? They asked me to leave so I started leaving. So how did I end up in handcuffs? Did I miss something? What’s happening? I want my mommy. I did everything right, so why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I’m not a threat. I’m smaller and weaker than they were, but both men jumped me. I didn’t understand. What did I do wrong??
They yanked me off the ground and led me to their office and sat me in a chair. I was bawling from the pain in my elbow and because I was terrified at this point. I managed to ask, “What did I do wrong?”
The officer I knew ignored me, and the other officer looked at me and said, “You know what you did wrong.”
I replied that I didn’t, and asked if I was being arrested. They said yes. I asked again what I did wrong, what was I being arrested for, and they repeated, “You know what you did wrong.” I told them I needed to call my dad because I was supposed to pick up my brother from school that day (I had the car), and they told me I could call them from jail. I was hysterical at this point and felt myself shut down.
What felt like hours later, the lunch bell rang and the officers chose this moment to walk me outside to their car. They proudly paraded me through all the students rushing to get to class, which was humiliating because I knew my face was red and soaked with tears, as I was marched in front of my former classmates. I kept my head down, too ashamed and scared to look up.
I didn’t find out what I was being charged with until I got to the jail. Criminal trespassing. Criminal fucking trespassing, for doing what many other former students have done, dropping by the high school to visit with teachers. I thought I did the right thing by getting permission to be there and not interrupting classes. But I guess not. I believe they singled me out because they viewed me as a disabled (Deaf) female they could take advantage of, and had nothing better to do with their day.
The charges ended up being dismissed because of their excessive force and not reading me my Miranda Rights. But the emotional trauma the experience put me through was far worse than having something on my record. Almost a decade later, I still do not trust police. My PTSD isn’t so bad; I don’t have as frequent nightmares, but I still get stuck in the mindset of how I must be a horrible person to have deserved that treatment. When I see a cop, or even someone practicing their open-carry rights by mounting a gun on their belt, because it reminds me of a cop, I start shaking and have difficulty breathing. In order to prevent a full-blown anxiety attack, I have to channel my anxiety into anger because it’s easier to manage.
Being stuck in the fight-or-flight response has started to give me serious health problems, including chronic pain and headaches. And I still don’t understand why this happened to me. Since my lawyer believed the officers said something that I missed, I wanted to go back and request that all AISD officers undergo training on how to appropriately interact with Deaf/disabled people, so this wouldn’t happen to anyone else. But nothing came of it. I never got an apology or any reason why two full-grown, 200+ pound men felt the need to tackle me to the ground and arrest me after I complied with their request. I am terrified of cops, because I now know from my experience that they abuse their power, and they get away with it.
It is deeply triggering when people say that people who are victimized by police brutality deserved it. I’m still trying to figure out why I deserved to be assaulted and arrested by the AISD police, because I feel their response was overkill. If they had just given me a ticket or even a warning, I would have learned what I did wrong, and everything would have been fine. I wouldn’t have done it again. Instead, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD and have a strong distrust and fear of all police officers. I stay far away from all AISD properties because I don’t know what I did wrong, and I don’t want to risk accidentally doing it again. I avoid cops, because I can’t trust them to not turn on me after pretending to be my friend.
This experience has taught me a lot about humanity. How people will just stand by and watch injustice happen without stepping in and helping the victim. How people with power won’t always use it for good. How you can think someone is your friend, until they turn on you. Injustices happen on a daily basis, but they get covered up. Cops take advantage of weakness, and get away with it. There is no accountability for the police force.
This experience is why I resist. When corrupt people are in power and police brutality is basically legalized, the world is not safe for anyone. My experience gives me strength to Resist!
My Half Black/Half White African-American Gay and Lesbian Children
What is a straight white mother even allowed to say
About her children who have grown up and turned out this way
Sometimes afraid when I must say those words out loud
What if my mouth speaks things that aren’t even allowed
It is no secret that both of my black kids are gay
Now it’s every word choice before speaking I weigh
A boy who loves boys and a girl who loves girls
How is this seen to everyone else in the world
To me it should not and to them it don’t matter
People will talk, amongst each other they chatter
To some it must seem a kind of double-jeopardy
For the skin they are in – has no re-me-dy
They carry the label some people call black
Just being that color can be cause for attack
Being black is enough but being gay is too much
Overwhelmingly so, no explanation can touch
Everyone brands and calls them some name
I gave them life but all I feel is such shame
Who they are now I never thought of when born
And the who they’ve become is forever a thorn
It stabs at my heart, it’s not happening, I pretend
Although knowing their life, is not just a trend
Brown would be good but not black and not gay
I cover my head screaming, make it all go away
I learned what I learned and knew what was taught
Misunderstanding and prejudice was like a bug that I caught
“We can’t take a pill and make gay go away”
“But if you just go to therapy you will no longer be that way”
“We can’t peel off our black just to be white”
“But if you will just talk real proper you will be alright”
Not wanting them to be whoever they will be
I want to change them, thinking it will set them free
But it’s not them who needs freeing, it is me who is bound
It’s my old-world thinking, in discrimination I drown
The path given them was not by their choice
Endeavor and fight to use their own voice
I don’t know their world because I’m not from there
How society and I see them ain’t even fair
One day I wake to a new mind and new heart
I hope they still love me and allow a new start
I am their mother and to them I gave birth
Together no matter, we all share the same earth
I no longer cringe, instead stand by their side
I don’t have to lie, ignore it or hide
Because they are my blood, it is them who are me
When we stand together everyone will see
It takes strength and courage to stand up and be proud
There’s no longer shame in loving my children out loud
I resist the urge to label and I resist the urge to hate
I love them almost the same as if they were white and were straight
We Can’t Resist the Love
Fight the Power
Justin O’Keith Higgs
Belle of Ability
This photo was taken from a session I did for a dear, talented friend of mine. She had made the gown, the bonnet, shoes, gloves, bouquet, and parasol all by hand! She entered them into a local contest and won, but she needed photos in order to submit her entry. During her session, I wanted, more than anything, to make her feel like a princess. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful. Together - and with little effort thanks to the confident, strong, beautiful nature of the subject - we shared an important message: that beauty knows no ability.
These two photos are from a self-portrait project I did last autumn. It started as a project to improve my photography skills, but ended up being so much more: a journey of self-reflection. I wanted to provide a narrative on the strength and determination required to survive motherhood. For many, many mothers, it takes so much more than people on the outside can even begin to understand. So, I decided to let my mind go back and reflect on what I had been through since having my son: the breastfeeding struggles, the physical healing from giving birth, yes. But more than anything else, I battled postpartum depression. I fought. I yelled. I cried; oh, how I cried. I smiled in spite of myself, because I was supposed to be happy, right? I had given birth to this beautiful boy who was easy going and a good nurser. I couldn't ask for much more. The stigma surrounding PPD had me denying that I needed help; accepting the notion that if I admitted that I was weak, it meant I would never be strong again, that I would be a bad mother. But in truth, it takes strength to admit you need help. It takes courage to fight back and be open about any kind of mental-health struggles. As mothers, we ought to stand together; we must destroy these ideas; we must tear the stigma to shreds. As humans we must fight back, we must resist.
Arttitude is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which serves to unite the LGBTQ+ and diverse community, local artists, academic researchers, and public and private organizations with the goal of inciting positive change and equality for all through art shows, music events, and other artistic endeavors.
Arttitude wishes to capture the narratives of marginalized communities in the form of artistic expression because it is these stories that highlight our diversity which will empower local, regional, national, and global organizations to make a positive transformation for the future. Arttitude is where the artistic community, academic researchers, and public and private advocacy organizations intersect with the goal of telling stories and inciting real and positive change for the future.
2017 Arttitude Board of Directors
Jerome Larez & Rafiq Salleh-Flowers, Co-Founders
• Megan Opperman • Kurtz Frausun • Maria Angela • Tyler Herbert • Lavaughn “Lava” Brown
To celebrate the inaugural issue of Opaline Magazine, we asked our board members to submit their own work to be featured. The following works were submitted to answer the question “what does resistance mean to you?” and to represent the reasons they have chosen to bring their unique talents to Arttitude.
Raise Your Voice!
I look through the lens of my camera with the express purpose of resisting traditional notions of love, beauty standards, and comfort. Many people don’t understand that a woman bound and beaten with a flogger can have such peace of mind knowing she is actually the one in control and allows her lover to execute punishment which sends her mind into a state of bliss. Or a masked woman, projecting an image of fear into the viewer’s mind, can be a Siren, arousing and repulsing at the same time.
Resilience is Resistance
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. (Google)
The original name of this piece was “Here to Stay.” It was going to be a representation of how LGBTQ lifestyles have been around since ancient times and are not going anywhere; no form of oppression will hinder the strength and resilience of this particular group. The name later became “Resilience is Resistance” because in addition to being vocal and standing up to oppression, it is important to be stellar, diligent, and claim power, and this piece illustrates the heavy hitters in their respective time periods and their contributions to the world. LGBTQ people are nothing new and we are always going to be ‘resilient.’
My Personal Resistance
Twenty years ago, I vividly remember when American comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay. The impact of her decision to come out was huge. It was boundary-shaking for many Americans to realize that gays lives amongst us. For the LGBTQ community, it was a moment of celebration. On a personal level, it struck a chord with me and hit me at my gut level. Before Ellen’s big moment, I was struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. I was living as a gay man. And it took me several journeys to really come to terms and comfortably identify myself as trans woman.
Coming out, figuratively, from the closet is a decision and choice for any person. It is a metaphor to describe LGBTQ people’s self-disclosure of their sexual identity or sexual orientation to their families and to the world. My own coming out to my mom and family was filled with stories of joys, hopes, and triumphs. I feel lucky to have had support right off the bat.
When I reflect on my coming out, I see it as my form of personal resistance. My identity gives me the tools to shed those old concepts about me that were shaped by family and environment. It became a personal resistance against well-ingrained cultural and religious beliefs that defined me and boxed me in for many years. Identifying myself as a trans woman was a powerful moment. It was an awakening to my personal truth. Since that day, I have found my own voice, and I feel comfortable speaking about my life story. Now I carve my own life and shape my own destiny. Finally, after years of doubts, I found myself. Like with any successful resistance, I fought and gained my own sense of freedom. I can now stand tall and be proud to live my life. And I believe that freedom will open new doors of opportunities for growth and learning for me.
Joshua G. Adair is an associate professor of English at Murray State University, where he also serves as director of the Racer Writing Center and coordinator of Gender & Diversity Studies. His work has appeared on Harlot, Notches and in numerous academic journals. His current project, Defining Memory: Local Museums and the Construction of History in America’s Changing Communities, 2nd edition, edited with Amy K. Levin, will appear from Rowman & Littlefield later this year.
Maria Angela is a voracious reader and enjoys writing as a creative process. She loves to travel and pursues photography as a passion. An avid film critic, she hopes to create film or finish writing her novel. One day, she hopes to visit Africa and write about the wildlife migration. Currently, she is working on a personality development module aimed at empowering young people with positive attitudes and life skills for success.
Benji B currently lives in Austin, TX with their three dogs. Benji enjoys practicing their swag in the mirror, getting payback on campers in Call of Duty, wearing geeky socks that match their geeky t-shirts, and is currently training their dogs to do the housework (it’s been an interesting process).
Lave Brown is a media designer and brand strategist and currently works as Team Lead and Multimedia Coordinator at Resource Center’s United Black Ellument. He is currently the owner/founder of Inside the Lava Lamp, a branding company he started in 2016. Advertisement, rebranding, and studying the commercial side of creativity is his passion and receiving his BFA in Illustration and Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Atlanta and his MFA in Media Design and Advertisement from Full Sail University has definitely cultivated this passion into lucrative opportunities and connected him to some amazing organizations and people.
Sam Doran is a graduate student in gender studies at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His work has previously been featured in Rag Queen Periodical.
Stela Dujakovic received her MA in Comparative Studies at Dusseldorf University and currently holds a research position in the American department at Paderborn University in Germany, where she
also teaches English and American literature and culture at the undergraduate level. She is writing her dissertation on aging masculinities in contemporary American literature. Further research interests include gender studies, Post-colonial and alterity studies, American Modernism and representations of death in Western cultures. Secretly, she writes fiction.
Kala Dunn is a graduate student in the Department of English and Philosophy at Murray State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Murray State and a flute performance diploma from Interlochen Arts Academy, where she received honors in English and music.
Kurtz Frausun is an award-winning (London Film Awards 2013), Dallas, Texas experimental filmmaker and D/FW musician based in Addison, Texas. He began in music and branched into filmmaking years later. He’s also a member of the International Association of Press Photographers. His gallery can be found at frausun.com
Tyler Herbert is an MBA candidate with a concentration in Information Management Systems at the Keller Graduate School of DeVry University. She received her Bachelor of General Studies with a concentration in Business from Texas A&M University-Commerce (2013). She currently works as a high-school business teacher for a public school in the Dallas area. In her position she is active in Business Professionals of America, engaging her business students in workplace skills and assessments. She is active in her community with various organizations including the Dallas Park and Recreation, AmVets-Ladies Auxiliary, and Dallas Life Foundation. Because of her interest in racial and gender equality and artistic expression she hopes to add value by merging business administration with helping fund various artistic expressions.
Ashley Hurst is a 29-year-old Colorado-based photographer, wife, and mother of one. Her photography aims to provide perspectives not seen before by her clients; a beauty in themselves not yet realized or recognized. She enjoys providing families and individuals a time and space where they feel like the center of attention and beautiful in all that they are. Ashley’s share site is famtreephotog.smugmug.com, and she I can be found on Facebook under Family Tree Photography by Ashley Hurst.
Petra Kuppers is a queer crip disability culture activist and a community performance artist. She is a professor at the University of Michigan, and teaches on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. Her most recent poetry collection is PearlStitch (Spuyten Duyvil: 2016). Her stories have appeared in Drunken Boat, The Sycamore Review, Visionary Tongue, Future Fire, Capricious, Wordgathering, Festival Writer, and Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction. Her first fiction podcast, Ice Bar, came out with PodCastle in March 2017. She is the artistic director of The Olimpias, an international disability culture collective. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her poet partner and collaborator, Stephanie Heit. Website: www.petrakuppersfiction.wordpress.com
Jerome Larez co-founded Arttitude to celebrate the rich diversity of our shared human experience through unique art. He graduated from Texas Tech University School of Art with a BFA in Studio Art and MA in Interdisciplinary Studies. He has taught K-12 art for 8 years in the Texas public school system. Jerome aspires to continue to make a positive impact in the lives of LGBTQ+ and minority communities.
Lily Lifeshitz is a writer, photographer, and mixed-media artist. Originally from Louisiana, she currently lives and works in Houston, Texas.
Justin O’Keith Higgs is probably one of the most eclectic individuals you will ever meet. He is a lawyer, photographer, dancer, HR professional, and artist. He began photography back in 2007 during law school. He needed an outlet from the stress and high-pressure life. He started off as a natural light photographer and taught himself everything. In August 2016, Justin started studio photography, again teaching himself along the way. In mid-April 2017, he decided to venture into something new. He started doing body paint using various types of acrylic and washable paints creating unique works of art on his living canvases. He wanted to take his photography from simple art to something unique and amazing. He let go of all his boundaries and let his creativity flow and flourish. Justin is eager to share his gifts with the world and hope they can give as much joy to others as he has received in making them.