Friday, October 28, 2011

You, Me, Him, Her, and Them: We

In the 1990s, while Janet Jackson was popular and teenagers could be seen reading a ‘zine in an oversized sweatshirt, many young adults rallied with Amy Sonnie to create what didn’t exist yet: a queer youth anthology. Teens from all over the world – Australia, China, Korea, Pakistan, Europe, India, and all across the US from south Georgia to the tip of Alaska – submitted poetry, short stories, art, essays, and songs to create what is now known as Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which was published in 2000. The book was named one of the best adult books for high school students by the School Library Journal in 2001 and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

Margot Kelley Rodriguez, author of the Revolutionary Voice introduction, explains why the piece was essential to the acceptance of the gay community – particularly the queer youth community – during the tale-end of the 20th century, and why it continues to serve as a powerful learning tool now. “These young artists shout out, ‘We have taken matters into our own hands, and we are mad as hell. We are here!’” Rodriguez writes in the book’s foreword. “The mainstream movement calls us the ‘future.’ What the movement doesn’t realize is that we are the present. We are not waiting for tomorrow, because we have something to say right now.

Since the 2000 release, the book has spurred the founding of RESYST (Resources for Youth, Students, and Trainers), a nation-wide radical queer youth organization. On top of that, Revolutionary Voices has created a hefty amount of controversy, and not just in the weeks and months after the anthology hit stores. Last year, the media erupted in debate throughout the small town of Burlington County, New Jersey.

The Burlington Country public library ordered all copies of Revolutionary Voices off of library shelves in August 2010 after Beverly Marinelli, a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, labeled the book “child pornography.”

[Revolutionary Voices] is pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” Marinelli stated in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer [link to the interview]. She insists she’s “not a homophobe,” but said a drawing of Boy Scouts watching two men have sex was “the worst.” If she couldn’t handle the Boy Scout piece, she likely didn’t approve of S. Asher Hanley either.

“I am a 21-year-old queer boi of mixed heritage (human-melting-pot-style) and intersexed physicality,” Hanley, who contributed to the book’s works, wrote. “An avid photographer, painter, musician, and writer, I have spent the past three years trying to pin myself down in art.” Hanley describes the difficulties of growing up with sexism, derogatory comments, and endless abuse – just for trying to survive adolescence. Hanley struggled as an androgynous teen and was brutally mocked because his body was made differently. In his teenage years, however, Hanley had a life-changing thought: “I realized that every conversation I have with people [was] an opportunity to educate.” Perhaps Marinelli would have reacted differently had she met Hanley.

Or maybe artist Mollie Biewald of Shutesbury, MA would have changed Marinelli’s mind. “I am a 15-year-old dyke artist and activist,” Biewald wrote. “I’ve got flaming pink hair and a passion for genderfuck in both directions. I escaped school a month into ninth grade, after two years of daily queer bashing because I didn’t look enough ‘like a girl’ for my rural town of 1000.” Biewald’s cardboard and ink piece, Bent, makes an appearance in Revolutionary Voices.

Young adults of different backgrounds, religions, sexualities, and heritage came together for this beautiful piece of literary history. Teens fill the pages of Revolutionary Voices with coming out sagas and gender role horror stories. Tales of being kicked out of the house, descriptions of tears, heartache, and panic, but also narratives about inspiration, change, and empowerment. The anthology is true to its name.

Perhaps the book’s purpose can be summed up in the words of an anonymous 22-year-old from the US who contributed several poems to Revolutionary Voices.

“I could be anyone, anywhere,” the poet writes. “I could be your sister, your brother, your cousin, mother, father, friend. I could be the kid you called ‘faggot’ in grade school, the girl you pinned against the chain-link fence, hissing ‘dyke’ before leaving her afraid to walk home alone ever again. I could be someone you know, or someone you don’t; someone you never wanted to be. But the things I face as a low-income, queer, punk kid are things we all face at one time or another. We have got to help each other heal…We have got to see what makes us similar and honor the things that make us different.”

In the years since Revolutionary Voices was released, our culture has endured any number of debates in the LGBT community, some pigheaded and some radical. A series of queer teen suicides, and then the overwhelming response to the It Gets Better campaign. The discontinuation of same-sex marriage in California, and the recent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states, but queer couples in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. can have a legal union. Devastation will continue to arise in the queer community – the Hispanic community, the African-American community, the low-income community, the every-form-of-discrimination community – but so will victories. Revolutionary Voices was a victory, a step forward. There will be many more steps to come in the same direction.

Here’s to change. Here’s to embracing change.

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