“Captain of the World” from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
It says something that I read and enjoyed every word of this story, when large parts of it are a play-by-play of a soccer match. To say that I am not into sports would be an understatement. I have attended maybe three or four baseball games in my life, I have never watched a basketball game (despite living in Chicago during the reign of Michael Jordan), and in high school (or was that college?) I went to half of a football game. Yes, half. It was more than enough.
The author fired a shot across the bow by introducing his main character, an American of Turkish descent, and then ending the first paragraph by calling attention to the fact that someone has perpetrated a hate crime against him by writing a racial slur on his car. The next sentence is “My heart went bang-bang.” Yeah, well, it’s not the only one that did. So Raki Burak is the captain of a soccer team and this story is going to take place with that as a backdrop? Well, okay then. Tell me more.
He does. Raki’s gay and not out except to his sister, and only then because she confronted him about it. He’s not out to Paul, the guy he wants to be his boyfriend, who acts as if the feeling is mutual. What I’m trying to say is that this story is rife with conflict, things at stake, and definite good guys and bad guys.
No wonder I couldn’t put it down.
“Gutterball” by Danielle Pignataro from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
If you’re keeping score at home this is the ninth story in the project to feature a female protagonist. Four of those were written by Steve Berman and this one is from a book he edited.
And now back to our game
I have never before read a story about a protagonist who bowls, much less a teenaged female protagonist who does, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the experience. I bowled for a couple of years during late elementary school, as part of a YMCA class that developed into a sort of stand-alone league. The same kids kept signing back up, and it became just sort of a (Once a week? Twice a week? I don’t even know anymore) thing.
Anyway, I’ve always felt like the odd man out, so I could relate when the protagonist found herself under attack by a member of a rival bowling team. The other girl decides to make an issue of the fact that our heroine is a lesbian, and makes just enough of a scene to (she hopes) embarrass and rattle the main character without landing herself in hot water with adults. The thing she doesn’t count on, though, is that the girl she has attacked is going to a.) stand up to her, and b.) take the high road in how she does it. Oh, and the attacker also doesn’t figure that all of the main character’s team members and their families and friends are also going to stand up to her and with the girl she’s trying to crush, but they do. Five days ago when I saw the pictures of the University of Massachusetts students who flooded the campus in support of basketball player Derrick Gordon, in response to the arrival of members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who, in their infinite hatred, had come to protest his very being, I immediately thought of this story. The ratio was about the same, too: twenty good guys for every villain. Hooray for life imitating art!
I would put this book in the hands of every tween and teen in the nation if I could, because of the powerful message it contains about the importance of acceptance—of self, and of others—and also because it will make short story fans out of all who read it.
“Day Student” by Sam Cameron from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
The protagonist of this story had just the right mixture of angst and sarcasm to be very believably a teenager. Matthew O’Malley is smart enough to attend Endicott Preparatory Academy but not rich enough to afford the tuition. He’s there on a scholarship which doesn’t cover room and board, which means he commutes by train every day. His boyfriend Charlie is in the exact same situation, which makes it bearable. At least, that is, until Charlie’s father gets a raise and Charlie announces he will be moving into the Goodwin House dormitory. Matthew’s insecurities get the best of him then and he does some stupid things. Luckily, he has a great relationship with his mom, who really listens to him, and Charlie and their classmates are willing to cut him some slack once he demonstrates that he’s genuinely sorry.
“Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the editor, Steve Berman.
One hundred and two stories and this is only the second one in which the main character is bisexual. Thirteen year old Pedro believes he is in love with two of his classmates: Nemecio and Paloma. They do not know one another, though they are each friends with Pedro, and neither of them reciprocates his deeper feelings. That may actually play a role in his attraction to them; many times first crushes fall on those who are unattainable because they are safe territory. As Pedro continues to examine his feelings for each of them his friends he realizes that what he is suffering from isn’t love after all, but infatuation. This is natural; he’s thirteen. His heart is testing the waters, determining which qualities it desires in a partner and which it does not. I loved that he felt free to express himself to his friends and family, and that his desires were not met with hostility.
On a side note, I really enjoyed the cultural references strewn throughout the story. I felt transported not just into another mind and heart but to another place.
Hands down, this is the most diverse anthology I’ve read to date and one of the most compelling. The common denominator of the stories was the ability to inspire an intense need to read just a little further, to see what would happen next. I found it incredibly difficult to set this book down.
“Angels What You Must Hear on High” by John H. Roush from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
The key to this story is in the title. Unlike the song it references, the story is not concerned with what we hear the angels saying. Oh, no. This is all about what they hear. The unnamed, recently deceased main character of this story is busy bending the ear of some poor seraph. The accounting he gives of his life—correction, his love life—is relentless, but therein lies the humor. And this is a funny piece, because this guy was a wreck, by turns self-centered, self-deprecating, terrified, excited, jaded, and naïve.
But then again, aren’t we all?
“Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time” by Greg Herren from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
It’s been two years since Terry’s partner died, and though he’s finally through the grieving period he now seems stuck, at a loss for just how to move on. Thankfully he has great, well-meaning friends who continually invite him over to their house for brunch, where they introduce him to eligible men. On the menu today it’s mimosas with David, who turns out to be quite the surprise guest indeed.
The really interesting thing about this story, aside from the fact that, overall, it’s so upbeat, is that Terry’s partner is never named. That’s a great choice, seeing as it’s a piece about letting go and moving on.
“Two Kinds of Rapture” by Andrew Holleran from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
The main character is one of four older, single, gay men invited to a dinner party at the home of younger friends, a couple named Paul and Tim. The hosts are in their thirties, the guests in their fifties. Each man is profiled physically and psychologically by the main character as he ponders the concept of happiness as it pertains to gay men (though the hindrances presented are not exclusive to that community, not by a long shot). At one point the conversation turns to the biblical Rapture, and the metaphor is clear: Paul and Tim are each other’s saviors because they have plucked one another from single status, while their four older friends have been “left behind” to age and die alone.
It’s interesting that this piece was included in the collection because so many of the stories deal with modeling the way things might be rather than illustrating the way they often are. This is a romance collection, after all. (If you disagree on that point, please see Timothy J. Lambert’s introduction). I think the hopefulness of the majority of the stories I’ve been reading lately is a major contributing factor to why I’ve liked them so much. That said, there is also a place for examining other possibilities. Here romantic love is examined from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have it and feels he has no reasonable expectation of ever attaining it.
That’s not to say I did not like this story; exactly the opposite. I was riveted. I like it when people get down to brass tacks. And oh, how well drawn the imagery is throughout this story. I visualized every detail. I don’t often think in such terms, but this would make a great film. Or part of one, anyway. And yet it’s the poignancy that arises from juxtaposing the visual aesthetic with the underlying emotional truth that makes this a must-read. I loved it.