As I got ready to run the “Putting the “M” in LGBT – writing mixed and queer” workshop at Mixed Remixed 2015, I put together a list of mixed/queer writers and writing. A piece of cake, I thought, as I wrote down the names of all the mixed queer writers I could think of. There were five. I scratched my head. Did Langston Hughes even count? He was considered gay or bisexual but probably hadn’t confirmed this in writing given the times he lived in.
My back of the envelope list included: Scottish/Nigerian poet, Jackie Kay, Afro/Chinese Jamaican poet Stacyann Chin, Latina writer Cherie Moraga and me.
My search continued as I travelled into the cold reaches of Minnesota in April for the AWP writing conference. I wrote to poet, and conference panelist, Carl Phillips . Yes, he was mixed and queer, and yes, I could feature one of his poems in my workshop. My list of mixed-queer writers was growing exponentially, almost hitting double figures. Later in the conference I attended “Paris is still burning” featuring black gay poets and one of them was Charif Shanahan who read a poem about being bi-racial. We exchanged cards and bingo! Another name to add to the list.
What about mixed/queer characters or couples in fiction? After the adrenalin rush of AWP I was back in my MFA class, reading Chang Rae Lee’s novel, On such a full Sea, which conjures up a post-apocalyptic future. Here we meet an interracial gay couple who run a B&B in the “Counties”. As one of the characters, Quig, knocks on the proprietors’ office door, we meet Landon when “the shade went up, revealing a bespectacled fellow, youngish but already bald, his Afro tightly sheared on the sides and meeting his neatly groomed beard and moustache.” Quig, in contrast, is “wide-eyed and pale-skinned”.
Soon we meet Dale, Landon’s partner, in their “chintz-heavy” abode. Dale is “a short tubby, florid-faced older white man”. I appreciated the fact that Lee racialises the white characters as well as the people of colour in his novel.
We learn Landon’s backstory when Dale tells new guests the story of how he met his partner. This reinforces their status as a couple and also shows how public their relationship is. We learn that they met at an “LGBT roadhouse”, this phrase and the fact that none of the guests questions it, tells us that in Lee’s world that such a thing as an LGBT roadhouse is not only possible, but usual. Dale loved the food at the roadhouse, and on meeting the chef, Landon, it was “love at an instant” for Dale (if not for Landon).
Landon and Dale are only present for thirteen pages but made a huge impression on me. Although they are secondary characters they don’t read as flat and their backstory gives a very strong sense of family life in, or despite, this dystopian future. However, I’m still looking for a novel that is as well-written as Lee’s, with main, rather than secondary, characters who are mixed and queer . Let me know if you find it first.