Short fiction from Alex, our Contributing Editor, exploring the stagnancy of mid-twenties life and the change that can be made in a single day by a single enigmatic stranger.
Ripples from raindrops spread over the surface of the ocean, and bounced off the umbrella in my hand. The air smelled of salt and seaweed. I shivered and adjusted my scarf. Checked my phone, but the buzz just told me I should have charged it hours ago. Long grass whipped around in the wind that buffeted my body as I stood still. My hands shook, and I closed my eyes.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Tears fell when I stopped holding back. I turned away from where the water met the horizon, and walked towards the town.
Clearing was a town in a wide-cut circle of space, among an ocean of trees that spanned miles. Clearing was town where people were born and where they died without ever seeing beyond its borders. No one knew what, if anything, was outside the forest’s borders. It was far too dangerous to explore.
None saw Bakari, hovering at the edge of the crowd. Flakes of white had begun to fall from the sky, drifting to rest on the black garments of those gathered. Many had assembled. Hasan had been more popular than he would ever have admitted. As the last of the earth filled the grave, the mother placed her lit candle atop it, blew it out and spoke her prayer. All were silent. Thicker flurries drifted down from the sky. The priest spoke her final words and the congregation left. Bakari waited. The snow fell thicker, and still he waited. When he was sure, he walked to the grave. With a shaking hand, he lit the candle with a golden tinderbox. Shielding it, he closed his eyes. As he cried, his heart trembled. The prayer sounded thin between his cracked lips.
Bakari watched the birds on the ledge across the street, as they flew away over the treeline. He looked up, Mede had fallen asleep at his desk. Standing, he shovelled more coal into the furnace. He wrote a note: “Feeling ill. Have gone home to rest.” Retrieving his coat from the oak stand by the door, he left.
Snow crunched under his boots, and he breathed out in curls of white. As the chill was truly setting in, the streets had cleared of most of the inhabitants. Smoke rose from chimneys, thick and dark against the grey clouds. He pulled the cloak tighter as gooseflesh ran along his arms. The street was straight and narrow, it ran parallel to the town’s main avenue. The wooden buildings were tall, and made the pathway shadowed. He crossed the footbridge where the river ran through and paused, looking down its length he could just make out his home. All the lights were out. Bakari bit his lip and looked down at the water. Melting ice had made it full, and it rushed towards the treeline in the west. Turning, he walked onwards.
It took no more than half an hour to reach the felled trees at the edge of Clearing. Young, replanted trees grew just beyond that; though they were stunted, spindly things. Snow cover was deeper here, he could feel the freezing water starting to seep into his shoes. As he passed under the canopy, the crunching ice was replaced with a soft bed of needles; the corner of his mouth twitched upwards at the scent. Small comforts. Rarely tread, the pathways between town and border were difficult to follow. Bakari lit the lamp strung to his waist, illuminating the gloom and casting wild shadows among the branches. Shrubbery here had already been picked clean of winter berries. He looked around, but the woods were quiet. Still, his pulse quickened a fraction.
Just where the woods grew dense, he came upon the wall. Made of red stone, it came up to his navel. He reached out and the air above it rippled, shimmering blue and green; sycamore leaves reflected in the summer pond. He smiled. From the leather pouch on his belt, Bakari pulled out the old charm. A worn thing – a star carved in pine. It smelled like the dying embers of a fire. Holding it aloft, he whispered the ancient words. Crimson fractures, like cracks in shattered glass appeared on the invisible barrier. Gripping the charm, his palms were sweating. Climbing over the wall was like walking in a gale. Yet, in an instant it was over. The red disappeared, and Bakari stood on the other side. Hands gripping his knees, he took deep breaths.
Little light reached this part of the forest, and the day had begun to dim. Bakari’s lamp illuminated only a small circle around him. With little but intuition as a guide, he walked onwards. The trees were older, the trunks were thicker and their branches weaved together in a mesh that blocked out the sky. Fungal life was all that seemed to grow on the forest floor here; mushrooms with funnel caps that were the colour of beeswax. It was still and silent, save for the sound of Bakari’s footsteps, and smelled of moist earth and tree litter. The thin trail he was following wound around trees but did not veer wildly in any direction.
As he walked, his pool of light began constricting. He topped it up some with a vial of oil from his pouch, and the flame grew. The amount of light did not. Still, he persisted. The illumination of the lamp dimmed until it reached mere inches from his feet. Relying on his hands, Bakari felt his way on, pressing against the rough bark as he crept forward. In the shadows, there were flutters and the stamp of hooves. Though his chest trembled, he continued forwards. The lamp sputtered out, and he kept going. Hooves to left, wingbeats to the right. They got closer with each step he took. With one more step he walked straight into something solid. A tree. He turned to walk in another direction. Out of the gloom, titanic eyes shone black. Bakari collapsed.
When he roused, it was as though he sat in void. Could he not feel the carpet of needles below him, he might well have thought he was. The lurch of his heart upon seeing the creature almost rendered him catatonic once more. It seemed to produce its own unearthly light. Eight feet tall, it had the body of a doe and it stood on talons for hindlegs. Feathered wings were folded at its back and the mammalian head tapered down into the beak of an owl.
Why has the deal been broken? It spoke into his mind, but it used his voice.
Bakari shook his head.
It was decided between your people and mine, long ago. You shall not leave the town. Why have you?
His throat was dry.
Why did you leave the town? Why has the deal been broken?
He shook his head, held up a hand. The creature leaned closer, the tip of its beak a foot in front his face.
It was decided. That was to be your place. Why have you broken the deal?
“Because it is not my place. There’s nothing there for me. My lover is dead, and I cannot mourn. I cannot seek the solace of a friend, I cannot openly cry. There was no one else, there was only us. Even if I had not loved Hasan, he was the only other one. There must be a place where there are others like us. There must be somewhere that I am not wrong for existing.” His strangled speech became a shout, “I have broken the deal because the man I love was buried, and I was not invited to the funeral.”
We will help you find the way out.
And once again, he faded from consciousness.
When he awoke, the moon was high overhead, it was full and bright. Bakari stood, he faced a line of trees. His heart hammered, but when he turned around it soared. Bathed in silver night, was a wide open expanse of grass. He ran, whooping with joy. He would be first person to be born in the town of Clearing who did not also die there. He did not look back.
In queer circles we fervently idolise certain female celebrities, but why? What qualities do these women share that make them a beacon to us? Perhaps there is commonality among them, or perhaps The Gays™ just have the best taste. I’ve selected some personal favourite icons, and tried to find the links.
Okay, Gaga was an obvious one. She’s been popular in the LGBT+ community (and it would be remiss to ignore the fact that she is bisexual, and therefore part of our community) since she broke into her industry. Born This Way is a quintessential acceptance anthem and I don’t think I’ve gone to Pride and not heard it. It’s arguable that Gaga is an icon because she made herself into one. In 2008 she offered us her own gay dance-pop artform of a soul and we said yes please. Well, straights thought it was weird but the gays knew it was art. She cultivated her eccentric and beautiful style and made the world pay attention.
But I don’t think that it’s just her immense contribution to music that made the queer community fall in love with her. She has long been a loud voice in advocacy for LGBT+ rights. In September 2010 she spoke at a rally for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” amidst an ongoing tour. In a reference to the meat dress she wore at that years MTV Music Awards she said:
Equality is the prime rib of America, but because I am gay, I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.
Unafraid to declare herself as one of us, she spoke in fervent passion for a repeal that then seemed like it had little chance of success. She deplored Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military and protested his presidency outside Trump tower.
Via @gagadaily. Featured image via Los Angeles Times.
So, everyone loves Beyoncé, yeah? Queer people especially love her, and it’s probably because every second of her career has been an iconic moment. As one of the best-selling music artists in the world Beyoncé has endured where many others have faded into obscurity. And how many drunk white gay boys have shuffled awkwardly across a club dance floor to Single Ladies? (Me, I’m one of them, I’m guilty). And let’s not forget smash-hit collaboration with Gaga, Telephone, which single-handedly caused our community to implode.
What has solidified queer support of Beyoncé is her willingness to speak out on LGBT+ causes. In 2013 she voiced her support for equal marriage with a statement on Instagram. On tour in 2016, she spoke out about the North Carolina Bathroom bill and in 2017 also openly opposed Trump’s removal bathroom protections for transgender students. Her willingness to use her huge platform to support us earned dedication from a large queer fanbase.
Tyler Mitchell for Vogue
Queen of Genovia, Queen of our hearts. Do the Princess Diaries films count as queer cinema? I’ve watched both so many times that I have just decided the answer is yes. Hathaway, despite being one of the top-earning women in her field (and in 2015 the highest) is often pegged as “too serious”, “inauthentic” or “over-eager” by her critics and the public. But in queer circles, she is revered as one of our staunchest allies. It’s not difficult to see why – Hathaway has repeatedly defended our rights and supported LGBTQ+ causes. In 2008 she said at the HRC Dinner:
I’m not being brave, I’m being a decent human being. And I don’t think I should receive an award for that. Or for merely stating what I believe to be true: that love is a human experience, not a political statement.
When I was fourteen and first heard that speech, it felt like a radical statement. Princess Mia had stepped out of my childhood and told me that she was there for me – it wasn’t quite so difficult being in the closet anymore. And again this year, a decade after that speech, Hathaway spoke again at the same event:
It is important to acknowledge with the exception of being a cisgender male, everything about how I was born has put me at the current centre of a damaging and widely-accepted myth That myth is that gayness orbits around straightness, transgender orbits around cisgender, and that all races orbit around whiteness.
Hathaway acknowledges her privilege alongside her support of us, and that makes her support feel all the more genuine.
The not-so-subtle conclusion I’m drawing here – famous women are better LGBT+ voices and allies than men. I may have only picked three women here – but that’s for brevity’s sake. Men who speak for us are most often one of us. Our straight male supporters might offer near-nude shoots in gay men’s magazines, but that’s hardly enough (and it hammers home my point when women are just often the focus of articles in said magazines). It was easy to research the accomplishments and support these women have offered to our community – because that information is so readily available. Our icons are so often women because they are visibly and actively supporting us – so they receive our love in return. It should not be difficult to support equality, and it is not too much to ask.
Friends of Boshemia and partners Tom Holmes and Alex Nolan unpack the toxic, tragic, fabulous and fierce aspects of gay pop culture.
I don’t like Madonna.
Sure, the odd song, such as ‘Vogue’ and ‘Beautiful Stranger’ takes my fancy, but I certainly don’t “stan” her as a great deal of gay men do. While I feel that her contributions to gay culture and the world of music are certainly noteworthy, I think she is a bit of a lucky karaoke singer.
Some of you may be gasping, hand clutched to breast at the outrageousness of the above paragraph, but that is exactly what I want to address. I don’t like Madonna, and that’s alright. I don’t want you to stop liking her, nor do I believe that my views are clever, funny, “cool” or, indeed interesting. Despite that, many gay people must think that I do not fit in, am just trying to be non-conformist.
This piece originally appeared in Boshemia Magazine: Issue 01 in June 2017. Friend of Boshemia and writer Alex Nolan wrote a response to the Pulse nightclub massacre. We share his words again the week of the two year anniversary of the tragedy. Photography by Matias Rengel.
They’re never going to stop killing us, are they?
Thin, strangled words that crawled out of my throat when I read news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Trembling spread outward from the core, as I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs.