what woeful tale do i sing, when i have known no woe? don’t sing any, she says. what apologies do i write a ballad in honour of? why apologize, she says. what lament do i serenade for boys i never want? me neither, she says. what tears do i spit of nightmares i never incurred? would you like some orange juice, she says. what dreams do i break to understand what broken dreams pinch like? want to learn how to make kittens, she says. i like kittens, I told her. what wisdom should i ask for? I’ll learn the violin, she says. i don’t battles. sometimes, i am one. i have been fortunate enough. i can’t write a misery i never had. i can’t cry tears that are not mine. i can’t kiss the girl, and i was told not to. i can’t really paint myself white. i can’t paint myself ivory. so i decided i don’t like paint. i am paper. brown. sometimes. i am more brown than paper. sometimes, the paper in my skin lends me paper cuts. sometimes, when my finger hurts, only my finger hurts. i can’t paint a tiger on my body, when a turtle lives inside my eyes. i can’t ask for a rabbit, when i keep snakes under the bed. i can’t play the piano, when all i own is a guitar. i can’t sing, because the only songs i know were written for him. i don’t know him, like i know her. i can’t because i don’t know ‘can. i think i threw the last one, i was told it as empty. sometimes, i just lock myself inside, and look at the girl. have you seen the girl from the other side of the window, i imagine our hands together. the way otters hold their hands, so maybe we wouldn’t get lost. when the sun goes down. i can’t tell myself i won’t get lost when i have lost my way around. maybe i would write about this in my diary. but i still don’t know that i am lost. sometimes i learn how to walk again. when my hand is her hand, our hands are beautiful. my hand does not know what colours look like. sometimes i imagine a rainbow in her palms. the heart line is blue. it runs against the head line. sometimes i can’t see the heart line in my hand. but i know where it is when i hold a finger inside my fist the size of my heart. her fist. sometimes i don’t fear getting lost when the sun goes down. i fear getting lost when the sun comes up. and i’m still not home for breakfast. i don’t even like breakfast, she says. we are a lot same, she says.
Tanya Singh is interested in all things poetry, and philosophy. Their work has appeared, or is forthcoming in The Slag Review, Literary Orphans, 82 Star Review, The Black Napkin Press, among others. They live in India.
sizzles on the tongue
a lizard frying in the Arizona desert
sandpaper on chalkboard
bitter like lemon rind
coated in saliva and gagging me
stuck like a pill in the back of my throat
A grenade tossed in anger
Sneered into an insult
A punchline to a joke
A thieving noun, stealing my identity
Turning me into
A remnant from a time of forced toughness
Butch women with rough,
dirty hands, and bitten nails,
crew cuts, fat thighs, heaving breasts hidden behind
beer stained flannel
tattooed like a wall scribbled on by a five year old
with a magic marker.
I prefer Gay
I hate betraying my sisters, the pioneers who cleared my path
But I cannot say that word
It sinks beneath my tastebuds and buries itself away
wriggling like a worm into the back of my mind
So I call myself gay
A girl who likes girls
or even queer
But lesbian lays too heavily on my back- crushing me
Gay dances off my tongue
Like a young bear newly awoken by the spring sun
Thin and hungry, but free
—chloe cramer, 17
“I just feel like guys are missing out, y’know?” you said
and I did not know
but I half-smiled, anyway,
because you scared me a little
with your broad shoulders and small eyes
and how it looked like at any minute your skin would burst
and you would reach for me with barbed words and clawed insults
“That’s hot, though. You should let me watch,” you said.
I will never let you near her, is what I thought
but I half-laughed, anyway,
because I didn’t want to make a scene
with people all around
and I knew well enough that you can’t stop boys
when they have their minds set on something
I wish that I had stood up
and let the whole room hear me as I shouted
Listen to me when I talk instead of focusing on my lips
or my chest
or my hips
Listen when I tell you that
my hands were made to weave into hers
and my arms to hold her
and my words to sing her praises
Her voice is the sweetest sound
and I could live off of just her laughter
and the sunny days when I lay my head on her shoulder
and we talk for hours about nothing at all
and the way her eyes sparkle and her hair
sticks up when she runs her hands through it
too busy concentrating to notice
that I can’t take my eyes off her smile.
How can you tell me that our love
only exists without our clothes on
and that we kiss only for your pleasure?
We are more than your turn-on.
I am not your porn category,
scroll down to ‘lesbian’ to see women
contort themselves and pretend to moan
just so you can have a change of pace.
This is my life, and I am
so much more than your fantasies
I am not here for you
I am here for myself
I am here for her
I am here for us
and your voice
does not belong
in our love.
—arielle devito, 17
Arielle DeVito is a senior from Shaker Heights, Ohio, who can often be found lurking in libraries and comic book stores. She has been published in Navigating the Maze and Teenage Wasteland Review and been recognized in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Johns Hopkins Creative Minds Contest, among others. In her spare time, she enjoys procrastinating, painting, sewing, using power tools on her school’s robotics team, and baking (usually cupcakes).
We kill roses
to put on gravestones:
these masses of granite
tear into tributes too soon.
And now we believe
we can stop a storm
by shooting the clouds,
while no one seems bothered
how many colored clouds bleed.
I see faces on the flashing screen--
faces I don’t know,
faces I could have known,
faces I will never know.
We wage war against the rain
in an attempt to retain the skies--
forever blue on white,
white staining blue.
A little boy splashes
in the rippling puddle below my
upstairs window, soaks his neon green
Mutant Ninja Turtle sneakers, squeals
in perfect love of the disconnected colors
shattered across the surface of this
I’d like to tell this boy I am sorry, because
tomorrow he will learn of a world
where rainclouds vanish,
where rainbows fade,
where we are engulfed
by endless drought.
--Elena Rielinger, 17
Elena Rielinger is currently a senior attending North Royalton High School near Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has been published in her high school's literary magazine, Inkwell, and her poem "when a certain song plays" is forthcoming in The Noisy Island. She hopes to someday pursue a career in forensic linguistics while continuing to write on the side.
I know the light trickled in through
The unwanted slot in the broken blinds.
I know that as my only certainty.
If I think hard enough, and wish
To be washed over with the bubbling
Soap water, grainy with dirty guilt,
I can remember some faint things like a
Cycled dream state:
Perfume. Not cologne, perfume.
I wore flowers this was cotton
candy, the blue kind.
Maroonish purple on nails barely
visible through my swollen slits
of eyes. I felt my own hands
warmed deep beneath the
Dark hair, shining with morning
sweat, emphasizing the
underlying auburn put there truly,
put there by the sun. My hair is
Sweet, pure innocence brought out by another.
No filter of hate could mar that.
No words of preaching, shot out
At me or my bedded companion,
Smiling through that glaring sunlit
Strip across our faces, could make
Me bleed out fast enough.
I can patch my own wounds,
And be healed with the soft tenor
Words of a beautiful gift.
I was shut out for so long.
No blame there, just unknown
Options, fully available now.
Fast kisses and slimy toothed smiles.
Pink top for her, pink top for me.
—K.G. RIver, 20
K.G. River is a 20 year-old undergraduate student currently basking in the sweltering heat of the South Florida sun. Her poems have been published in The Gardener Journal; writing from her desire to align the effects of reality with the ever present essences of dreams and surreality, K.G hopes to be recognized as a fresh poet with a distinctive voice and point of view.
Puns aside, this campaign is the height of individualistic activism.
Recently, as I was talking to my family about some programs supporting trans and gender nonconforming individuals in India, my mom brought up the It Gets Better campaign on Youtube. If you haven’t heard of it, It Gets Better is a series of videos of actors, singers and other famous queer people essentially telling queer teens that though they might be bullied now or in other dangerous circumstances, once you get to be a rich, famous and (often) white adult, things don’t seem too bad anymore.
While this may seem like a nice sentiment, what does saying "It Gets Better" do for the queer people of color whose murderers are acquitted under the gay panic defense? What does it do for the trans women of color whose life expectancy hovers around 35 because so many people want them dead? What does it do for queer people forced into survival sex work because no other jobs are available?
Additionally, the people who participate in these videos are rich and influential actors. They take a single step outside and are mobbed by paparazzi. With their money and fame, they are perhaps the best possible people to change society as a whole. Why, then, do they use their time and resources making these videos? Why can’t they put these same resources, that same time into working towards a world in which queer people are not criminalized, a world where the transgender panic defense is not legal in most states?
This campaign symbolizes the problem with queer activism today.
More specifically, the problem is that we focus on specific political victories (see: marriage equality) and on the queer individuals themselves (see: It Gets Better) instead of focusing on changing the system that creates these problems in the first place.
This is the system that imprisons queer people under public indecency laws, puts trans people in solitary confinement (often causing psychological trauma), and allows gay panic and trans panic defense, thereby legitimizing the idea that if you are not visibly queer, you deserve to die. This is the system that, in more subtle ways, causes the bullying of queer children in schools and the murder of queer people on the street; if we as a society decided that these actions were no longer acceptable, then they would, to a large degree, stop. It is only our overall tolerance of these actions, these laws, this bullying that allows the system to thrive.
So, I pose the question: why do we focus on simply saying "It Gets Better" when that does nothing to change the system that is the cause of these problems?
This is not to say that It Gets Better hasn’t helped anyone. For many queer people struggling to come to terms with being bullied or ostracized, the videos may be very comforting. My point, though, is that this isn’t enough. If someone is being bullied, perhaps we should try to change the culture that positions queerness as a reason to be bullied. Furthermore, if we focus only on the bullying aspect, we let the large numbers of incarcerated queer people in prisons fall through the cracks of our activism, and we let the society that allows this bullying and this criminalization to continue perpetuating queer oppression.
Let me put it this way: if the problem is that Anna is hungry, you wouldn’t tell her "it gets better, trust me," though that may comfort her for a small amount of time. You would give her some food. This same concept applies to the It Gets Better campaign: if the problem is that Anna feels threatened by other people because she’s queer, you wouldn’t tell her "it gets better"—you would make her situation safer, because that’s the only permanent way to help.
—zoë dove, 17
Read about contributing editor Zoë Dove on our staff page!
I woke up late one sunday as the morning light punctured my eyelids.
Forcing myself out of bed, I found the house cold and empty. The temperature must have dropped quite a bit overnight and my family had most likely left earlier that morning for church.
I felt hollow and hungry. The fridge was next to bare, holding only a few leftover pieces of fried chicken and some cheese with its own mini ecosystem of mold.
So I grabbed my coat and a wad of bills and set off for Wagner’s Sandwiches.
It was one of those creepy days where the sun was out, the sky was clear, and it was cold enough to crack stone.
I’ve always hated days like that. They just feel so unnatural.
I went through a few blocks of nice residential areas, then over an old concrete bridge with train tracks at the bottom. Beyond that was the tidy little strip mall that contained Wagner’s Sandwiches.
Inside, I saw that Wagner’s had gone through some kind of renovation. They’d cleared out the square tables and barf colored carpet and flickering yellow-tinged lights. Now everything was bright and round and white and red.
I almost walked right back out into the frozen suburbs when I saw who was behind the counter.
She must have hated how her name tag still said Rebecca. Maybe Wagner’s hired her before her transition and just refused to print different name tags. Or maybe they just don’t support transgenders.
I really didn’t want to come face to face with her again, but at the same time I really wanted a sandwich. So I swallowed my pride and advanced down the chrome tiles.
“Hi,” I said, my voice cracking with fear. I’d always had been sort of intimidated by her when she called herself a girl. Her masculine attire and haircut didn’t help matters, nor did the fact that she actually had a legitimate reason to beat me up now. “Could I have a turkey sandwich?”
“Sure,” she said without eye contact.
Watching her trudge off to the kitchen, I realized that she really did look like a guy now.
Her voice couldn’t have been anything but feminine, though.
“That’ll be five thirty nine,” she said when she returned, food in hand.
I pulled out a few scraggly bills and handed them over without a word.
“Thanks for your business,” she said, laboring over the words a little. Probably she’d be in trouble with the management if she didn’t offer that mindless little comment, but apparently she wasn’t too big on thanking me for anything.
“No problem, Jacob,” I said.
She smiled at me. Not broadly, but enough for it count. It took me a few minutes to put my finger on why. Then I realized what I had called her.
In that moment the angry haze that seems to clog high school hallways dissipated a little. I hadn’t meant to pay her that kind of respect, it had just sort of slipped out, but I wasn’t in a hurry to take it back. I never realized it before, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt more guilty than angry about what had happened. Accidental atonement didn’t seem like that bad a deal.
“So, how have you been doing?” she asked. I guess, now that we were friends, she figured awkward small talk came with the territory.
“Fine, I guess,” I said.
“Are you still dating Monica?” This seemed more like an accusation than a question.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t know?”
“We haven’t seen each other for a few months, so I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter though, does it?”
She (or, let’s be honest here, he) just gave an ambiguous grunt and gave me my sandwich.
At the time I was a little offended that he didn’t even dignify me with a response. In retrospect, I actually got off pretty easy.
Because it really did matter to him. I had the luxury of selective memory. The privilege to throw away all the drama and anger away whenever I decided it wasn’t worth dwelling on anymore.
He didn’t get that.
I sat down to eat the sandwich and, after awhile, caught him staring at me. I instinctively wanted to pick up my meal and eat it somewhere else, but I figured it was best not to.
When I had finished I threw away my garbage and made my way for the door.
“Bye,” said Jacob before I had left.
“Good luck,” I said.
I’m not sure what I meant by that, but it felt like the right thing to say.
The sun was still out. The air was still frozen. The world was still annoyingly dissonant.
But I felt better.
Things had been boring behind the counter of Wagner’s Sandwiches. Sunday mornings are always the slowest time of this week. As I’d found out the hard way a few months ago, this town is too religious for its own good.
And then that stuck-up little asshole William showed up.
When his eyes met mine he looked scared in a way that might have made me feel sorry for him, had I not been his object of fear.
I assumed he’d walk right back out the door once he saw me. But, to my surprise, he approached the counter.
“Hi,” he said. He stood further away from me than customers usually do, no doubt keeping his distance to avoid catching gender nonconformity. “Could I have a turkey sandwich?”
“Sure,” I said before retreating to the kitchen.
The seating area of the restaurant might have undergone a transformation, but the kitchen was the same as ever with its harsh florescent lights above and industrial fridges lining the walls. I’d spent a lot of time there back when I was known to the world as Rebecca. I’d felt so sad then, so torn up by inner conflict, but the kitchen had always had some strange kind of intrinsic comfort. Probably because it was the only place I could be left alone.
Even now that I’d done right by myself, the cold kitchen still held that nestling glow of a welcome exile.
I framed his sandwich with the efficient grace you get from doing some mindless task a few thousand times. First came the bread, then turkey, then mayo, then pickles. After some deliberation, I decided against giving it a quick spit before slapping on the last slice of bread. There was no doubt he’d complain to the management and I’d lose my much-needed source of income. I’d already been under fire by the management for my campaign to change my name tag, and they wouldn’t smile on a second incident.
I entertained the thought that William might not deserve spit in his sandwich anyway. After all, he’d never been hurtful himself. His girlfriend, Monica, though, she’d been the worst of the lot. She’d said things that belong in anti-bullying PSAs or poorly written teenage dramas. Things that real people don’t say. Or shouldn’t, at any rate.
And William was always there for her. He’d knelt by her side and wiped up the blood the one time I did the only thing any rational person would do in that situation. Then he’d let her cry in his arms and echoed every single one of her pathetic sentiments.
He was waiting for me when I came out of the kitchen, his dainty little frame leaning up against the back wall.
“That’ll be five thirty nine,” I said, trying hard to keep my voice neutral.
He pulled out a few well used bills.
“Thanks for your business,” I said without a whole lot of gratitude.
“No problem, Jacob.”
I had to play that mindless little scrap of conversation over in my head five or six times to make sure I’d heard it right. Yes, yes, he’d really called me by my name. My real name.
I like to think he’d meant it as an apology, although probably it had just slipped out on accident. It didn’t really matter though. He’d done something half decent to me. And for someone who’s been trodden on the way I have, sometimes half decent is enough.
“So, how have you been doing?” I asked. I’m not totally sure why I kept on talking to him, it just seemed natural.
“Fine, I guess.” His voice was tinged with confusion.
"Are you still dating Monica?” I figured I might as well get to the meat of it.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“We haven’t seen each other in a few months, so I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter though, does it?”
It doesn’t really matter, though, does it?
It does, you asshole!
Still, I’m not sure if I can blame him.
He ate his ate his food quickly enough. Maybe he was just super hungry, maybe he really wanted to leave.
As he moved towards the exit he placed his empty dish in the tray above the trashcan and threw his wadded napkin into it. I realized, watching his girlishly thin legs strut out the door, that that was really the heart of the matter. That he could afford to throw away his sour memories and casual relationships. To him, it was all just stupid high school drama. Maybe he’d try to see things from my perspective when he looked back on this years from now, but that’s the best he could do: to try. He’d never have to deal with the waste, he’d never have to go through life with a mismatched body and mind. But the least he could do was try.
"Bye,” I said as he was about to leave.
“Good luck,” he said in response.
I watched him vanish into the distance through the newly-installed plate glass window. He was walking on that ugly concrete bridge over the railroad tracks. There was a noisy, slow moving, incredibly long train covered with angry bright graffiti passing beneath. And then another little parallel came to me. Our history together wasn’t water under a bridge, it was more like that train. It was substantial, it was ugly, but given time maybe it will pass.
—wrinke allegro, 18
The idea of being a “late-bloomer” is more accurate than people realize, because not everyone dates or has sex in high school. Some people don’t have romantic/sexual entanglements till college.
Nobody ever talks about the ambiguous definition of dating. The reality is, dating means different things to different people. Some people believe dating consists of getting to know a person more and hanging out before having sex, while others believe the opposite is true. Dating becomes even more complicated when a person starts a “friends with benefits” arrangement. I had a relationship with a guy over a year ago. We might have not have been “dating” in the traditional sense, but sexual relationships still count as relationships.