Editor Wendell Ricketts has compiled a book of more than 20 stories that will shatter your ideas of who and what queer people are.
When most people think of a “queer” or “queer person”, the image that probably jumps into their heads is of an effeminate man or an androgynous woman, or a young activist proudly flouting appearance norms and loudly defying gender stereotypes. Or maybe it’s an image associated with “that guy down the street” when they were growing up.
There’s not necessarily a negative image. Just a narrow one.
With Blue, Too: Writing By (for or about) Working-Class Queers, we get a look at what the real queer world looks like. It’s made up of people who work, have families and fights, worry and celebrate and love.
And contrary to another popular stereotype, that of the artist or outsider, they are also largely working-class.
There’s very little left unexplored in Blue, Too. Traditional working-class masculinity is discussed, as are partner and family violence. Intersections are also explored: masculinity and intimacy, working-class men and intimacy, working-class men and queerness, queerness and violence. More general themes are presented as well: power imbalances, the unwritten rules of power and codes of conduct, the use of power and money as means of control. Educational opportunities, available or lacking, also figure into these stories as a common theme among working-class people.
Identity is another constant theme; how one identifies oneself, how others identify them, how identities change with circumstances, what people hide and when. Much of what a person reveals about their identity is tied to daily survival, and this seems to be especially true among these blue-collar workers.
Take the “queer factor” out of these stores and you could be still be talking about working class people anywhere.
And that’s the strength of this book, and why it’s truly unique. The people writing and being written about may not be the bulk of the workforce, but chances are you’ve encountered them, and their issues affect everyone.
The editor, Wendell Ricketts, has also provided outstanding supporting materials to go with the stories. There is a Reading Class/Readers’ Guide that gives both an academic perspective on the material and questions and exercises so that the reader or their students may go deeper into the material and look for ways to apply it to themselves, their lives, their communities, and so on. There are also discussion questions and writing prompts for each story, making it idea for a reading or study group. Here’s an example:
Describe the differences you perceive between the language David Florian and Frankie use with each other and the language they use with others. How might you imagine David speaking with the people who are his clients—at Rhino Records, for instance, or at the restaurant whose menu he is designing? Notice how even the narrator’s language shifts at different moments of the story. What does such linguistic “switching” reflect, in your view? Why do the changes come when they do? (Flowers, Flames)
In creating the physical environment of the story and setting the scene, Banner employs what might be called “class markers”—products, clothing, food, etc. Which, if any, of these identify the characters are “low class”? Are there such things as “low class” or “high class” tastes in TV programs, food, entertainment, and so forth? How are such distinctions created or maintained? (Lowest of the Low)
Choose an experience from a past relationship—with a partner, friend, or relative—in which you felt you were unable to be “yourself.” List a few specific incidents that were emblematic of the ways in which your reality was challenged or your sense of personal integrity seemed to be “overridden” by the other person. Weave those incidents into writing that discusses either the expression or the frustration of the desire to be fully “visible” in relationship to others. (Bleeding Toy Boys)
It’s interesting to read a story, go immediately to the discussion questions, and then read the stories again. You’ll see something different each time.
There are mature topics. Alcohol and drug use, abuse, and sexual situations, as well as adult language, are present in various stories. There is an extended trigger warning section that also does the reader the service of discussing what triggers/trigger warnings are, and for those familiar with the concept, this is old ground, but for others, it might shed some light on why something they see or hear bothers them, even when they don’t have the words for it. It’s also an often-missing courtesy.
The book has notes throughout and an annoted bibliography.
Images and quoted text used by permission of the Editor.