Our world is made of walls—geographical ones, such as the oceans between masses of people, physical ones that keep some in and others out, and emotional ones that can protect or prohibit. In Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, the new anthology from Chapel Hill's Trans-Genre Press, dozens of writers use words as a measure for the walls of identity—or as a wrecking ball to smash them down.
California-based editors Helen Klonaris and Amir Rabiyah curated the anthology to give voice to the individual and collective experiences of queer writers at the intersection of static and fluid identities—sexual, gender, ethnic and socioeconomic. In the collection, walls defend, define and oppress, and collisions with them shape the short fiction, memoirs and poetry.
Hannah Stein, of Athens, Georgia, writes about the consuming fear of looking for jobs during gender transition, before she had begun to physically exhibit feminine characteristics. "My mind raced as to whether my current presentation as a 'typical young male business professional' was being undone," she writes.
In "Kissing," Vickie Vértiz, a Los Angeles native and author of the poetry collection Swallows, writes about the precise moment when childhood ends, as whiling away summer afternoons acting out music videos with a friend turns into a confrontation with who she will become and how that person will fit into the world—or not. Vértiz's life changed when she was caught kissing her best girlfriend and had to promise her mother never to do it again. All at once, the piece captures the joy of adolescent discovery, the pain of loss and the insistence of identity.
Toronto's Margaret Robinson details her experience as a poor, queer woman who suffers from depression trying to succeed in a world she can't relate to, where middle-class partners spend money with a "quiet confidence" that there will always be more. Robinson's piece illuminates the struggle to become a professional despite the crushing infrastructure that keeps poor people poor. Even those who succeed are often left with a subtle, constant fear that it could collapse at any moment, and Robinson writes of carrying poverty with you, "I'm never entirely free of it ... Poverty marks my body as well as my mind."
The way we present our identity determines the ways we're able to move through the world, and for many, staying safe means staying hidden behind a version of ourselves society deems respectable. Doing so might help prevent physical violence but also perpetuates a more enduring trauma than a bruise or broken bone—the spiritual trauma of always having to inhabit multiple identities, like the "double consciousness" described by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk. Klonaris echoes Du Bois when she writes, "When we split off parts of ourselves too dangerous, too shame-filed, too ugly to acknowledge, we make it 'other', we divide it from ourselves and put up a wall."
This collection invites the reader to question, redefine, rename and even completely reject the categorical definitions that have historically served to box us off from one another. It's through recognizing shared experiences that it becomes possible to connect in a new way and transform the walls that have oppressed us into ones that protect us. By sharing their stories, the writers in this anthology have created a space, if only in the margins and between the lines, for readers of all identities and backgrounds to recognize themselves.
Carrboro's Ryan-Ashley Anderson, a writer and jewelry designer, studied creative writing at UNC-Asheville.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bare the load"