[Smithsonian Heritage] Pride Month Guest: J. V. Speyer

I really really really hope you’re out there – you plural – you anyone, you everyone – are out there reading these posts, because there’s so much heart in them, and so many important things. Today’s post is more of the wonderful same. We have another first time guest, J. V. Speyer, and a very warm welcome, J.V.!

On Pride, Drunken Monkeys, and Labels

MidnightI’m sitting here at my computer and I’m trying to think of what I want to write. I’ve started this post three times. Everything looks pretentious, and I keep refreshing my social media timelines like a drunken monkey because that’s going to make this easier.

“Write about drunken monkeys,” suggests one friend (Lydia Stevens, another author.)

Legal disclaimer: do not get actual monkeys drunk.

I didn’t grow up encouraged to talk about myself, or promote myself. It’s a cultural thing, I think. It’s just not something that was done. Of course, if I want to make an actual living as an author, I have to get out there and, you know, promote myself. It’s not just typing some words on a page and hitting send.

People need to know those stories are out there.

(Goes to refresh Twitter, because the drunken monkeys are back and they brought coffee with them.)

And here we are. There first post to come up in my feed (from @showupforthis) 1 says, “Queer is a good word. Queer is a strong word. Queer is a powerful word. Queer is an inclusive word. Queer is a home and a community word.

This post is a post for Pride Month, right? The fact that this (retweeted) post came up first in my feed has to Mean Something!

The monkeys are back. They’re trying to pour some whiskey into my coffee. “Maybe you should back off until the caffeine rush wears away,” says their leader. “This might not be your wisest decision, given that this is a public post on the Internet, and actual humans are going to see it. Not, you know, drunken monkeys who made the mistake of giving you coffee.”

“Nonsense,” I say, taking the bottle from him. “Now hush, I have work to go. Also, monkeys can’t talk.”

The first time anyone used the term “queer” and aimed it at me, it wasn’t an inclusive word. It wasn’t a community word. It sure as hell wasn’t a home word. I was fourteen, and I was trying to transfer from one city high school to another. My school was violent and racially stratified, and I’d gotten mixed up with a crowd of people who were a lot more interested in drinking and drugs than they were in school or, someday, college.

We lived in the rust belt. The only growth industry was law enforcement. If I was going to get out, I needed to get into a different environment. So – a transfer.

The principal was trying to convince me not to transfer. I was one of the “smart” kids, and I didn’t drink or do drugs, and I wasn’t pregnant. So we talked about it, and he didn’t convince me, so he tried another tactic. “The only people who go to (school across town) are drug dealers and queers.”

I’d heard the word before. I knew exactly what he meant. And I knew exactly what I was doing when I looked him in the eye and told him, “And guess which one I am?”

We both knew I wasn’t into drugs.

He signed off on those papers. I don’t think he reported the conversation to my parents.

The monkeys are trying to hit the delete key. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, they’re too drunk to hit it accurately.

It wasn’t so much of a “coming out” as an “opening the closet door.” I guess I was, technically, out to everyone but family in high school. By the time I got to college, though, I wanted to leave everything I was in high school behind.

Who doesn’t?

So the closet door swung shut. It’s been opening, a little more, as I’ve gotten older. It depends on the situation, I guess. That’s something I’m learning about myself. If I’m uncomfortable wearing a large piece of jewelry because it’s too eye-catching, maybe I’m never going to be the person who stands on a table in a crowded bar and screams, “HEY, I’M BISEXUAL!”

Except for the part where I just posted it on the Internet. In front of people. Well, yeah, there’s that.

The monkeys have poured me a full mug of whiskey to replace the empty coffee mug. Excuse me, I’m going to pour it into the potted plant. The monkeys won’t even notice, trust me.

Anyway, I’m still a little uncomfortable with the word “queer,” but it’s a visceral reaction. If I think about it rationally, and I try to, I can say, “Yes, it’s a perfectly good thing for people to reclaim this word. People should use whatever words they want to describe themselves, and it’s easier to use a five letter word than an acronym that takes six hours to spell out.”

I wear my Queer SciFi hoodie with glee. I use my Queer SciFi mugs and guard them jealously from my husband. I’m getting over my discomfort with the word when other people use it.

But I can’t even play that word in Words with Friends without hearing that principal’s voice in my head. Only two kinds of people go to that school.

1 https://twitter.com/@showupforthis, June 7, 2017 10:05 AM

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Just … god. Thank you for sharing with us, J.V. – I imagine whether they speak up or not, someone reading this has a experience like that. And yes, I came up with the “title” of the post – lifting it from the post because it’s just so that

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