10. Max Wolf Valerio
I first heard Max read at the National Queer Arts Festival 2009. I was invited to their reading, Exile: Vision Quest at the Edge of Identity, by Aja Couchois Duncan (Ojibwe poet who did not make this list, but who writes a beautiful blog, that deserves mention. http://www.ajacouchoisduncan.blogspot.com/). He read about his recent trip home, to the Blackfoot Confederacy – Blood/Kainai band. He left a beautiful woman and returned to them wearing himself on the outside. I first read his work in This Bridge Called My Back, in a copy I bought at Cody's in 1991, since I was a reader for Cherríe Moraga and had never heard of the book, I thought I should get myself up to speed on homo writings. I still have that very copy and reread the many lines I underlined in Max's work. "I cannot forget and I don't want to." I grew up thinking Indians didn't write, unless you counted the Chief from the Big Book. Valerio was both, writer and Skin, at that moment, that was all that was important. Max's memoir, The Testosterone Files is available from Seal Press and at the San Francisco Public Library.
9. "A Letter To Harvey" (Lesléa Newman)
I saw this on the TV and knew it was a true story. I grew up with Harvey. The boys at my mother's work wanted her to be more involved, but all my butch mother could manage was sitting at the table stamping her money: Gay Money. After Shimá sání died we lived with the constant threat that someone would take me away from my birth mother and her butch lover. Briggs didn't help matters. But our problems were larger than prop. 6, A Letter To Harvey helped me see that, even before I could understand it myself. This story spoke to what it meant to be a people selected for extermination--homos, Jews, and us the Diné.
8. "Don't Explain" (Jewelle Gomez, no accent and no relation)
This story is just so sexy. I know everyone loves the penetration stories, Gilda's novels, but give me Billie any day.
7. They're Always Telling Me I'm Too Angry (Chrystos)
I want to make copies of this poem and hand it out to people--for their protection. I'm tired of apologizing and explaining. Start anywhere Fugitive Colors, Dream On, Not Vanishing, Fire Power or In Her I Am. She pulls the sheets off. She writes the best revenge poems. Her understanding of the Cauks is unparalleled. Her only equal is Adrian C. Louis, but he's not a homo. I dedicate all my pussy liquor shirts, cards and jackets to Chrystos, and as she told a small group of us who came to hear her read, "if I didn't say something you wanted to hear, go home and write it yourself."
6. James Baldwin
I didn't discover his work till January 1, 2005. I had just gotten out of the hospital for the third surgery and was looking for lucidity, my own. Metronidazole makes me crazy. I started with Fire Next Time "People always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love, a principle that releases them from personal responsibility." I was desperate to understand what kept people connected--especially after the clichés of the queer community had failed me so completely. I sat and read and sat and read and tried to regain my ability to walk, to defecate on my own and understand my new position (outside) of (my) community. Six years later I have returned to Baldwin; the question of connections and community still reside in what's left of my bowel leaving me pained and smelly, keeping a list of everything I don't want to write about: my health, the Christian threat of forgiveness and the failure of community. "Havens are high-priced. The price exacted of the haven-dweller is that he contrives to delude himself into believing that he has found a haven. It would seem, that unless one looks more deeply at the phenomenon, that most people are able to delude themselves and get through their lives quite happily. But I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know that self-delusion, in the service of no matter what small or lofty cause, is a price no writer can afford." (Nobody Knows My Name) My ruptured appendix catapulted me out of my haven, and 9 years later I am still learning to navigate the hell I tour in dreams and upon waking.
5. Photographic Memoirs of an Aboriginal Savant (Living on Occupied Land) (Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie)
No one writes better captions that Hulleah. I've known her in print and person for a long time. One of my favourite memories of her was at a Lesbian Visual Artists talk on the Lesbian Self Portrait. Everyone had themselves, a boob or two, and a camera in their photo. Hulleah stood there in her, then, uniform of jeans, button down shirt and short hair. She was sexy. She showed pictures of her relations, Idelia, from the Portraits Against Amnesia series. Not one picture had her in it, and there were no boobs. After she showed the last slide she asked, am I not a lesbian? And that was the end of her presentation. Who says visual artists aren't good writers?
4. Loving In The War Years (Cherrie Moraga)
I put this on my list because I hate it! Cherrie has a line in this work: "the damage has defined us." That line motivates me and my work so completely. Anything that powerful deserves a special mention. I don't believe it in any context. I don't aspire to describe it, to come to terms with it, to live in spite of it. I'm of the thought that we can be more beautiful than broken. The power in Cherrie's work lies in her steadfast commitment to the process of naming, rendering me unable to forget what she has said even when I disagree so completely with it. Her vision guides her, and for that we are challenged to follow our own visions, and not keep them to ourselves. When she was writing the Medea play and pieces about the murder of Selena I remember her powerful observation about lesbians's hands--they were our sex organs. I've never forgotten that. We don't need dildos. At Gertrude and Alice's show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum you will see many of the photographers cut Gertrude's hands off. Why? I always hear Cherrie saying, because that is what we use to make love with. They are naked, flapping around in everyone's face and you can't deny us our passion or our bodies. You can't make us walk around with them sheathed in pockets, or locked beneath zippers. I will touch you with the same hands I have recently touched my wife and you will not deny my humanity or my sexuality. Because we are--more beautiful than broken.
3. Gertrude Stein
I discovered Gertrude after buying my wife a pocket copy of Alice's autobiography. We don't read the same things so I never expected to take her book and then amass my own shelf of pocket Steins. But she (my wife) told me about Gertrude's publisher coming to check her English and I was sold. I too am often told I speak an imperfect, grossly accented, illiterate form of the language. I won't go on here, I am devoting myself to A Summer of Stein at my regular blog spot (the first instalment to arrive this weekend.)
2. A Woman Is Talking To Death (Judy Grahn)
Cherrie read this to us, Indigena As Scribe, and I can still hear the line "my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me." Always in a different voice, always a woman, always flying above me. This work forced me to step out of the closet. Everyone knew I was a homo. I'm not ashamed of loving women. No one knew that after my grandmother died I was raised by my femme birth mother and her butch lover. No one knew we were gay bashed in my grammar school parking lot, by my mother's brother. No one knew we were gay bashed in our house by the neighbour from across the street. No one knew that one of my favourite memories was driving in the Castro cruising the men, while my other mother would howl, "look at him, he's showing his religion." After I heard this poem I had to speak, to give my own "Testimony in trials that never got heard."
1. Trash and Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature (Dorothy Allision)
When I read I am not looking for sex. I am looking for language. Dorothy gives me both. She is good, not a tease, but a perfect release of everything at the moment I need it. Even when I don't know what the f* I need. She anticipates and gives it. I remember her telling a group, "good writing is like running naked. " I still use that, along with Kafka's axe, as to guide in my own work. She is audacious. She is raw. Her work is loving and uncompromising. When I first read her in 1990 she was the only person who made sense of everything that hurt me. I had never shared a world so completely: poverty and skin. One urban, one rural. One red, one white. I turn to her for everything, even when I journey through Central Europe heterosexual masculinity--which I do often these days. She is my companion and mentor.