Daisy In Cement: Before and After

As some of you may already know, I was recently published in an anthology by Transgress Press. Love Always is a collection of short works by the partners of trans folks about the challenges, triumphs, and romance of these relationships. This blog post is meant to shed light on why I originally wrote the piece, deciding to get published after heartbreak, and how things have changed since then. Oh and a little not so objective gushing review. You can purchase the book HERE. love always1 That would be me totally cheesing over receiving my contributor copy, and seeing my name published in a book for the first time ever!!!! Still  absolutely surreal. lovealways3love always2

Why I Wrote  “Daisy in Cement” 

Love stories rarely tell queer romances. Romances in mainstream movies, song, television, and even in marketing advertisements are primarily targeted towards a heterosexual audience. Although at the time I found myself in a “heterosexual” relationship, I couldn’t see myself portrayed in these images, as the leading lady was never a lesbian, and the leading man never transgender. Even on the rare occasion that a story of transgender person makes it into the media, the narrative often solely focus on the transition process; what is almost always forgotten is that nobody transitions alone. This process is one that often intimately involves other people whether that’s family, a counselor, physicians, friends, a support group, or a lover. I needed a love story that spoke to my triumphs and struggles as a partner of a trans person. I needed to know that my relationship was possible; that there was hope. The only passage I had read when my partner came out to me as trans was the following, “partners of FTM participants who identified as lesbian often had an especially hard time coping with the loss of their own identities. For some partners, it had been an arduous process to accept and take pride in themselves as lesbians, and now this hard-won accomplishment was being taken away,” (Beemyn & Rankin, 2011, p. 70). This was followed by, “some of the FTM-lesbian couples were able to get past their struggles,”…. just some. But I didn’t feel an immediate loss of identification when my partner came out, because 98% of the time I as assumed entirely heterosexual anyways (the struggle of being a femme). My sexual identity has been largely invisible my entire life. So this tiny note about FTM relationships with lesbians felt about as foreign as the heterosexual romances blasted over mainstream media. As Janet Mock says in her new book, Redefining Realness, “I know intimately what it feels like to crave representation and validation, to see your life reflected in someone who speaks deeply to whom you know yourself to be, echoes your reality, and instills you with possibility, (2014, p. xvi).

I needed love stories that represented who I was, who my partner was, to remind me that not only was our love possible, but it was magical. These stories didn’t exist. When love stories like yours don’t exist, you simply have write your own as act of validation, and a symbol of resistance. The love story I wrote was a point of defiance in the mainstream portrayal of romance between a man and woman. It is was anything but heteronormative, and it was beautiful. My love story was a refusal to the one paragraph acknowledgement of FTM-lesbian relationships in “The Lives of Transgender People” .  And in part, I penned our romance so I could have something tangible to prove our love existed; so that if we became a statistic of another failed FTM-lesbian relationship I would always knows that at some point there was an undeniable love between us; there was context behind that statistic more valuable than the end result. Our story was a point disidentification (Munoz, 1999) with the only thing being told about FTM-lesbian relationships is that they are hard; maybe even close to impossible. I am not denying that navigating our relationship was fought with difficulties. What I am denying is the notion that these hardships were the only notable thing about us. What about love? What about silliness? What about exploration? What about triumph? These too are parts of FTM-lesbian relationships. Those are stories I needed when my partner came out to me, and that’s precisely the story I’ve told. Although, I wrote this in a large part for myself, it was also my hope that in sharing my story, people would feel empowered to share their own queer romances. Society does far too much of painting a picture of what love should look like with no regard to the complexity of diverse sexual and gender identifications. This was my push back. This was and is my very queer love story.

Why I Decided to Publish After Heart Break 

When I originally penned mine and Jays* love story (and the above remarks immediately after finishing), I was enthralled; swallowed in the midst of our relationship. I was deeply in love with Jay. And sinking those emotions into a page while they were still pulsing through my veins was an entirely foreign experience for me. You see, writing this story, our story, was the first time I had ever written about love for someone in the present tense. I almost always waited until the loss of a person to hash out my feelings on paper. I guess for the most part when I am happy I don’t think about writing. I like to soak in the moment, like a seed that has felt rain for the first time. I’m never worried about drowning or even an impending drought, I’m merely blooming; existing. It isn’t until these memories begin to slip through my fingers, the way that heavy rain does as you try to catch it, that the reality of loss forces me into writing; frantically attempting to preserve fleeting emotions. And so what I wrote about Jay, and our relationship, might possibly be the most sincere thing I’ve ever written. The emotions weren’t recalled, but raw. I submitted Daisy in Cement while I still was waking up every morning beside what seemed like the whole universe, drowning in depth of Jay’s blue eyes over and over again.
By the time Transgress Press notified me Daisy in Cement was going to be published, Jay was gone. Our breakup was incredibly raw, and for those of you who know me personally, witnessed a tiny sliver of pain I was going through, as I tried to hide the worst of it. I had never experienced betrayal quite like that before, so, you can imagine the dilemma I faced. Did I really still want to publish our love story while I was drowning in the loss of our relationship? The sting of losing Jay reverberated through every fiber of my body so constant that sometimes it felt like my heartbeat; maybe it was only pain that pulsed through me that summer. I couldn’t even bring myself to reread the piece when I received the news, so did I really want the world to read it? Did I want friends and strangers alike to see my heart laid so tenderly across butchering block? Did I want everyone to know I fell like a fool?
I was overcome with fear, sadness, and embarrassment. Ultimately, I realized these emotions were nothing more than the echo of my ego. I re-read why I had written the piece (the words above), and it suddenly became clear that there was no space for my bruised pride. This was an important story, and it needed to be told. What happened with me and Jay after Daisy in Cement doesn’t negate any of the feelings I had during that moment in time. That story is every bit as real today as it was then, and every bit as important.
The irony of it all was bittersweet. I was finally being published, a dream come true, but it was story that I was afraid to read. It was memories I had spent months drowning out with Sam Smith and countless bottles of wine, tools I used to force memories of Jay into the depth of cells. I was terrified to let myself relive those feelings . It was far too painful for me. Even during the editing process I would skim the words, but still couldn’t engage with what I wrote. I probably would have caught some of the errors printed in my piece, had I been able to actually reread the story. But, I have come to kind of love the mistakes in Daisy in Cement, as they are a true testament to how in the moment the story was, and how far I’ve come in terms of healing since then.Its flaws are what make it perfect, and I am thankful now to have them preserved in a published work.
How Things Have Changed Since Daisy In Cement

When I wrote Daisy In Cement , throughout the rest of my relationship with Jay, and even for a while after our split, I was self-identifying as a lesbian. As I made clear in my piece included in the Love Always anthology, I felt my right to self-determination was fundamental. I had fought hard both internally and with my conservative family to express and embrace my lesbian identity. I did not feel that falling in love with Jay changed this. I felt that he was my exception. He was the perfect and only man my heart was designed to love, and therefore I did not think this really altered my sexual orientation. Orientation means a “main interest”and at the time, I didn’t feel as if my main interest in women was somehow blasted into oblivion by Jay’s gender. Jay was Jay, and I was in love with him for a thousand reasons that burned like wildfire. Revealing his gender did not put out a single flame, in fact his sincerity and vulnerability in sharing his true self with me only hurled me deeper into fire that was Jay; I was engulfed.

Eventually though, after the end of our relationship, my family and other people I held close to my heart began to hurl my lesbian identity at my already fractured heart. “What was the point of coming out Amber if you were just going to date a dude???” “Why wouldn’t you break up with him the moment he told you he was guy if you are really a lesbian” etc etc etc. I was already so tender. The last thing I needed was have my identity shit on because I fell in love with a guy who ultimately broke my heart. I didn’t want to hear about how foolish I was, or how I should have left. Lesbian became sort of a sore spot, a way for people to rub salt in a gaping wound. An identity that once felt safe began to feel perilous. However, as scary as my place of solitude had become, it still felt like home; dysfunctional but true.
It wasn’t until I began to date again that I recognized that Jay was not an exception, he was just a revolution. He opened my eyes up to the possibility of loving beyond the borders of binary gender. He forever changed the way I view gender and sexuality, and since him I have discovered an interest in bunch of queer identities, not just women.
But Jay did not just expand my sexuality, he also helped me find purpose. My love for him and earnest desire to be an informed capable partner initially pushed me into the Queer Studies department at Oregon State University. It was in these classes that I fell in love wit feminist and queer theory.  I finally found a field that excited me, ans challenged me. I discovered a niche I knew I could uniquely contribute to and a career path that I was genuinely excited about.  None of this would have been unearthed had I not fallen for Jay. So, in truth, Jay opened far more doors in my life than he ever closed.
But, lesbian didn’t feel like home anymore. It felt like sweater that suddenly fits too tight after you accidentally put in the dryer. It was too small of a label; constricting who I could and couldn’t date just the way the label straight had before I came out. I slowly started to identify at a queer femme lesbian, which became quite the mouthful.
Hi, I’m Amber. I am a queer femme lesbian
Eventually I felt comfortable enough to shed the term lesbian all together.
Queer Femme 
I have truly found a home in the term queer as it is unhinged from gender in beautiful way that allows me fluidity in my attractions. Just a week ago I ran into an old coworker who invited to me brunch and said bring your lady…or your man…or whoever you are dating now days. I never know with you. I just winked and said, I keep you on your toes don’t I? and walked away.  The uncertainty settled well with me. In that way, queer is a mansion that I’m quite certain I will never outgrow.
Besides the end of our relationship, shifting to a queer identity, and healing a broken heart, only a few things has changed from what I wrote. I am still a femme through and through, and yes it is still hard to keep me in pants.  Although, I have abandoned trying to pee standing up, as Jay was always much better at that than I was (you’ll understand this if you read the piece). And, I can finally read Daisy in Cement now and smile about how foolishly in love I was, and how fucking wonderful so many of the shared moments were. I am not bitter, or hurt anymore. I am thankful for an experience that lead to so much growth. My love with Jay may not have been permanent, but it was cataclysmic.
Not So Objective Gushing Review of  Love Always 

Reading Love Always was a completely cathartic experience. As I thumbed through my love story alongside so many others, I was brought back into my being. So many of these stories echoed the emotions I had been forcing into silence. Their words sung to my soul, nourishing it back to state of entirety. I cannot thank Transgress Press, the editors Jordon Johnson and Becky Garrison, and all the incredible contributors enough for creating such a healing body of literature. I would highly recommend this book to any current, or former partner of a trans folk, and to any trans person wanting to gain a glimpse into the unique experience of being a partner.
Although the entire book was excellent, there were a number of pieces that were total stand-outs to me. I have listed some of these below (there were just too many!!!).
  • “Tin Porn Star” – Jaime M. Grant : Jaime’s account of intimacy after her partner’s double-mascetomy is loving, sensual, and absolutely addictive. It’s one of those works that makes your whole body tingle, and hair on your arm stand up as you bite your lower lip trying not to squeal from the intensity. I’ve never read 50 Shades of Gray, but I would confidently bet quite a bit of money that this is about 33 times more sexy than anything written in that novel.
  • “A Femme’s Chrysalis”- Isabella Abrahams : First off, the alliteration and imagery in this piece is flawless. The words are so perfectly crafted they dance through your mind in flawless choreography. She also speaks to the truth of, “finding ways to protect him, without emasculating him,” a  familiar challenge to me . As a fellow femme, she put this experience into far better words than I have ever been able to.
  • “How My Partner’s Transition Gave Me Schlubby Ape-Man Complex”-Justin Ropella: This piece is absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t stop ferociously snickering on the plane as I found myself playfully relating to new found insecurity as your partner begins to criticize parts of their own body that you so happen to share. Suddenly you begin questioning whether they are even attracted to you at all. Does he hate my hips as much as he hates is own, etc, etc etc. You quickly become hyper-aware of body parts you may have never noticed before, putting your own body under the same microscope your partner is. Justin paints this arduous process with such humor that makes it easier to laugh at yourself; to give your body damn break. Thank you Justin.
  • “Lost in Transition” -Mignonne Pollard: My heart ached alongside Mignonne as I know what it is like to find yourself in love with possibly the right person at the absolute wrong time. Everyone wants to be the end, but sometimes you are just the transition girl. 
  • “Hello Ladies”- Shawnee Parens : Oh man. There is nothing worse than the constant Hello Ladies when you are out and about with your man. Its like you are set to have a wonderful day, and then that shit. And its always the worse in these “progressive” areas as people gleam with pride as if to say look at me recognizing you as lesbians. I need a gold star. Actually you need to quit your assumptions because you just made an ass of yourself, and quite possibly ruined my partner’s day. This piece is daily life.
  • “Cocoon” -S.J. Sindu : This piece absolutely cut through my soul and quite honestly left me breathless. “I can tell you I love your scars. Do you see mine? Remnants of internal bleeding cut by your manhood. This is your story but I am the pages you mark with the ink of transition. branded. the discarded cocoon”.
  • “Letter to My Trans Boyfriend” – Anne Totero: When you are completely in love with someone its hard to understand when they don’t see their self as perfect as you do. Anne’s poem captures this tango between professing your love while validating their very real feelings of dysphoria. It’s a dangerous dance that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get right.
  • “No Big Deal” – Blair Braverman : There is something wonderfully effortless about about Blair’s piece, and it was absolutely the best line to end the book with.

“Recently we watched a video of Laverne Cox’s powerful speech at the 2014 Creating Change conference. We were especially struck by one line: “loving trans people is a revolutionary act”. On a societal level that’s true, but between you and me? We looked at each other and shrugged. My love for you isn’t revolutionary. It’s inevitable”

I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes falling in love is extraordinary and absolutely ordinary at the same time. Maybe the revolutionary part isn’t falling in love, but rather sharing out love story with others. Thank you for sharing yours.

*Jay is the pseudonym used in Love Always and has been maintained in this piece as to not contradict or infringe on the anonymity agreed on with the publishing house.

Works Cited

Beemyn, G. & Rankin, S. (2011). The Lives of Transgender People. New York: Columbia Press.

Johnson, J. & Garrison, B. (Eds.). (2015). Love Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge, and Resilience. Oakland: Transgress Press.

Munoz, J. (1999). Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Greetings From Bangalore

Hello my lovelies!

I just wanted to drop a note about my recent blogging absence. As some of you may know, I have been in Bangalore, India for the last two months on a public health internship.

I have been doing both primary research, and a whole bunch of secondary research to strategize more effective and sustainable approaches to public health programming for men who have sex with me (MSM) and transgender people in southern India.

When I arrived, I had this crazy idea that I would have tons of time to write in India… convinced I was going to have some existential experience, but really I am just on a daily work grind.


Working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, has been exhausting. So if I’m kind of absent from now until June that’s why. I promise I will have lots of fun, thoughtful, sexy, and critical pieces coming this summer when I will finally be done with grad school!

You can follow my adventures on my instagram @queerfemmetalk

And stay tuned for upcoming exciting posts !!!

The Kinship Collective Zine

As part of my incredible Queer of Color Critiques course at Oregon State University we created a collective zine that has been made available as a pdf. The description of the zine and the link to view/download it is below.


Click here to view and download the zine


Genealogies of Resistance by the Kinship Collective


“This collective project emerged out of the themes and theories we engaged with in our Queer of Color Critiques (QS/WGSS 431/531) course during Winter Quarter 2015 at Oregon State University. We are grateful to the Kalapuya people, elders, and ancestors–past, present, and future–for allowing us to be on their land. This is the first time the course has been offered at OSU and, we hope, contributes to larger movements of resistance and transformation both on and off campus.

“Queer of Color Critiques” are theorizations that challenge normative ideals of what it means to be queer within a capitalist imperialist society. In other words, a queer of color critique is one in which the goal is not to be accepted into larger society but rather to disrupt the dominant ideologies society has about race, class, gender, sexualities, (dis)ability, and the intersections therein. Throughout the quarter we immersed ourselves with themes of kinship and genealogies to recover and retell the histories/stories that have been forcibly taken from queer and trans people of color. We also looked to critical and creative work by queer and trans people of color to understand QTPOC resistance to entwined systems of power. Together–as a community that included QTPOC people, white Queer people, and straight-identified folks–we analyzed and deconstructed ideologies embedded in queer liberalism, and critically engaged the works of queer people of color who in their theorizing created the possibility for imagining different types of quare futures. Quare as defined by E. Patrick Johnson is a “strategy for theorizing racialized sexualit[ies],” and as such with our collective work we hope a new envisioning of queer as always already racialized can be sought.

This zine is a collective project and creative praxis that uses art to disrupt dominant, often white, understandings of gender and sexuality. It is an act of theorizing that takes seriously arguments by queer women of color, such as Barbara Christian, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, and Alice Walker, that distinctions between “theory,” “art,” and “activism” are imposed by systems of oppression. These pages address settler-colonialism, white supremacy, imperialism, knowledge making, capitalism, and the blatant erasure of the contributions and lives of queer folks of color. We hope that serves to help counter these erasures by creating a record of our collective and creative resistance. Genealogies of Resistance connects us to those who have resisted and those who have always been resisting, tying ourselves to a much larger on-going struggle. We refuse to accept the idea that the ‘past is in the past’. As the Kinship Collective we draw energy and support from each other in the present, and also those elders who came before us. The community we created as a result of our work engaging QTPOC writers allows us to situate ourselves within a much larger family of resistance to systems of power.

We hope this collection will spark critical conversations and provide possible solutions of both imagining and creating what José Esteban Muñoz calls “queer utopia.” These pages are a tribute to those that have come before us, and our chapter in the genealogies of resistance.”


The Kinship Collective is:


Jacq Allen

Marshall Bean

Amber Coyne

Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill

Luke Kawasaki

Emma Larkins

Andrés López

Julia McKenna

Sophia Mantheakis

Megan Spencer

Ching-Chih Tseng


Kalapuya Territory (Corvallis, OR)”

March, 2015


Photos by : Amber Coyne 

As part of a Theater of the Oppressed Exercise 

Sculpter: Amber Coyne

Leader: Qwo-Li Driskill

Performers:  Jacq Allen, Marshall Bean, Luke Kawasaki, Emma Larkins, Andrés López, Julia McKenna, Sophia Mantheakis, Megan Spencer, Ching-Chih Tseng


Queer Liberalism, Multiculturalism, and Other Homonormative Garbage

As a LGBT person, it isn’t hard to understand what the draw towards liberal politics is. And I would say by far the vast majority of my LGBT friends would classify themselves as liberal given the choice between that and conservative. But what are the implications of such a vast adoption of liberal politics among queer individuals? David Eng’s book The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy explores this relationship, turning a critical eye towards the effects of multiculturalism and colorblindess that is often tied into liberal politics . The assimilation of LGBT people into a liberal political paradigm promises a wealth legal rights and protections, but comes with a hefty cost of leaving those most disenfranchised among us behind.

colorblindness1Colorblindness is a remarkably appealing concept, especially for white folks, as it allows individuals to deny any implications in racially loaded systems of oppression by both an intentional forgetting and a selective remembering. In this new age liberal politics and multiculturalism, “racism constantly appears as disappearing,” although in a reality there is just a shifting and restructuring of racist logic that allows for the continued propagation of white privilege and supremacy. The rise of queer liberalism has not only allowed the racist logic embedded inte foundation of the U.S.  to continue, but has actually recruited new bodies to uphold white nationalist ideals of kinship and power under the guise of progressive politics. Multiculturalism, a key component of queer liberalism, is less about the concealment of difference and more about, “our collective refusal to acknowledge it,” (pg. 117).   The logic of this type of thinking acknowledges difference of race only so long to immediately dismiss its importance, “we are all different, but we are all the same, too… but it doesn’t really matter,” (pg.117). But in reality it does matter.


We do not live in utopic world in which all bodies can navigate space equally regardless of their pigment. That world does not exist, and pretending it does only perpetuates bootstrap mentalities that absurdly suggest if we all work hard enough, then surely we can all achieve equally. This discourse allows capitalism to be marked as independent of race constructs, however in truth, capitalism relies on pools of surplus labor that have and always will exploit racist logic in order to sustain itself. The integration of LGBT people into mainstream society via legal rights/protections promises us our very own slice of the capitalism pie; our chance at the “American dream”.  But this integration marks a devious alliance that strengthens rather than dismantles systems of oppression.


Eng poignantly calls attention to the history of queer as being, “once understood as the name for a political movement and an extensive critique of a wide range of social normalizations and exclusions,” that explicitly attacked violent structures such as the nuclear family and neoliberal economies that perpetuate violence against all people, but particularly queer folks together (pg. xi). The rise of queer liberalism and multiculturalism in the U.S. marks a significant shift in queer politics that aims to assimilate certain queer bodies into mainstream culture and politics. This assimilation relies on the willingness of these bodies to become good citizens through monogamy, productivity, whiteness, and the continuance of the nuclear family. In exchange these bodies will be deemed worthy enough to obtain garnered legal rights

and protections. The obtainment of these legal “protections” however, does not shift or challenge the basis of power, but rather upholds and even fortifies their foundation. In the case of the United States, homonationalism and queer liberalism, actually secures the racist bedrock of this country, essential to the building and dissemination of the U.S. empire. Integrating queers

into neoliberal systems will never result in freedom, but rather contain the power of these bodies to dismantle. It is a strategy to maintain excess pools of labor through the selective inclusion of white homonormative bodies that allows system to be marked as progressive and liberating while fortifying its white heteropatriarchal basis.


            It is not only the shifting of agenda of the queer movement that has functioned to support racist logic and underpinnings of the U.S., but also the mainstream marketing of the movement. Media content that implies either explicitly or implicitly that the queer movement is the civil rights struggle of our time actually upholds racist logic in two distinct ways. First, this discourse historicizes racism and the black civil rights movement as thing of a past, suggesting that this work is still not actively done today, and that racism at a social level no longer exists. Secondly, this type of marketing racializes queer identities as white through the implicit erasure of bodies that are both queer and black. “Gay is the new Black,” discourse provides a shield that distracts queer and straight U.S. citizens alike from recognizing, discussing, and challenging racism that currently exists and is actively perpetuated. It is a calculated diversion that assists both a conscious and subconscious forgetting of race through a elevation of white homonormative bodies.


Although not explicitly stated in this text, I would argue that white folks romanticizing, and even in some cases co-opting a two-spirit identity functions in a similar facet. White queer individuals that deploy Two-Spirit identities as a way to argue that diverse genders and sexualities are a natural artifact historicize these bodies and cultures in the same vein racism gets historicized in “gay is the new black,” discourse. Romanticization of indigenous genders and sexualities negates the current lives, cultures, and struggles of Native Americans. This allows a forgetting of land, much like queer liberalism allows a forgetting of race. This forgetting posits settlers, queer and heterosexual alike, as the rightful inheritors of this land.


Queer liberalism and multiculturalism illuminate the danger of forgetting. By forgetting the beginning of this once radical movement, queer bodies have been co-opted into neoliberal systems and politics in a calculated tactic to uphold and strengthen white heteropatriachy. Gay is not the new black. This land is not our land, and indigenous identities are not ours to exploit. If we are to return to our radical beginnings of queer, then we must remember. We must remember how the queer movement began. We must remember our queer and trans ancestors of color, and their struggle for justice, and vision for a truly beloved community. It is through this intentional remembering that we can create the space to center QTPOC people in all our theorizing and acting.


The Laramie Project : A Reflection

In order to tell this story, to tell it correct, as Father Rodger would say I must rewind.


I was first introduced to The Laramie Project in high school. I read this play before “coming out of the closet”, well before I ever even realized I was in the closet. I remember being struck by the style of the play, the diversity of the characters, and the extreme tragedy. It was a play that once entering into my life found a place nestled in my heart. I carried around The Laramie Project tucked away there for almost the next seven years. It was January 1st 2014 when the play consciously entered mind again. I was moving  my partner from Georgia to Oregon, where I had been in graduate school for the last couple of months.  The night before was New Years, and we had spent evening in Denver, Colorado. We were both so exhausted from 13 hours of driving that day that the only thing we had energy to do was set an alarm for midnight so we could wake up, kiss each other, and immediately fall back asleep. Around 5am I clicked on the TV to check the weather. Every single station was reporting a winter storm headed right our way. I woke T up and said we’ve got to go now or we are going to get snowed in. After rounding up the two dogs, and taking way too many muffins from the free breakfast bar, we fired up car and were on our way.  Now, throughout the road trip we were stopping at every state-line to take goofy photos with each other and our dogs to document our first road trip together. Right as we were about to cross the Wyoming border it began to snow.

wyoming signwyoming2

We quickly took our photos, and jumped back in the truck. However, the snow kept falling harder, and harder, until it became strikingly clear that we didn’t avoid the storm, we had landed ourselves right in the midst of it. After spinning out more than once on the freeway while semi-triucks whizzed past us, we agreed that we had to stop at the next town. Driving at literal snail pace, I keep my eyes peeled for the next sign indicating any civilization, as T attempted to keep us out of danger. A few miles later, and what felt like an eternity in the midst of anxiety, I saw a green sign. “Finally”, I thought. As we got closer I read the nearest town…. LARAMIE… “oh shit”. 

The next town after Laramie was quite some distance away and required driving through a narrow windy passage, called Elk Mountain, that we knew the truck could not navigate given the circumstances. Never in a million years did I ever plan to go to Laramie, but as fate would have it that is exactly where I ended up snowed into for three days.

What can I say about Laramie? Well, to me it felt like a ghost town, but I know that was my own bias. Because in truth, Laramie could have been any small town in the United States. Everyone seemed to know everyone. People were plowing and shoveling the snow out of each others store fronts, and within maybe only 2 hours all the sidewalks of Laramie were more or less clear due to a combined community effort. And, I think its important to note that this process, and communal responsibility to each other seemed simply the way of life there. I am not meaning to paint Laramie as some utopic place, its not. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable just navigating space as clearly read queer couple than I did in Laramie. However, it wasn’t the completely one dimensional terrible place that quite honestly I wanted to paint it as in my head. Matthew was never far from my thoughts that weekend. His story played in my mind on repeat. As I wandered the streets of Laramie with T, I couldn’t help but think if Matthew’s feet had ever occupied that same space. Were my footsteps inside his?


It was maybe only a week after we settled into our new apartment that I got involved with the local community theater in Albany by total chance. On my way to work I happen to glance at the marquee listing auditions for The Glass Menagerie, one of my favorite plays, the next night. Laura, was one of my bucket list roles, and I thought I may never have the opportunity again to audition.  Much to my surprise, I got cast without knowing a single person at ACT (this was not my experience with community theater prior). It was closing weekend of The Glass Menagerie that I found out the ACT would be producing The Laramie Project. I knew I had to be in it.


I waited and waited months for auditions. I read the script over and over. I even fell asleep to the HBO version of the show nightly during the week of auditions. My heart was set on playing Romaine Patterson (a 21 year old lesbian, best friend of Matthew, and creator of Angel Action), but honestly was going for ANY role. I just wanted to be apart of the show, I felt I needed to be.

I got cast as Kelli Simpkins who plays the following roles

Leigh Fondakowski: Member of the Tectonic Theater Project

Aaron Kreifels: 19 year old college student that finds Matthew at the fence

Alison Mears: Volunteer for social service agency and good friend of Marge Murray in her 50s

Tiffany Edwards: A local reporter in her 20s

Zackie Salmon: A 40 year old lesbian administrator at the University of Wyoming

Shannon: Friend of Aaron Mckinney, early 20s



Laramie Project_0075

Being cast in The Laramie Project is a unique experience, and not just because everyone is playing multiple roles, but rather because this play isn’t just based off a real story… it is a real story. Every character is a real person, every line verbatim their words. The upside to this style is that you truly get a snapshot of who these people are through the words that they chose, and they way they react to questions, events, and other people. The downside, is that these are REAL people, and with that comes the heavy responsibility to portray them correctly. Finding the voice, the way they stand, the way they sit, and the way they move about space were all things that helped develop and distinguish each role from itself. It was not an easy process by any means, but I am extremely proud of the 52 people we brought to life each night on stage.  The true beauty of The Laramie Project  is the breadth of people/perspectives portrayed. It is impossible to go to this play, and not find someone on stage that relates to an opinion or sentiment you have have. Everyone will find themselves in Laramie, that is the point. Because in truth, this tragedy could happen anywhere, and actually it  still does.

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Of all the roles I portrayed on stage there were two  that proved to be particularly challenging not just as an actor, but also as a queer identified person.

The first was Aaron Kreifels, the boy that found Matthew at the fence. This was the first time I’ve ever been cast as boy. Portraying a gender other than the one identify with, and have been socialized into, was extremely difficult. Feminist and queer theories of gender I had studied in class sudden were brought into flesh. Every time I tried to put Aaron on I felt gender codes reverberate through my body. There was not a single second when I played Aaron that I wasn’t completely conscious about gender…

Is my voice deep enough?

are my feet spaced an appropriate distance from each other?

are my toes pointed forward? am I standing in a ballet position again? dammit!

is the weight of my body on the back of my heels?

am I moving my hands too little?

am I moving my hands to much?

am I pushing my hip to the side?

is my back hunched over?

I mean this was a continuous internal dialogue that started the moment I put Aaron’s flannel shirt on and continued until the second I took it off. Portraying Aaron made me realize just how difficult it would be to navigate space on a daily basis as either

a) a gender I don’t internally feel myself to be


b) a gender other than the one society has socialized/categorized me into

I didn’t know the codes for “acting like a man” and I found it emotionally exhausting to constantly be told Iwas do ing it wrong, or so. As a nontrans femme I had never had my gender presentation so overtly policed, which I have now come to realize is an immense privilege. Being told you are doing gender wrong is very emotionally taxing. At times it made me feel disconnected from my own skin, as if I couldn’t control the way people perceived me. Suddenly the reality of  violent gender roles/norms became crystal clear.

Why can’t a person that identifies as man stand in ballet positions?

Why can’t a woman sit with her legs spaced apart?

Why do we have these ridiculous rules?

Some might argue that these social queues help us be recognizable to other people, but I think they function exactly the opposite. Instead of getting to know someone, we are automatically coding who they are based off the way they stand, move, talk, dress, etc. Why? Why does it matter? I want to live in a world where a man can stand in ballet positions and his gender is not questioned because of that. I want that world.

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The second role I found most challenging was Romaine Patterson. Actually being Romaine was not a challenge at all, but rather the interactions she faces in the play were the challenge. In truth, I didn’t do any sort of acting with Romaine, I played her as myself because in a lot of ways I think our spirit is the same. She is a spunky 21 year old queer woman who at time of Matthew’s murder is not only coming into her own skin, but also into her own politics while in the wake of dealing with an immense tragedy. That was very much my story at that same age.

The difficulty of facing Fred Phelps every single night was a challenge I expected but still raddled me in each show . Myself, as well as the person who played Fred Phelps, felt an intense responsibility to tell this portion of the story right, to do it justice, because Fred Phelps, and people like him, are a reality. That degree of hate is a monster that cannot be kept in the shadows. It has to be revealed so that it can be faced and ultimately dismantled.

As I stood dead center below those posters each night, and felt the booming voice of hate shower down on me I almost always forgot my following lines.

 At set strike I had the immense pleasure of finally queering up those awful posters with my cast mates. We attacked those words of hate in a true queer fashion, with glitter and fierce stomps. I won’t lie, it was pretty cathartic.

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I think one of the most underrated characters in The Laramie Project is Zubaida Ula, a Muslim woman and Laramie resident in her 20s. I think this character really drives home the message that The Laramie Project is not just about the brutal murder of a gay man, but really about how Americans reacts to any sort of difference. At its core, this play is ethnography about the ways in which people perceive and police bodies that deviate from a social norm. In the moment “A Scarf” Zubaida briefly touches on the experience of wearing a head-covering, and that its, “really changed my life in Laramie”. Zubaida represents one (and perhaps only) character of color in The Laramie Project, and the only religious person outside of various sectors of Christianity. These two identify markers cast her as an outsider in a manner that is not much different from the way that Matthew was cast.


I also think this character is of particular important for current audiences (especially the many queer folk this play tends to attract). Zubaida is a call to reflect not just on status of queer people in this country, but also people of other marginalized identities. It is important to note that many of gains in LGBTQ rights have happened as the rights of immigrants, and people of color in this country have been stripped away. As, Mia McKenzie notes on her blog

“Two days ago, the Supreme Court repealed the segment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that functioned to guarantee that communities of color have equal access to voting rights as white communities. On the same day, the court dealt a blow to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law intended to keep Native American children from being taken from their homes and typically adopted or fostered by non-Native American parents. Yesterday, that same Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, clearing the way for LGBT couples to access marriage rights,”  

Furthermore, within the last few years more and more LGBTQ couples are able to adopt children both domestically and internationally, while the children of undocumented individuals, Black folks, and Native Americans are being forcibly stripped from their families. We cannot become so entrenched on the rights of one particular identity that we forget systems of oppression are interlocked just as our  intersecting identities are.

Zubaida’s character in conjunction with the murder of FIVE trans women of color in the United States and THREE Muslim students murdered at the University of North Carolina during our rehearsal process, made me truly realize the differential attention that certain bodies get in media, and how this is so often connected to race, religion, and ethnicity. Why did Matthew’s murder strike a cord with the entire world, while many people don’t even know the names of these eight individuals????

Penny Proud

Deah Shaddy Barakat

Lamia Beard

Ty Underwood

Yusor Mohammad

Yazmin Vash Payne

Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

Taja DeJesus

I keep wondering what would a play look like if we went to the town where any of these individuals were murdered and spent two years collecting interviews about their life, their murder, and community sentiment. What would people say? Would anyone remember them? Would anyone be outraged? What stories or opinions would come to light? Would anyone come see the play?

Would you?

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*Production photos by Eric LeFeber and Gary Burns*

Book Review: Queer & Trans Artists of Color

Queer & Trans Artists of Color : Stories of Some of Our Lives

Interviews by Nia King

Co-edited by Jessica Glennon-Zukoff & Terra Mikalson

I first was introduced to the work of Nia King by my queer studies professor,  Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill. Nia King is artist of many trades based in Oakland, California. She creates fabulous comics & zines,  is the mind behind the hilarious short film about roommate hunting as a queer person of color, and is a published writer.  But probably the role that has most drawn me to Nia King’s work is her role as a QTPOC art historian.

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As Aurora Levins Morales says, “one of the first things a colonizing power or repressive regime does is attack the sense of history of those they wish to dominate” (The Historian as Curandera). This is why storytelling and preservation is such a crucial site of resistance. Through conducting interviews and then compiling them into the following book, Nia King is not only lifting up the work of QTPOC artists, but is preserving their stories as artists, people, and revolutionaries.

As a queer artist of color, Nia King, began the pursuit of documenting QTPOC artist stories in order to understand the strategies, challenges, and triumphs that artists like herself have faced in an attempt to “make it” in the art world. The result is a beautiful book that not only provides tactics for financially surviving as an artist, but also thriving as a queer and/or trans person of color in society that continually tries to control, contain, and erase QTPOC work and bodies . As Toi Scott points out in the foreword, ” gathering and sharing our stories – expressing our voices through art – is and always has been necessary for queer and trans people of color’s survival,” (pg. i).

The art of the interviewees in King’s book function not only as flourishing sites of resistance, but also as artifacts of preservation.  As Lovemme Corazon vulnerably reveals,


“in the last year, there have been a lot of trans women of color who have been murdered and brutalized, and I know nothing about  them besides what’s been reported  on them. I wanted to write this book to give everyone a background on who I am, to let them know that being a trans woman of color is a dangerous thing to be in the United States. I thought ‘If I was ever murdered or if anything ever happened to me, I would want someone to know my story.’ I wanted to preserve my story. It was kind of just that I’m scared you know? I just want to be remembered , I guess. I don’t want my experience to be a secret,” (pg. 71). 

It is the beginning of march. We are less than a quarter into the new year and already six trans women have been murdered in the United States for just being themselves. SIX. Corazon is right. I know nothing of these women’s stories. What they thought about on a day-to-day basis, what their dreams were, what was important to them. I wish I did. Art, even if it is not intentionally a memoir, like Corazon’s Book Truama Queen, still functions the way that a memoir does. Art reveals someone’s soul; their story. As June Jordan says, “you cannot write lies, and write good poetry,” but I would challenge that statement and say you cannot create lies and create good art.  In a world were queer and trans people of color face extreme barriers, violence, and police brutality systematically, I believe to create art is an incredibly brave and revolutionary thing. It is a tangible testament, I AM HERE, I AM IMPORTANT, I AM ALIVE. LISTEN TO ME. And that is what makes this book (and all the art created by the contained artists) inherently political. It is political because they are creating visibility, depth, and truth in society that functions at their erasure. As Toi Scott says at the end the foreword, “For queer and trans people of color, art isn’t a frivolous upper-class entertainment. Our writing, performances, and visual art are in keeping with the tradition of our predecessors who used stories to share knowledge, heal trauma, and envision liberation,” (pg. iv).

The most important thing we can do to make sure that this work exists, and continues to exist, is to invest in its creation; support the work, and thus the lives of QTPOC artists. As Virgie Tovar says in her interview,


“When we don’t pay artists, we sentence ourselves to a life where there won’t be art by people of color, by queers, by women, and we know that it’s a struggle and critique and understanding and resilience that creates fantastic art. When the people who are experiencing those things aren’t creating work, we lose things as a culture. We lose things as a species.

I want to see art that fucking rocks my world. I want to see art that makes me cry. I want to see art that makes me think. I know who’s making that art and they’re not getting paid That means they’re not going to be able to continue to make that shit, and that’s not a life I want to be apart of. Paying artists ends up being this reinvestment in a future I want to see,” (pg. 151).

So do yourself the immense favor. Buy this book. Hell, by multiple copies and send them to friends, families, community members, and the likes because not only will this book introduce you to some INCREDIBLE artists, but this book itself in an incredible work of art. Honor it.

If you want to see a tiny glimpse of some of the work, of some of the artist in the book you can view the prezi I made to present on it during class below.

click herePrezi (some of my favorite quotes and few of the included artists)

You can find more of Nia’s Work including podcasts of the interviews here.

You can purchase your own copy of this book through Amazon or at select independent books stores across the United States. For a list of these stores click here

Side note: QTPOC stands for queer and trans people of color and “QTPOC is pronounced ‘QT’ like ‘cutie’ and ‘POC’ as in Tupac, ” (pg. i)

CBPZ : Community Based Participatory Zining

CBPZ : Community Based Participatory Zining

Methodological Underpinnings

The emergence of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in the field of public health has been a direct reaction to the failure of “traditional” public health research methods to elicit sustainable change, particularly in marginalized and/or international communities. The failure of public health interventions and research projects has in large been part due to an overwhelming lack of community input/involvement in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health interventions (Guta, Flicker, & Roche, 2013). At the core, CBPR methods emphasize the, “participation, influence, and control by non-academic researchers in the process of creating knowledge and change,” (Israel et al. 1998). The methodology, or rationale, for the deployment of this method is the belief that interventions can only be sustainable and equitable in historically marginalized communities when community voices are integral to the process. CBPR at its core values collaboration, social justice, and health equity in both the outcome and process of public health programming. This ground-breaking method is a point of resistance in the often violent practices of public health professionals that uphold and sustain neoliberal, colonial, and paternalistic systems of power.

However, as Foucault contends, power and resistance are not stable structures, but rather swarming and swirling navigations (1978). As instances of resistance emerge, power dynamics shift both towards and against that emerging force. So while the value of CBPR has gained positive recognition in the public health sector, ascertaining funding for these types projects has been overwhelming difficult. These community lead projects often do not align with neoliberal principles and paternalistic paradigms that funding organizations operate under. By flipping typically constructed power dynamics of research projects, highlighting historically marginalized voices, and resisting neoliberal notions of productivity and human capital, CBPR is a flourishing cite of resistance, progress, and transgression in the public health sector.

I argue that CBPR actually navigates a third space in the same way that Adela Licona argues zines do, in which researchers and community members collaboratively create, “sites where traditional knowledges circulate and sometimes collide with newer knowledges to produce innovative and informed practices,” (2012, p. 2). The methodological underpinnings of CBPR, which are vested in the achievement of more equitable and sustainable health outcomes through the collaboration of community and researcher knowledge aligns with that of zining. “Third space zines’ consistent engagement of feminist, poststructural, and queer theory and theorists further demonstrates an awareness, and even dialogue, between the academic and the nonacademic. The importance of this dialogue is that it demonstrates the ways that zines are pursuing coalition across borders of knowledge production and consumption as well as participating in meaning-making practices often based on lived experiences,” (Licona, 2012, p. 104).   This type of production can function to not only bridge the gap between communities and researchers, but also between theory and practice. The fusion of CBPR and zining, which I am coining as Community-Based Participatory Zining (CBPZ), offers an invaluable tool to build connections with communities, realize their priorities, and disseminate health-based information.

As previously stated, CBPR projects are often hard to fund as donor agencies have preexisting health priorities and agendas. Large funding agencies like the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation determine what they feel are the most important health issues, and this is where money gets allocated. The problem is not that issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria are not important, but rather that communities sometimes have a different understandings, and therefore ordering of health priorities. Finding out these priorities and mobilizing around these agendas are a key component of CBPR projects.

This process however can be difficult and time-consuming. Typically, researchers utilize key informants or community meetings to determine what it is the community wants or needs. The result of these meetings/interviews often manifest as a summative report drafted by the researchers, and confirmed by local participants. It is my suggestion, that CBPZ may actually be a more effective way to elicit this information, that will simultaneously create a tangible and distributable artifact of the process. As Licona says, “zines are often used as tool of self-discovery and community building through the development of coalitional consciousness. Practices of this developed consciousness serve to reimagine and revision (mis)representation,” such as assumed priority settings drafted hegemonic donor agencies (2012, p.138). Collaborative community and researcher produced zines could subsequently be used to inform and mobilize further community members, local constituents, and funding agencies. Additionally, the low cost of creating, producing, and distributing zines is ideal for projects that have minimal to no up-front funding or very limited resources. An enticing zine may actually function to draw the attention and investment of future benefactors.

Furthermore, as Licona poignantly argues, the distribution of zines, “are subverting the socioeconomic and classes accessibility to information regarding health and well-being by freely reproducing information that is reserved for those who can afford to purchase it,” (p. 25). So, in effect the collaborative process of creating and distributing health-related zines could be viewed as a health intervention itself, one that fortifies the methodology CBPR projects.

Beyond being affordable, and easily distributable, zines also offer flexibility in design and content. The versatile nature of zines, which permits a variety of knowledge styles is key for the generalizability of CBPZ as method for diverse community settings and locations. Zines incorporate many forms of knowledge: visual, poetic, narrative, factual, comedic, and otherwise. In fact, “the very act of writing zines is undertaken as an act of subversion and revision. Countercultural or oppositional writing in zines represents a technology of potentially transformative recoding, which can produce, promote, and/or reveal diverse community and grassroots literacies,” (Licona, 2012, p. 19). Because zines often incorporate many different styles of communication into one document, these artifacts resonance with audiences of diverse literacy abilities. This is particularly important in international settings as many historically disenfranchised communities and colonized nations have limited access and interactions with formal academic sectors and literature. If health knowledge is drafted primarily by researchers in the proceeding manner, then they are inadvertently limiting access to the very knowledge they wish to disseminate. By allowing community members to articulate their needs, knowledge, histories, and priorities in their own words and/or images, the capacity of this artifact to be relevant, and useful for the community is preserved. So in essence, CPBZ actually fortifies and aids in the success of a CPBR projects by laying a foundation of knowledge that aligns with the methodological principles of community-base participatory research.