BEING PART OF THE QUEER FAMILY LEGACY
I remember being fifteen and clutching my copy of Freakshow, James St. James’ foray into YA lit, tightly in my hand. The pink cover and genderqueer character on the front gave away its gayness which I clumsily tried to cover up. My stepfather sat in the driver’s seat of our forest green Ford, eyeing the book in my hand suspiciously, while heavy rain beat down on the city around us.
“What’s that?” He asked. His voice was pointed directly at the book in my lap, the cover obscured by my arm awkwardly placed over it. I hadn’t thought to bring a bag, as usual in my excitement I was running late, and forgot things and needed a ride.
“Just a book I’ve been reading.” I said flatly.
“Why’s it so pink,” He said concerned. “It looks girly.”
“It’s just a book Dad.”
I turned away from the conversation and my stepfather dropped it. This wasn’t the first, or last time, he chided my innate faggotry while he lived with us. When we pulled up to Barnes and Noble on 86th and Broadway I jumped out and landed in a puddle, my sneakers were soaked through and quickly became heavy with sogginess. I said a quick goodbye and I rushed upstairs to the second floor of the store, my steps sloshing along the way.
There was a sizable crowd up there, but they all paled in comparison to the reason I was here. Their voice bubbled over the crowd, gleefully gliding them through the colorful inner world of Billy Bloom, Freakshow’s titular hero. They pulled laughter from the crowd, and the room radiated the kind of warmth that only happens when something beautiful is taking place. James St. James sat at the front of the room with a light beat on their smiling face, and a glamorous yet still somehow elegantly simple cape flowing around their shoulders. After the reading was over St. James sat signing autographs, and I shyly walked over to them, my feet still leaving little puddles in the carpet behind me. They smiled at me warmly and held out their hand.
“What’s your name?”
“Hashim.” I managed.
“Did you like it?”
“I’ve read it twice already.”
I wanted to tell St. James how much I looked up to Billy Bloom, how he didn’t let adversity stop him from fighting for his right to exist and so I wouldn’t either, how I wanted to be an author too, how Party Monster was one of the first depictions of queerness in film I’d ever seen and it made me want to create more. But I didn’t. I asked if they would simply sign the book I loved so much. I’ve learned since not to hold back and to be more outgoing but even that small exchange made a huge impact on me. It gave me hope for a better world. A world where queerness is celebrated as powerful, lovable, and beautiful. We still have so far to go to building that world but we’re building a community that fights for it harder and harder every day. And that’s what I’m proud of; to be part of that legacy, and that family. As James St. James wrote in silver sharpie in my copy of their book, “Thanks for reading! Yay! Luv ya! Omg! Xo”