I’ve got a theory that junior high was just a really mean trick. Although I’m pretty far removed from the awkwardness, the terrifying social hierarchy, the foolish fashion mistakes (those heavy bangs! what was I thinking?) I’m still a little bitter about the whole experience.
I am not alone. Clifford Chase edited a whole collection of personal essays that highlight the unparalleled terror and fleeting joy that is adolescence and called it Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall the Seventh Grade. The first images that came to my mind when I saw this book were of bullies dishing out bloody noses on unsupervised playgrounds, subtle glances around gym locker rooms, and scenes from a particularly tragic experience that I had at age thirteen which involved my fellow pom pom girls, my extremely early breast development, and is honestly too painful to even speak of.
While this book is ripe with queer stereotypes, its collective voice ultimately produces a much more relevant message. Remember that hindsight is always 20/20 and consider Doug Jones, whose contribution to Queer 13 is called “1976” and is simply his seventh grade journal – an English class requirement initially crafted to impress a seductive, charismatic Mr. Clark, yet littered with poems and narratives about freedom, confusion, and alienation. Consider Rebecca Brown and her story “Nancy Booth, Wherever You Are” which tells of the Girl Scout camp counselor who changed everything for Rebecca just by listening and being herself. Consider Ralph Sassone whose adolescence coincided with his mothers “Change of Life” and how the way she singles him out as an accomplice to her crimes against the public library leaves him feeling confused and oddly drawn to the mysterious, aloof male librarian.
The twenty-fives tales that comprise Queer 13 range from hilarious to touching, sad to hopeful, but they all center on the fact that coming of age as a gay man or a lesbian is a lot like being at a loss for words. The ability to identify, describe, feel, know, and yet not name, is maddening. Time, age, and experience all protect the contributing authors from the realities of age thirteen, but this writing is so fresh that I suspect most contributors don’t keep the emotions they associate with adolescence too far below the surface. Queer 13 is an overall satisfying read – a good mix of funny and touching – and in a format that’s perfect for someone not quite ready to commit.
Oueer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade edited by Clifford Chase was first published in 1998 by Harpercollins.
Related: You can purchase this book at chicagopride.com.