By Ken Pienkos
I have practiced my voice for as long as I can remember. At eight years old, I would gather a laundry basket of stuffed animals and wander into the back yard where the small acre’s length of lawn and maple trees seemed endless. The creek sparkled through, and beyond that horizon, all was infinity. I would set each of the animals in a semi-circle under the shade of gently applauding broad leaves and begin…to speak to them.
Each of my fans, nay friends, sat very still, wide-eyed and listened to the dreamer-boy. The polka-dot elephant curled his trunk and for the moment forgot just how queer it is to be spotted in bright colors. The monkey stuttered so that even his laughter was broken in gasps of sticking sounds until one day I pulled his tail between his legs to give him the penis it seemed he was missing. He returned great wisdom from then on. Never could figure a cure for the blue dog. I would begin the program with a belted rendition from Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella:
Ten Minutes ago, I met you
and we murmured our how-do-you do’s,
I wanted to ring out the bells and fling out my arms
and to sing out the news,
I have found him.
It was a charming opening number where Cinderfella found his prince, and the audience never tired hearing it.
Last week I read a Chuck Wendig’s blog post, Dear Guy Who Is Mad Because I Wrote A Gay Character In A Book.
I won’t reprint the email here, but he said, and I quote, “I didn’t like that you had a main gay character reviling [sic] in a homosexual sexual relationship.” (Reveling, I guess he means?) He feels I “corrupted” the book with the presence of “gay male relationships.” He then added that he feels I was jumping on some kind of “bandwagon,” which I assume (he did not clarify) means that I was doing this to fill some kind of diversity bingo card. Finally, he concluded that it “didn’t matter” or “effect [sic] the story” that the character was gay so why include it at all?
Chuck’s answer wittingly referred to the reader’s preference that the main character should have suffered loveless abandon, all the while forced into praying at heterosexual porn. Is there a bandwagon racing by onto which we all should hitch our tethers to keep up with fleeting trends that popular media broadcasts? Is Caitlyn Jenner modeling safety to adolescent teens at risk, or jolting some perverse moneymaking scheme fashioned to erupt the public’s acid reflux? My polka-dot elephant tells me there is more.
There is a legacy of personal politics that is seething in a queer aesthetic, not just the daydreams of queer writers but also the sound of all voices and forms that are similarly open to desire and damage. The intersection where our human condition meets common ground is a powerful juncture somewhere when intimacy meets with empathy. All of our lonely monkey friends, some with gender dysphoria, some writhing in self doubt, and some lost; live through multiple facets of complexity in social pressure and the human desire to understand—be understood. Our passion as writers longs to reveal and comfort these spirits. How can we exercise inclusion in our storylines and expose with courage these black crevices? I flashed out a piece like this…
He shuffled into the kitchen at three a.m. The half-moon cast enough light through the blinds to find the table and make out the shape of the chair nearest the window. He bent into its seat. The gnarled branches of mid-February’s naked trees pointed at the garden and the brown winter lawn where the shrubs took the shape of old crones that shamed him for neglect.
He wanted to sleep through the night, but February 14 was another tick on his insomnia graph. He had to pee every three hours—that is what old men do. Gnarled branches, crone’s wrath, and crooked fingers pointed at his discontent. They mocked his memories of the softness and comfort of a bedded companion; once held and pretzeled and warm on long winter nights, as now a sharp elbow and the threat of the scratch of a toenail. Bodies that were once pressing cocks against thighs had withered and fallen as distant as those twigs scattered in the frosted lawn he saw through the window.
“Back away bitches,” he whispered to the silhouettes and shadows of the hags he half saw, in the half moonlight, in his decaying garden. He wiped the windowpane with the hanky he pulled from the pocket of his robe, adjusted his balls, crossed his legs, and watched a few leaves dance across the lawn. The wind shook the shrubs and soft flakes of snow began to change the landscape. It didn’t take long for the hags’ fingers to put on gloves and open their palms to throw out a white blanket covering his disappointments.
The stories of other Februaries began to reel through his mind. He saw his beloved in motion again in that garden. Sometimes our hearts cast images in the night that re-tell kindnesses. That is what old men see—breaking up the rhythm of time. His dear mate used to decorate the empty winter branches with paper hearts. The sweet scene through the window recounted decades of his lover’s tricks and kitsch.
At four a.m. in the month before spring, after a scant inch of fallen snow, an odd cricket chirped in untimed intervals. There was no comfort in those broken rhythms, but instead a startling surprise with each piercing tone. The urgent need to pee that woke him ticked his insomnia and his imagination; had made his eyes leak a little and triggered his Valentine. The half-moon faded by now and a little of dawn’s light brought with it a few more sounds. A light symphony of birds chirped, a dog barked, and a stray cat dashed out of the last of the shadows; then more light. There was a full ensemble of sound and motion the by full daylight. The strength of morning was lighting every particle of dust in the air. Each bit was piercing his ears, eyes, and spirit. He wished he had just pissed himself and stayed warm in the night’s puddle. When finally he returned to his sharp-boned bed companion with two cups of tea, AIDS and the morning light had stolen his love’s last breath.
We are all sexually experimental, pained, and deeply self-loathing. Let’s open a conversation. What are the voices worthy of validation and integration in every narrative? The kind of validation that this sixty-year-old man felt on June 26th as the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. I think we cured the blue dog that day after decades of stuffed predicament. There are others, wide-eyed and speechless whose voices, spirits, and secrets are longing to sound. I am looking forward to hearing them, and believe as I always have, that every victim deserves hir story to be told and understood—that is why I conjured this class, Shaping the Queer Voice. John Waters asked in a commencement speech this spring, “What do queers have in common if they no longer share oppression?” Mr. Waters, oppression is overloading my social media. Racism, privilege, seclusion and despair are haunting this dreamer-boy. Join me in the common discovery of the depths we still want to explore as we chronicle our personal experiences. I can’t imagine what lies within the stratus of layers in our psyches, but I think a multi-genre writing collaboration may present new sounds, cure stutters, and expand our popular imaginings.
Ken Pienkos’ course, Shaping the Queer Voice begins August Sixteenth. Sign up and be heard!
Ken lives in Los Angeles with his dog Scooter and his fiancé, James. He holds a BS and MS in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of Antioch University Los Angeles MFA in Creative Writing Program and works at Antioch University as Reference & Instruction Librarian.
Recent Publications and Spoken Word Performances include: Arts & Letters Literary Magazine, Rose Red Review (pending), Queerwise: Beloved Fictions, and SoloMojo On Stage at Skylight Theatre.
Before his enrollment in the MFA in Creative Writing program Ken was the Executive Director of the Oxford Public Library in Oxford, PA. While there he was involved in the community by serving on the Oxford Arts Alliance as a Founding Director and also on the Board of Directors of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. and CampDreamcatcher.org. Locally, Ken’s community service includes the Los Angeles Aids Project, AHF and Queerwise.
Awards and Grants given to Ken include ALA Library Journal 2009 “Movers and Shakers” National Recognition; National Endowment for the Humanities, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, 2010; and the Mayors’ Citizen of the Year: Oxford, PA – 2010 & 2011.
Ken volunteers with the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, Ca. You will also discover that Ken was nominated by his MFA cohort to be the AULA 2014 MFA Commencement Speaker.
Click HERE to learn more about Ken’s class, SHAPING THE QUEER VOICE.