Last month, I attended the wedding of my friends Stacey and Renee. People came from all over the country to the outer reaches of Maine for this union. After the ceremony we had a spirited game of wiffle ball; East coast versus West coast. Ironically, the couple met and fell in love in Chicago, but, for some reason, being from the Midwest is hardly the basis for any conflict. “It’s poking fun at stereotypes to say we Midwesterners are a guileless and plainspoken people, that we are unworldly in a some way that is precious and valuable, and so adorable.” Kathie Bergquist asserts that Windy City dwellers are drama-free, in a strictly pragmatic way, in her hilarious and fast-paced introduction to this great new collection of queer writing from Chicago. Though, as I learned from this collection, being drama-free doesn’t mean lacking heart.
The seeming third wheel to the bi-coastal queer literary scenes of New York and San Francisco, Chicago comes out of this collection a true contender. The breadth of this collection is undoubtedly its biggest strength and we have Bergquist to thank. From the queer theoretical treatise on Chicago gentrification by Yasmin Nair to the gorgeous impressionistic poetry of Carina Gia Ferraro, this volume delivers top-notch pieces across the board. And though this book sells itself as a mix of poetry, memoir, fiction, and essays, it has been organized not strictly around genre but loosely around experiences of the city such as transit, work life, family matters, hooking up, and that most torturous of Chicago times, winter.
In addition to variations in genre, this book benefits from an attention to the diversity of Chicago’s people through a broad representation of races, ethnicities, classes, and gender expressions among Chicago’s queer writers. In few other collections would you see an African-American/Native-American performance poem like “con flama” next to an academically-anointed piece like “Record Player” by Edmund White. In reading these pages, I also got to travel: to a La Villita nightclub to watch a Mexican drag performance of Juan Gabriel in Achy Obejas’s “Juanga Forever”; on cross-city car trips in a Crown Vic with recovering addicts making good in Brian Bouldry’s “Travels with Charley”; and even to a suburban entryway for a battle with lesbian bed death in Nadine Warner’s “The Mudroom.”
Another great aspect of these Chicago stories and essays are that they don’t take themselves too seriously. I laughed out loud to Allison Gruber’s “Zoo Mountain,” a tale of a girl obsessed with the life of Dian Fossey and the film she inspired, Gorillas in the Mist. The story “Whales” by Rose Tully turns from quirky romance to allegorical sci-fi in the flip of a page. And, Aldo Alvarez’s poem “The Anarchist Potluck,” where participants brought more politics than food and expected a full meal, so perfectly summed up every gathering I’ve been to in my twenties that I want to make it required reading for all my friends.
Windy City Queer has something for everyone: tales of self-discovery, trans family drama, unexpected hook-ups, stories featuring characters named Helmet and Marvelous Limonjello, dark and brief noir, stories of winter that send chills down your spine, and even one about a tattoo typo. Queer identity makes its way into these pieces through themes of longing, marginality, community, and humor. These pieces speak to the queer experience in a multiplicity of ways that can be appreciated by people from San Francisco all the way to New York, and, of course, all those overlooked places in between. Throughout, this collection is strong, queer, and dramatically Midwestern—which is to say, not terribly dramatic at all.