Kicked Out has always been about family. Most obviously of course, the families we lost or ran away from, but in many ways more importantly, the families that we’ve built along the way, including the larger kicked out family, a community of those of us whose scars in some way align. Thursday night was the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony here in NYC. It was an unbelievable evening that I know I’ll never be able to forget. It was on so many levels a dream come true both personally for me, as well as for this book, and the specialness of the night was not one bit diminished by us not carrying an award home at the end of the evening.
There are so many days where I can’t believe Kicked Out is actually here in the world. I still remember the way the weak Oregon sun came through the blinds of the public library where I stood three days after being kicked out the
final time looking for answers. I remember the way my sneakers left dried mud on the linoleum as I paced the “homosexuality” shelf looking for a book talking about my life, and the way my knuckles turned white when I grabbed my backpack, and walked out, the promise that if I survived I would make a book so no other queer kid felt so alone burning my tongue.
Truth be told, I never thought that we would be here. Kids like me don’t grow up to edit books, let alone honored and award nominated books. Since our release everyone told me Kicked Out would be a Lammy finalist, but I just couldn’t believe them. I’m incredibly proud of Kicked Out, know that each and every contributor is a brilliant writer, but I also in my gut know that Kicked Out is a dangerous book. It’s not an easy, or comfortable read, and it demands that readers start paying attention. When it was twice honored by the American Library Association, and then finaled for the Lambda Literary Awards I was shocked, and thrilled that the community was taking notice, and ready to begin having more of these conversations. Much of the reason my writing career looks like it does is because as a young writer I had the experience of working with the brilliant and beautiful Kate Bornstein as part of a storytelling troupe ‘The Language of Paradox.’ She met me when I was still precariously housed, and the memory of homelessness and abandonment still hot and taught like fresh sunburn. Amongst so many other lessons Kate taught me about how to harness my anger that burned like a wildfire uncontrollable all over my stories. . She taught me how to use anger like the controlled white flame of a blow torch when It was called for, but how to write loss, betrayal, but most importantly love as well. To be a finalist with Kate, and to be able to watch her win her first Lammy (with co-editor S. Bear Bergman) for Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (an awesome book- though as a contributor I’m admittedly biased ) was a tremendously powerful experience for me.
The only part of the evening I truly found disappointing was the acceptance speech given by Edward Albee for his Pioneer award. He spent the majority of it talking about why writing from a queer experience was a lesser art form, how his “sexual proclivities” have nothing to do with his art, and how in most instances self-identified “gay” writers are less skilled than other authors. At the Lambda Literary Awards of all places it seemed particularly offensive, disheartening, and inappropriate. Thankfully when Eileen Myles (whose new book Inferno won the Lammy for Lesbian Fiction) stood to present the Lesbian Poetry category she did a quick powerful, subtle, intense and hilarious call out from the perspective of a “lesbian” poet who knows the importance of writing our stories and received resounding cheers from much of the audience.
I have a lot of emotion about Kicked Out being a Lammy Finalist. It’s somewhere I never expected to be and without a doubt I couldn’t have gotten through the night without some hands-on incredible support from my partner and a couple very dear friends/chosen family. My partner Kestryl had to physically miss the Lammy’s because ze is presenting at the International Performance Studies conference in The Netherlands, so when Kicked Out finaled we had many conversations about what the evening would look like with hir being halfway around the world.
Toni Amato a dear friend who I trust and connect with very deeply who runs Write Here, Write Now (one of my favorite places to facilitate) agreed to come down from Boston to take me to the awards. We had a wonderful day working on my novel-in-progress before the awards, swapping stories and then playing with finger puppets! Toni knows and appreciates that I’m a bit of a five year old sometimes and had suggested a couple of months ago that we bring some finger puppets and act the Lammy’s out. We had a mighty silly good time as you can see. If Kestryl couldn’t be here to take me, Toni was the absolute right person to be there in hir place. He knew just how to take care of me, and make me laugh a whole lot and as an author he intimately understood the importance of everything going on.
Kestryl and I had made plans for me to text hir (international charges be damned) the second we knew how Kicked Out had done at the awards, but what I didn’t know was that ze had been conspiring with both Toni and another one of my dearest friends Syd London for some Lammy surprises. Syd was coming to visit me on Thursday afternoon to give me a final good-luck
hug before the awards. What I had no way of knowing until she showed up at the door was that she was also delivering a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a glitter covered hand-made-card from Kestryl, oh and because ze knew (correctly) that I would be in tears when Syd showed up with this surprise – she had also been left with one of hir freshly laundered, pressed monogrammed hankys to catch my tears and of course a huge hug from Syd.
After the awards there was another surprise – Toni informed me that I needed to go into Kestryl’s closet. Unknown to me, Kestryl had one more surprise that again left me in tears, nestled under hir ties I found a letter, and a big shiny star covered trophy personalized to say “Sassafras Lowrey Word Star 2011.” Let me explain — for years as a crusty punk zinester dreamed that I would someday be what I called a “Word Star” as Kestryl reminded me in the accompanying letter. “ Back when we first got together – I remember that you wouldn’t call yourself an author. You were an amazing writer, but you couldn’t call yourself that. I remember your insistence that you were a zinester, and that maybe someday, if you were lucky and talented enough, you would be a “word star.” Ze went on to tell me no matter what happened at the Lammy’s that I’d made it, and I was certainly a Word Star. Long before I reached the end of the letter I was in tears sitting in hir closet clutching the trophy—ze had yet another clean pressed hanky stashed nearby to catch my tears, and Toni to give me a hug.
As I talked about earlier in the week leading up to the Lammy’s I was spending a lot of time thinking about who I’d been when I first began thinking of Kicked Out, all the kids I knew and loved back then. So much of my work is done in the memory of those of us who didn’t make it. I carry those memories with me into every workshop I teach, and every line I write. The fact that I sit here today with the life I have is pure luck. Statistically I shouldn’t be here, and I’m immensely grateful every day that I am. Post-Lammy’s the stories of who I knew are still fresh in my mind, but on a very personal level I’m also thinking about how the love and support from Kestryl, Toni, and Syd that has surrounded and held me (and sent me pictures of their monster finger puppets in Euope and on photo shoots) is truly the embodiment of everything I dreamed of back then. I fantasized about writing, having a loving partner and close friends/chosen family that truly knew and understood me. That was the dream that I couldn’t even believe was possible. Some mornings I pinch myself because I can hardly believe this is my life.
After the anthology category was announced I received a text from one of the Kicked Out contributors asking how we had done. We’ve had many conversations about how to us this book being published was huge, and to be a Lammy finalist was a tremendous win. In the course of the short text conversation I said: “who ever thought a bunch of punk kids could get so far!” Nik responded “Surely not me! I thought the world would end before we made real progress : ) “
Thank you so much to the Lambda Literary Foundation for recognizing Kicked Out as a Lammy finalist, to all our friends and supporters that have believed in this anthology and to each of the contributors – without your strength, bravery, and willingness to bear scars this book would never have been possible.