On queer writing

Congratulations to Queerlings magazine: a magazine for queer writing which started up today. Many thanks to the editors – Chris, Tom, Scott & Ezra – for asking me to write something for the first issue. The request took me on an important journey in exploring what I’ve learnt from my years of increasingly queer writing, and from mentoring other queers with their creative work – particularly during this year of pandemic.

In my piece I explore how we might write in ways that resist attempts to marginalise and silence queer people, how we can capture queer identity and experiences in our writing, how we might challenge normativity and raise up voices from the margins, and how we can tell stories queerly, and apply queerness to our writing process as well as content.

You can read my full piece here. This is a taster…

On queer writing

To celebrate the launch of this awesome new queer writing magazine I thought I’d reflect on queerness and writing. I’ve been writing, myself, for my whole life in one way or another, but I would say that queerness has only gradually infused my writing – as it has my self – over time. Perhaps it has followed something like the journey through queerness which I’ll follow here.

In addition to writing myself, I currently mentor a number of other queer writers including Simon Forsyth, Daniel Morrison, Jeanne Devlin, David Darvasi, Stacy Bias, Katie Green, and Russ Wolf, whose work is referred to here. It’s through my dialogues with them that I’ve come to approach both the content and process of writing ever more queerly. I’m deeply grateful to them for the wisdom and learning they’ve shared, which very much inform this piece.

Jules Scheele and I started our book Queer: A Graphic History by exploring the different meanings of the word queer, and I thought that’d be a neat way to structure this piece. So let’s consider queer writing in relation to otherness, to being LGBTQIA+, to being non-normative, and to the overall project of queering everything.

Queer as in other

The original meaning of queer from the 16th century was of something strange or illegitimate. You might think of phrases like ‘nowt as queer as folks’ or ‘queer as a three dollar bill.’

From the late 19th century, this meaning became attached to same-sex attraction specifically, and queer began to be used as a term of homophobic abuse, for example in the letter from the Marquess of Queensberry which become famous through the trial of Oscar Wilde. It’s due to this meaning of queer that a magazine like Queerlings is necessary at all.

We still live with the legacy of queer people being regarded as something different, something other, something abnormal or illegitimate. It remains rare for queer experience to be the focus of mainstream fiction or non-fiction. For years queer characters have been depicted as the bad guys, as tragic, or in tokenistic ways like the ‘gay best friend’. We still see this today, particularly in the representation of trans people, as highlighted in the recent documentary Disclosure.

Novels and memoirs centring queer experience are generally targetted specifically at queers, seen as only of relevance to us. This is unless they sensationalise queer experience in ways deemed interesting to a cishet audience, for example by depicting a promiscuous bi person or by telling a conventional narrative of a trans person ‘changing sex’ through medical procedures, with before and after photos.

While things are gradually shifting, there remains a sense – sometimes even explicitly taught in creative writing classes – that the white, cishet male protagonist is the only one that audiences can really relate to, or want to read about.

For these reasons we need magazines, bookshops, writing classes, and more which centre queer experience, and outlets which publish specifically queer stories that may well not be accepted or celebrated by mainstream publishers. Bravo Queerlings!

Read more…


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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