Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade

Overview

Seventh grade: You remember it, don't you? Sweet sixteen seemed impossibly far away, an elegant, unattainable future. All that we had was the doldrums of thirteen -- not so sweet, and definitely queer. Now, some of the finest observers of the gay experience take us back to the homerooms and hallways of our youth, in a collection of original essays that captures that time of adolescence when social and sexual development was at its raging worst. From gym class to kissing parties, obsessive crushes to after-school ...
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Overview

Seventh grade: You remember it, don't you? Sweet sixteen seemed impossibly far away, an elegant, unattainable future. All that we had was the doldrums of thirteen -- not so sweet, and definitely queer. Now, some of the finest observers of the gay experience take us back to the homerooms and hallways of our youth, in a collection of original essays that captures that time of adolescence when social and sexual development was at its raging worst. From gym class to kissing parties, obsessive crushes to after-school pummelings, every day held the possibility of discovery -- and complete humiliation. For those of us who are gay, our sexuality added another twist, that extra little way we didn't quite fit in. It was a time of becoming who we truly are, a passage into adulthood that was as memorable as it was agonizing. Queer 13 tells these tales of teenage trauma -- from funny to painful, reflective to literary -- all ringing with the universal truths of a poignant, extraordinary time.
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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Taylor
...[A] collection of not only some of the best current gay literature but of the most compelling autobiography.- Newsday
Angelo Pitillo
"I loved this funny little collection. Editor Clifford Chase has hit on a universal theme, and there's a lot of thought-provoking pain and pleasure in these here queer stories.- Paper
Newsday
"A collection of not only some of the best current gay literature but also of the most compelling autobiography."
Hank Stuever
"When casting about for survival tales of the seventh grade, Clifford Chase, who edited this book of essays, found that most gay writers had suppressed it, like time they'd spent in a cultural junior-high version of Dachau: utter oppression, grueling days, anxious and terrifying nights. They'd simply blocked it out. Seventh grade wasn't too fun for anyone, but it seems to be a particular watershed event for these wordy gays and lesbians, who have risen to the assignment and reconjured that particular year with pubescent horror: the longing, the armpit hair, the confusion, the shame, the teasing -- it's all here. Thankfully, as the sage Judy Blume always assured us, it's only seventh grade, and most everyone survives it. Even gay kids. Seen from these 25 collected pieces -- many of them quite clever memoirs; some of them merely more overwrought gunk from the para-memoirist craze -- seventh grade is quite a hurdle, but also a magic place."
HX Magazine
"Queer 13 contains 25 tales of the doldrums of the teen years from various points of view. The book highlights many up-and-coming new voices in literature, including Joe Westmoreland, Rebecca Brown and Michael Lowenthal. The memoirs range from painful to hilarious to eerily ral as these authors recount that time when our minds were raging almost as fast as our hormones. There's much to appreciate in this thoughtful reflection on past youth and the ungainly task of trying to assimilate, a sentiment anyone can identify with."
Nancy Garden
[D]ip into this collection on your own to renew your acquaintance with yourself at 13.... -- Lambda Book Report
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688171612
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Series: Quill
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

In sixth grade, students in the Springfield, Virginia, school system were required to take the four-section science/health requirement, "Man: A Course of Study," unhumorously nicknamedMACOSon all the stickers, folders, filmstrips, textbooks, and worksheets. In MACOS, we studied four creatures: the salmon, the herring gull, the baboon, and the Eskimo, one each quarter. We learned about their traits, instincts, and habitat, but now I remember only one thing about each organism: the salmon swims upstream to spawn and then dies; the herring gull regurgitates its food to feed its young; baboons exist in close-knit packs and have no single mother after birth; Eskimo families live tightly together in their igloos. We were supposed to see there was a consistent, common thread among all living things: that we are born, we reproduce, we die.

I had somehow conned my mother into doing my final projects for me for the first two sections. Trying to be firm with me, she would occasionally suggest I start thinking about myMACOS final project a month in advance. I would always procrastinate until she'd angrily whip something up, with me looking on, trying to be innocently repentant, as if I were learning a vast amount about fish or birds by observing her.

She cooked salmon cakes for the first section, and I brought them to school on a gigantic shallow tray covered in tinfoil. For the second section she made a herring-gull pillow stuffed with cotton balls with Magic Marker eyes and feathers. "I am not giving you any help on your baboon assignment, do you hear me?" she snapped, roughly handing me the stuffed gull.

My MACOS teacher, Mrs. Moore, didn't like me. I think it was because I was quiet,frightened, dutiful, and unpopular. There were many teachers who, like Mrs. Moore, loved only the popular kids. Behind the sham of rewarding good quiz grades and completed homework, Mrs. Moore secretly encouraged the popularity hierarchy, which in sixth grade was delicately taking shape like a larva. Mrs. Moore's face shone bright when Kristi Cook, a pretty, blond, well-dressed girl being groomed for future homecoming courts and cheerleading squads, asked a question. And if the sporty, soccer-playing Chris Graham burped loudly in class, she would admonish him with a tiny detectable grin. Mrs. Moore wore wrap dresses that exposed her pale, minnow-thin collarbones. We called her Moore the Whore because cleavage meant you were loose. Ian Gordon, the burnout, also got special treatment from our MACOS teacher, even though he was more delinquent-popular than a member of a cliquish inner circle. He had unbrushed teeth, greasy, long, bowl-cut hair, far-apart slitty eyes, and wore a Judas Priest baseball shirt every day. With his dark peach-fuzz mustache and a body odor vaguely reminiscent of Campbell's soup, he seemed to exude the oil of early puberty. He slept in school, skipped class, walked the halls cruelly, making comments about anyone who was unpopular. "Pick 'em up, you little fag," he said to me once in the hall, kicking the books out of my hands.

Ian Gordon sat next to me for the baboon section of MACOS. He brushed into class minutes after the bell, a waft of smoke, beer, and leather Camaro interior following him. I was afraid to look at him. Mrs. Moore was showing a film from the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom "Classroom Series" in which Marion Perkins and his sidekick, Jim, trailed a pack of baboons. They observed the baboons as they hunted an injured antelope and whooped across the yellow, flat, African landscape. In an unfortunate example of the cruel jungle, the youngest baboon was killed in a sudden chase and attack by cheetahs. As the baboon let out its last breath, Mrs. Moore gasped and turned away from the screen.

I sat stiff and primed, but Ian Gordon didn't bother me in class. He did tease Kristi Cook constantly, until finally she raised her hand and asked to be moved. Ian said, "Why shouldn't she sit next to me, she's carrying my child!"

"Shut up that's a lie!" Kristi cried. Mrs. Moore released a nervy laugh, telling Ian to go out in the hall. A few days later, or a week or so, I can't remember, he was not in class anymore. From then on, my friends and I called Kristi "Mother of the Baboons" behind her back.

I had lied to my mom and told her I'd finished my baboon final project, but the hard reality was undeniable: I had once again waited until the night before. At eleven o'clock that night (late for sixth grade), I remembered Mrs. Moore's soft spot for the baby baboon. I decided to write a poem about its sad death. I can only remember the last two lines: "And so the littlest baboon! Sadly waved good-bye." To my shock, Mrs. Moore's eyes teared up when she read it the next day.

That year Linda Ronstadt released her album Living in the U.S.A. with her on the cover in a red satin jacket, tight blue satin shorts, and big rubber-wheeled roller skates. I loved roller-skating, and this album cover affirmed what I deeply knew: that someday, somewhere, when I got to be older, I would be a part of a supportive, joyous roller-disco crowd. At lunch, I ate quickly and went to the tennis court, which had a smooth, debris-free skating surface that made you feel professional and somehow more mature when you skated on it. I would roll around and around the edge of the court all through lunchtime.

It was almost spring; buds were becoming blooms, the custodians were repainting the blacktop, and in MACOSwe started the Eskimo section. We were shown filmstrips of Idee Magmak and his wife, Kinyook, depicting how they lived hand-to-mouth, ate whale parts, relied on the capricious tundra for survival.

On a warm day, I was skating during lunch on the tennis court and a rock flew by me. I stopped and looked around but didn't see anything. A minute later another rock whizzed right by my eye. I looked up again and saw Ian Gordon walking toward me. He threw another rock, this one hitting my arm.

Next to him was a girl my age whom I had never seen before. She had winged brown hair, thick eyeliner, and she wore torn jeans and a Rolling Stones baseball shirt. Her stomach was unnaturally fat -- perfectly, centrally round. She was pregnant. She looked at me with an absent expression, and I immediately thought she was "on something," even though I had no real concept of drugs. I began to quickly take off my skates and put on my shoes so I could run. Ian Gordon glowered at me with his shoulders pushed back, in a parody of a bully. He blocked the opening to the tennis court.

"Hey, you little fairy." Sick with fear, I reacted the way I always did in these situations, as if I were possessed by some sort of British ambassador.

"Why are you doing this to me?" I said shakily, with this weird sense of propriety.

"Fuck off!" Ian Gordon said. "Fuck you! I'm gonna fuck you up."

"Just leave me alone," I said.

"No. I'm gonna fuck you over," he said. "Do you know what it's like to be fucked?"

I looked at the girl, thinking that she knew because she had been fucked, and also thinking she would help me because she was a girl and not as naturally malicious. But she stepped up next to him with this bitter, foul expression on her face. She lifted a hand, pointed at herself, and said with a theatrical, Afterschool Specialvibrato in her voice, "It hurts. It really hurts."

Even then, businesslike with fear, I couldn't believe how staged this seemed. I was so drawn to Ian and his wife, and I looked at them with concern. I thought I could help them or still befriend them, or train them like animals to like me by somehow sending the right signal. And later on, in junior high, when the burnouts were at the peak of their power, and I heard about Drew Groves getting it on with two girls out by the baseball field, or Alisa DuShaw getting an abortion, or Tammy Brownside swallowing Andrew Schwertzer's come, or even later on in high school, when the burnouts did burn out, I knew I had missed my chance at communicating with them. On the tennis court, the teachers came out and yelled at Ian Gordon to get off the school grounds, and someone gently pulled me back in through the blue school doors. I just remembered to remember them -- because they were important, because I felt fear, because they made me meek.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Introduction
Macos 1
How We Get That Way 5
Three from Thirteen 13
The Number Line 21
The Beginning of My Worthlessness 39
Train 49
Outtakes 55
Notes on Camp 69
Mud Pies and Medusa 79
Becky's Pagination 89
1976 103
A Close Escape 117
Waiting for Blastoff 135
Fashions of 1971 143
Still Life with Boys 151
Lost in Translation 157
Awake 173
Nancy Booth, Wherever You Are 179
The Change of Life 191
Cool for You 211
"The White Album" 217
Underwater 227
First Passion 237
The Wind in the Louvers 247
Thirteen 257
Contributors 263
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First Chapter

Queer 13
Lesbian And Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade

In sixth grade, students in the Springfield, Virginia, school system were required to take the four-section science/health requirement, "Man: A Course of Study," unhumorously nicknamedMACOSon all the stickers, folders, filmstrips, textbooks, and worksheets. In MACOS, we studied four creatures: the salmon, the herring gull, the baboon, and the Eskimo, one each quarter. We learned about their traits, instincts, and habitat, but now I remember only one thing about each organism: the salmon swims upstream to spawn and then dies; the herring gull regurgitates its food to feed its young; baboons exist in close-knit packs and have no single mother after birth; Eskimo families live tightly together in their igloos. We were supposed to see there was a consistent, common thread among all living things: that we are born, we reproduce, we die.

I had somehow conned my mother into doing my final projects for me for the first two sections. Trying to be firm with me, she would occasionally suggest I start thinking about myMACOS final project a month in advance. I would always procrastinate until she'd angrily whip something up, with me looking on, trying to be innocently repentant, as if I were learning a vast amount about fish or birds by observing her.

She cooked salmon cakes for the first section, and I brought them to school on a gigantic shallow tray covered in tinfoil. For the second section she made a herring-gull pillow stuffed with cotton balls with Magic Marker eyes and feathers. "I am not giving you any help on your baboon assignment, do you hear me?" she snapped, roughly handing me the stuffed gull.

My MACOS teacher, Mrs. Moore, didn't like me. I think it was because I was quiet, frightened, dutiful, and unpopular. There were many teachers who, like Mrs. Moore, loved only the popular kids. Behind the sham of rewarding good quiz grades and completed homework, Mrs. Moore secretly encouraged the popularity hierarchy, which in sixth grade was delicately taking shape like a larva. Mrs. Moore's face shone bright when Kristi Cook, a pretty, blond, well-dressed girl being groomed for future homecoming courts and cheerleading squads, asked a question. And if the sporty, soccer-playing Chris Graham burped loudly in class, she would admonish him with a tiny detectable grin. Mrs. Moore wore wrap dresses that exposed her pale, minnow-thin collarbones. We called her Moore the Whore because cleavage meant you were loose. Ian Gordon, the burnout, also got special treatment from our MACOS teacher, even though he was more delinquent-popular than a member of a cliquish inner circle. He had unbrushed teeth, greasy, long, bowl-cut hair, far-apart slitty eyes, and wore a Judas Priest baseball shirt every day. With his dark peach-fuzz mustache and a body odor vaguely reminiscent of Campbell's soup, he seemed to exude the oil of early puberty. He slept in school, skipped class, walked the halls cruelly, making comments about anyone who was unpopular. "Pick 'em up, you little fag," he said to me once in the hall, kicking the books out of my hands.

Ian Gordon sat next to me for the baboon section of MACOS. He brushed into class minutes after the bell, a waft of smoke, beer, and leather Camaro interior following him. I was afraid to look at him. Mrs. Moore was showing a film from the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom "Classroom Series" in which Marion Perkins and his sidekick, Jim, trailed a pack of baboons. They observed the baboons as they hunted an injured antelope and whooped across the yellow, flat, African landscape. In an unfortunate example of the cruel jungle, the youngest baboon was killed in a sudden chase and attack by cheetahs. As the baboon let out its last breath, Mrs. Moore gasped and turned away from the screen.

I sat stiff and primed, but Ian Gordon didn't bother me in class. He did tease Kristi Cook constantly, until finally she raised her hand and asked to be moved. Ian said, "Why shouldn't she sit next to me, she's carrying my child!"

"Shut up that's a lie!" Kristi cried. Mrs. Moore released a nervy laugh, telling Ian to go out in the hall. A few days later, or a week or so, I can't remember, he was not in class anymore. From then on, my friends and I called Kristi "Mother of the Baboons" behind her back.

I had lied to my mom and told her I'd finished my baboon final project, but the hard reality was undeniable: I had once again waited until the night before. At eleven o'clock that night (late for sixth grade), I remembered Mrs. Moore's soft spot for the baby baboon. I decided to write a poem about its sad death. I can only remember the last two lines: "And so the littlest baboon! Sadly waved good-bye." To my shock, Mrs. Moore's eyes teared up when she read it the next day.

That year Linda Ronstadt released her album Living in the U.S.A. with her on the cover in a red satin jacket, tight blue satin shorts, and big rubber-wheeled roller skates. I loved roller-skating, and this album cover affirmed what I deeply knew: that someday, somewhere, when I got to be older, I would be a part of a supportive, joyous roller-disco crowd. At lunch, I ate quickly and went to the tennis court, which had a smooth, debris-free skating surface that made you feel professional and somehow more mature when you skated on it. I would roll around and around the edge of the court all through lunchtime.

It was almost spring; buds were becoming blooms, the custodians were repainting the blacktop, and in MACOSwe started the Eskimo section. We were shown filmstrips of Idee Magmak and his wife, Kinyook, depicting how they lived hand-to-mouth, ate whale parts, relied on the capricious tundra for survival.

On a warm day, I was skating during lunch on the tennis court and a rock flew by me. I stopped and looked around but didn't see anything. A minute later another rock whizzed right by my eye. I looked up again and saw Ian Gordon walking toward me. He threw another rock, this one hitting my arm.

Next to him was a girl my age whom I had never seen before. She had winged brown hair, thick eyeliner, and she wore torn jeans and a Rolling Stones baseball shirt. Her stomach was unnaturally fat -- perfectly, centrally round. She was pregnant. She looked at me with an absent expression, and I immediately thought she was "on something," even though I had no real concept of drugs. I began to quickly take off my skates and put on my shoes so I could run. Ian Gordon glowered at me with his shoulders pushed back, in a parody of a bully. He blocked the opening to the tennis court.

"Hey, you little fairy." Sick with fear, I reacted the way I always did in these situations, as if I were possessed by some sort of British ambassador.

"Why are you doing this to me?" I said shakily, with this weird sense of propriety.

"Fuck off!" Ian Gordon said. "Fuck you! I'm gonna fuck you up."

"Just leave me alone," I said.

"No. I'm gonna fuck you over," he said. "Do you know what it's like to be fucked?"

I looked at the girl, thinking that she knew because she had been fucked, and also thinking she would help me because she was a girl and not as naturally malicious. But she stepped up next to him with this bitter, foul expression on her face. She lifted a hand, pointed at herself, and said with a theatrical, Afterschool Specialvibrato in her voice, "It hurts. It really hurts."

Even then, businesslike with fear, I couldn't believe how staged this seemed. I was so drawn to Ian and his wife, and I looked at them with concern. I thought I could help them or still befriend them, or train them like animals to like me by somehow sending the right signal. And later on, in junior high, when the burnouts were at the peak of their power, and I heard about Drew Groves getting it on with two girls out by the baseball field, or Alisa DuShaw getting an abortion, or Tammy Brownside swallowing Andrew Schwertzer's come, or even later on in high school, when the burnouts did burn out, I knew I had missed my chance at communicating with them. On the tennis court, the teachers came out and yelled at Ian Gordon to get off the school grounds, and someone gently pulled me back in through the blue school doors. I just remembered to remember them -- because they were important, because I felt fear, because they made me meek.

Queer 13
Lesbian And Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade
. Copyright © by Clifford Chase. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Were you there back when?

    This book is a compelling look back at people who felt 'different' early on in their lives. Even before knowing just what that meant, they were aware and searching for some connection that they were not alone, but part of a larger community.
    Some of the stories are tragic, some uplifting, but all illuminate the need to belong, to be accepted.
    Much praise is given for the diverse group of folks who put down on paper the struggle to be themselves. It's certainly not a time I'd wish to revisit, certainly so publicly.
    The book is an intriguing read for all folks looking back at their early teen years, especially those of us who felt a bit 'different'. Difficult to read at times, but nonetheless very worthwhile.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2003

    Bittersweet but wonderful

    I'm 25, and within minutes of starting this book, I was suddenly brought back to age 13. It was a terrible year for me (and probably many of you also) and it was fascinating to find out what went on in other people's lives at the same age. Thankfully I didn't really know what being gay was when I was 13 and couldn't put a name on the feeling I had for some of my girlfriends. It seems that the authors who were well aware of their sexual orientation were also the most picked on by both parents and bullies. "To Nancy Booth, Wherever You Are" was my favorite story because it was incredibly uplifting. In it, a 13 y.o. girl meets a counselor at Girl Scout camp that will guide her through the trials of teenage lesbian life. I finished the book in a matter of hours, crying and laughing intermittently throughout the read. It's tempted me to try to write about my own thirteenth year!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2000

    a heart wrming book for all teens!

    this book will have you laughing and crying! i could feel the pain and joy of all the stories! it helped me over come many questions about myself. it rocked!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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