Being Othered: Queer Art as Its Own Genre

by Ashe Vernon

 My whole life, I've been loud.

It got me in trouble in every single class I ever took. I've been hushed in public, reprimanded by teachers, teased by friends. My voice carries. Part of this comes from a background in theatre and part of it comes from growing up in a home that was always on the verge of volcanic eruption. And part of it is just me. I am loud.

I'm loudest about the things I believe in.

When my poetry career first got off the ground, I made it a point to announce—loudly and often—my queerness. It is a part of my story that I've always wanted to make sure was told. The biography of my first book, Belly of the Beast, opens with the words “Ashe Vernon is a queer poet from Texas.”

   My mother asked me about that; it wasn't with disapproval but I think it was with a little bit of worry. I think she was afraid of what the world would do with that kind of information offered up so willingly. I remember her saying, “Why a queer poet? Why not just a poet?”

And I could have done that. I could have left my sexuality to context clues. I could have kept it more private. It wouldn't have been a bad choice.

But it would have been wrong for me. I am loudest about the things that matter and this mattered so much to me. I wanted to be a voice—speaking, singing, shouting if I had to—that could remind other people what we all have to offer. I wanted queer kids to know that there was someone speaking up for them, and I wanted people who weren't queer to know that there are things all of us can relate to.

You tend to get pigeon-holed, as an artist, when you come out like that. What used to be just art suddenly becomes “Queer Art.” What used to be poetry becomes “gay and lesbian poetry.”

On the one hand—thank god somebody is writing about queer issues, queer experiences. Thank god there's an easy way to search for works like this: that speak to those of us who truly need them. But on the other hand, how alienating to be othered in such a way. We are expected to all relate deeply to the literary legacies of straight, white men (never mind the fact that so many of us don't), and yet art created by marginalized groups is marketed as being only for the groups it represents—as if we don't have things to learn from each other. As if the voices of people different from us don't matter.

For a period of about three days, Belly of the Beast, was ranked #5 in the “gay and lesbian poetry” section of Amazon. And of course I was elated. I was through the roof. For a few days, I was two slots behind Richard Siken's Crush, which has always been one of my biggest sources of inspiration as a queer poet. But there was a part of me that was frustrated. I was frustrated for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I am not gay or a lesbian. The category felt like a misnomer. My queerness didn't fall into their parameters, my sexuality not included on this list. “Gay and lesbian” is not a catch-all for queerness. For those of us whose genders and sexualities extend beyond this, it can feel as much like alienation as inclusion.

I labeled myself as a queer poet (loudly) from the very beginning—because representation is so, so vital. Because mainstream media is quick to brush queerness under the rug. Because people like me, whose sexuality doesn't fall under either category of gay or straight, have been written off and pushed into categories they didn't belong to for decades.

I can't fix this, on my own. But I can tell my story: loudly and unapologetically. Maybe no one will pay attention. 

But if I yell loud enough, they at least have to hear me.

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Ashe Vernon has been writing for as long as they can remember, but they found poetry when they most needed it. Their words first hit the stage in the tiny town of Lufkin, Texas and since then they have been featured in two poetry anthologies and published a collection of poetry all their own–Belly of the Beast, via Words Dance Publishing. They’ve stumbled her way onto stages across Texas and just  toured the southwest with their best friend and partner in crime. At 5'2", Ashe is a very tiny person with very tiny hands and a whole lot to say about it. Their second book, Wrong Side of a Fistfight, came out this summer and is available through Where Are You Press.


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