Keep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.
This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.
In “And I Entreated,” nonbinary trans kid Gil is preparing for their bar mitzvah on a cramped space station, while their mom Shoshana has turned into a houseplant. “And I Entreated” is a fun story, but it also tackles some serious issues, like how trans people can have different feelings about misgendering, how traditional Jewish observance interacts with nonbinary gender, and whether to keep the term “bar mitzvah” – which is gendered in itself.
I have been writing a lot of stories that are about Jewishness and growing up, in one way or another; and also incorporating trans and/or intersex aspects. And I confess I always wanted to write a story from the perspective of a houseplant! So this time I put the two together. While I was working on “And I Entreated,” our kid was also preparing for his bar mitzvah. Our household is very different – we are two trans parents, for instance –, but some aspects of Jewish family life are similar regardless. Including the endless practicing of the Torah reading: like Gil’s mom, I also know our kid’s Torah portion backwards, forwards, upside down… His bar mitzvah went great, and I have no doubt that Gil’s will too. With this story, I’d like to offer a bit of warmth and belonging to everyone around the world, regardless of religious affiliation.
“Bigger Than Us” by Megan Manzano
“Bigger Than Us” is about two teenaged girls, Jude and Mari, who have to face a reality they had been ignoring since they were children—Jude could be a Mage. In the country of Aurora, Mages are reincarnations of Gods and are immediately whisked away by the government to become servants of the people. Jude always believed she was meant for this path, but falling in love with Mari threw a rather large wrench in her future. She has to reconcile being a Mage with her love for Mari and if ultimately, either is worth keeping.
While we may not be in a fantasy world like Jude and Mari, it was important to show not every decision is black and white. As a teenager, and especially getting older, we tend to question systems in place and the responsibilities they’ve placed on our shoulders. My hugest motivator for “Bigger Than Us” was teasing out these nuances and making the reader ask what happens when your faith in something is shaken, especially by someone you love.
“Droplets Of Starlight” by Vanshika Prusty
“Droplets of Starlight” is a short story about Payal, a girl who is head over heels, struggling with her heart and her society. We follow her, an almost eighteen-year-old girl who is bisexual, and who struggles with understanding how she fits into her Indian society because of her sexuality.
Set in New Delhi during the monsoon, “Droplets of Starlight” will take you on a quiet journey of struggle, acceptance and love all under thunderous clouds and starry night skies.
“Godzilla” by Kate Brauning
I love this story because I love Halloween– I never got to trick-or-treat as a child (though I go every year with my nieces and nephews now!), so it was fun for me to write that into reality. I pretty quickly knew I wanted to write Emily’s story because while in some countries progress toward safety and acceptance has been made for queer kids, even in those places, adolescents find themselves dealing with really complex and difficult situations, often from lacking the relationship modeling cis-gendered, straight people their age often have. Churches meaning to be accepting and welcoming too so often hold their LGBTQ members up like mascots or poster children of their own progressiveness, and the spotlight is a hard place to be as you learn who you are and how to love. An anthology like this full of hard and transformative and hopeful moments about this intersection between faith and queerness is priceless, and I’m so honored to have been able to celebrate that through Emily.
“Golden Hue” by Mayara Barros
My story is about finding hope in the unknown and what happens when you die. It’s set in a fantasy world, where people have powers, but technology has also developed to about our current era. Even with all that, there are still mysteries that neither science nor magic can solve.
I lost my grandmother last year and it still hurts some times. She never knew about by queerness, so I guess I wrote this story to tell myself she still loves me wherever she is.
“How Not To Die (Again)” by Gabriela Martins
Do you ever just have a crush on someone and deny it so hard that you totally die? Because Margô can’t take all the dying anymore. Every single time she denies her feelings for Josie, the universe flips her off by killing her in a yet more ridiculous way.
I wrote this short story because I think we all deserve some sapphic joy, especially romcom style. Especially ridiculous. Especially Brazilian. Especially trans. Anyway, there’s a lot we deserve! Faith in this story comes very much in the form of having faith in yourself. … because, don’t you doubt it. If you keep self-sabotaging (YOU. You know I’m talking about you!), the universe will find a way to teach you a lesson.
“Life Is A Story Of Change” by Elly Ha
Even when she didn’t know the terminology as a young teen, she knew she was ace and aro. Knowing she’ll always be ace, she never expected to doubt herself. Especially not when she gets to college and starts to fall in love with her best friend of almost a decade. What changed? Are her anti-depressants clearing her head so that she can focus on her own long-lost feelings? Is she simply maturing? Are her Korean parents right, and she’s finally found The One? The scarier question continues to gnaw at her: is she still ace if she feels attracted to him this way?
“Life is a Story of Change” is a semi-autobiographical story at the intersection of mental illness, sexuality, and personal faith. I wrote it from my personal experience with self-doubt in questioning my sexuality once I fell in love with who I can only describe as my ride-or-die partner. Despite that I am happily in love, I also endure occasional existential crises, always asking myself, “What am I, if not ace and aro?” For others who end up questioning their hearts, I hope that this story serves as a reminder that you are valid no matter where you land on the a-spectrum. You can be a little ace or entirely ace, or, like me, you can just be sure that you’re not not ace.
“Nothing Left Standing” by C. T. Callahan
“Nothing Left Standing” is the story of a queer teen, who—facing abuse and bigoted parents at home—decides to run away with his boyfriend for a chance to find his happily ever after. It’s a story about coming from trauma and pain and learning to put your faith in someone else. And essentially, it’s about that struggle of wanting to be optimistic and proactive, and the fear that that’s naive and you’re just going to get hurt again.
I have a very complicated relationship with religion and capital “F” Faith, so when I was asked to write a story about holding on to faith, I was instantly reminded of my life in high school. I went to a Catholic high school, and while my friends were all praying to God, I was constantly putting my faith in other things—music, people, fiction, etc. In the long run, it’s probably easier to have faith in religion because you aren’t looking at a flawed person who’s guaranteed to mess up, but I’d been so betrayed by it that my last resort was putting faith in people with the constant fear that it was only a matter of time before they let me down. And so I wrote this story to explore that fear, the feeling of sitting on a ledge and knowing it’s only a matter of time before you fall, but doing it anyway because that’s what faith is about, and when your life refuses to give you something to have faith in, sometimes you just have to make your own.
“On The Other Side” by Shenwei Chang
“On the Other Side” is a story that draws on my own experiences with Buddhism, which my mom’s side of the family practices. It’s not a very commonly portrayed religion, so I wanted to shine a little light on it. My story doesn’t dig super deep into the belief system, but it does touch on a some of the rituals (disclaimer: Buddhism is an extremely diverse religion/spiritual tradition, so I’m limited to portraying the ones I know).
I also wanted to depict the experience of having an ambivalent relationship with faith and religion that I haven’t seen very often when it comes to fiction. This story is dedicated those of us who are half-familiar and half-ignorant when it comes to our parents’ faiths, who have some exposure but not enough to feel entirely comfortable in a religious setting, who are receptive to immersing ourselves more in it but don’t know how or where to start. This story is also dedicated to all the queer people who wanted to come out to one or both of their parents but didn’t get the chance to because their parent(s) passed away before they could. It’s hard to cope with not knowing how your parent(s) would have reacted and not being able to share something so intimate and important with them. I want those people to know they’re not alone.
“Read The Room” by Sofia Soter
“Read the Room” features many of my favorite things: clueless teens, rituals, queerness and polyam crushes. It’s a short and sweet story, centered around Jo, a girl whose experiences with love and spirituality mirror my own in many ways; there’s specificity to her world and life that I sometimes shy away from writing, worrying about how (un)relatable it might be, but I hope it resonates with readers who are—like me, like Jo—looking for connection with others and themselves.
“Ten Steps To Becoming A Successful Blogger” by Julia Rios
I’ve been thinking about influencers a lot lately. It’s fascinating to me how and why certain people become cultural touchpoints, and what that means, both for them, and for their followers. In times of difficulty, we can look for messages all around us, and I wanted to think explicitly about the messages I give and the ones I listen to. It’s easy to dismiss Instagrammers and YouTubers as shallow and frivolous, but I think they can be doing good and important work, and I wanted to explore why and how that might happen for queer people who feel isolated in their daily lives. Also, I just really love the idea of a Bigfoot makeover. Glam Bigfoot!
“The Language Of Magic” by Adiba Jaigirdar
“The Language Of Magic” is the story of Asha, a Bangladeshi teen in Ireland, who wakes up in the early morning of the new year to a hint of magic in the air. The magic presents her with a vision of her grandmother back in Bangladesh. Motivated by her vision, Asha decides she has to find a way to travel back to Bangladesh, even though she knows it’s almost impossible. But maybe with the help of a stranger, the impossible can be possible.
I was motivated to write “The Language Of Magic” because when I was a kid and living in Saudi Arabia as an immigrant, my maternal grandfather (my nanabhai) suddenly passed away. My Mom was distraught and it was my first major experience with death. But we couldn’t go back to Bangladesh. We couldn’t attend the funeral. We couldn’t comfort my grandmother or the rest of our family. We were mourning but there was so much distance, and that distance created a strange boundary and a sort of emptiness to my sadness. After that experience, I moved to Ireland for good and over time I lost more members of my family. Every time I experienced the same lack of closure, the same kind of distance and emptiness. Unfortunately, this is simply a part of being an immigrant. I wanted to imagine a world where this wasn’t a part of being an immigrant. Where the universe, or magic, wanted to help us out and give us the closure that we need.
“The Messenger” by Mary Fan
“The Messenger” tells the story of a woman who transferred her consciousness into a probe in order to explore the multiverse. After years of dimension-hopping alone, she accidentally crash-lands near a pre-industrial civilization and is mistaken for a miracle — a prophesized messenger from the Infinite Spirit. At first, she goes along with it. But when she falls in love with a local girl, she realizes she can no longer keep up the charade.
I grew up atheist—not in a “God is dead” kind of way, but in that religion just wasn’t a thing in our household (probably a byproduct of my parents’ upbringing during the Chinese Cultural Revolution). Yet the studies of religion and faith always fascinated me. I spent years in church choirs both for the music and because I found the rituals fascinating (and was fortunate enough to have very accepting local churches that didn’t care whether their choristers were also worshipers). With “The Messenger,” I wanted to explore the question of just what faith is. And to depict a world where two women can fall in love, and it’s not a big deal.
“Whatever She Wants” by Kess Costales
“Whatever She Wants” is a queer fake-dating story about a Filipino teen named Theodora who is asexual and biromantic with a Catholic upbringing. She believes in God as a creator who loves and accepts all people, including those who are queer. The story shows her journey of discovering her sexuality along with her classmates. The story shows her journey toward self-acceptance as she discovers romantic love for her best friend, Magnolia, and for a boy named Alastor. After she and her best friend break up with their boyfriends, they agree to pretend to date each other to make their exes jealous. But the entire, Theodora hides that she’s in love with her. Spoiler: there’s a happy ending to it as they come out to each other and realize that they stopped pretending somewhere along the way.
When Gabhi approached me with this opportunity, I quickly realized the only thing I could write was something personal and similar to my own journey (except being in love with my best friend). I grew up Catholic like Theodora, attending Catholic schools and going to Mass on Sundays. And like Theodora, as I started understanding myself and my sexuality, I realized I couldn’t believe in a God who wouldn’t love all people, especially if He supposedly created us in His image. So I wrote about my doubts and emotions through Theodora and hoped to share a story that resonates with someone else. Plus, it’s always nice to have a chance to write something sweet and fluffy when life is dark and difficult.
Just a little late for St. Patrick’s Day, this month’s Backlist Book of the Month is gay Irish Historical Fiction, set in 1915, the year preceding the Easter Uprising. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill was a massively lauded debut when it released in 2002, and it’s a serious “can’t miss” in queer Irish fiction.
Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son—revolutionary and blasphemous—of Mr. Mack’s old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys’ burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation.
*There are strong accusations that Leavitt plagiarized Stephen Spender’s life for this novel. You may also want to check out Spender’s autobiography, World Within World, which contains an afterword addressing the allegations.