Lambda Award Winner

The pretty-damn-great collection of stories called Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City should come with a CD tucked inside. Not with music, though many of the stories thump and run with remarkable rhythm, but the CD should be filled with recordings of the authors reading their stories.

Seriously. I’m not arguing for the end of paper. I want both: the audio book and the paperback.

Because this spring, before Portland Queer won a Lammy for Best Anthology, I snuggled into an uncomfortable seat in the NYC Gay Community Center for a reading of Lammy finalists and got my first taste of the richness of Portland Queer.

Every so often, rising from between the columns and plastic folding chairs came another author from Portland Queer, a book I had never heard of. I leaned over to my friend Ken at one point and said: “Is every author from Portland in New York tonight?”

Until the reader began. Then my sarcasm was cut off at the knees. The readers rocked it and represented this winning collection fantastically.

I’m going to unfairly recognize two authors; it’s unfair because all of the contributors present were amazing, but I am going to pick these particular two authors because they represent the diversity in the collection.

First is Gabrielle Rivera. This bottle-rocket of an urban creator/intellectual/writer/performer bounced to the stage like Queen Latifah’s younger Latina sister. Then she launched into her story, “Juliet Takes a Breath” and I was gone: her words and delivery transported me into Rivera’s world of home cooking and mother/daughter bonding and un-bonding.

In the story, Rivera recounts telling her mom in The Bronx that she’s going off to Portland to do an internship with a professor and queer theorist. Mom calls her “the Vagina Lady” and it’s both an insult and a compliment. Meanwhile, Rivera is dealing with a girlfriend in NYC who may or may not be completely supportive of losing her to the sexy wilds of Portland.

Bottom line: Rivera spoke-sang-performed the story with so much passion she took the house down—not in a show-offy way, but in a passionate way.

This is/was a topic of serious love and the author had every one of us in the audience on the edge of our seat. Maybe there’s an entire book here. The journey from NY to Portland and back again; I’d buy that book.

Although enamored, I worried the story would lie flat on the page when I read it myself, but no! It’s just as lively and wonderful, an example of many of the stories in this collection: alive and urgent, two things that so much art and literature are not these days.

Thus, I want everyone to experience reading this story AND hearing author Gabrielle Rivera read it.

But all was not performance reading. When Christa Orth came to the stage I thought, “Uh oh, here comes the quiet librarian.” Seriously, I apologize. It’s a terrible stereotype.

Damn, did she prove me wrong.

Ms. Orth is a brilliant historian. She’s collecting oral histories from Portland queers, individuals with stories to tell, important stories, personal and unique and overlooked (god damnit!) by “official history” texts.

Her story is about the first male 411 operator in Portland, a charming gay man in a then-women’s world. But in the fabulous gay world we live in (and always have, I must remember), his existence at work was filled with sexy signs and secret codes.

When men called for the number of a local gay bar, he knew it off the top of his head. When a man would hang up on him it was because the man probably wanted to talk to a woman, maybe snicker and sexually flirt. He thwarted expectations.

At one point, he’s harassed and called into his boss’s office. And the boss is supportive! It’s heartbreaking and inspiring. What a story!

The rest of the book is just as good. Of course, it’s a collection so there are some duds, but you can quickly breeze past them. There is always a winner just a few pages away.

And finally, the book earns its title “Queer.” In 2010, it’s obvious that “queer” still retains its power, stigma and complexity. Mainstream activists do not adopt it. But these authors with their sexy fantasies, their “lesbian lexicons” and their funky names “STS”(?) explode identity.

As a reader, you’re never sure who is writing: a man, woman, grrl, fag, etc. Except when a minor celebrity is thrown in for good measure.

David Ciminello’s first story is hilarious and he helped write the movie “Bruno.” Also included: Marc Acito and Tom Spanbauer.

Get thee to a bookstore and buy this book! And of course, a round of applause to Ariel Gore for editing this book. Surely her choices of authors and contributors are what set this book on its path to greatness.
——
PORTLAND QUEER
Tales of the Rose City
Ed. by Ariel Gore
Microcosm
Paperback, 9781934620656, 255pp.



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  • Ron Fritsch

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