Issue 21 / Spring 2020
An Annotated Bibliography of Queer, Disabled Love
Barry, Dave. Peter and the Starcatchers. Disney Editions/Hyperion Books for Children, 2006. Read November 2018 and read again June 2019.
Peter and the Starcatchers, and the subsequent series, was the first time Dalia ever read to me. I knew at this point that I had feelings for her, but at this moment in time we were just two friends, and she was sharing with me her most favorite book in the whole world. She’d played Molly Aster in her high school’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, and even before that, she’d loved the series. The moments when we would snuggle on my sofa and read together were pivotal in strengthening my connection to her. I wanted to learn from the styles of Peter and the Starcatchers so that I could emulate it in my own writing. I raced through the series on my own over Thanksgiving break, because the more I read of the series, the more I came to know Dalia. It came to be one of my own favorite series.
This was the first show I ever had the chance to perform in during my time at Susquehanna University. It was really special to watch Steven, a creative writing peer of mine, watch a show he had written come to life. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my peers in order to create a show that was making its world premiere. A lot of these students were/are not seen on stage as much, so this play was a chance for us to experiment with our comfort zones as well as work with the script to make it the best that it could be. Throughout rehearsals, we were adding parts we thought would make the piece funnier (with Steven’s consent), having fun with the blocking, and fully fleshing-out our characters so that each one of them played an important role.
I first saw Finding Neverland on Broadway in my senior year of high school with my drama group. In my junior year, I performed in Peter Pan with my little brother, which was the first show we performed in together, and so, it was very close to my heart. Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, and how Peter Pan came to be. The show itself was particularly compelling to me because it depicts the struggles of a writer. I listened to the music nonstop, rooted myself into the emotions of each piece, and begged my parents to buy tickets so my family and I could return to see it the following February. It is a show that I have faithfully followed through its stint on Broadway and subsequent tours.
This was my first off-campus publication, so to have it be a poem that was and is so special to me, and for a queer issue during my first Pride Month as an out and proud queer woman, makes me so incredibly happy. My poem is about falling in love and learning to love my body for everything it can and can’t do and being unapologetic in doing so. I was also surrounded by so many other wonderful queer contributors and it made me excited to be able to support their art. It gave me confidence in my abilities to be published once I graduate and go on to the “real world,” whatever the hell that is. It gives me the confidence to work hard at the writing I do and to make time in my schedule to do so. Because I want to succeed.
This was the first play I ever wrote, and it was fully acted, directed, and produced in one month by my peers when I was a senior in high school. I began it in the summer before my senior year and completed the first draft that October. It is about what happens after the end of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’m so lucky to have been given this opportunity by my high school drama directors, and to have had a crew of people behind me so excited and passionate about the success of this project. It is what made me declare theatre studies as a second major once arriving at Susquehanna.
Ford, Leighton. Text conversation. October 9, 2019.
My brother knows how to push my buttons like no other. But, I know I can share with him my deepest insecurities and feel supported. He is my best friend. I shared with him after our “What makes a good reading?” lecture in Senior Seminar that I wrote a poem about grappling with what my sexuality was. I hadn’t shared those insecurities with anyone from my family until him. Then, on National Coming Out Day, he texted me a picture of his handprint in the colors of the bi pride flag, and said, “happy national coming out day!” then later sent me a picture of a smiley face in the colors of the rainbow. It was a simple message, but I cried at his support. I self-censor so often in my own writing, especially if I think someone in my family might see it or hear it. But he gave me the confidence to write about it, to be confident in claiming my story and sharing it. Because someone might need it.
Ford, Marlene. Wife to Widow to Single. Self-Published, 2013. Read March 2013, and again November 2018.
On March 17, 2012, my grandfather passed away. My grandmother, who found refuge in him at a young age from her own abusive and distant family, was understandably distraught at his loss, despite the fact that he had been sick for a majority of my lifetime by the time he passed. She’s always been a writer, and so the way she coped with his passing was to chronicle their life together, first through a blog, and then through this book, which she self-published a little over a year after he died. I was fourteen when he passed, and although I understood somewhat what his death meant, this book gave me a deeper insight into his relationship with my grandmother. It helped me to understand that writing can be a way of coping with grief. I return to it every so often to remember what he was like and for ideas to bring to my nonfiction, as I find their relationship truly compelling. It was influential for my National Novel Writing Month piece last year.
My siblings and I were really lucky that my parents got our entire family tickets to see Hamilton the summer before my sophomore year. Of course, I’d listened to the music thousands of times before then, but nothing really matches the magic of live theatre, in my opinion. I sat in the middle, between my younger brother and sister, and basically cried from curtain up to the final bows. Miranda gave such a fantastic platform to people of color, especially to tell a story that by history was fully white. It’s so inspiring to me to watch his path to get to this point, from his time in college to In the Heights to Hamilton. I think this moment was made particularly special for me because I got to watch my family experience it as well. My brother, Logan, who was nine at the time, knew all the words to both of the Cabinet Battles, and watching his eyes light up to see them performed filled me with enough happiness to last a lifetime.
Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. Read May 2019.
This was a book that I read during the time I started contemplating my sexuality. I was screaming with glee on page one. It takes place in 1700s Europe and follows Monty on his Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy, the man he’s been in love with for quite a while. You’d think that a book that takes place in the 1700s would focus on the trials Monty faces being anything other than a straight man, especially because Percy is a man of color. The book doesn’t gloss over these trials by any means, but it also just shows these men existing and in love in some private moments. It’s not perfect in terms of how it addresses the homophobia and racism that existed during this time, but it works hard to do so. It holds a special place in my heart as it asked me to question my own internalized heteronormativity during a time where that was very pivotal to my identity.
Lee, Mackenzi. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy: a Montague Siblings Novel. Katherine Tegen Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. Read May 2019.
The sequel follows Monty’s sister Felicity as she embarks on an adventure to become a surgeon. Once again, this novel takes place in 1700s England, so Felicity encounters massive amounts of sexism from the men keeping her from fulfilling her dreams. Along the way, she also meets a pirate named Sim. Her relationship with Sim is the most perfect representation of enemies-to-lovers and through her, Felicity grapples with her sexuality and romantic identity in a way she’s never been able to before. The story is a wonderful sequel. I think I may have enjoyed this one almost more than the first. These are the kinds of queer stories young readers, like myself, needed and continue to need today. It’s so important to have these stories to tell readers that they aren’t alone. They may spend late nights questioning what their identity is, but they don’t have to do it all by themselves.
The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. By Joe Tracz. Directed by Stephen Brackett. January 26, 2019. Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA. Performance.
I had known that this musical existed while Dalia and I were reading the Percy Jackson series, but I hadn’t listened to much of the music by the time a couple theatre friends of mine suggested we go see it the first weekend back after winter break. I love theatre and rarely say no to any live performances, so I paid for the ticket spur of the moment, and then downloaded the music on Spotify. Holy hell, the music, which is great in and of itself, did not do justice to the cast’s portrayal of the characters and storyline! I was amazed at how the musical managed to stay true to the books in a way that the movie had failed to do (We do not speak of the movie and I refuse to watch it ever again. I could barely get through it the first time!) I throw this musical up there with the ones that continue to inspire me to pursue musical writing.
McKenna, Lilly. The Kingdom on the Other Side. T.S. 2012/2013. Author’s private collection. Read August 12, 2019.
Writing under a pen name, Dalia has been working on her low fantasy novel in various drafts since eighth grade, long before we had met each other. When we met in her freshman and my sophomore year, I began to hear snippets of plot points and characters from what she conversationally refers to as Gregoria. She would call her high school friends to bounce ideas off them, as they had read the story in its various stages of infancy. I could name her six characters and tell you the general plotline. Up until this past summer, however, I had yet to read the novel in its entirety. I begged and pleaded, assuring her that I would never judge her and that I think highly of her writing and always will. Another argument of mine was that she had access to my novel in its entirety, much of the beginning of which I began after I graduated from high school, and it is rough. She relented late one night in August after I got home from work. She FaceTimed me. I snuggled up in my basement and watched as she pulled out her iPad to read to me. “I’ve never been nervous to share my writing before!” Once again, I reassured her. For almost a week, our routine was just that: we’d wake up and go to our respective jobs (hers a babysitting job in Virginia, mine a bookselling job in Pennsylvania) then rush home to FaceTime. She’d read me each chapter, stopping for my commentary and gasps at each plot twist. Those moments were so important to me, both in terms of strengthening our relationship, and in shaping how I wanted to improve my writing. One of Dalia’s strengths is depicting the minutiae in terms of actions, whether a character is completing a monumental or trivial task, you can see visibly how they do so. It’s pivotal in creating the characters and their relations to the world around them. I looked back at my own novel, and began to see how I could do that, as my strength lies more in my dialogue than in my action writing.
I will fiercely defend the writing from this show until the end of time. I know it’s not a perfect show by any means, but as far as sitcoms go, I think it does a pretty damn good job. It is a show whose jokes my family and I will quote back and forth to each other (after moving into college for my sophomore year, my sister would send me a joke a day from New Girl, knowing it would distract me from my homesickness and also remind me of home). When I started to really get into New Girl, I intensely researched the writer and showrunner Liz Meriwether and her journey to getting the show to air. This show was one of the things that spurred me to try my hand at crafting a show for television. Although that show is fully based on New Girl and will probably never see the light of day (especially not in its current form), it allowed me to write almost a full first season’s worth of content. It felt good to have a chance to practice something for fun without worrying about the potential audiences that might see or read it. It was interesting to learn the logistics of television writing, all of which I tried to teach myself through the research I conducted.
Miller, Marielle. Text conversation. November 4, 2018.
I can’t discuss writing disabled and queer narrative without citing the conversation with the first person I ever came out to. I am a sister of Sigma Alpha Iota, a music fraternity at Susquehanna University. It was the day of an SAI event called RoseBowl, and during the event, Dalia had been really touchy, hugging me and holding my hand. A few weeks before, after Pippin, she’d kissed my cheek for a picture and I’d flushed red. Late the night of RoseBowl, I texted Marielle, a friend who had been a member of SAI and graduated in May 2018. I recounted the events of the past couple weeks to them, and they advised me that my interactions and feelings seemed to go past the point of being platonic. Everything happened really quickly after that, and by Christmas, I’d come out to everyone of importance in my life. A few weeks after that, Dalia and I were officially girlfriends, and a few weeks after that, I started my first queer novel. I never would’ve gotten to that point had I not had the help of Marielle last November.
O’Connell, Ryan. I’m Special: and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015. Read June 2019.
After I watched Special, and I was home for the summer, I devoured the book upon which the series was based in less than a day. It gave me insight as to who Ryan was before he was open about his disability and sexuality. One of the things I grapple with when telling my own story, whether in my novel or in other various writings, is that I don’t want to hurt the people involved. Ryan discusses this particularly in the parts with his overly protective mother. I obviously have opinions about how my disability has been dealt with throughout my life, whether by my parents, doctors, therapists, etc. I’ve often self-censored myself from telling the full story, because I don’t want the people in my life to be upset that I’ve essentially put their story out into the world in the process of telling my own. But I’ve come to realize that I can no longer apologize for the story I need to tell. It’s mine, and I won’t stop telling it until it’s finished. Ugly parts and all. Some parts are sunshine and rainbows, but some days are tough, and I don’t think I’ll help myself, or other people who hear or read my story, by censoring those moments.
Once we had finished a majority of the series together, Dalia showed me her high school’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher. It was after Thanksgiving break, and I’d been without her for ten days. My mom was driving me back to campus after work, and I was so antsy to see her. That was the most attention I’d ever paid to a high school production, and all for Dalia. I loved to see how the show crafted the various settings and multiple ships that were in the novel and translated that onto the stage. It helped me come to understand how I could translate some of my favorite novels for staged musicals or plays, and it was helpful practice for learning how to write a play. It helped me target the elements of plot and character that were the most vital parts of the story arc and must remain in the play.
Prince, Monica. “What makes a good reading?” WRIT 550, October 2, 2019, Susquehanna University. Lecture.
I think I’ll remember this day and this activity for the rest of my life. When Monica told her fall senior seminar class that we were going to be doing oral presentations the week before, my heart immediately began racing even though I knew that was the goal of the class. We were meant to practice for the senior readings we would have throughout the semester–the culmination of the work we’d put in for the past four years as creative writing majors. Even still, on the day of the first reading practices, I wrote about not really knowing where I fit in the LGBTQ+ community, a conversation that I’ve really only had before with two people, Dalia and Marielle. And now I was sharing all of that with the entire senior seminar class. When I came out to my family, I told them I was bisexual. It’s what I thought fit my identity best at the time, and it was easy to explain to my family members. But as I’ve learned more about myself as an individual and come to know myself better as a person in a relationship, I’ve questioned the label of bisexuality. Although I still use bisexuality when talking to my family members, most often at school, I use queer. It feels all encompassing, and more me than bisexual. It’s definitely been a process, but talking it out with Dalia and knowing that the only thing that matters is that we love each other has helped me through. It felt amazing to put all of those feelings in writing and share it with others. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been holding it in.
Wanna talk about musicals that broke me (in the best way possible)? Let’s talk about The Prom. Based on a true story about a school in Indiana that cancelled their prom when two girls wanted to go together, this musical follows Emma and Alyssa, who are helped by washed-up Broadway stars to put their prom back on. I don’t think there was a moment during this show where I wasn’t crying. Like, fully sobbing. There’s a line that Emma and Alyssa sing to each other throughout the musical: “I just want to dance with you.” That line had the ability to see me. To see me holding my girlfriend’s hand and to tell us, “You’re loved. Safe. You can be you.” I saw the strength that this musical had to help people in being themselves, and all it did was make me want to write something that had the power to have that same effect on an audience as wide as that. There are a lot of spaces where Dalia and I don’t hold hands or kiss or show any kind of physical affection, because we don’t know if it’s safe to do so. At the very least, in public spaces, we tend to be wary of doing so. And yet, being here, we knew we were safe, that we could be ourselves. With my writing, I want to give those kinds of spaces to people like me.
Queer Eye has done a lot to help me with grappling with my sexuality, and further, in terms of writing about that grappling. Aside from grappling with the how I identify, I’ve struggled a lot as a queer Christian woman. I’ve always seen myself getting married in the church I grew up in. Dalia’s more than willing to do so, because although she grew up going to Catholic school for thirteen years of her life, that was a rough time for her, and now she “spiritually identifies as too gay for the Catholic Church.” Queer Eye helped me to come out to people from church who I value, and their reactions reassured me how lucky I am to have such a strong support system. I know Bobby in particular had a very conservative religious upbringing, and I can relate to his fears about being outed to the people around him. I worry that when it comes time for the group of Elders to vote on whether or not they will allow Dalia and I to get married in the church, that the vote will be against us. Even though there are people who love and support us, and love and support me as an individual, I know there are others who believe Dalia and I shouldn’t be allowed to be married, and my relationship with a woman may change their opinion of me.
Surprisingly, I never read the Percy Jackson series when I was younger. I know we had the series, because my twin brother read them, but they were never really of interest to me. However, they’re some of Dalia’s favorite books, and right around the time I started to have feelings for her, she wanted to read them to me. I cherish this series for the diversity of characters. None of them make any apologies for the way that they are, and just exist in the world around them the best that they can. I’m grateful for this series, because it opened me up to a world of incorporating fantasy into my writing when I had previously been strictly realism all the time. I’d avoided writing fantastical element in my pieces because I didn’t think I was capable of doing so while keeping it accessible to young readers. But Percy Jackson allowed me to throw that assumption out the window. I mean, for god’s sakes, it turns a pen into a sword on a field trip and that’s about as tame as the magic gets for the rest of the series. Even so, it’s still beloved by many readers of all ages.
This album was not only pivotal to my childhood, but it also tied into some important moments last year. Dalia had some early morning doctor appointments in Harrisburg, and after we’d returned from one of them, while we were sitting in the lounge of the music building trying to write before chorale started, Dalia sang, “I need a nap!” which is the beginning of the chorus from one of the songs from Dog Train, an earlier album. I freaked out because my uncle was the songwriting partner for that album. She called her parents to tell them the story. Since then, the music from Blue Moo and Dog Train has become really important to us. It’s silly and it reminds me of my childhood, but it’s also wonderful and heartwarming and reminds me of the early days of my relationship with Dalia.
Sherman, Martin. Bent. S. French, 1979. Read November 2018.
Woof, this play is so heavy. We read it in my Theatre and Violence class with Dr. Anna Andes, one of my theatre professors. So, I obviously knew it was going to be filled with a lot of difficult subjects. Anna also gave us a kind of initial trigger warning (because all of us were doing different violent plays for group projects). Even still, I don’t think I was prepared in any way, shape, or form for how much this play was going to hit me. I don’t want to spoil it, because I really believe the best way to experience a play is through reading it or watching it, but the general plot follows two gay men in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. It deals with the symbol of the pink triangle, which was used to delineate gay men specifically in Nazi Germany. I learned a lot in that class and, through that play, I learned how to tell difficult stories and the importance of doing so. It taught me about creating stories through real-life events and the importance of staying true to the facts to create an emotionally moving story.
Netflix. (2019). Special.
Special was the first time I saw myself portrayed in any television show. It follows a gay man who has cerebral palsy. I watched the trailer in March of this year and cried. It was so reassuring in terms of telling my own story in the form of a novel, which I began in Silas’s advanced novel class this past January. The show demonstrated to me that I wanted to prioritize honesty in disability narrative. It doesn’t claim to be the story of everyone with cerebral palsy, but it also doesn’t apologize either. Additionally, not only does it revolve around the disability and queer narratives of Ryan O’Connell’s life, but the story lets him just exist in the world. To tell his story, he combines the sadness and the happy parts. I have a lot of opinions about the marketing of disabled and queer stories, both in visual and print media. A lot of the time, whatever they had to “overcome” tends to be the main part of the marketing when it comes to selling the story. That is one of my pet peeves, and it’s something this story isn’t necessarily immune to. But it has helped me to work through my own stories and letting my queer, disabled characters simply exist without that being their singular identity.
Waitress. By Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles, directed by Diane Paulus, May 28, 2016, Brooks Atkinson Theater, New York, NY. Performance. Seen again November 12, 2016, again December 23, 2017, again October 20, 2018, and again August 24, 2019.
I have seen this show five times since it opened on Broadway, but the first time I saw it was with my best friend as a relaxation gift to myself the weekend after Tale As Old As Time premiered, since I’d been working on producing the show nonstop for a month, and a little less than a year writing and editing it before that. I didn’t know much about it beyond what I’d seen in a few YouTube clips and that they sold mini pies in the lobby. It is a musical based on the 2007 movie of the same name, about a woman who works at a pie restaurant and becomes pregnant with her abusive husband’s child. She has an affair with her gynecologist, and in the process, learns more about her own strength than she’d known before. It struck a chord with me, in its magnificent music, its emotional storyline, poignant choreography, and the strength of the friendships in the story. Despite the popularity and its subsequent tour, it will close its Broadway run in January and I’m very sad to see it go.
Westerfeld, Scott, and Keith Thompson. Behemoth. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Read September 2019.
After I finished Leviathan and gifted my marked-up copy to Dalia, she insisted on reading the next two books to me, Behemoth and Goliath. I wanted to, of course. I had to see where these characters ended up! It was a bit more difficult to read it together, because since it was the summer, she was in Virginia and I was in Pennsylvania. But we’d still FaceTime each other every night after we got home from work and we managed to finish Behemoth quickly. I think I might’ve liked this one even more than I liked Leviathan, simply because it introduced a lot of characters that were important to the story. It was also more exciting because Dalia would tell me which parts were her favorite as we read. Additionally, the new characters complicated the story even more and it made it even more enjoyable to read.
Westerfeld, Scott, and Keith Thompson. Leviathan. Simon Pulse, 2010. Read June 2019.
Dalia has been writing a musical based on this novel for as long as I’ve known her. In fact, one of the songs from the musical was the first thing she sang to me one of the first times we ever hung out outside of class. I knew about it what she would share with me: it’s a steampunk novel about World War I, following the Clankers and Darwinists. None of it sounded like something I would be interested in or had previously read, but I cared about Dalia, and listening to her talk about something she was passionate about was never a chore for me. Over this past summer, I decided to read it without her knowing and make notes in the margins. She needed a new copy because hers was falling apart, so I gave her that copy for her birthday. It’s a strange process, getting to know someone more intimately through their favorite book. It wasn’t like Peter and the Starcatchers or Percy Jackson where I could hear the dialogue in her character voices or scream at her about a plot twist. I made the notes all on my own before giving it to her. I’m glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to read this series, because now it’s something I can share with Dalia. We can laugh over our favorite parts, and I can understand better now how she has worked on adapting it for the stage.
This was the first play I’d ever worked on or performed in where the character I was playing was disabled. Although the piece itself isn’t perfect in its disability representation–the character is essentially only given a source of agency and meaning in her life because of an abled man, who believes he’s doing her a favor by paying attention to her–it had a profound effect on me. Not only did I feel an intense connection to the character, but it taught me how I could incorporate my own disability narrative into the pieces I create, one of which I began the following semester.
Honor Ford graduated from Susquehanna University with majors in creative writing and theater studies. She most recently served as the Senior Managing Editor of RiverCraft, the largest literary magazine on Susquehanna’s campus. Previous work of hers can be found in honey & lime and Teen Ink.