First issue of queer literary journal lends voice to silenced students

Any student at the College looking for their voice to be heard will find a safe space to express themselves in the pages of outspeak, the new queer literary journal at the College. This current issue is the publication’s first and contains 10 original student works; integrated throughout the compilation are collages, riddles and definitions, with works ranging from fiction to nonfiction and from poetry to prose. The spring 2012 issue opens with a letter from outspeak editors Kate Flanagan ’14 and Sam Flinn ’14 addressing the student body in their introduction titled “the queer state of the college.”

The letter addresses the history of discrimination that queer students have faced at the College, including the “violence of language” that students have suffered over the years. The editors acknowledge all of the support groups and resources on campus, but they also point to issues of the silenced queer community at the College, calling for “a wide, audible presence on our campus.”

Flanagan and Flinn go on to define queerness, using words such as “self-expression,” “re-creation” and “ways of seeing.” As a publication, outspeak is designed to encourage students to speak up “more loudly, more often and more clearly,” creating a platform to “change perceptions of queer life at Williams,” according to Flanagan and Flinn. The journal is intended to give students the ability to be louder and prouder of who they are and feel more comfortable not only in their own skin, but in their own community. The introduction proposes ways to spark discussions concerning sexuality and queer-related topics on campus in an effort to integrate them into everyday discourse at the College  One of the suggestions is to read the works out loud, thereby encouraging more queer voices to speak on this campus. The journal is dedicated to those voices that are still unheard. No anonymous works are published because the declared purpose is to speak out, loud and proud, about sexuality, queer identity and injustices and to inspire the rest of the community with powerful narratives.

The issue opens with a piece by Dilia Ortega ’13 titled “2/7/12,” which responds to California’s Proposition 8. In the piece, Ortega’s assertive voice overlaps a sincere lament, summoning sympathy from the reader. This lower-cased sentiment asks for understanding and acknowledgement of the hardships that queer couples face in America and the effect this can have on families, households, neighborhoods and classrooms. The collage of emotions, which embodies the palpable impacts of a movement, is followed by a piece consisting of a handwritten note, a similarly emotive piece by Chelli Riddiough ’14. The short, one-sentence piece expressively voices a potent description of the ways in which sexual frustration intersects with other aspects of an individual’s life.

The reader goes on to engage with Perry Osgood ’15, whose piece explores gender-bending and gender expression as he encourages a radical reading of defined terms among the queer community. Osgood’s energy leaps from the page and engages the reader in its spirit, its jargon and its insistence on challenging society.

Poems such as “Lovers and Friends” and “First Kiss Anthology,” by Colleen Fitzpatrick ’12 and Sophia Rosenfeld ’15, respectively, embrace the idea of relationships, describing their positive nature as well as their darker moments. A series of poems by Flanagan and Emily Nuckols ’15 are laid out on a page together, collecting ideas about religion and sexuality, directing the reader’s attention to the physical body and its relationship to the spirit. Both writers’ work beckons themes of nostalgia and deep honesty.

Among the poems, the definition of “outspeak” interrupts the literary works. This disruption is a beautiful representation of the efforts of the journal, highlighting the ways that the authors intend to interject everyday discourse with queer discussions as a means for students to speak up.

A piece by Zach Evans ’12, “Coming Out,” speaks directly to the reader in the second person to discuss “visible and invisible” identities, addressing the problems created by labels. This piece takes a stand on behalf of individuals who feel like they don’t fit into the small and rather confining boxes in which society has placed them.

Also included was an untitled prose piece by Sayantan Mukhopadhyay ’12, a work that plays with colors, musical elements and repetition, with the first-person narrative acting as a confessional between the reader and the writer. Its intimacy emphasizes a personal dynamic that is present throughout the journal.

The final work is “Deep Indigo #2.7” by Rhianna Alyxander ’13. One of the longer pieces of the journal, Alyxander’s writing takes the reader along on her personal journey. From inspiration to relationship and all the way through the writing process, the present tense of the piece keeps the reader immersed in the plot. As a closing work, Alyxander’s piece reflects on an important result of outspeak as a space that gives writers a voice, but also offers many silenced or simply curious readers a chance to see themselves in the vibrant narratives.