Queer as Portland 

Diversity on Display in Portland Queer

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The submission guidelines were simple, Ariel Gore explains in her introduction to the anthology Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City. "First-person narratives by queer writers about queer characters in Portland, Oregon." The guidelines are so simple, in fact, that they function as a sort of creative litmus test.

Some writers take the obvious route: There are the predictable I-was-such-a-freak-in-high-school coming-of age stories, and the the-word-queer-is-so-empowering coming-out stories. In some of the best stories in the book, though, the narrator's sexual identity is part of the story's background, rather than its focus. Local musician sts, for example, writes of her friendship with a neighbor boy, a troubled, parentless kid who's living unhappily with his sick aunt. It's a fine piece of writing, conveying subtle volumes in its scant seven pages.

Another standout comes from Michael Sage Ricci, whose "The Strange and Highly Selective Mating Patterns of the Human Male Animal" has the best premise in the collection: A videogame addicted gay man adopts a female avatar when playing online role-playing games. Pretending to be a woman, he develops a flirtation with another gamer, a straight man, letting the man believe he's a woman. When the two arrange to meet in real life, a curious revenge fantasy unfolds.

One story that does effectively foreground queer issues is Christa Orth's "Not Following the Rules." Orth's story begins with an account of her efforts to convince the University of Oregon to extend non-discrimination protections to transgendered workers. The difficulty in persuading the university that there was a need for such protections inspired her to begin investigating the history of queers in the workplace. She provides two local case studies, of a lesbian working at Tektronix in the mid-'90s advocating for benefits for same-sex partners, and an openly gay switchboard operator in the 1970s. It's fascinating stuff. Orth could get a book of her own out of material like this, and I hope that she does.

Gore's editing here deserves a nod: The characters in Portland Queer are fittingly varied, ranging from angsty young lesbians to middle-aged evangelical gays; from kids still figuring out what pronoun they want to use to HIV-positive men remembering long-dead lovers. It's a collection as diverse as the community it represents.

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