Guest Post: James R. Silvestri’s Unlikely Resilience and Unexpected Affinities

Today, I’m pleased to introduce James R. Silvestri, writing about his own relationship to resilience and his story in the book.  I bet you know where and when you can hear more from him– this Saturday, 3-5 PM, at Word Up Books!

In a lot of ways, I might be considered an unlikely choice for a project associated with resilience, with personal strength and inspirational perseverance.  I am an extremely private person, sometimes painfully so.  Ask me for my opinion on anything, be it my favorite TV show or the traits I look for in a partner, and prepare for a sliding scale of awkward shrugs and stammering.  This is part of the reason I became a writer; it’s a lot easier to express myself through well thought-out printed words and fictional characters then to simply speak what’s on my mind.  It’s always been that way.  For the record, I am no misunderstood teenaged wallflower.  I am 34 years-old.

And yet, the Resilience anthology spoke to a very vibrant, very vocal quadrant of my soul.  When the whole “It Gets Better” campaign started to make waves at the wake of several suicides and violent attacks among LGTB youth, I was skeptical at first.  I knew the intentions of all participants were good and pure, but I thought the message was off.  “It Gets Better” seemed to embrace what my favorite comic strip upstart Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes once referred to as “The Culture of Victimhood.”  In my mind, the campaign encouraged young people in these adverse situations to embrace their roles as victims of the cultural war, to acknowledge their current state of weakness and lean on the required guidance of school authorities and legal guardians, as well as the hope that if you hang in there and try to stay alive, things will magically fix themselves.  There was no talk of fighting back, of demanding self-respect, of creating a multi-step plan that would actually make one’s life better.  It all seemed so passive, so defeatist, this “It Gets Better” business.

But then, I came to realize a few things:

1) Young people, particularly those who grow up in small communities or ghettoized inner city neighborhoods, usually don’t have a model to work with.  When you’re gay or transgendered or any sort of ostracized minority, you usually don’t have access to this Great Life Plan that will drag you through and past the muck.  So, suddenly, “Just Get Through Today, Then Tomorrow, Then The Next Day” suddenly seems like a more valid plan of action.

2) Sometimes, a young person who has just had enough of the torture, the name-calling, the abuse and the cyber-gossip and what have you, will in fact take action.  Columbine taught many of us this lesson in 1999, and Chardon gave us a refresher course in 2012.  Adolescence is a time of extreme emotion, and extreme emotions can lead to extreme actions, be it suicide or murder.  So once again, telling someone in this situation to chill out, take stock and keep hope sounds like a pretty wise plan of action.

3) And really, who the hell am I kidding?  I was a fucking mess when I was a teenager.  I barely spoke a dozen words during my four years in an all-boys Catholic school.  The only way I survived was to make myself invisible, and the few times I was forced into human interaction, some sort of teasing or nastiness was directed towards me.  Nobody can stay invisible forever, not even me.

And you know what?  If my 34 year-old self could go back and time and meet my 15 year-old self, you’re damn right that I would tell Mini-Me that It Gets Better.  Because it does–it did.  Yes, I am still a socially awkward oaf, but in the adult world I live in now, it’s okay to be that.   In fact, in a era where people can’t seem to shut the hell up, it’s actually a sort of commodity that I actually possess the ability to listen, to assess.  And on occasion, I can even break through that shell.  For a few hours a day, I in fact must do this professionally as an English teacher.  Lecturing has become a new way to harness my nervous energy and my over-arching quest for connection, and I am much better off for it.

My story in Resilience is called “What Happened to Mona Shalesky?”, and like all of my published works, it’s fiction.  I am not a small-town lesbian waitress, nor am I a drifter transman.  Although I’ve come to meet a few people in this life who are undergoing various stages of transgenderism, it is not a condition I can immediately relate to.  While almost everything else about my life feels murky and (at worst) lost at sea, my gender identity has been pretty secure.  So, naturally, I am gravitated towards people and stories about this type of journey.  While I don’t identify with the specifics, I can relate to the universal truth that life can be difficult, and people will not always understand what you’re going through.  And while it does in fact Get Better, it never Gets Perfect.  That’s what keeps life interesting.

Resilience Reading and Open Mic

Since now I’m sure you would love to know what happened to Mona Shalesky, mosey on over to the buy link for Resilience: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18926125

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Guest Post: Emma Eden Ramos on Endurance, Resilience, and the Search for (Literary) Selfhood

My guest today is Emma Eden Ramos, here with a story of her own journeys through adolescence and literature, and the queer resilience that can arise out of both of these strange categories.  She’ll be reading at Word Up this Saturday, from 3-5 PM!

Adolescence is, for many of us, a time of pain, endurance and discovery. Pain, not only because our bodies and psyches are changing–our emotions in a constant state of flux– but because we are surrounded by others who are experiencing the same turbulent transformations. So much of adolescence is about being able not only to handle our own inner battles but to endure the fallout of others’.  When I look back on my own high school experience, I feel proud to have survived. My peers were cruel. I was called freak, ugly, bitch, loser. The most painful, however, was in the middle of my freshman year of high school when a boy I’d been friends with in middle school told the entire grade that I was a lesbian. At that time (2002), even in New York City, being labeled “gay” in some high schools could be dodgy. In my case it was like walking around with an “A” pinned to my shirt. People stopped talking to me, sent me cruel messages on AIM, badgered me with prying questions — “Are you a lesbian? Huh? Huh? Can’t you just tell us?”– In the end, I had to find a new high school. It wasn’t, at least for me, the accusation itself that was so hurtful. What I struggled with most was that other people were labeling me at a time when I was unable to label myself. This was my period of self-discovery, and it was being taken away from me.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009 when I am, thankfully, a good six years past my early high school days. While studying Psychology at Marymount Manhattan College, I decide to balance out my required Statistics course with a class in Contemporary Literature. I’d always been a voracious reader, but there were certain genres I had yet to discover. Well, by the end of that semester, I was left feeling both awakened and jipped. Andrew Holleran, Sarah Waters, Leslie Feinberg, Shamim Sarif, how had I managed to miss these authors, and during those years of relentless questioning and insecurity?

The novels we read in the Gay and Lesbian Literature course at Marymount inspired me to write my first story, “Where the Children Play.” As a teen I’d read about Cathy and Heathcliff (Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights) and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). But characters such as Kitty and Nancy (Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet) or Maurice and Alec (E.M. Forrester’ Maurice) had eluded my radar. I wanted to write a modern coming-of-age story in which the teen protagonist is able to overcome the convictions of his family and society.

“Where the Children Play” isn’t just a story about self-discovery. It’s a story about tolerance and even acceptance. Adolescence, for everyone, is a time of both struggle and revelation. To make it through these trying years, one must have endurance. The process of enduring the journey toward self-respect and awareness requires resilience, especially for those whose preferences and lifestyles aren’t yet respected by society at large. With the recent number of teen suicides, it is clear that society has some serious growing up to do. In the meantime, young people need to know, whether it’s through the literature they read, the television they watch, or the music they listen to, that there are many of us who have come through on the other side. But it takes endurance. Endurance and resilience.

Resilience Reading and Open Mic

Emma’s website is here: http://emmaedenramos.weebly.com/.  Please go visit her, and, if you want even more lovely writing, here’s the link to purchase Resilience: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18926125