Metro Weekly

OutWrite 2023: Editor’s Fiction Selections

Selections from the authors participating in the DC Center's 2023 OutWrite Literary Festival.

Photo: Patrick Tomasso / Unsplash

Fiction by Curtis Chin, Greg Herren, Renee James, Jeffrey Dale Lofton, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Carla Rachel Sameth, and Addie Tsai

Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant

By Curtis Chin

My first boyfriend was the scion of a wealthy oil family in Denver. Though Steven Carrington and I lived in different states, and he was a fictional TV character, the two of us had a standing date every Wednesday at ten p.m. While I sat at the back of our restaurant chomping on egg rolls and fried rice, my dream catch frolicked in his palatial mansion, feasting on steak and caviar. Our worlds might have been different, but it felt reassuring to know someone else struggled like me to accept his homosexuality.

When the producers of Dynasty announced the addition of another stud to their stable, I went berserk. Hollywood heart-throb Rock Hudson, with his chiseled good looks, epitomized the all-American sex god. Unfortunately, when his character finally appeared on screen, his face looked gaunt and pale. Gone were the dazzling dimples and hunky body that had made the country swoon. It reminded me that youth and physical beauty were short-term visitors.

Rumors swirled about Rock being sick with AIDS. In the heartland of the country in the mid-1980s, not much was known about the disease that was ravaging gay communities on both coasts. Any infected person seemed to be dead within days or weeks. My fears of coming out no longer centered on being disowned. They were about dying. It didn’t matter that I was still a virgin and had said no to drugs. The Corridor was filled with high-risk individuals: gays, druggies, prostitutes.

As a science-geek wannabe, I needed to find the cause and cure. The textbooks in school were outdated, and the humongous card catalog at the Detroit Public Library had no new entries. The newspapers in our dining room became my primary source. It was rarely treated as front-page news, so I had to scour every section to find any info. Whenever a headline appeared, my initial excitement would wither with the details. Not even the initial reports that Asians and Italians were immune to the disease made me feel better. The fake news only increased my fears about coming out.

One night at the restaurant, my mom and I were on duty. It was my senior year in high school. She again pestered me for an update on my college plans.

“I’m still thinking,” I said. That was true. With applications costing as much as a hundred bucks each, I had to be strategic. Two Kroger’s shopping bags full of brochures sitting in the corner of my bedroom made the choice difficult. The images seemed nice enough, but I couldn’t picture myself on any of those green and ivied campuses. I figured it was like love — I would know the right suitor when he came along.

As I flipped through the latest batch of competitors, the TV teased an upcoming report on funding for AIDS. My ears perked up. It had been a while since I’d heard any news about research or stats. The lack of information only made me think the worst. I looked forward to the update, but I couldn’t show too much interest. My mom was sitting right next to me, and I was so deep in the closet that I didn’t even want to hear the word rainbow.

In those days, gays and lesbians received little support as a protected class, especially among members of my political party. The GOP didn’t understand why the government should be doing anything to help these sinners. Some politicians felt that the gays were getting what they deserved. I wanted to bury my head in the sand too, but I was not budging from the chair. An abrupt exit would draw too much attention.

As usual, the report began with a photo of some random white guy wasting away in the hospital. The more handsome he was, the sadder the image. It was strange. I was in high school and constantly thinking about death. Why? It was scary to see so many young men dying, but to me, it was even scarier to see them dying by themselves, no loved ones surrounding them with love and support. That was my biggest fear.

I didn’t care how I went. AIDS. Gunshot. Overdose. I just didn’t want to die alone.

The story switched to the meat of the piece. While the bipartisan Congress had allocated $190 million for research — much more than his administration’s request — President Reagan was missing in action. The world was four years into the epidemic with thousands dead, and he was still having trouble even mentioning the word. Maybe the Great Communicator needed to be pulled aside and given speech lessons.

When the segment ended, I searched my mom’s face for her reaction. I wanted any clues to her views on AIDS and, by extension, homosexuality. The fact that she didn’t flinch or throw up was a good sign. Maybe there was hope. Once again, my party politics forced me to proceed with caution, but I was too curious — and optimistic — not to ask. “So, what do you think?”

My mom paused, then offered a frown. “He’s your president.”

“He’s everyone’s president,” I said.

“Then he should act like it.”

I couldn’t agree more, but I was handcuffed. The closet made me say things I didn’t truly believe. I responded, “He’s busy fighting the Russians. What do you want him to do?”

My mom shook her head. “Help.” It was a simple word. Help.

My mom’s answer surprised me. Personal responsibility had been her mantra. She’d always taught us to depend on ourselves. No hand-outs. But here she seemed to be saying it was okay to seek help from the government. In some cases, maybe even necessary. Was she re-evaluating the idea of welfare lines too? Was my independent mom becoming a bleeding-heart liberal?

Excerpted from Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant, to be published on Oct. 17, 2023 by Little, Brown & Company.

The Snow Globe

By Greg Herren

Santa, Dylan thought, certainly has a great six-pack.

He leaned against the bar and watched the so-called Santa with a slight smile. He wasn’t your average department store Santa, that was for sure.

The guy’s body was perfectly proportional and defined. His biceps and shoulders were thick slabs of muscle, every cord and fiber showing beneath his smooth, tanned skin. His chest was thick, the cleavage deep, his nipples the size of quarters. His waist was impossibly tiny, the crevices between his abdominal muscles deep enough for a finger to plunge inside up to the first knuckle. His legs were also thick, the muscles crisscrossed with ropy bulging veins. The obligatory long white-haired wig and the thick white beard and mustache hid his face, but unlike a traditional Santa, he wore a bikini made of crushed red velvet with glittery red sequins trimmed with green faux fir, the front connected to the back by large brass rings at his sides. His red boots shone, sparkling with red sequins and glitter, trimmed at the top with green velvet. Slung over his right shoulder was a red velvet bag, also trimmed with green faux fur. The,muscles in his right arm and shoulder bulged and flexed as he talked to a group of young twinks with poufy hair and obscenely slim hips Dylan didn’t know, maybe three or four feet down the bar from where he was standing.

Dylan wasn’t drunk — well, maybe just a wee bit tipsy. He was only on his third beer since getting to the party a little after eight, but the bartenders had poured free shots of some sort of tequila about an hour earlier. Maybe, he thought, watching Stripper Santa, this should be my last beer.

He hadn’t even planned on coming to the Pub/Parade Christmas party when he’d left work earlier — he hadn’t set foot in any of the bars in the Quarter since turning fifty. It was about then he’d noticed that his hair was not only graying but noticeably thinning on top — and where did all that forehead come from? He’d have sworn the lines etched on his face weren’t there the morning before. And despite still watching what he ate and thrice-weekly trips to the gym, a light paunch had started growing around his waist, just above the belt and right around his navel. Another morning as he stared at himself in the mirror it seemed like his entire body had started sagging, like elastic that had lost its snap.

He began noticing eyes from attractive guys just flitting over him before dismissing him as unworthy and moving on to the next guy. That last night he’d gone to Oz he’d stood in a corner watching the way he always had, when a cute little muscle boy with green eyes accidentally made eye contact with him and looked away quickly, like his retinas had scorched.

He hadn’t set foot in a gay bar since.

He hadn’t missed it, either.

But now he was surprised to find himself having a good time watching people and flirting a little with the bartender, who looked about fifteen but insisted he was in grad school at Tulane. The other strippers were dressed like muscle elves in green velvet or satin, and he’d even tipped one of the cuter ones a couple of bucks.

The younger Dylan would never have tipped a stripper—he’d always thought the guys who tipped were desperate and needy, only too happy to buy a moment of attention from a hot guy. But the elf had been sweet and made him laugh, so he gave him a few dollars before sending him on his merry way to spread Christmas joy.

But Stripper Santa was a different category entirely.

He’d never seen such a hot guy in a bar before — even when they’d brought in porn stars to “dance.”

He couldn’t stop his eyes from creeping back to Stripper Santa, hoping his stare would will him to come over.

He’d slip Santa a few dollars for sure.

Maybe even a five, if he could touch those oh-so-perfect pecs….

Dylan glanced at his watch. It was getting late, and he’d stayed longer than he’d planned.

The e-invite had been a surprise when it popped up in his inbox last week. He figured they must have used an old list to invite former Parade VIP members, as a way of saying: See, we haven’t forgotten you and oh by the way, could you maybe buy another VIP membership to our club? Still no cover for members on holidays, and remember, you can always skip the line and use the VIP entrance!

He closed the email, started to delete it but stopped. Every day since it arrived, he’d open it in the morning, look at the hot shirtless guy winking at the camera, read the words, see the times, and wonder if maybe he should go. Stop by for a drink or two?

When he’d left work that afternoon, he’d planned on just a regular night at home, maybe opening a bottle of red wine and streaming a bad movie on Netflix — something like Thor. Those movies weren’t good, but Chris Hemsworth made watching worthwhile.

He’d watch Chris Hemsworth change a lightbulb.

He looked back over at Stripper Santa, who’d moved on from the gaggle of twinks and was now talking to someone else, an older guy who looked vaguely familiar. When Dylan glanced over, Stripper Santa turned his head so that their eyes met.

Stripper Santa smiled beneath the fake beard, and his left eye closed in a wink.

Is he flirting with me? Dylan wondered, looking away quickly the way he always had when he’d met a stripper’s eyes.

He took another swig of his beer.

It had been a long time since someone had flirted with him. Did guys even flirt with each other in bars these days? Those last few times he’d gone out everyone in the bar just seemed glued to their phones, touching the screen, their faces eerily lit up blue from the its glow. Even now, glancing around, at least half the men at the party were looking down at the phone in their hands, rather than engaging with real, live people—not making eye contact, not flirting.

They might as well be at home, alone.

Get off my lawn.

Dylan turned to lean his back against the bar and stumbled a bit. Maybe I shouldn’t finish this beer, he thought with a laugh, but his house in the Marigny was a short walk—and no one ever got arrested for public intoxication in the French Quarter. Orleans Parish Prison wasn’t big enough to handle that many arrests.

He took another look around the bar.

The Parade was whored out in its best Christmas finery: an enormous fake silver tree in the corner, trimmed with white lights and yellow tinsel; the obligatory empty boxes beneath, gaily wrapped to give the illusion of presents waiting to be opened on Christmas morning; lighted plastic red bells flashing over the big doorways to the dance floor. Tinsel dripped from almost everything, and the railing outside on the balcony was entwined with blinking red and green lights.

The cheap sentimentality was revolting.

At least the deejay had remixed Christmas carols into gay dance music, which made them somewhat more palatable than the gag-reflex-inducing versions that had been playing in every damned store and every damned radio station since before Halloween.

The Goon

By Renee James

Not even twenty minutes later, Janet and Marvin, corner me in the kitchen. Janet launches into a long soliloquy about how terrified she is. I listen for a while, then cut her off. “Janet,” I say, “are you giving notice?”

Janet blushes, looks at her feet, looks up again, and nods her head.

“Yes, sorry Nikki. It’s just not worth the danger. I love it here, but this is getting scary. I think someone followed me again this morning.”

Janet is probably seeing boogey men behind every tree and under her bed, but there’s not much I can do to talk her out of it. I turn to Marvin. They’ve started dating in the past couple months. They’re probably living together. They’re white and straight, so they can quit and melt back into the untargeted population.

“Are you giving notice, too, Marvin?”

He nods his head. “Nikki,” he says, “she really was followed this morning.”

“Are you sure?” I feel a tingle of fear run through my body.

“I’m sure,” he says. “We both saw him. He wasn’t trying to hide.”

I ask what he looked like.

“He’s big, like the guy who jumped us last night, but more Nazi-fied” Janet says. She describes a burly, heavily tattooed guy wearing a MAGA hat, a leather vest adorned with an Iron Cross and swastika, and a sneering face.

While she’s talking, fires of rage begin building inside me, burning away my fears. I keep seeing Morgan’s battered face, and Little John’s cuts and bruises, and my staff abandoning the café, me unable to look in on my daughter because I have to run the shop, or me losing the business because I have to close to look in on my daughter.

“He was still out there ten minutes ago,” says Marvin, gesturing to the sidewalk outside.

I grab Marvin’s arm and pull him toward the back door. “Show me,” I say.

We dash out the alley to the street and look south. Nothing. We walk to the corner and look east. Marvin jumps back and pulls me with him.

“He’s on the other side of the street, Nikki. He’s sitting in the bus enclosure.”

I peek around the corner. Sure enough, there’s a man sitting in the Plexiglas shelter at the bus stop. I can’t see him very well from this distance, but he’s obviously large, tattooed and he’s wearing a red baseball hat backwards on his head. I should be afraid, and I am a little bit, but mostly as I stare at him, I envision driving a spear through his chest.

“Do you have a phone with you?” I ask Marvin. He nods that he does. “Good. Stay here and watch me. If World War III breaks out, call in the cavalry.”

Before he can say anything, I walk boldly to the intersection, wait for the light to change, and cross to the other side of the street. My heart is hammering inside my chest and I’m feeling a little short of breath because of my nerves. I know this is crazy, but it feels right. I walk casually toward the bus shelter, pulling my pepper spray from the pocket of my jeans as I go. When I get to the bus shelter, I uncap the can and palm it in my left hand.

The homicidal urge that propelled me this far seems to evaporate when I enter the bus shelter, but I’m committed. I sit beside the goon. A brief, sidelong glance confirms Marvin’s accusation: the man is a neo-Nazi gorilla from central casting. He’s large and thick with upper arms the size of my thighs, some of it pasty fat but plenty of it muscle — more than enough to deal with me. Shiny Nazi symbols dot his black vest, and he has Iron Crosses and swastikas prominently tattooed on his arms. He has a shaved head, a scowl, and a day’s growth of beard on his face. Stalking coffee shop workers is a tough business, what with the early hours and all.

He glances at me, just for a fraction of a second. As his eyes revert back to the café across the street, his lips curl into a sneer.

“Jesus Christ,” he says, “I thought this was a bus stop, not a drag bar.” His voice is clear and his diction is surprisingly precise.

“Disillusionment is everywhere today,” I reply. “Do you know what ‘disillusionment’ means?” My mouth is so dry I have trouble forming the words, but my rage hasn’t abated.

He looks at me, his sneer deepening. “It’s what happens when you find out a white man with all the advantages turns out to be a fucking queer.”

“Or when you find out a white man with all the advantages turns out to be a brain-dead thug,” I say, returning his stare.

A woman from the neighborhood approaches the bus stop. She glances into the shelter, sees us jawing at each other, and positions herself outside, at the curb.

The Nazi stares at me, his mouth forming a cruel smile, his eyes blazing into mine.

“What you got in your hand, queenie?” he taunts. He nods toward my left hand which is tucked against my thigh, just out of his field of vision.

“I have the end of your life in that hand,” I tell him.

He laughs. The woman on the curb turns nervously to look at us. “I’ll give you this,” he says. “You have more nerve than any pervert I’ve ever met.”

“And you’re the first Nazi I’ve met who has an intellect superior to a toad,” I reply. “But that doesn’t mean you’re smart.”

His face turns deadly serious. “I’m trying to decide whether to crush your pansy-ass body here or wait until I can take my time with you.”

“A coward like you will wait until you can sneak up on a victim,” I say. “If you tried something now, you’d have the disillusioning experience of getting the shit beat out of you by a drag queen.”

His face breaks into a sarcastic smile. His lips tighten into taut rubber bands, his teeth clench and he seems to be holding his breath. I’m tense, too, my peripheral vision locked in on his body, ready at the slightest movement of either hand to swing my pepper spray into his face and let go a blinding blast,

He exhales loudly. The cruel smile returns. “You’re right,” he smirks. “Why take you out here when I can wait and really enjoy it later.” He stands and starts to leave.

“Hey, Adolf,” I call, stopping him. “Leave my people alone or I’m going to inflict more pain on your body than you ever thought possible.”

He leaves, laughing loudly. I watch him go, unsettled by the encounter. The way he talked and acted, he seemed educated and intelligent, a terrifying combination. I’d been counting on him being as stupid and arrogant as the alley guy had been.

Excerpted from BeatNikki’s Café, released in June by Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books.

Red Clay Suzie

By Jeffrey Dale Lofton

A boy’s first car was a rite of passage, and I wanted it. I wanted the freedom a car would provide and tried the feeling on as a way to get used to it, willing my birthday closer. I imagined Knox as he charged down the road all those days I hid, watching in secret from the trees. We could use my car now sometimes instead of his.

The GTO was a sanctuary; time was on hold whenever we were in it. No matter where we headed, it was the best time of the week. “Let’s go get a hamburger at the trolley.” “Let me give you a driving lesson in the Colonial parking lot after they close.” “Let’s go see who’s out fishing.” “Let’s get Big Chick.” He always had someplace in mind. I thought he had the most active imagination, never taking a breath before coming up with something to do. But I wanted to spend some time with him in the Bug so that I’d have the memory of it, even when we weren’t together.

“You want to put seats in the hood?” he asked.

“Yeah, just a couple of seats.”


“‘Cause then…” I couldn’t tell him that I wanted to drive up to the edge of the lake and sit there next to him and hold his hand while the sun went down over the tops of the pine trees.

“‘Cause then…then there’s a place to sit,” I explained.

“Yeah, that’s what seats are for,” Knox, laughing a little.

“But we can drive right up to the lake and have a place to sit when we fish.”

“It’s prob’ly easier to just take a couple foldin’ chairs.”

“Anybody can do that. I want a loveseat.”

“A loveseat?” he repeated.

Quickly adding, “That’s what they call two seats scrunched together. It’d have to be scrunched since it’s a tight space.” That was so stupid of me to call it a loveseat.

“Where you going to get the seat?”

“I don’t know. There anything out here in the junkyard?”

He looked out the door into the yard, having never scanned the wrecks needing two small seats. “Um…hmm.”

“Even a couple of old milk crates would work,” I apologized for even suggesting it.

“No, that’s no good. Your butt’ll be asleep inside twenty minutes.” “It can be last. The important thing is to get the car road ready.” “I’ll think about it,” he promised.

“Knox, I really appreciate you helping me get the Bug fixed up.”

He was so good to me. He spent all his free time helping me fix it up. When it was done and I was sixteen, I could really drive it on the road beyond the few hundred feet of road between his driveway and mine. But that little stretch of road where I struggled to have enough space to get it into second gear felt like flying around the globe on a solo mission. I thought I had really accomplished something monumental. There was no lifeline between his drive and mine. If I broke down, I’d have to get it a few hundred feet to my yard. I was an astronaut on the dark side of the moon, a solo pilot over the Atlantic, a grown-up out on my own.

It was hot outside, the worse kind of hot. The red clay dried out into hard crackled cakes in the driveway, ground to a fine dust under the weight of tires. It was so hot the dust felt liquid under bare feet. A fine orange dust climbed up each foot and ended in a sharp line around the ankles, marking how far the foot dragged forward through the dry, dirty slop before it plopped down again. Feet that enjoyed the dry, red clay dust would turn a bath into a deep red soup almost immediately. A favorite end to a hot summer day, stomach full on yellow tomato, white bread, and mayonnaise, was to step into the bath slowly. The tie-dye swirl slowly emerged, proof that the day had really happened.

I didn’t know it then, but fascination with how dirt could color water was a sign that I was still, in some ways, a little boy.

“Let’s go swimming,” Knox said.

I avoided swimming because it’s a shirts-off activity. So I said, “I don’t swim.”

“I’ll teach you,” he offered.

“That’s okay.”

“Everyone needs to know how to swim.”

“I know how. I just don’t.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Um…water gets in my ears,” I replied.


“They don’t really work,” I countered.

“Come on, Keebler, it’s so hot.”

“You go, I’ll stay here. I’m not that hot.”

“Okay…you don’t have to get in, but you’re coming along. Let’s go.”

With that, he pulled me out the door by the hand and then guided me toward the woods, his hand on the small of my back.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re not the only one who sneaks around in the woods, Keebler.” Knox raised his eyebrows and smiled.

“I don’t sneak.”

“Uh, yeah, you do.”

How did he know? Had he seen me sneak into the yard?

“It’s no big deal. Come on.”

And we set off through the pines in the opposite direction from my house. I followed. He was fast, moving in a straight line, right through the briars and over fallen trees. He’d go right through a thick bush rather than step five feet in either direction. Not me. I ducked under limbs and found the cleanest path to get to my destination. It took me a full ten minutes to get from my backyard to the fence separating the woods from his junkyard. If the woods were razed, it would be a two-minute walk.

I followed him down a steep but not deep gully and into a mostly dried-up creek bed. Then we turned and were in the open, the sun suddenly making us squint after having been in the cool shade of the piney woods. A beautiful, dark green lake spread out with woods on all sides.

“See that little dark opening?” he asked, pointing across.


“That’s over next to Raleigh Road. I like to come through the woods because there’s never anybody over on this side, but if I drive, that’s where I come through. There’s sometimes folks fishing or drinking.”

He sat down on the bank. “Damn, should’ve brought some Coke.” And he started to pull off his shoes. “Let’s go in.”

“No,” I said, way too abruptly.

“You don’t have to put your head under.”


“Well, okay,” he said finally.

I felt so stupid, like a six-year-old who needs to go to the bathroom but won’t ask for a hall pass. Before I lost my courage, I admitted, “I don’t want to take my shirt off,” thinking the only thing worse than telling him about my deformity was to leave him thinking I was a total weirdo.


“I just…I’ve never done that. It’s because my….”

“Keebler, it’s no problem.”

Then, before I could talk myself out of it, I took off my shirt, my chest fully exposed in the sunlight. I just stood. “See?”

He didn’t talk. He just stared. My teenage fantasy was looking at what I spent hour after hour trying to hide.

Say something, I thought.

“Does it hurt?”

“Only when you don’t touch it,” I said without thinking.


“Nothing. Forget it.”

I’d never felt more exposed than I was right then, shirt off with my white, pasty, skinny, malformed bird chest in full view of the boy I loved. I didn’t even know if he liked boys, much less freaky me. The sun hurt so much because I couldn’t hide. I hated this moment. I couldn’t hide, and I couldn’t take it back for it never to have happened. Why didn’t I show him at dusk when he couldn’t see so clearly?

The cavity in my chest, already a smaller space than my heart needed to function, felt more compressed and restricted than usual. Just like the garbage room walls closed in on Han Solo and Princess Leia. Or maybe my heart was just growing, overfilled with love.

But I cherished this moment as much as I hated it. I think I’d die if I had to keep up the secret for much longer. If I dropped dead or if I lived, at least I’d never hide from him again. But it hurt so much, both the blood-pumping heart in my chest and in my feeling heart, the one I wanted to give to him. Was I going to die right there in front of him? If I didn’t take this chance now, I never would. If he didn’t reject me after seeing my half-sunken chest, I could trust him — could believe anything that happened after that.

I couldn’t face him, couldn’t look at him. He stared at me, but I couldn’t look back. As embarrassing as it was, as much as I wanted to trade bodies with anyone who was normal, the pain was not because I was disfigured, and all my organs were fighting for room. I ached because someone finally saw me.

Excerpted from Red Clay Suzie, published by Post Hill Press.

Hunts Point

By Charles Rice-Gonzalez

I’m getting the fuck out of Hunts Point.

This Bronx neighborhood is like a neglected orphan with a torn shirt and dirty knees, except there’s no “¡Ay bendito!” for Hunts Point. Nobody cares about it, not even the people who live there.

It’s 2008 and the gutter is still strewn with the used condoms left by prostitutes and their johns. The air reeks from all the waste transfer stations, garbage barges, and industries that strangle the peninsula’s perimeter. It’s impossible to power wash the decades of dirt and grime that have seeped into the brick and mortar of its buildings. The sidewalks are cracked and crippled. This is not a neighborhood that has the nostalgic charm of “old New York,” it’s just old.

The storefronts have cheap signs with missing letters that have never been replaced. The pizza shop has had the same stools since it opened in 1968. The laundromat machines work but the place itself needs a couple of wash cycles. The bodega owners have mopped out the color from the linoleum floor tiles and keep faded WIC posters and beer ads taped to their windows. The 99-cent stores are on every block and their insides look like the merchandise was vomited onto the shelves, countertops and boxes. The smell of ammonia in the health clinic reception area assaults the residents who wait eternities to see a doctor. The supermarkets barely pass sanitary inspections, and their produce looks like it was scavenged from dumpsters.

I’m embarrassed to tell people I come from this place.

Also, Hunts Point is decidedly not gay. There are no rainbow flags or gay parades. The bars are all titty bars, where only women dance, and men shove stiff bills into their grungy G-strings. The local record shop doesn’t carry electronica, disco or even Madonna — just straight-up hip hop, salsa and merengue. There are no lattes or mocha anythings. The restaurants don’t serve brunch.

Growing up, I’d look out my second story apartment window on Garrison Avenue and see the same ol’ thing — auto glass shops with façades painted bright colors to hide their filthy insides and their macho workers constantly screeching “Auto Glass! Auto Glass! Auto Glass!” while racing up and down the street trying to lure customers into their shops. Out on the corner, guys are always drinking Hennessey and shootin’ the shit, while old men sit on plastic milk crates in front of bodegas or play dominoes on card tables. These men are all ghetto gatekeepers who enforce their narrow-minded street codes with stares and comments. Any sexy woman is their prey. “Hey, Mamita! Why you walkin’ so fast?”

And I got teased a lot.

“Hey, you stupid little faggot. Going to the store for Mommy?” The “faggots” escalated to shoulder bumps, shoves and a couple of times I got punched in my head. The old men looked the other way or sometimes laughed along with the guys. As a child I cried, but by the time I was eleven, I’d had enough crying.

I quickly grew a pair of balls and began answering back with a “fuck you” or by unfurling at them my neatly clipped middle finger. They’d just laugh, knowing full well that they held all the cards to the South Bronx macho game. And the teasing and threats never ceased.

Originally, when my mother and I moved to Hunts Point, it was supposed to be for a couple of months until she got herself together. My dad dumped us and left back to Puerto Rico. At the time, my mother was working in a factory in Hunts Point and a co-worker told her of the apartment. That was 15 years ago when I was five.

Now, my mom loves it here. She says that she has everything she needs. She shops, works and chills in Hunts Point. She refers to everyone here as “her people.” It’s not always easy but if some asshole tries to start shit, she will nip it in a flash. I do love seeing her move through our streets as if she’s a diva giving runway, even if she’s just going to the bodega. Her hair is always on point and every thread is in place. She considers Hunts Point her home. But I don’t. I tried to find something to love here besides her.

I loved Chulito a few summers ago. He was so fine. And although we both grew up here, unlike me, he was the personification of Hunts Point — tough with a “don’t fuck with me” attitude. He also had a softness that he tried to hide the way he’d shove his mass of soft curly hair under his Yankee baseball cap. Chulito’s clothes and style flowed out the rhythms of the rap music he cherished, and his life philosophies braided with those of Big Pun, Fat Joe and Notorious B.I.G. I was never into rap, but I was into him and so got wrapped up in rap, too. I was just 17 and hoped that we’d be together forever. But things changed between us.

But today, Memorial Day 2008, marks the beginning of my Escape from Hunts Point Plan which could only be better if I hit the lottery. I’ve graduated with my degree in journalism and begin my job at The Daily News at the end of the summer. I still need to find an apartment, but soon I’ll be looking out a different window. And my view may be a brick wall, but it will be a brick wall in Chelsea or the East Village, and rest assured there won’t be an auto glass worker in sight.

Compared to the years of hell I suffered living here, waiting till the end of this summer is just purgatory. I just have to stomach the soiled streets, suffocating smells, simple-minded auto glass workers and all the macho fucks in Hunts Point for three more months, then I’m getting the fuck out.


“Auto Glass!” “Auto Glass!” “Auto Glass!”

Those cries rain down like poisoned darts. Piercing my ears and head. Shoulders and back. Chest and heart. Mixing into my blood. Poisoning me. Killing me. Slowly.

I’m back in Hunts Point and I want to tell my friend Andrew to keep driving, but I don’t know where he could take me. I wish I could just go to his home in Stamford, Connecticut.

The first time he gave me a ride home at the end of our freshman year at college I felt ashamed of my neighborhood. Ashamed that he’d see the people sitting in front of their buildings instead of taking their beach chairs to a park a few blocks away. Lazy fucks. Ashamed that his ears would be attacked by the boom of rap music vibrating out of cars, and the sting of salsa and the frenzy of merengue cacophonously coming out of every apartment window. Hasn’t anyone in Hunts Point ever listened to the peace of Bach or the floated on notes from Miles Davis’ horn?

I hated that Andrew would see those annoying auto glass workers who’d take one look at his cut-off shorts and sneer “fag,” and he’d see them always sweeping down on cars like a bunch of dirty pigeons fighting over a crusty piece of bread.

“Auto Glass!” “Auto Glass!” “Auto Glass!”

Three auto glass workers race toward us. Can’t those idiots see that there is nothing wrong with this car? No cracked windshields or broken headlights. It’s new. It’s clean. It’s white.

Mother’s Day Triptych

By Carla Rachel Sameth

I. Photo

The picture is of my son, Raphael, as a newborn. The bright royal blue color of the onesie complements his looks. Like now, his look is racially and culturally ambiguous, similar to the rest of our family. His eyes dark-dark almost black, his hair barely curly, brownish, which will get darker and thicker and curlier as he grows. At birth, there is a bit of blond. Like me. For a second. Family lore has it that my mom called out when I was born, “Oh my God, the Milkman, a blond” in a family of dark haired olive skinned people. My hair got darker later too, but I never turned as dark as my siblings, who are closer to Raphael’s color. Later he will more closely resemble my dad at the same age. His skin grows into a beautiful brown café au lait kind of color. His nose, “strong” with high cheekbones, a possible look of Ethiopian, Afro-Latino, Middle Eastern, African American. Or maybe Jewish, “They just want to know if you’re Jewish,” my mom always said. And the reality is that, we Jews come in all colors, from many different countries.

I once had to explain this to Raphael’s high school math teacher who asked him to draw a pie chart of where he was from. “Just help me do it,” he said, impatient. Instead I emailed his teacher explaining that the very history of African Americans and Jews makes it difficult to do this assignment. Raphael is an Afro-Jew.

As a newborn, he looks quizzical as if he can’t quite decide whether to be in this world or not. He peers at us, his parents, with a suspicious looking glance that suggests that he feels little confidence that these people can care for him in the outside world. We struggle to swaddle or change a diaper. He came into this world seeming to want to crawl back into the womb.

I, however, was smitten. The connection I felt when I held him in my arms is the same feeling I want to evoke with the tattoos we get one Mother’s Day when he is twenty-two. I know it sounds a bit like the identically dressed mother-daughter punk rockers we made fun of “back in the day” (not in front of them, of course), who showed up in court when I worked for the Family Violence unit at the Seattle City Attorney’s office. But yes, we’re getting matching Celtic tribal type symbols of mother and son.

This tattoo is better than if I branded him at birth with “I love my mom” on his butt and watched it grow. Here is the mom holding the baby, so symbolic many people can’t tell what it is if they don’t look at the exact right angle. The tattoo artist adds a little dot for the heart, beating. When I see my tattoo or his, all the shit storms of anxiety I experience sometimes float away like dust into the air, and I’m solid.

II. Object

When my son is little, we gather smooth white stones to skip. Only the good ones work for us, but the other ones still feel comforting, nestled in our palms.

When he is 14 he asks me why we stack stones on the graves of our loved ones and writes a story about zombies to explain it, after my dad’s unveiling. A year after someone dies, in Jewish tradition, you gather together for the “unveiling” of the tombstone. Stones are placed around it when you visit. A prayer is said. A meal is usually partaken.


My son is in not yet twenty-one. My wife and I get married in the fall before I go with her on a Coast Guard deployment to Connecticut. She is my second wife, my third marriage; the first was to my son’s dad. A year before, knowing my son loved her and said she was a “bad ass,” I still decided we needed to wait. Even though I sometimes thought, How could I let this one get away?, I resisted a quick lesbian U-Haul move-in or marriage. When I told him, my son understood. He knew why I said, “I have to get it right. We’ve seen too many losses, have to make sure this one takes. She is too controlling sometimes.”

That’s how I felt then. I have learned that for her, what feels controlling at times to me, equals keeping me safe, equals love. And her love for me is unequivocal. A generous, loyal type of love I’d vowed never to walk away from if I found it again. I’d once had this with my big-hearted boyfriend Henry in Seattle. But not being ready yet, I ran. The safety I would long for later, felt at the time, claustrophobic. His big Filipino family and my big Jewish family felt like too many demands and too much familiarity. Later I missed their constant embrace, and our sprawling extended families.

One day, I drive to Moonstone Beach about an hour from where my wife is temporarily stationed in Connecticut with the Coast Guard. A friend, Katya, has asked me to bring her back a moonstone, so I go on a grim, rainy spring day to gather these mythical stones. “These stones are magical and each one means something different,” a grainy old woman on the beach tells me. They are smooth and tenderhearted stones and I gather up a sackful.

This is the first time in my adult life that I don’t have to work for an extended period of time. That I am not working, studying or mommying, but am gifted this time to write or recuperate from life, to binge watch Marc Maron and Orange is the New Black and eat rocky road ice cream with my wife. I gain so much those six months away while my wife is on a temporary deployment. Including about ten pounds. She works on the base and I have my repose, my sabbatical. But what is lost at the end of those six months?

On our trip back to the West Coast across Canada, just before we enter the long ride through the Canadian prairies, I hear my wife and son scream at each other on speakerphone; he is across the country in California. “Stop yelling at me,” he shouts as she blows up, telling him what it is he hasn’t done. I am undone.

“I told you to get the paperwork…you can’t drive my car without it!” She’s given her car to my son but he needs to transfer it to his name, his own insurance, and he isn’t moving fast enough. We are moving, in our car, in Canada; he is driving her car in Los Angeles. I am petrified. Like wood. I have nothing to grasp a hold of.

As I scream, and plug my ears, an ancient response to trauma, she shouts, “I’m done with you both.”

I can’t reconcile that image with the loving family I thought I’d finally got, after this, after that. I can’t even list all that was lost in previous versions of blended and unblended family. I am deposited with my suitcase by the side of the road. I crawl into the overgrown brush past a train track, and dry-swallow a handful of Ativan, phone dead. My wife drives away. And comes back. I pee.

I wonder how I went from holding that blue-shirted, dark-eyed baby in the picture, to me standing in the middle of knee-high weeds in the Canadian Prairie. I comfort myself singing old Hebrew melodies from Shabbat at the Jewish Socialist camp I once went to, though I don’t think it is Friday night. My wife has pulled back up by the side of the road, waiting for me. I don’t remember how I get back in the car, but I end up inside. She must have put the seat belt on me.

I have few memories of the next three days. The handful of pills took care of that. “Tell me that you’ll fix this with him, you’ll apologize, you’ll make it right, swear to it,” I say in between dozing.

“Yes, yes, I told you I will.” She keeps driving.

Over the next years, I try to retie the knot, to imagine a world without ruptures. Me, my son, my wife, his step-mom.


One night when we are back home, I fall asleep after a rough night with my wife, a fight that guts and exhausts us, until all we can do is spoon, and in my free hand I hold that stone; the other hand holds her breast, as always. Each time I wake up, the moonstone is still clenched in one hand (her breast in the other).

III. Place

It’s The Point. The Point on Gabriola Island, BC, where I went when I was a teenager, to the Jewish socialist (Habonim) camp run like a kibbutz. They taught us Marxism and labor history. Every Friday night we’d clean up real good, wearing our best clothes. The Point was where you walked hand in hand with your best camp friends, to whom you’d told your whole life story, and maybe you got to walk arm in arm with the guy you had the crush on, who might someday kiss you. Or not. It’s the music that comforted me for years that I sang to myself when violent screaming from family or boyfriends, a husband or a wife pierced my heart that I thought was finally safe. Those Shabbat melodies.

“I like the tunes” one old Jewish man, highly secular said to his daughter, the red diaper baby. I, too, like the tunes. They rock me and wrap me with a warm, slightly sour milk-smelling blanket like the one I wrapped my child with. I sang lullabies as I rocked with him each night, so tired I believed that the next day would be better, but nothing would be as good as that moment, his lips to my breast, his soft sucking sounds and sighs, me falling asleep with him in the rocker. Our breath together, like the Spanish and English that mixed where I couldn’t tell which language I dreamt in or spoke in, I couldn’t tell where he left off and I began.


My son is almost fully cooked now. Twenty-three years old. A young man that towers over me and says, “Mom I love you so, so much!” We are tethered, sometimes infecting the other with our anxiety or our worries. But we can talk about it, this transmutation of pain. And now we’re marked irrevocably with our matching tattoos, my shoulder, his forearm.

My wife spoke to me about possibly getting a tattoo for the first time, a matching one with me, but quickly lost interest. The money, the time, not a priority. We talked about a vine, perhaps a bougainvillea or an orchid that would stretch from one part of my body to hers. A shoulder to a thigh.

I long for something that will somehow bind the three of us together, me, my wife, and my son. They seem to be less attached to the idea, this desperate need of mine to find a container for the three of us that is safe, strong, undivided. They appear to accept the occasional bumpiness of their relationship in a way I struggle to, since I still cling to safe harbor, a place like The Point where ocean waves give the sense of calm, with their consistent return.

My son has told me that he is glad that my wife and I have found each other, knowing that I am taken care of. And my wife knows that the love between my son and me burns fierce and constant. Perhaps the thread that holds us together is their unyielding love for me. And mine for them. That is the place we will live in.

Originally published in MUTHA Magazine, May 24, 2019.


By Addie Tsai

Because Pine and I banded together against the world, I did not come of age in the gender binary world that you and all other welcome bodies are accustomed to. As Pine taught me to read and write, he also gave me what neither you nor my father, if father he could be called, could give — a name that befit my particular way of being. The name that he gave me came out of his understanding and love of all that I was, but the occasion that caused for me to finally possess my own name was born of such torment as you will never experience.

On this particular afternoon Pine had gone to scavenge for supplies and soup when I began feeling feverish from a cold after a few days of hard rain. The rain had let up at this point, and so, bored and curious as young children can often be, I began to explore the woods a bit more than I tended to do while Pine was watching over me. I took a stick with me and a handful of small pebbles so that I could trace a line in the dirt and drop the pebbles where I wandered so that I could easily find my way back to our shoddy and makeshift camp. I discovered a small stream that cut through the woods I had never seen before, as I had never traveled this far away since Pine had first discovered me next to that tree.

I leaned over the cold stream to run my hands through the water, excited at a new sensation. I was, perhaps, seven years old at this point, and although I had some innate sense that I was growing larger more quickly than seemed expected—Pine was having to frequently find ways to replace my torn and tattered clothes, and figure out different strategies to keep my feet protected — this was the first time that I could remember being faced with my own reflection. It is no understatement to say that the face that stared back at me in the folds of blue absolutely terrorized and frightened me.

At first, I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The monstrous figure, shadowy but clear enough to discern its hideousness, couldn’t possibly be my own reflection! I whipped my head around, hoping I would see another figure behind me, one that could account for what I confronted, but I was alone. I didn’t interact enough with others to understand what beauty was exactly, but I had read enough in all of the books that Pine foraged for me that I was not filled with any sense of peace or comfort at finally glimpsing my own lopsided face, the grotesque proportions of my body, or the strange copper hair that covered every inch of my skin.

I fixated on the image that stared back at me for so long that I lost track of time, my hysterical tears falling down my threadbare clothes and dropping into the water below, the thing responsible for the sight of ugliness. Finally, Pine found me — I suppose he followed the line I cut into the dirt so that I could find my way back home. It did not take him long to figure out what had happened, as he noticed my expression, holding the depths of pain I felt at viewing how wretched I imagined I looked to all others. He held me for a long time, saying nothing at all, and for this I will always be grateful, for he knew there were no words of denial of my worst thoughts he could say to appease me.

After I had cried all the tears left in me, at least on that day, he sat me down and spoke with me about what he had been able to find out about where I had come from.

“I have waited many years to tell you who it is you come from, because I wanted to be sure, and because I wanted you to be old enough to understand the complexities of your birth. Your story is not like the others,” Pine started, holding my hand as we sat on the hard plain ground beneath us. Although I felt comforted by his touch, as I always did, I knew it came with something dark and terrible that I would need to be comforted for, and so therefore, his touch frightened me.

“Before I give this to you, I want to tell you the story. I want it to come from someone who loves you. These people who are responsible for your birth. These people do not matter anymore. I love you, and you are safe. And that is all that matters. Your parents are both scientists, and although they are not related, they lived together in the same family for many years. The woman who carried you does not share your DNA, but she would have been a loving parent to you, if she could have found it within herself to care for you. I think, based on this letter, that she would have. She died during complications of childbirth. Many people in the world get hung up on ambition. They lose sight of what’s important.” He stroked my long, greasy hair, and cupped his hand around the back of my neck. “You have always been such a treasure to me. If you know anything, know that.”

This letter told me the entire story of how I was conceived, and who I was conceived of, and the doctor that had delivered me. I learned that I lived with a condition called gigantism, due to a genetic mutation that came from both you and my father. It was this day I learned who you were, that you that were responsible for the source of my repugnance, and for why I had been abandoned, to be left to die all alone.

In this letter, she mentioned your calalai, a word I had never heard before, but I was intrigued by. I also didn’t know that I was part Malay and Chinese, and that my grandmother had grown up in Indonesia. It gave me great happiness to learn where I was from. Pine used this conversation as an opportunity to talk about what it meant to be male and female, and how Pine had learned long ago to reject the constraints of societal dictates of gender and race, and everything else in between. Pine offered me a name to hold onto, like a kind of home where none could be found. Not for someone like me. Not for someone like Pine. He asked how I felt about the name Ash. Pine explained how the word signified both the body of a tree and also the absence of it, but also that he’d read once that ash trees were at once male and female, flower and tree.

It was perfect. Not only did I feel it connected to my split and liminal nature, but I loved it for its connection to the only person who had ever loved me. It would always remind me of Pine, the only family I’d ever hoped to find. From that point on, I had a name to call my own, a name to remind me of where I came to live, in the middle of the woods, and where I first found love. I had hoped that I could live with Pine forever, but I would soon discover that my mutant body and self would keep me from that constant, too.

Together we found a suitable singular pronoun that wasn’t gendered, one that came from my grandmother’s birthland of Indonesia, dia, which was used for either he or she. I liked the sound of it. I thought, if I ever were to be in a situation in which a pronoun would need to be used for me, if I ever became part of the world, it is the pronoun that I would desire to be called. It felt perfect given my dual-gendered self, and my thinginess. I told Pine this immediately. He only smiled and assured me that if there was ever a need for him to refer to me in the third person, he would make sure to address me in the way I desired.

As I was reading about your calalai, I came across the word bissu, which technically translates to transvestite priest, but which has evolved over the modern age to describe someone who is intersex, or even metagender. When Pine and I read about bissu, we both looked at one another in the same moment, and we knew. This was me. I rolled the word around on my tongue, smiling at a word that fit me so, feeling squishy and soft in my body as I uttered it. And so, I tell you now, that my name is Ash, and I am a bissu, and I hope you can understand why, in all future cases both within my company and beyond it, I want to be referred to by the pronoun dia.

Excerpted from Unwieldy Creatures, Jaded Ibis Press, August, 2022.

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