Tag Archives: building community

Queer Memoir 50+ (with intergenerational speed friending!)

QUEER MEMOIR 50 PLUS 2 PT 0Queer Memoir is New York’s community based LGBT storytelling multi-venue series. This month’s theme is 50+ guest and this special event is being curated by Ryn Hodez and Stephanie Schroeder.

In addition to our storytelling, we’re adding something very special to this event: intergenerational speed friending, where LGBT people of one age can meet LGBT of a much different age, with the hopes of starting some lifelong friendships!


Queer Memoir 50+ YWCA OF BROOKLYN




DOMINIC AMBROSE was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1950. He is the author of two gay themed novels Nickel Fare, set in New York City in the 1970s and The Shriek and the Rattle of Trains, set in Romania in the 1990s. During his lifetime he has spent 14 years in Europe, living and working in such places as Berlin, Bucharest, Trieste and Paris. However, no matter where he has lived, he has always felt a member of the New York community and a part of its invisible diaspora. Presently, he lives in Staten Island, just above the harbor, and is dedicated to his writing and photography, and to working with other lgbt writers on memoir projects.

LISA E. DAVIS has lived in Greenwich Village for many years and loves to write about it. With a PhD in Comparative Literature, she worked for years in SUNY and CUNY, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, NYU. Her essays in North American, Latin American and European journals, and lectures in the US and abroad, explored diverse topics. Lately, her writing has appeared in anthologies and periodicals dedicated to LGBTQ culture, i.e., “The Butch as Drag Artiste: Greenwich Village in the Roaring Forties” in “The Persistent Desire. A Femme-Butch Reader” (Alyson, 1992), “Camp Good News,” in “Early Embraces II” (Alyson, 1999), and “Chagrin d’Amour,” in “Gazebo Connection” (Vancouver, BC, 2006). Her historical novel Under the Mink (Alyson, 2001), about drag queens and kings who worked in Village mafia-owned nightclubs of the 1940s, grew out of her long-time friendship with many of them. Her latest project is a non-fiction book with the working title The FBI’s Lesbian: Angela Calomiris in the American Communist Party, the true story of a notorious Village lesbian who worked undercover for the FBI in the CPUSA and testified at the first federal trial (1949) of the Party leadership.

RYN HODES is a late-blooming 56-year old Femme, third-generation New York lefty Jew, mother, lover, domestic violence advocate, martial artist, teacher, and survivor. She has been writing a memoir for ten years, and sends much appreciation to her writer’s group –Anne, Ilana, Judy, and Danielle.

CARY ALAN JOHNSON is an author and human rights activist, born and raised in Brooklyn. Cary has been active in LGBTQ politics since 1975, when at the age of 15 he joined Gay Youth of NYC. During the eighties he was instrumental in the founding of the Committee of Black Gay Men (CBGM), the Blackheart Collective, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and Other Countries: Black Gay Expressions. Cary’s work has appeared in Other Countries, the Road Before Us, the Greatest Taboo, In this Village, Gay Travels, the James White Review, the Agni Review, Changing Men, and Joseph Beam’s Brother to Brother. He is currently at work on a memoir.

BRENDA JONES has been a member of The Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn, NY since 1981, where she has been a student, volunteer, board member, karate and self-defense instructor, staff member, and member of various committees and anti-oppression groups. Currently, she is a senior self-defense instructor with “Power, Action, Change for Teens,” as well asworking at Safe Horizon Brooklyn Community Program. In her not-so-spare time she sews her own clothes, participates in various fat, queer, & POC activist movements and listens to Joe Jackson music (no, not the father of Michael!) while hanging with her cat, Ms. Liberation Jones (aka Libby).

EVA KOLLISCH was born in Vienna and is an American writer, literary scholar and specialist in German, as well as pacifist and feminist. In July 1939, she fled on a Kindertransport to the UK. In New York, Kollisch was active in the 1940s in the Workers Party. She studied German literature and science at Brooklyn College and later at Columbia University. Then she led, together with Gerda Lerner and Joan Kelly, a course for women’s studies at Sarah Lawrence College where she eventually became a professor and taught English, German, and comparative women literature. Kollisch published her first autobiographical novel in 2000: Girl in Movement. She is the 2012 winner of the Theodor Kramer Prize for her second autobiographical novel, The Ground Under My Feet.

NAOMI REPLANSKY is the author of Ring Song (1952), a nominee for the National Book Award; Twenty-One Poems, Old and New; and The Dangerous World: New and Selected Poems, 1934–1994. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies including No More Masks!, Against Infinity: An Anthology of Contemporary Mathematical Poetry, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust; Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies; and Poets of the Non-Existent City: Los Angeles in the McCarthy Era. Replansky’s recent Collected Poems won the 2013 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

NANCY RODRIGO: I’m a visual artist, queer, feminist activist, social worker, and mom. My son Jonathan is 28, now. Taking care of my own health has been the focus of my energy since I became permanently disabled in 2001 with the auto immune disorders. I’m happy and grateful for each day. I’m a proud Latina and Jewish-Buddhist butch lesbian, native New Yorker, domestic violence survivor, fierce proponent of universal health care and legalizing marijuana. I live with my partner, Janice and our cat Molly.

STEPHANIE SCHROEDER is a lesbian-feminist writer and activist based in Brooklyn. She is the author of the memoir, Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide. Her work has been anthologized in the classic queer anthology That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation as well as Up All Night: Adventures in Lesbian Sex, Hot & Bothered: Short, Short Fiction on Lesbian Desire (volumes 3 & 4) and other erotic anthologies. She was also an original reviewer for Erotic New York: The Best Sex in the City and has an essay included in the 2012 Lambda Literary nominated anthology, Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.

CHE VILLANUEVA is the author of Bulletproof Butches and Jessie’s Song. Hys work has also been published in numerous anthologies. Much of hys writing is based on people, places, and situations in hys life. Che is 61 and lives in Philadelphia, PA.

As we celebrate the vibrant lives, stories, and voices of queers over 50, we also acknowledge ageism, ableism, looksism, and other discriminatory ideas and practices that silence elders and often render older LGBTQ individuals and communities invisible.

5-10 sliding scale donation, no one turned away for lack of funds

Queer Memoir, One Year. Our Stories, Our Lives

I love this photo, twitpic’ed from our first event: Queer Memoir: FIRST KISS.  It was taken at intermission with my crappy camera phone. It’s so dark you can’t pick out individual faces, but can tell people are connecting. I wrote “Queer Memoir Intermission: Bliss.” One year later, I still feel the same way.

[Kelli shares her thoughts about Queer Memoir’s anniversary…]

So it’s been just over a year since we had our first Queer Memoir event at the beta version of Collect Pond. We had seating for a little over 30 and more than 100 people showed up. And stayed. And listened. We were amazed by the spirit of the storytellers and by the audience response. That night, as Genne and I unpacked our stuff from a friend’s car on Lincoln Road in Brooklyn, someone who was at the event recognized us and shouted out their car window “thanks for Queer Memoir. Thanks for the stories. I really needed to hear those tonight.”

I’m a slightly goofy looking, chubby genderqueer person. That’s NOT the kind of thing people I usually hear yelled out car windows. Genne and I looked at each other and knew we were on to something.

Since that time, we’ve curated 11 events in three states with 60 unique storytellers to an estimated audience of just over 1000. We’ve collaborated with five different organizations, hosted one guest curator and used six different venues. We’ve had audience members from as far away as Toronto for our NYC shows and we have a regular Philly to NYC following. We’ve had a number of collaborative storysharings, including two set to music!

Our storytellers have been brave and amazing: our Philly event included a storyteller who shared about why he didn’t like the word queer; in our sober event an ordained minister stood up, holding his bible in his hand and told the story of choosing between a boyfriend and crack.

Our family-themed event was especially poignant. One couple shared how they had fought through their own difficult upbringing to start a family that included multiple teenagers from the foster care system, Genne’s (straight) dad and my (straight) sister traveled from Philly to NYC to share on stage with us. We explored what it means not only to be gay in a straight family, but to be a straight person interacting with the queer community. One storyteller shared an extremely difficult childhood experience and then asked “how do you turn around these moments?” the answer was “make a new memory, by sharing here, with people you love.” I can’t even write about that moment without getting choked up a little. As intense as these kind of stories sometimes are, they’re often very funny as well since the most difficult of human experiences are often the most absurd also.

It’s not just been the storytellers that have been amazing: the audiences that we’ve drawn have given me real hope for the queer communities. Due to broken air conditioning at the venue, the temperature at the July Sober-themed event (guest curated by Cheryl B) topped over 100 degrees. Despite this, more than 75 percent of the attendees stayed for the entire event. At every salon, the response to the very real sharing is warm and gracious and I often see strangers grabbbing and hugging storytellers (consensually I am sure) after the event.

Although Genne and have discussed it at length, I can’t say that we understand exactly, why this event has been successful in this way. Part of it, I’m sure, is timing.  Certain types of LGBT people are more prominent in media representation, but it’s become grossly obvious that it will still be a long time before queer stories, told by queer folks, with queer roles played by actual queer people will be commonplace. Hey, maybe we’re not satisfied with a storyline about a trans guy played by some Hollywood-type “beautiful” female with a penciled on mustache. Maybe we want to hear real stories. How about that!

I’m not so humble that I would omit Genne and I as part of the equation. I think it works that we’re both (as I was once called by a theater critic) “terminally earnest” and that we are willing to work with folks who are inexperienced. We often sit down with nervous storytellers and talk them through how to tell their stories and have been known to (lovingly of course) harass people into sharing. I think having both a “regular person” (Genne) and a performer (that’s me) on stage also reassures inexperienced storytellers. Our skill sets are complementary: I’m good with social media and getting the word out, but collaborative stuff we’ve done with other organizations has been all Genne’s doing: she speaks that arts education language fluently and doesn’t mind going to long meetings.

Although we say that Queer Memoir is for “writers, performers, and anyone with a queer story to tell”we are also aware that we’re only hearing a tiny fragment of the queer stories there are to hear. All our events have been in urban areas. Seldom do we have a storyteller sharing who is over age 60. We’ve heard from few storytellers whose first language was not English, and although presenting a wide range of voices is one of our highest priorities in choosing our line-ups, we’re also acutely aware we have a long way to go with that. We’re taking steps to address these challenges in the upcoming year and to expand the “preserving and documenting our complex queer history” part of our mission as well.

This past twelve months have been challenging for me personally, but Queer Memoir is one of the things I’ve done this year that I’ve been most proud of. It’s not just that I’m proud of what Genne and I have built, although it’s been some hard-ass work. I’m also proud of our storytellers who have shared in such an amazing, open and sometimes hilarious way. And I’m proud of the queer community for so enthusiastically supporting an event that is not about glitter, or drinking or house music or even, exactly, politics but instead simply consists of the sacred but not always glamorous act of telling and listening to our own stories.

PS our next event is February 26 in NY. All the details are here.