Exiliado: Notes on Queer Joy

Jonathan Pizarro
5 min readFeb 11, 2022

Towards the end of last year, I co-hosted a writing course with poet, writer and academic Emma Filtness. A collaboration between the LGBTQ+ writing platform Out on the Page and the Modernist Society, the course aimed to inspire works that would then be included in an anthology. It takes a very Queer village.

That anthology is now out in the world, via a process of collaboration that may seem small in its scope but to me feels transformative. And the title of the anthology, Queer Writing for a Brave New World, sums it up beautifully.

What struck me the most in the process of working with talented Queer creative people, at every step of the process, was its sheer joy. Stories of imagined bright futures where the border is dragged to the centre. Where we, as Queer people, are not begging for bread scraps and seats at the table. We are baking our own bread and building our own tables. Permission be damned. Narratives around how we navigate the world around us and the spaces we create to exist in, as places of refuge and comfort, and yes, of joy.

Joy can often be overlooked on all sides when it comes to Queerness. Detractors depict us as monsters, of somehow lacking in the qualities of humanity, or as objects of pity. Even those who sometimes wish to portray the Queer experience are easily stuck in the shallows, like giving someone a same-sex partner is somehow enough. And there’s plenty of tragedy to wallow in, often for the sake of plot development or triggered emotional response.

And yes, there are plenty of difficult stories that need telling. For too long we have been erased from history. Our agency taken away from us. That the general population knows what Stonewall is, and possibly even who someone like Marsha P Johnson is, is a relatively new concept. And not exactly one being taught in schools, despite what media outrage or token rainbow flag fanfare once a year from corporations may tell you.

Tides also change. It’s a Sin was a particular hit, the realities of the Queer experience during the AIDS crisis in the UK finally brought to light. Similarly, the American show Pose revelled in ballroom culture while highlighting the difficulties of Queer people during the same era. And often, networks can say they ticked the box. Audiences can say they watched the show or read the book. They have taken part in the education, the activisim, they have wallowed in the misery. How tough it all seemed. How much better it is now. How good and enlightened and better they feel for dedicating some time every week to this entertainment. And we can move back to period dramas or more superheroes or whatever trend will come next.

But joy, joy is a harder moment to capture. Queer Joy, particularly. You have to understand that the fact I am married feels like it may be taken away at any moment, dependent on the political whims of a people who have no business being so intimately involved in my life. That if I had been born a few years earlier, I would possibly be dead already. That when we go on holiday, we need to consider whether that country is accepting of us, that even in this supposedly ‘tolerant’ country, someone may have a problem with our double bed or our very existence. So even I often forget that through the challenges and the justified anger, we can also celebrate Queer Joy.

Queer Joy to me right now is in the pages of that anthology, the product of Queer people coming together to create something hopeful. It exists when I run a writing course and I see everyone sharing their stories and writing and having the courage to do it. Twitter has a bad reputation, but I receive messages about my work saying it spoke to them, that it has value. That in turn it means I have value, and the reader has value too.

Queer Joy is other writers sharing and retweeting and celebrating successes. It’s finding someone at work who realises you are like them, that there is someone who understands you and doesn’t simply consider you an object of sociological fascination. It’s coming home to your husband and watching TV before bed. It’s sharing a love of Wonder Woman and Neil Gaiman with a friend who just gets it. It’s not having to explain or fight or define. It’s a feeling of hope for tomorrow, a hope that it’s just as quiet and peaceful and wonderful as today.

I’ve written about growing up in Gibraltar and how alienated I was made to feel. But there were moments of Queer Joy there too. Flashes of moments with friends we somehow found shared our Queerness, like we were moths bumping into the same lightbulb. And we walked and laughed and joked and gossiped and longed together, and kept each other alive. And through the stretches of time that has existed, one long thread of survival, one long moment of sonrio para no llorar.

I am currently running a Queer short story course and every Thursday evening once a week, I go to bed glowing, with the satisfaction that I have fed my soul with Queer Joy. Devastating in its simplicity, we share smiles and jokes and stories, we work on understanding ourselves and each other through writing and discussion, and it all feels like a miracle. Queer Joy. Long may it last.

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Jonathan Pizarro

Queer Llanito writer exiled in London. Entre dos aguas. Fiction in Untitled:Voices, Fruit Journal & Emerge Literary Journal. Twitter: @JSPZRO