by Alice Bloch -
SGN Contributing Writer
UNMUTED: Stories of Courage and Resilience from the GenPRIDE Community
Published by GenPRIDE, 2020
For some books, context is irrelevant; for others, it's absolutely necessary. UNMUTED is in the second category. This slim volume is the result of a writing workshop taught by Ingrid Ricks under the sponsorship of GenPRIDE, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to improving the well-being of older LGBTQIA adults in this region. Workshop participants wrote and shared personal narratives about their most important life experiences, many of them difficult and painful, some joyous, some both. The feeling of a supportive community permeates the stories and makes the book greater than the sum of its parts.
A few of the narratives are about turning points in partner relationships. The one that stands out in my memory is the heartbreaking description by Steven Knipp (now Executive Director of GenPRIDE) of finding the body of his longtime partner, who had decided to end his own life before AIDS could rob him of control over his own destiny, in the bad old days when an HIV-positive diagnosis meant great suffering and imminent death. With devastating simplicity, Knipp writes, "Tom was everything to me; he was my first love and the man I trusted with my life. Now he was gone and I was next."
Some of the most moving narratives are not really about queer life. Amy D. Rubin's "Blood Sisters" is about her loving friendship with her straight "soul sister" Sooze, whom she met while both were steeling themselves to attend a meeting of a support group for people with ET, a rare blood cancer. Rubin's tale is full of humor and warmth, and like many of the stories in the collection, it is unflinching in its honesty.
Eric Pierre Carter's narrative "The Long Goodbye," about helping his mother live with Alzheimer's, is similarly big-hearted, mixing laughter and tears. Carter describes an incident in which his mother gets lost in a mall, and he is afraid to ask for help:
Maybe she went to the restroom&. When you're a large middle-aged black man, you don't blithely approach some unknown woman as she is coming out of a public bathroom, even to ask about someone fitting your mother's description.>
And who can resist a story like Nancy Kiefer's "Twenty-Third Street," with a second paragraph like this one?
I was seventeen years old when I was put on a train. I took with me my teenaged husband of two days, my daisy-flowered luggage, my hipster trench coat, my morning sickness, my cigarettes, a neatly packed shoebox of sandwiches and cookies my mother put together, my Illinois driver's license, and the linen dress with the Nehru collar I had worn to the chapel where the family had reluctantly gathered to endure the wedding ceremony.
The reader is right there with the narrator, in a specific place and time, along for the ride, bumpy though it may be.
Bravo to all of the courageous community members who decided to share their stories, and to GenPRIDE for supporting and publishing those stories. To learn more about GenPRIDE and about UNMUTED, visit genprideseattle.org.