We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology

Edited by Ryan Vance
& Michael Richardson
404 Ink

In its introduction, Always Here celebrates a collection of writers ‘not drawn together to talk about queerness, but to talk queerly.’ This highlights what is so important about the book, that the queer identity of its authors is not in question. Gathered through the Queer Words Project, ‘where difference isn’t something to be overcome, but a quality to be celebrated’, Always Here is a carefully crafted collection of LGBTI+ writing from old hands and new, spanning period drama, theatre, punkish proclamations of ‘abolish the police’, post-apocalyptic survival, to toxic relationships, foxy transmutation, and sinister brushes with serial killers.

No two pieces share the same perspective or recount the same experiences, and yet there exists a tangible connection between them all. It’s emotional honesty and intensity of Etzali Hernández pining ‘my birthmarks ache for you and only you’. It’s proclivity toward raw reality, like Bibi June’s fierce reminder that ‘This normalcy is hard-fought. / Do not be complicit in its erasure.’ It’s imagined possibilities of queer futures, in which the world’s last hope rest upon the shoulders of those it once marginalised (Elva Hills: ‘The Landscaper’). Equally it’s imagined pasts in which folk like Margaret, the crash-landed pilot of Eris Young’s Meules, might have found their truths.

Always Here closes with the juxtaposition of two stories—one of married love faltering and failing, and one of married love scary and fresh, but full of promise and hope. The queer universe, painted by the brushstrokes of each piece here collected, is endlessly more nuanced than these two opposing tales. Yet they remind us of this nuance, and for those (like I) who for most of their lives were ignorant of complexity in queerness, it is an invaluable lesson.

Taken as a whole, the story of We Were Always Here is one of beauty, ugliness, tragedy, and success. It tells of a culture fought for on the bones and backs of endless generations of queers come before, yet with painful self-awareness warns of the fight still being waged. It is a story of love and heartbreak, acceptance and celebration, fear and fear overcome, raised middle fingers and open palms.

The intimacies of this greater queer narrative have, as the title declares, always been here. They are currently unfolding, and, armed with the ammunition of books such as this, will continue to unfold—bravely, boldly, proudly.

—Cal Bannerman