Shaw explores queer identity through short stories

Creative writing project focuses on bisexual erasure and representation.

An ongoing creative writing project by Haley Shaw consists of short stories involving queer identity and representation.

Shaw, a fourth-year honours English student at Mount Allison, has a strong interest in creative writing and is currently working on a cycle of short stories while finishing her degree.

Though Shaw takes interest in all kinds of queer literature and issues within the queer community, the cycle of stories she is currently writing mainly focuses on the struggles faced by polysexual people – people who are attracted to multiple genders, including those who identify as bisexual or pansexual.

“There’s a lot of literature out there about monosexuality, some lesbian literature and gay literature, but not so much for people who don’t strictly fall into one or the other,” she said.

Shaw commented on the erasure and lack of support for bisexual people in the community, including poor treatment from others in the queer community.

“People who are monosexual will look down on bisexuals, or queer people who don’t fall distinctly into the lesbian or gay category, and be like, ‘You’re just saying that so you don’t have to commit to coming out.’”

Shaw states that an important part of increasing acceptance of all members of the queer community is to improve media representation of these groups, including characters in movies, television, books and video games.

“If I had had that when I was growing up, I probably would have grown up in a very different way than I did, and I probably would have had a better sense of my identity than I did,” she added.

Shaw talked about one of her stories, divided into two parts, about a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality. The first part shows the girl as a high school student; she has come out and is currently talking to a girl that she likes, all the while reflecting on what she faced as a child.

The second half of the story revisits the girl’s experiences with a middle-school sexual education class which, in the eyes of the character, is too centred on heterosexual relationships. This adds to the girl’s confusion that arises from being attracted to other girls.

“It’s about this girl who is questioning her sexuality, and who has a friend who is questioning their gender identity, and how uncomfortable and how traumatic and unfriendly that environment was,” said Shaw.

“If no one tells you or acts like it’s okay, then you’re not going to feel like it’s okay,” she added in reference to the main character. “You’re going to feel really strange, and you’re going to feel wrong.”

All of the stories in Shaw’s cycle feature the same characters at different points in their lives and from different perspectives, showing how the lives and identities of queer people are affected by representation—or lack thereof.

“I think something that’s really important is queer people telling their own stories,” said Shaw. “In a roundabout way, I’m telling my own story through my writing. It’s not an autobiography, but it’s heavily inspired by my own life.”

Next year, Shaw will continue to explore these and other topics in the Optional Residency MFA Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. Along with fiction, she will study poetry and writing for graphic form, such as graphic novels and comics.

Finally, Shaw expressed her hopes for what could someday be offered in classrooms at Mt. A.

“I want a whole class devoted to queer literature and to queer theory, because these do get touched on, but they don’t get expanded upon the way that American literature or Canadian literature or women’s and feminist literature are,” she said. “I think all those things are important, and I love learning about them, but I think it’s beyond time to stop brushing off the work of queer thinkers and artists and writers.”

 

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