Guest Feature: Exploring Queer Identity & Faith – The Authors of KEEP FAITH Talk About What Their Stories Mean To Them

Keep Faith: A Queer Anthology banner, with Xiaolong the axolotl reading Keep Faith.

Xiaolong may be taking a little break from all her magical duties at the Pond, but you do occasionally like to visit her at the Pond and sit next to her for some quiet reading time.

But today, it doesn’t look like ‘quiet reading time’ is going to happen. Rather, the Pond feels very loud.

You hear laughter and the soft buzz of camaraderie by the Pond. As you approach, you see that the Pond is filled with a lot of Xiaolong’s visiting friends! There’s an octopus in the Pond itself, an intersex flag in eir’s arms, a gray and white narwhal sipping some boba while chatting to a gray tabby wearing a black and white shirt, and a beautiful and terrifying gumiho who stares at you as you enter. And over there, by Xiaolong’s favourite reading spot, is a mer-cat laughing with a little hijabi duckling and an ice-blue fox while a shiba inu dances, little bells tinkling at their ankles. And off to your left is a brown eagle owl reading their book, while a toucan preens its feathers, and a pink dolphin and and pink otter swim carefree in the Pond.

xl keep faith.png“Hi friend!” Xiaolong is at your feet, smiling at you. “I invited some of my friends to come visit the Pond because a book they created with writing-magic releases today!”

Created a book together? That sounds so wholesome! You ask her about this book and her friends.

She gives you a big grin. “Why don’t I introduce you to them?”

Friends, The Quiet Pond may still be on hiatus, but when I found out about the Keep Faith anthology, I knew that I wanted to feature this anthology and its incredible authors. So I emailed Gabriela, the editor of Keep Faith, and we invited all of the writers to be visitors at The Quiet Pond.

Therefore, I am so incredibly excited to be featuring Keep Faith edited by Gabriela Martins today. We have fourteen friends visiting the Pond today, and I could not be more excited to share with you a little bit more about the stories in Keep Faith and what the stories mean to them.

What is Keep Faith?

Keep Faith, which is out today, is an anthology of short stories that explore the intersections of queer identity and faith. As a teenager, I struggled with a lot of questions about faith and spirituality, so the very concept of Keep Faith, which is centered around queer characters and written by queer authors, intrigues me immensely. Though I have yet to read this anthology, I’m grateful for the existence of this anthology. I’m grateful for its hopefulness, its validating force, and its courage to simply be, proudly.

Blurb:

Keep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.

This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.

Our friends are here!

Today, I have the honour of featuring the fourteen amazing writers of the Keep Faith anthology. Not only will they be sharing a little bit about what their stories in Keep Faith are about, but they will talk briefly about what their story or the anthology as a whole means to them. I loved reading what they had to say, and I think all of you will love what they have to say as well.

And I Entreated by Bogi Takács

bogi.pngIn “And I Entreated,” nonbinary trans kid Gil is preparing for their bar mitzvah on a cramped space station, while their mom Shoshana has turned into a houseplant. “And I Entreated” is a fun story, but it also tackles some serious issues, like how trans people can have different feelings about misgendering, how traditional Jewish observance interacts with nonbinary gender, and whether to keep the term “bar mitzvah” – which is gendered in itself.

I have been writing a lot of stories that are about Jewishness and growing up, in one way or another; and also incorporating trans and/or intersex aspects. And I confess I always wanted to write a story from the perspective of a houseplant! So this time I put the two together. While I was working on “And I Entreated,” our kid was also preparing for his bar mitzvah. Our household is very different – we are two trans parents, for instance –, but some aspects of Jewish family life are similar regardless. Including the endless practicing of the Torah reading: like Gil’s mom, I also know our kid’s Torah portion backwards, forwards, upside down… His bar mitzvah went great, and I have no doubt that Gil’s will too. With this story, I’d like to offer a bit of warmth and belonging to everyone around the world, regardless of religious affiliation.

Being in this anthology means the world to me. I’m a quite traditionally observant Jewish person – I often say “traditional and unorthodox,” because I left institutional Orthodoxy several years ago. I’m also visibly trans, intersex, and in a queer marriage. I cover my head, which often makes people here in Kansas assume I’m Muslim. I’m an immigrant, and people make that obvious every single day. All that is me doesn’t fit into neatly delineated categories. In queer contexts, I’m frequently the only immigrant, and the only person with a religious headcovering. In Jewish contexts, people are often entirely perplexed. In all contexts I get quizzed about my gender, even though I don’t particularly have one. I am too trans to be Orthodox and too traditional to be Reform. I feel right at home with my family, but when I interact with the wider world, I’m always on my guard. This anthology gave me a space where I could say what I wanted, in the way I wanted, without being afraid. And paradoxically, this allowed me to say something that was quite lighthearted and cheerful. I am grateful for that, and I hope that my story will also provide a space where readers can feel a kind of relief that comes from understanding.


Bigger Than Us by Megan Manzano

Megan Manzano as an ice-blue fox, sitting up and smiling.Bigger Than Us is about two teenaged girls, Jude and Mari, who have to face a reality they had been ignoring since they were children⁠— Jude could be a Mage. In the country of Aurora, Mages are reincarnations of Gods and are immediately whisked away by the government to become servants of the people. Jude always believed she was meant for this path, but falling in love with Mari threw a rather large wrench in her future. She has to reconcile being a Mage with her love for Mari and if ultimately, either is worth keeping.

While we may not be in a fantasy world like Jude and Mari, it was important to show not every decision is black and white. As a teenager, and especially getting older, we tend to question systems in place and the responsibilities they’ve placed on our shoulders. My hugest motivator for Bigger Than Us was teasing out these nuances and making the reader ask what happens when your faith in something is shaken, especially by someone you love.

Keep Faith means a lot to me for several reasons. I think the message of the anthology is beyond important and tackles questions that can consistently come up for queer individuals. Settling into my identity took SO MUCH time and even to this day, I constantly reevaluate what it means in the context of myself, my relationships, and our world. On a more personal note, Keep Faith signifies the first story I wrote in over two years. I took a break from writing because of declining mental health and a busier day to day life, but this anthology sparked my muse again. It gave me a home for a story I had no idea I would write or did I ever expect to write. Jude and Mari are close to my heart and I hope readers can connect with them, their story, and the hard choices they have to make.


Droplets Of Starlight by Vanshika Prusty

Vanshika Prusty as a shiba inu, wearing ribbon anklets with bells attached to them. Droplets of Starlight is a short story about Payal, a girl who is head over heels, struggling with her heart and her society. We follow her, an almost eighteen-year-old girl who is bisexual, and who struggles with understanding how she fits into her Indian society because of her sexuality.

Set in New Delhi during the monsoon, Droplets of Starlight will take you on a quiet journey of struggle, acceptance and love all under thunderous clouds and starry night skies.

Being part of KEEP FAITH anthology means the world to me. As a queer kid, I’m often trying to find my place in the Indian society and in the diaspora, but it hasn’t been easy. I always wanted to meet someone who understood the struggle to choose who you trust with this significant thing about you. Thankfully, KEEP FAITH gave me a chance to meet that someone in my own writing. I hope Payal is that someone that other queer Indian kids can look to for comfort and love. In her, you’ll find my hope and my strength. In her, I hope you’ll find a friend.


Godzilla by Kate Brauning

I love this story because I love Halloween– I never got to trick-or-treat as a child (though I go every year with my nieces and nephews now!), so it was fun for me to write that into reality. I pretty quickly knew I wanted to write Emily’s story because while in some countries progress toward safety and acceptance has been made for queer kids, even in those places, adolescents find themselves dealing with really complex and difficult situations, often from lacking the relationship modeling cis-gendered, straight people their age often have. Churches meaning to be accepting and welcoming too so often hold their LGBTQ members up like mascots or poster children of their own progressiveness, and the spotlight is a hard place to be as you learn who you are and how to love. An anthology like this full of hard and transformative and hopeful moments about this intersection between faith and queerness is priceless, and I’m so honored to have been able to celebrate that through Emily.

Halloween is so fun for me because thrills and costumes are totally my jam. A young woman who so badly wants to break out of the box placed around her and go for the girl she wants is so brave and so true to self that I thought it belonged in a story about costumes, fears, and heroes. When I was asked to write something for the Keep Faith anthology I immediately knew I wanted to because the relationship between religion, gender, and orientation is so complex and full of pain–it’s a relationship that’s incredibly important to me, because it’s impacted my life and the lives of so many other people in such significant ways. So I wanted to write this little slice of life about Emily, a girl who mostly has a great life except that she feels like her church uses her as proof of how progressive and accepting they are, and that’s a heavy spotlight to carry. I wanted Emily to have one day of breaking free from all those expectations. So I created it for her! An anthology like this full of hard and formative and hopeful moments about this intersection between faith and queerness is priceless, and I’m so honored to have been able to celebrate that through Emily.


Golden Hue by Mayara Barros

Mayara Barros as a pink dolphin, wearing glasses and jumping into the air.My story is about finding hope in the unknown and what happens when you die. It’s set in a fantasy world, where people have powers, but technology has also developed to about our current era. Even with all that, there are still mysteries that neither science nor magic can solve.

I lost my grandmother last year and it still hurts some times. She never knew about by queerness, so I guess I wrote this story to tell myself she still loves me wherever she is.
My story is about hope, how we’re not alone, even when we’re lonely, because there are people that care about us and will stand by us no matter what. I needed to be reminded of that given the state of the world, so I wanted to write a story that could do for others what writing it did for me.

KEEP FAITH is an amazing anthology with amazing writers, it’s a light that we’re trying to shine, to let people know they are not alone.


How Not To Die (Again) by Gabriela Martins

Gabriela Martins as a gray tabby, wearing a black and white tshirt and red glasses, with a bi flag pin attached to the shirt. Do you ever just have a crush on someone and deny it so hard that you totally die? Because Margô can’t take all the dying anymore. Every single time she denies her feelings for Josie, the universe flips her off by killing her in a yet more ridiculous way.

I wrote this short story because I think we all deserve some sapphic joy, especially romcom style. Especially ridiculous. Especially Brazilian. Especially trans. Anyway, there’s a lot we deserve! Faith in this story comes very much in the form of having faith in yourself. … because, don’t you doubt it. If you keep self-sabotaging (YOU. You know I’m talking about you!), the universe will find a way to teach you a lesson.

Putting this anthology together has been the year’s greatest honor. Not only did I get a chance to work with incredible people, we also got to do it for an awesome reason! To me, KEEP FAITH means that our community is coming through once again. Coming through in wanting to help people in need with a completely pro-bono book, and coming through in showing interest in #ownvoices queer experiences.


Life Is A Story Of Change by Elly Ha

Elly Ha as a light-furred gumiho (nine-tailed fox) with red eyesEven when she didn’t know the terminology as a young teen, she knew she was ace and aro. Knowing she’ll always be ace, she never expected to doubt herself. Especially not when she gets to college and starts to fall in love with her best friend of almost a decade. What changed? Are her anti-depressants clearing her head so that she can focus on her own long-lost feelings? Is she simply maturing? Are her Korean parents right, and she’s finally found The One? The scarier question continues to gnaw at her: is she still ace if she feels attracted to him this way?

Life is a Story of Change is a semi-autobiographical story at the intersection of mental illness, sexuality, and personal faith. I wrote it from my personal experience with self-doubt in questioning my sexuality once I fell in love with who I can only describe as my ride-or-die partner. Despite that I am happily in love, I also endure occasional existential crises, always asking myself, “What am I, if not ace and aro?” For others who end up questioning their hearts, I hope that this story serves as a reminder that you are valid no matter where you land on the a-spectrum. You can be a little ace or entirely ace, or, like me, you can just be sure that you’re not not ace.

To me, KEEP FAITH represents what “normal” life feels like. As an English student who had to read majority white, male, allocishet literature from the 1800s onward, being a part of this anthology is a full breath of colorful, queer, fresh air. These are the kinds of stories that I and many of the current generation see ourselves in. Therefore, I’m proud to contribute my ace story which grapples with the fluidity of sexuality, and what “normal” is, especially during this age when the definition of normal is not so much what is standard, but whatever feels right to us.


Nothing Left Standing by C. T. Callahan

C.T. Callahan as a narwhal, smiling and holding a cup of boba/bubble tea.Nothing Left Standing is the story of a queer teen, who—facing abuse and bigoted parents at home—decides to run away with his boyfriend for a chance to find his happily ever after. It’s a story about coming from trauma and pain and learning to put your faith in someone else. And essentially, it’s about that struggle of wanting to be optimistic and proactive, and the fear that that’s naive and you’re just going to get hurt again.

I have a very complicated relationship with religion and capital “F” Faith, so when I was asked to write a story about holding on to faith, I was instantly reminded of my life in high school. I went to a Catholic high school, and while my friends were all praying to God, I was constantly putting my faith in other things—music, people, fiction, etc. In the long run, it’s probably easier to have faith in religion because you aren’t looking at a flawed person who’s guaranteed to mess up, but I’d been so betrayed by it that my last resort was putting faith in people with the constant fear that it was only a matter of time before they let me down. And so I wrote this story to explore that fear, the feeling of sitting on a ledge and knowing it’s only a matter of time before you fall, but doing it anyway because that’s what faith is about, and when your life refuses to give you something to have faith in, sometimes you just have to make your own.

For me, the Keep Faith Anthology is all about a group of people coming together to help someone else. I was always told that that’s what religion is supposed to be, but I know not everyone has that, and for a lot of us, religion just isn’t interested in coming through for us. So this anthology is our way to kind of fill that void, to lend support and hopefully give some readers something to believe in even if they aren’t sure what faith means to them yet.


On The Other Side by Shenwei Chang

Shenwei Chang as a brown eagle owl, wearing glasses and holding a book under their wing.

“On the Other Side” is a story that draws on my own experiences with Buddhism, which my mom’s side of the family practices. It’s not a very commonly portrayed religion, so I wanted to shine a little light on it. My story doesn’t dig super deep into the belief system, but it does touch on a some of the rituals (disclaimer: Buddhism is an extremely diverse religion/spiritual tradition, so I’m limited to portraying the ones I know).
I also wanted to depict the experience of having an ambivalent relationship with faith and religion that I haven’t seen very often when it comes to fiction. This story is dedicated those of us who are half-familiar and half-ignorant when it comes to our parents’ faiths, who have some exposure but not enough to feel entirely comfortable in a religious setting, who are receptive to immersing ourselves more in it but don’t know how or where to start. This story is also dedicated to all the queer people who wanted to come out to one or both of their parents but didn’t get the chance to because their parent(s) passed away before they could. It’s hard to cope with not knowing how your parent(s) would have reacted and not being able to share something so intimate and important with them. I want those people to know they’re not alone.

To me, Keep Faith is a safe space to be open and vulnerable about how queerness and faith connect or interact. It’s a form of intimate disclosure and a validation of the multilayered, subjective experiences of queer people.


Read The Room by Sofia Soter

Sofia Soter as a pink otter wearing glasses.

“Read the Room” features many of my favorite things: clueless teens, rituals, queerness and polyam crushes. It’s a short and sweet story, centered around Jo, a girl whose experiences with love and spirituality mirror my own in many ways; there’s specificity to her world and life that I sometimes shy away from writing, worrying about how (un)relatable it might be, but I hope it resonates with readers who are — like me, like Jo — looking for connection with others and themselves.

When Gabriela approached me for this anthology, I worried I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I was raised in an atheist-agnostic family, and didn’t go through many experiences we associate with the intersections between queerness and faith. But Gabriela knows me well — she knows how I connect to my spirituality, how I approach life through what I define as an “actively agnostic” lens (i.e. with an open mind and heart, believing in possibilities that are beyond our grasp) — and, in trusting her, I found space to explore a bit of my own personal experience as a queer woman who thrives off of ritual and connection.


Ten Steps To Becoming A Successful Blogger by Julia Rios

Julia Rios as a toucan with gender queer tinted wings and wearing make up.I’ve been thinking about influencers a lot lately. It’s fascinating to me how and why certain people become cultural touchpoints, and what that means, both for them, and for their followers. In times of difficulty, we can look for messages all around us, and I wanted to think explicitly about the messages I give and the ones I listen to. It’s easy to dismiss Instagrammers and YouTubers as shallow and frivolous, but I think they can be doing good and important work, and I wanted to explore why and how that might happen for queer people who feel isolated in their daily lives. Also, I just really love the idea of a Bigfoot makeover. Glam Bigfoot!

For me, community is really important. I think we thrive and grow stronger when we work together and support each other. In times of difficulty, I look to my community for strength, and I try to give back to it whenever I have the energy. The giving back helps me as much as it might help others. Being part of this anthology and seeing how many awesome queer people came together to make it happen warms my heart. I hope that warmth comes through for readers who need it as much as I do!


The Language Of Magic by Adiba Jaigirdar

Adiba Jaigirdar as a hijabi yellow duckling, wearing a red backpack.The Language Of Magic is the story of Asha, a Bangladeshi teen in Ireland, who wakes up in the early morning of the new year to a hint of magic in the air. The magic presents her with a vision of her grandmother back in Bangladesh. Motivated by her vision, Asha decides she has to find a way to travel back to Bangladesh, even though she knows it’s almost impossible. But maybe with the help of a stranger, the impossible can be possible.

I was motivated to write The Language Of Magic because when I was a kid and living in Saudi Arabia as an immigrant, my maternal grandfather (my nanabhai) suddenly passed away. My Mom was distraught and it was my first major experience with death. But we couldn’t go back to Bangladesh. We couldn’t attend the funeral. We couldn’t comfort my grandmother or the rest of our family. We were mourning but there was so much distance, and that distance created a strange boundary and a sort of emptiness to my sadness. After that experience, I moved to Ireland for good and over time I lost more members of my family. Every time I experienced the same lack of closure, the same kind of distance and emptiness. Unfortunately, this is simply a part of being an immigrant. I wanted to imagine a world where this wasn’t a part of being an immigrant. Where the universe, or magic, wanted to help us out and give us the closure that we need.

I feel so privileged to have a story in the Keep Faith anthology because, most of the time, queerness and faith are seen as polar opposites. As a Muslim, I have been told over and over again about how Muslim people, and Muslim majority places, hate queer people. Except Muslim people are also queer. Because people refuse to acknowledge this, queer Muslims end up not fitting into any spaces—not Muslim spaces where their queerness is unwelcome, and not in queer spaces, where there Muslim identity is often unwelcome. To have an anthology where the focus is on faith and queerness specifically, where I am able to write about being queer and Muslim with no qualms, is amazing.


The Messenger by Mary Fan

“The Messenger” tells the story of a woman who transferred her consciousness into a probe in order to explore the multiverse. After years of dimension-hopping alone, she accidentally crash-lands near a pre-industrial civilization and is mistaken for a miracle — a prophesized messenger from the Infinite Spirit. At first, she goes along with it. But when she falls in love with a local girl, she realizes she can no longer keep up the charade.

I grew up atheist — not in a “God is dead” kind of way, but in that religion just wasn’t a thing in our household (probably a byproduct of my parents’ upbringing during the Chinese Cultural Revolution). Yet the studies of religion and faith always fascinated me. I spent years in church choirs both for the music and because I found the rituals fascinating (and was fortunate enough to have very accepting local churches that didn’t care whether their choristers were also worshipers). With “The Messenger,” I wanted to explore the question of just what faith is. And to depict a world where two women can fall in love, and it’s not a big deal.


Whatever She Wants by Kess Costales

Kess Costales as a mer-cat (body of a cream tabby) with a mermaid tale. WHATEVER SHE WANTS is a queer, fake dating story about a Filipino teen named Theodora who is asexual and biromantic with a Catholic upbringing. She believes in God as a creator who loves and accepts all people, including those who are queer. The story shows her journey of discovering her sexuality along with her classmates. The story shows her journey toward self-acceptance as she discovers romantic love for her best friend, Magnolia, and for a boy named Alastor. After she and her best friend break up with their boyfriends, they agree to pretend to date each other to make their exes jealous. But the entire, Theodora hides that she’s in love with her. Spoiler: there’s a happy ending to it as they come out to each other and realize that they stopped pretending somewhere along the way.

When Gabhi approached me with this opportunity, I quickly realized the only thing I could write was something personal and similar to my own journey (except being in love with my best friend). I grew up Catholic like Theodora, attending Catholic schools and going to Mass on Sundays. And like Theodora, as I started understanding myself and my sexuality, I realized I couldn’t believe in a God who wouldn’t love all people, especially if He supposedly created us in His image. So I wrote about my doubts and emotions through Theodora and hoped to share a story that resonates with someone else. Plus, it’s always nice to have a chance to write something sweet and fluffy when life is dark and difficult.

KEEP FAITH is the anthology I wish I had access to when I was in high school. I was so confused and questioning so much and looking for something in media that accurately represented me. Already, it’s been tough finding Filipino rep in books, let alone queer Filipinos, or even asexual, biromantic Filipinos who are also Catholic. It means everything to me to be part of this and to share my story and all the other wonderful stories in the anthology with the world. Especially in sharing the belief that the God I believe in is one who spreads love and respect, not hate and fear.


Friends, thank you all so much for reading and for coming by and getting to know all these incredible authors and their amazing stories in Keep Faith. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and that you’re even more excited to read Keep Faith!

And great news: the anthology releases today! 🎉

Be sure to add Keep Faith on Goodreads and support the authors by purchasing Keep Faith on Gumroad!

 

5 thoughts on “Guest Feature: Exploring Queer Identity & Faith – The Authors of KEEP FAITH Talk About What Their Stories Mean To Them

  1. There’s so many new friends in The Pond today I think I’m gonna faint! You worked so hard in making this possible, CW-jen. Thank you. 🤗 They all look so so so adorable. And I enjoyed reading. I know for sure that I should read Keep Faith!

    Like

  2. These pondsonas are ADORABLE OMG!!!💖💖💖💖
    Also I was already interested by this anthology, but I didn’t know so many of the stories would be sff???? I’m SUPER excited about it now!!! Thank you for this post!!

    (I don’t understand why I keep having go click the “following” button every time I come on here ???? What cruel WordPress bug is unfollowing me from this perfection of a blog???)

    Like

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