Kay Holten: My favorite piece to write was probably a creative essay called “The Humanatee of My Shaved Head” that compared the habits of manatees to having a buzzcut as a woman. When I was writing it, I got into this flow state where everything on the Wikipedia page for manatees connected with my experiences. And I learned so much about manatees! The downside to telling people about this piece is that they then ask me for a manatee fact, and I’ve forgotten all my manatee facts. Except that they spend twelve hours a day eating and twelve sleeping — what a life!
F: How do you define your own queer identity?
KH: I guess instead of a definition of queerness, I see things as being part of a collective experience. Among my queer lady friends, we identify our own millennial queer lady identity when we point out the stereotype. Things like Tegan and Sara or cats or beanies or septum piercings or Orange is the New Black: I kind of make fun of those things because they match the stereotype so well, and yet I love them. My identity is queer because of these collective experiences that I share with other ladies, but I certainly can’t use that to define other queer identities. It’s different for everyone.
F: How do you hope to foster an understanding of queerness among your readers?
KH: I hope to foster a casual queerness among my readers rather than an overt one. In college, my classmates would sometimes tell me they felt cheated that they didn’t know they were reading a gay story until two pages from the end, when I finally made pronouns clear. They would get mad because they assumed straightness and I didn’t stop them. I think they felt cheated. But I don’t want to have to forcefully change my story just because someone wrongly assumed. I hope to foster a possibility of queerness in all stories by making readers question why they assumed straightness in the first place.
F: How do you think gender intersects with queer identity?
KH: It really depends on the gender and it depends on the queer identity, and it also depends most on how you express your gender identity. I think a lot about how rarely men hit on me because I have short hair and wear a lot of t-shirts and jeans. But my queer writer friend has long hair and wears makeup, and she gets street harassed so irritatingly often. That shows up in her writing, but it’s not something I think about so it’s not usually in mine. I don’t think I’ve written a straight man into my writing for years, which definitely represents how I see my gender and queer identity.
F: In what ways has your queerness influenced your feminism?
KH: More than anything, I think my queerness has made me more aware of circles that experience greater oppression than I do, so I try to be aware of that. At the same time, I’m in a bubble of white queerness, which is a ridiculously privileged place to be sometimes. More than anything, my queerness makes me aware of how important it is that feminism is intersectional, and that that’s increasingly represented in the larger culture.
F: Do you think the media has a positive or negative effect on how we perceive alternative sexuality and gender identities?
KH: Definitely positive. I mean, I’m so young, only 22, so my perspective is very limited. But just in the ten years or so that I’ve been paying attention, the amount of media devoted to alternative sexuality has grown so much. Music videos, too, which I don’t think people appreciate enough, with Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls” and Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer.” Even Panic! at the Disco’s “Girls/Girls/Boys” shows this, although the extended version of that music video gets back to a disgusting sexualization of lesbians that I’d hoped we were moving away from. Media still seems to have a fascination with queer white dudes, but I’m hopeful that more people will get their time in the sun in the coming years. I’d like to see even more alternative sexualities and gender identities. Let’s see some aces in rom coms, and genderqueer folks in action movies, and the like. Then again, there aren’t really people of color in media unless the media is about race, so my hope might be misguided. It’s very possible we’ll remain token for a long, long time.
F: Has your identity shaped your process as a writer?
KH: Kind of. My process used to start with characters or a plot, and now it starts with a theme or idea. My best stories come from a theme or idea, rather than characters, and those ideas sprout from my identities and have more passion because they mean something to me. For example, my story “Tethered” came from the guilt of something I did as a child, and missing my grandfather.
F: What do you want your queer readers to gain from your work?
KH: I want my queer readers to gain a sense of belonging, and then I want them to buzz with the desire to do something, say something, write something, or create something. At the very least, I hope my stories give them fifteen good minutes of what might be a very stressful day
Kay Holten lives in rainy western Washington. She is very distraught that it is not raining much anymore. She has a BA in creative writing from Western Washington University and has been published in Scissors & Spackle, Crab Fat, Dirty Chai, and The Planet. Currently, she works at three different jobs and watches a lot of Steven Universe. You can find links to her writing at watchkaywrite.tumblr.com/writing.