BEING HUMAN: Queer Letters: Writing Stories About Identities, Families, Gender, Cultures, and Communities

December 9, 2019

By Tori Gorton ’21

As part of the Being Human Festival 2019 of the Humanities Council, “Queer Letters: Writing Stories About Identities, Families, Gender, Cultures, and Communities” brought community members together for an intimate workshop at the Princeton Public Library on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The guided writing experience, centered on queer and trans experiences, was facilitated by Kelly Lin-Kremer, a Data and Project Coordinator in Princeton University’s Department of History, and Claire Spaulding, an Innovation Fellow at the Center for Jewish Life. The event aimed to spark reflections on important questions about identity, through both individual and group exercises, while sharing such thoughts with the public through the creation of postcards (examples below).

The workshop began with the prompt: “Write the story of your name.” Participants were encouraged to express their narrative in any creative fashion they desired. People recounted tales  connecting their names to their uniqueness and families. They also offered interpretations of the histories of their names, remarking on how names have been lost through developments such as immigration, while others have evolved from their original meanings with the advent of the internet.

For the next exercise, the facilitators asked participants to choose questions to answer from among options written on pieces of paper taped to the walls around the room. The prompts included: What communities do you want to belong to but don’t? How do you fit into the story of your family (biological or chosen)? Is there a place in the world where you feel whole and safe, and if so, where? What does it feel like to live in your body? How does your family accept or respond to your gender expression or sexual identity? Attendees shared emotive and personal writings with the group, harnessing carefully chosen phrases and imaginative artwork to encapsulate their responses. The anecdotes ranged from hardship and isolation to love and acceptance.

In the wake of the workshop, the organizers are extracting quotes from the participants’ writing about what different identities mean to them. The selections will then adorn postcards that will be available for free around the town of Princeton. When asked about the importance of the workshop, Kelly and Clairesaid they want the Queer Letters conversation to enter into the wider community, leading more people to think about the humanities, in terms of big questions like those raised in the event, in communication with others.

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