Q&A with Featured Writer: Greg Bayles

Q&A with Greg Bayles

For our newest issue of peculiar (volume three, issue one), we chose Greg Bayles as our Featured Writer because of the way he so carefully crafts his poetry. His precise command of words infuses his writing with striking imagery, complexity, and classical—yet contemporary—tones. Greg agreed to answer some questions about his writing, and we hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as we have.

When did you start writing poetry?

I had written poems here and there all through elementary school and junior high, but 8th grade was really the first time I devoted any substantial amount of time to poetry. My English teacher, Mrs. Medlock, had us write eight or ten poems and do illustrations with them, and that taught me a ton about different styles of poetry. It was kind of my foray into literary poetry.

Why do you write poetry?

Because I’m super angsty! But really, writing has just always been a way for me to sort through emotions and take something negative or confusing and turn it into something I could own and be proud of. I guess I’ve never thought about it too much, but all my major life transitions have poems to accompany them, and I have a poem for every love I’ve ever had and lost. I guess poems are sort of my way of dealing with grief and other hard emotions.

What poets do you yourself read?

My reading isn’t super regimented or methodical, but some of my biggest inspirations and all-time favorites are Ginsburg, Kerouac, Gibran, Hafiz, Eliot, and Levine. I’m really heavily influenced by British and American Romantics, especially Blake and Whitman. More recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Dan Magers and Saeed Jones, but I guess I’m always on the lookout for good writing in whatever form it may come. I literally have Google Alerts set up to notify me whenever certain food critics post reviews, because I love their writing so much. I also think poetry is kind of happening around you all the time—conversations on streetcars, jokes at bars, people smoking on tired balconies—you just have to be there to witness it.

What’s your writing process?

I usually get an idea and write out a few lines on my phone, just as they come to me. Then I go through and handwrite big lists of “words of power” and images and phrases associated with the subject matter, just kind of letting my mind wander and make odd connections and running with it. I don’t like too much structure early on. Then I start to chunk out sections and drop ideas into more metered phrases (I’m an iamb addict), and eventually rough stanzas sort of emerge. I just keep reading through it aloud and cutting and revising until I feel about 80% content with the poem, and then I stop and call it done. I usually shoot for lots and lots of visual imagery (also a symbol addict) and a healthy dose of mysticism/ambiguity. I also spend a lot of time thinking about words: their various meanings, their etymologies, associations with other words, how much breath you release in saying them, symbolic linguistics, etc. It’s kind of an extension of the early wandering I do when exploring a topic for a poem, and it usually ends up shaping the overall direction of the poem as well.

What inspires you to write?

I think life’s pretty amazing, and I want to be able to capture all the beauty I see around me. People, especially, are such an inspiration for me—not just their good parts, but their complexity and everything that goes into a human soul or consciousness. I spend a lot of time trying to intuit how other people perceive the world, and my writing is sometimes an exploration into that. I love nature and art and technology, and all of those things flow together in my writing and more generally in my day-to-day life. I guess great writing also helps me to want to write more. I read a ton, and it’s always refreshing to come across writing that feels like “home,” in a way. I guess eventually I want to be able to create that for other people.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I had a novel that I was working on a few years ago that still means the world to me. It was my first major attempt at writing a novel, and it’s definitely the piece I’ve spent the most time on overall. I think more than that, though, it became a place where I could live out different lives, through the characters I was creating. This was at a time when I was still closeted, trying to figure out life at BYU, so it became an important way for me to express the conflict I was feeling and to experiment with different facets of my personality. There was a young, selfless, believing hero who represented my desire to stay with the faith of my youth; an old, cynical but kind inventor who embodied my growing distrust for religion and my hope for the tech of the future; a young woman who saw the value in the traditions and rituals of her community but cared more about the people than the culture; a tomboy trying to figure out how she could deal with others’ expectations. I didn’t realize this as I was writing it, but each character (and the conflicts they faced) became a way for me to live out, in a sense, a possible route for my life. I was able to sort through a lot of my conflicting emotions and come to some clarity as to where I fit in the world. So long story short, I guess it’s my favorite because it got me through a crazy time. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it, but it’s still something I look back on very fondly, and something I like to revisit from time to time.

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?

I know my poetry sometimes isn’t the most accessible or relatable (as is often the case when mysticism and transport are two of your fundamental writing values!), but I hope that my writing becomes a catalyst for people to explore parts of their personality that they’re afraid to explore. I think for a long time before I came out, I was afraid to live out my gay life because I thought that I wouldn’t find real happiness or belonging or connection outside of the religion and community of my youth. I hope my writing shows that queer life is full of richness and meaning! That’s not to say it’s not complicated, because obviously there are still hard days and difficult decisions and heartbreaks and all that. But when you’re living your life as you choose, you feel a lot less like a victim to circumstance, and you can feel like you are choosing some of those difficulties in exchange for bigger and better things that you really desire. So, yeah! Be yourself!

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Hopefully a lot of places! I make video games for a living, and I hope that in a few years, I’ll be able to start my own games studio! I have lots of big, far-flung aspirations, though, like opening an art gallery or doing a pop-up restaurant. In terms of where all that will happen, I’ve definitely thought about staying in Salt Lake City, but I think at some point in my life, I’ll live in New York, the Pacific northwest, and San Francisco. Those just seem like big tech hot spots, and they have some of the best creative communities in the States. I’ve also toyed with moving abroad for a few years—maybe China or Scandinavia somewhere—but that thought is definitely still in its infancy. Dunno about the rest of life yet! I think I’ll probably settle down one day, but if not, I think I’ll be okay with it. Generally, I just plan on having lots of great relationships with lots of kinds of people, and if lasting romantic love comes out of all that, all the better!

What’s it like being queer in Utah?

I mean, that’s kind of presumptuous of you to assume I’m queer just because I like men and publish in queer literary journals, but I’ll take the bait anyway. Being gay in Utah… That’s a hard one. I guess the word I’ll use to describe it is a word we use a lot in the gay community but not one we think about very much. Fabulous, or belonging to fables. There’s something really epic about being gay in one of the biggest fundamentalist religious centers of the world. Something so rebellious and wonderfully perverse about having grown up in that faith culture and received its rites and lived its myths, and then departing and coming out and embracing such a rich (queer) culture. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two: an appreciation of emotional intimacy, a strong sense of community and belonging, a love for things beautiful and artistic, vibrant symbols, and the list goes on. As a believer, I felt that the whole world had this sort of magical aura about it, and to be honest, I feel like my gay life is a little bit enchanted: wild parties, crazy personalities, genderfuck drag shows, galas, and brunches galore. And unicorns everywhere, obviously! So yeah, fabulous. In all the best ways!

What makes you peculiar?

I guess I’m peculiar because I don’t feel the need to hold myself to any one world view or way of living. My life is full of changing values and contradictions that come together in a beautiful, messy amalgam, and I couldn’t love it more. At times, people think it’s pretty weird. “Video gamers can’t like poetry; poets can’t be interested in chemistry; chemists can’t rock climb; and rock climbers can’t…” Obviously none of that is true, but there’s always sort of this pressure to fall in line and be like everyone else—like other game designers or poets or gays or liberals or whatever—and that’s just not something I’m interested in! I get a lot of value out of being uniquely me, and I reserve the right to change and change and change again, all throughout my life. I spent long enough trying to live up to other people’s expectations, and if being me means being a weirdo, then I choose to be peculiar every day of my life!


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Greg Bayles is a project manager at the University of Utah’s Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab. He received a BA in English Literature from Brigham Young University and went on to complete a Master’s of Entertainment Arts and Engineering at the University of Utah. In his free time, Greg enjoys reading, making video games, cooking, wandering art galleries, and rock climbing.

You can read his poem “Chemical Emigration” on the blog, or read more work in the newest issue of peculiar.

I Don’t Want a Penis Anymore—Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Commit to Change

by Aubrey Kesler

I Don't Want a Penis Anymore.jpg

Talking about gender dysphoria is like trying to drive a nail through a plume of smoke. I’ve often said that I am a goddess of love and beauty born into the body of a Greek hero. The world sees the hero and expects one thing of him, but the goddess feels another way. She can’t imagine leading the Argonauts or slaying Medusa. Instead, she seeks the golden bangles and flowing dresses that will express who she is inside, but realizes that the world expects her to don the helmet and breastplate like the other men. Can you imagine how ridiculous a towering man with the strength of an ox would look in a dress?

When I was young I ventured out into the wide, psychotic bazaar of the internet in search of people who felt like I did. I found forums, I found news articles, and I found other goddesses who had shirked the expectations of society and cashed in their breastplates for bangles. But when anyone tries to wear makeup for the first time it is hardly ever a success story, and that’s what I found when I entered these forums. It was such a mix of emotions, because on one hand I found my tribe, but on the other hand this tribe confirmed everything I had felt about myself: I am different. The beauty I sought was about nine feet beyond the furthest reach of my desperate fingertips.

I will never be beautiful. Look at this body! How can I make this figure appear feminine? If I dress like a woman, I’ll be a hiss and a byword—the joke of songs and movies—and whispers will rise up like a chorus in the wake of my presence.

Thoughts such as these ran through my head in the dark hours of the night. In those moments I made a decision that would affect me for the rest of my life: I will tell no one. God gave me this struggle so that I can overcome it and return to Him with honor.

You must know that I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and this is the purpose of life that’s given to you: put on blinders to “The World,” read your scriptures, follow the commandments, and march on in a single file line. I mean no disrespect to anyone who currently practices the faith—I have met many with the milk of human kindness flowing in their veins—but it’s truly a restrictive lifestyle. There’s a list of things you must believe and it is not open for debate. If you are different than what is binary (male or female, Priesthood or Relief Society—no in between), then the doctrine will not allow you to come to terms with the true person you are beneath the masterwork of pulleys, levers, and chemical compounds that is built around your soul. That is the predicament that all queer-identifying people find themselves in when it comes to the LDS faith. Boys wear ties and girls wear dresses.

So I soldiered on in the breastplate and helmet like I was expected to do, and deposited Aubrey the goddess into a prison cell in the darkest corner of my heart. Perhaps my angst and self-loathing were the echoes of her cries for freedom. After years of confinement her shouts finally climbed the stone staircase and reached the ears of the scared, insecure person who sat on the throne of my mind. I left the Church in 2014, and in 2016 I talked to my wife about dressing in drag so I could express the femininity inside of me. I was twenty-eight years old and had wasted eighteen years acting out a role whose lines I could hardly read from the script. In today’s gun-riddled society, eighteen years is all the lifetime that some people get to live.

I talked to my wife about cross-dressing or doing drag once or twice a month, and she said that this would be something we could try and make work. I immediately began looking through Pinterest for dresses that I’d always wanted to wear. I told people at work in special confidence, and even telling one person made me feel so powerful. All it took was a moment of holding the scepter for Aubrey to assume control of the legions and the senate; Derick, that scared fool of a ruler, knew that his time on the throne was at an end.

I came home after a long day of work and my wife knew something was wrong. I had a glass of whiskey in hand and was watching the TV like I wished life could be as simple as all the stupid sitcoms: beginning, crisis, punch line, resolution, and the credits. She asked me how I was doing and I lied. She knew—she always did—because she had a way of reading me and telling me what the next three paragraphs of my emotions said. I took a sip and told the truth.

“I don’t think a weekend here or there will be enough.” I was still staring at the TV. It was all flashes of color and light to me.

“Do you want to be a woman?” She was afraid of the answer because she probably already knew it—she just had to hear it.


“So you want to cut your penis off and live the rest of your life as a woman?”

Another sip and another slide deeper into the Jacuzzi of truth.


With that single word Derick abdicated the throne. His statue in the square was toppled, and Aubrey’s banner was raised around the capitol. The next day we called our friends and family and told them that we were getting a divorce and that I would be transitioning to live life as a woman.

Keep in mind that at this point I had no idea how beautiful or hideous I would look as a woman. I only had in my hands the smallest, most potent kernel of truth, and it was one that I had always known and poured over in fascinated horror: I AM a woman inside and I must live that way even if I look like Fiona the ogre.

The next day I went out and expanded my already extensive makeup collection (I did theatrical and cinematic makeup as a hobby which I had planned on making a career) and did myself up as Aubrey for the first time in my life. I’m lucky in that I already had the skills of a practiced makeup artist when I did this. I’m so vain and self-possessed that I shudder to think what the outcome would have been if I had botched together a makeup look and thrown on a $15 Halloween wig. I might have backed out.

When I was finished, I looked in the mirror and saw the goddess shining through my features.

I am Aubrey Marie Kesler, the heiress who has come to power after twenty-eight dark and dreadful years of captivity. If my frame is large, it’s only because so much soul cannot dwell in a smaller tabernacle. Someday I will have breast implants and sometime after that I will undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery and will have a fully functioning vagina. I say this boldly because I’m not afraid of this anymore.

If you are reading this and you are in doubt about yourself, do something about it. Do it now. Do not waste another day in unhappiness when you could be spending your time sailing into the golden horizon of the future. Do not be so concerned with beauty standards, as I was, that you let time blow your years away like so many leaves in a cold wind. You are beautiful for who you are and who you get to become. God didn’t make a mistake when He poured me into a body and He did not make a mistake when He did the same for you. Learn what He wants you to learn by developing who you are and finding ways to help others to whom he has given a similar quest as your own.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

That’s such a cliché my fingers hurt just typing it.

But it’s true.


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Aubrey Marie Kesler is a trans woman who dwells in Utah and spends her days living out the wildest daydreams she never thought could come true. Her identity is rather nebulous and unexplored at this point, but the few constellations she can point out are shaped around aspirations of a career in beauty, art, writing and anything that has to do with creation. The nearer she gets to the stars ahead, the brighter they sparkle in her eyes.

She writes the blog The Life of Aubrey where a version of this post originates under the title “Continuing the Tale.”


My Label is Aaron

My Label is Aaron.jpg

by Aaron Gates

As people, we often like to put ourselves into categories. As writers, we tend to do the same thing. We say things like, “I’m a fiction writer” or “I’m a poet” or, if you’re me, “I’m, like, kind of a poet, I mean, I like to write poetry, but I don’t know if I’m a poet, exactly . . .” And, well, all dear-god-am-I-really-a-writer issues aside, what I’m trying to get at is that often we limit ourselves as we seek to define ourselves. We forget the complicated nature of things, of humans, as we try to classify what we do and who we are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Labels and classifications can help us find the next book we want to read, the next TV show we want to watch. Labels can also help us find support groups, communities, friends who have had similar life experiences.

Recently we’ve seen a movement to break away from labels that are too broad within the queer community. The queer community has had the label of “Gay,” “LGB,” LGBT,” and “LGBTQIA+,” to name a few. People are moving more and more to show the diverse parts of their identities. Gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, demisexual, biromantic, and others. This movement to encompass all the diversity of someone’s identity is what led us to use the term “queer” as an umbrella term here at peculiar. We want to represent the deep diversity in every writer and artist, and in the queer community.

What does this have to do with writing and creating? I think it’s important that as we create, we acknowledge ourselves and the history we bring to our creative process. When I traveled back to my parents’ home for the holidays this year, I was reminded of how much I have changed from the shy little boy who grew up in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Now, this was nothing new to me. Ever since I came out, I’ve worked to become more of who I feel I really am. I’ve worked to let more parts of my personality out that I was ashamed of or hid while I was in the closet. I felt that process meant I needed to change a lot. And maybe it did. But somewhere along the way, I pushed a lot of my past away. Maybe it was from painful memories, maybe it was from a loss of ideals and connections that were held in my youth. I don’t know. But either way, I focused more on my now.

Buy my past is part of who I am. And as I’ve worked more on my writing, I’ve realized more and more that there are parts of me that don’t make sense if I don’t accept every history I have. As I came home for the holidays, I remembered again that no matter what, there will always be a part of me that grew up walking through the forest, playing in crick beds, going to church, and so many other things. As much as I come home and see that I don’t really fit in my hometown the way I used to, I still come home and feel a connection.

I believe that for us as writers, artists, creators, we have to accept every part of us, whether we like it or not, to find our truth. We are complicated, with a million different facets to our personalities, to our experiences. But if we do not acknowledge these parts, accept them, celebrate or learn from them, we are cutting off a part of who we are. We are denying it. We can’t love ourselves if we don’t even fully acknowledge who that person is to be loved.

So, for the new year, I hope everyone can work to explore their own identities, to question why they dislike any part of who they are, and to see themselves more fully. We are so much more than any list of labels in our lives. And I hope we can apply this to our creative processes. Learn from other techniques. If you write prose, study poetic tools of assonance, repetition, concrete imagery. If you write poetry, learn how prose writers craft their work through scenes, outlining, rhetorical situations. Learn how artists create their works through layering, perspective, focus. Learn how writers use words to frame, to build, to create ambiguity or paradox. And through this process, I promise, you will become more skilled in what you create. But, perhaps more importantly, you will learn more about what you have in common with those around you than what your differences are. You will understand more what it means to be human.

As always, give love.

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Aaron Gates is a Utah Valley University graduate, having majored in Writing Studies. He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of peculiar and has also served as Editor-in-Chief of Intersections, Tech Editor of Touchstones, and a senior editor for Essais, all student publications. His poetry has been published in Warp and Weave and Touchstones. Aaron has an unhealthy obsession with Channing Tatum, Calvin and Hobbes, and Thai food; he and The Walking Dead are currently seeing other people.

21 LGBTQ+ Literary Magazines/Journals

by Trish Hopkinson


The listings below are literary magazines/journals that specifically focus on the artists and writers in the LGBTQ+ community. There are many other literary magazines that support LGBTQ+ contributors. For a more general list of all-inclusive/feminist lit mags, check out my list here: Feminist Lit Mags and Journals.

These literary magazines/journals are listed alphabetically; some are currently accepting submissions, some are temporarily closed. I’ve also included whether or not it is a paying market in the notes column. These lit mags/journals also fit the following criteria:

  • Generally do not charge fees to submit (although some may charge fees for some types of submissions and for contests).
  • They accept poetry submissions.
  • All accept electronic submissions.

If you have suggestions for lit mags/journals I’ve missed, please contact me here or leave a comment below.

Lit Mag/Journal Web Site Notes Duotrope
Adrienne https://siblingrivalrypress.com/adrienne/ Queer women specific https://duotrope.com/listing/10584
Assaracus https://siblingrivalrypress.com/assaracus/ Gay male specific https://duotrope.com/listing/5024
Crab Fat Magazine http://crabfatmagazine.com/ https://duotrope.com/listing/16260
Gertrude Press http://www.gertrudepress.org/ Not currently accepting submissions https://duotrope.com/listing/1375
Glitterwolf http://www.glitterwolf.com/ Currently on hiatus https://duotrope.com/listing/16182
Lambda http://www.lambdaliterary.org/ https://duotrope.com/listing/13740
Lavender Review http://www.lavrev.net/ Lesbian specific https://duotrope.com/listing/5351
Peculiar http://www.peculiarjournal.com/ Utah only n/a
RFD Magazine http://www.rfdmag.org/ n/a
Sinister Wisdom http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/ Lesbian specific https://duotrope.com/listing/1709
Smoking Glue Gun https://smokinggluegun.com/ https://duotrope.com/listing/15810
The Dandelion Review https://thedandelionreview.com/ Women and gender non-conforming specific https://duotrope.com/listing/21079
The Gay and Lesbian Review http://www.glreview.org/ Paying https://duotrope.com/listing/1395
The Quilliad https://thequilliad.wordpress.com/ Canada only https://duotrope.com/listing/20418
The Wanderer http://wandererpoetry.com/ Paying https://duotrope.com/listing/21153
Vagabond City https://vagabondcitylit.com/ Paying n/a
Chelsea Station http://www.chelseastationmagazine.com/ The editors do not respond to all submissions. After waiting 90 days, assume your submission will not be accepted. https://duotrope.com/listing/6362
Plenitude Magazine http://plenitudemagazine.ca/ Paying https://duotrope.com/listing/13055
Raspa Magazine http://www.raspamagazine.com/ Latinos specific n/a
Vetch http://www.vetchpoetry.org/ Transgender poetry specific n/a
Creating Iris http://www.creatingiris.org/ Young adult specific https://duotrope.com/listing/13582

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hopkinson-path-zoomTrish Hopkinson is a poet, feminist, and LGBTQ+ ally. She has been published in several anthologies and journals and her third chapbook is forthcoming from Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry book series entitled Orogeny. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow her poetry adventures on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

2 Poems Inspired by the Holidays


Spencer Ballard

I was a free shoes kid again,
the result of the stroked ego
of some smug Santa.
Boots. Brown and yellow
like the shit I would get for standing
here. Coal-eyed clinging to my old
sneakers. Loved. Mine. Holy.
The only thing worse than
stinging eyes and sweaty socks
cold office tiles and sympathetic stares
were these boots so carefully disguised
as a gift.

I Don’t Want Snow, I Want Winter
Aaron Gates

Winter sits on windows ledge like piles of fleece blankets;
it presses in corners like packages waiting to be
shook, to be opened, to be husked and discarded
like fruit. Winter spreads up through the ground, it doesn’t fall.
Winter doesn’t stick to boots or mittens or tongues, it wraps
twice around and close to your chest. Winter burrows
under doorways. Winter isn’t white,
it’s grey, it’s lone trees and slush and soggy boots
by the fireplace. Winter is forgetting your coat
in November, it’s your parents singing on Christmas morning
as you drive to your grandparent’s house, it’s wishing
spring would come in February. Winter is a memory,
it’s an ache in your soul that reminds you
of sitting outside to watch the sun set.
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Spencer Ballard is an aspiring queer poet/artist recently graduated from The University of Utah. He has been the Featured Poet of peculiar, and published several times. He often draws inspiration from “those thoughts you have in the shower that monopolize your attention for weeks,” and is a firm believer that you have to let a poem run its own course—especially if it’s going in a direction you didn’t intend it to. Spencer is currently the proud owner of four pet typewriters, as well as a rat named Emerson.

Aaron is a Utah Valley University student majoring in Writing Studies. He is C0-Editor-in-Chief of peculiar, and has served as Editor-in-Chief of Intersections , Tech Editor of Touchstones, and a senior editor for Essais, all student publications. His poetry has been published in Warp and Weave. Aaron has an unhealthy obsession with Channing Tatum, Calvin and Hobbes, and Thai food; he and The Walking Dead are currently seeing other people.

Good Dreams and Bad Dreams: My Election-Night Dinner

by Brianna Cluck


I’m standing in the kitchen cooking sausage and pierogies.  Suddenly, I feel hands around my waist and I lean my head back into his chest.  We’d gone on one other official date before this, and things are looking pretty good.

It’s November 8th at approximately 6 PM.

After eating some delicious food, we decide to turn on the TV for what was going to be the real entertainment of the night: watching the election results roll in.  The plan was simple: we sit down on the couch, enjoy a nice glass of wine, watch Hillary win the election and then celebrate with Facebook posts and the nearest taco truck.  Everything was laid out perfectly.

He turns on the TV and furrows his brow.

All the states so far are red.  I’m a little concerned.

“It’s okay,” he says.  “It’s just the start.  The southern states always vote Republican.  Let’s spend some time away from the TV and, by the time we’re back, the western states will have started coming in and we’ll see Hillary win.”

That seems to make a lot of sense, so we set about wasting some time. We talk about board games, I subject him to my hipster mix of psychedelic music and punk music and, in general, we just spend some quality time together.

But still, there is that feeling in the back of my mind.  What will happen?


“Wanna go see Doctor Strange on Friday?”

We first met a little over a week before.  A mutual friend invited me to lunch, and he happened to be there.  After lunch, we went bowling and, after that and a round of pinball (wherein we accidentally left our other friends to wait outside), we went to his apartment and played board games.  To be honest, this guy amazed me with how many things we had in common (like our shared interest in rare books and how strangely attractive I find a man with an old illustrated copy of Paradise Lost), but I just assumed he was in a relationship and tried to move on.  A couple days later he asked if I’d like to go see a movie and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was, in fact, that rare intersection of single and interested in me.  That was no easy feat in a culture where the last major interactions I’d had with any men in a romantic context were either a one week confusion or angry messages on OKCupid about how much they disagreed with my existence as a trans woman.

In a way, running into this guy felt strange, unlikely, and altogether appropriate.  If a guy could ask me on a date just in time to watch the election together, anything was possible.


Finally, it’s later into the night and he steps over to the TV and turns it on.

“Oh, shit.”

More states are coming in, most of them red.  What’s more, Trump has taken Ohio.  Ohio always predicts the winner.  I make a snarky post on Facebook about how the season finale of America is really heating up, to which my friends and family tell me that it’s more of the series finale, and to check the Google projections because they are more realistic than the ones we are watching on CNN.

My mild concern turns to a deep, unsettling fear.

As the rest of the results came in, the tone on Facebook had started to change.  First, we were joking, then we were mildly concerned.  Now, we were terrified.  Posts started pouring in: “What will happen to my marriage?” “How long until I’m deported?” “Will I ever get my gender legally changed now?”

I can’t bear to look, and end up falling asleep until much later when it seems like just about everyone is in the middle of either having a breakdown or trying to console their loved ones or tell them that, in their opinion, Trump “won’t be that bad,” or how we need to just support him as president now.

Now, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is here.  It’s like a funeral for all our trans loved ones we’ve lost. Usually, that message is mixed with a message of hope, imploring us to keep going, even when all hope is lost.

This year, that message seems even more dire.  Even if Trump himself is not terribly against trans people specifically, there’s been a shift in the atmosphere of our country, and more and more of our marginalized people are having to be careful when they go out, or even stay inside, for fear of violence.  If you’re an ally to the trans community, I ask that you stand with us.  I ask that you vote for our rights.  I ask that you stay with us, even when the day of remembrance is over, and even when it seems that hope is gone.

If you’re trans and reading this right now, I only have one message for you:

We will stand.

We will fight.

We will live.

And it will be beautiful.

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Brianna Cluck is a 23-year-old woman living in Provo. Working in an office by day, she spends her free time pretending to write poetry while actually looking at pictures of cats. When she’s neither writing poetry nor looking at cats, she can be found either singing karaoke or attending protests.

The Bridge to Everywhere

By R. Madison Haymore


Everyone feels. It’s something liberating. Society puts limitations on emotion, yet we find a way to stretch those limits. It is within our emotions that we see the most beautiful facets of humankind. Emotion is the umbilicus that connects us all on a level that cannot be articulated but only felt. Writing is the best way that we attempt to encapsulate this indescribable emotion, and queer writing deepens the breadth of our depth-perception of literature.

There are socially constructed membranes that cover the true nature of everything. Everything is branded with some superlative. These decorative details like race, gender, sexuality, orientation are veneers, but writing perforates everything, breaks the bonds, and whips logic about into an artistic array of conveyed thoughts, words, and emotions.

Queer writing is not that different from heterosexual writing—it breaks and expresses in the exact same way—but it is uniquely beautiful in its own regard. Homosexuals and heterosexuals, and the spectrums in between, feel the same emotions, but society has herded us into this newfangled idea of personified compartmentalization. We do not truly want to be different, but we want to be unique without the limitations of comparison. When we compare things that cannot be compared we lose the visceral beauty that exists in respective person and situation.

Writing about a man and a woman proposing to each other in a nursing home on their death beds; two women realizing they love each other when their nation is tattered by war; two men legally losing their adopted baby after spearheading the town’s acceptance towards homosexuals; a widower raising his two sons alone after his wife was killed by a drunk driver: these emotions captured in any of the previous scenarios can inspire something in all of us, even if we aren’t in those exact walks of life. Comparing these scenarios is impossible, but feeling them is not. Each emotion we feel is the mutual space that exists between us all.

Queer writing does not try to convince we are different; should be different; will be different—NO. We, as queer writers, write to articulate experiences that are particular to our walks of life. We write to show the colors that illuminate when you look through our side of the prism. Loss is loss, joy is joy, fear is fear, hate is hate, and love is love: we all know these emotions. We know how they strum our own heartstrings, but what we cannot achieve by ourselves is the insight into how someone else feels and experiences these emotions.

A first kiss, losing your virginity, daring to hold your date’s hand during a movie, making a mess out of life while still feeling anchored and happy with the person you’re with because you’re in love—all of that is emotion; all of that is universal. That is what we are trying to achieve—relaying all of that from our side.

The entire queer community experiences those emotions. Those visceral wonders of life are felt by us as well. That’s what we try to articulate. We try to put in words what that feels like, to share it with others, to put it out into the world. Any attempt to put into words that which is felt is an exercise in futility, but perhaps that’s the beauty of it—the venture to achieve the unachievable.

We may not have the same lives, but that’s the reason for writing. Reading words on paper from another beating heart is the best way to feel how that particular person uniquely and beautifully experiences the same emotions you feel. You learn how your own heart beats by hearing the beating of another. You see your color differently when you see the colors of another. Queer writing brings a newfound spectrum to otherwise heterosexual writing, and both sides reveal the multi-faceted cosmos of love and life. Emotion, trying desperately to come to life on the page, is where writing is no longer compartmentalized but embodied in art, transcending barriers, and fusing people together with tangible words of existence.

Writing is the bridge to everywhere.

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R. Madison Haymore is a writer living in Salt Lake City, who was born in rural North Carolina, and experienced severe bullying and depression growing up. Breaking from his family’s oppressive faith has helped him ascertain a newfound, open viewpoint of life and people. His activism includes humanitarian efforts for homosexual rights as well as education/relief for eating disorders. He’s an extravagant minimalist, music lover, and wine connoisseur.

Queering the Word

by Matthew A. Jonassaint

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I came out as “gay” recently.

At my job, which is at a youth crisis shelter, which is to say I came out to a youth I was working with. He sat across from me clutching his shirt sleeves, his head bowed low. I think he was midway to 17. He’d marked the “gay, bisexual, or other” section of the paperwork. He also marked that he’d been abused at home, bullied at school, and had a plan to kill himself. Another staff was starting his case chart, I was just in the office for something else. Since this kid had checked in, he’d said hardly three words all evening. It’s been almost eight years since the first time I told a total stranger I liked other guys. (Come to think of it, that was also at work.) But when I said the words “I’m gay” to this taciturn teen, it was like hey, time’s up. It’s finally happened. You give in or you give up.

I mean that I struggled with the name. If it’s an identity, a category, a label, a word, in the end it’s also a name. Long have I struggled. This “out” moment came in the culmination of many crossings intersecting with others. Among them, the Orlando shootings I’d hardly time to mourn (when that came, it was in a peculiar dream) because they fell on the weekend of my mourning for a close friend, four years dead. That’s another story and will be told some other time, yet it’s relevant—it’s the story of a friendship. For my little life orbits within and around the fiery contact of a few friendships with other guys, always “straight,” connections with clout appearing on levels both cosmic and minimal, totally prevalent, and inescapable. And maybe it’s true that the history of friendship is the last unfinished chapter of same-sex dynamics, the story still being written.
The horrible thing for me about what happened in Orlando is it forced me to see the banality of my own or any Gay Agenda. Some people I know have stated, elated, “We have won, after gay marriage we’ve finally made it, we have victory, we’ve been accepted…” To have such death, such loss, on such a scale, to happen after the victory is over. Can this happen to anybody. I think we can ask more questions about ourselves, like what else is possible. What more can it mean to be peculiar in the average ordinary everydayness of our lives, all lives?
The banality was emphasized for me shortly before this “out” moment. While riding bikes with a friend, he recounted a party he’d been to the night before. He’s a smart fish, and he hangs a hammer-and-sickle flag on his wall, and he was out of his usual depths at this party. The air felt tense like when a bad racist joke is just waiting to happen. At one point someone took out a Beatles record to play, and this immediately drew a routine series of vetoes and boos. “Dude turns around,” said my friend, “clearly sorta panicked, and goes, ‘Why, were they fags?'”
Suddenly I started laughing. So long and hard my friend had to stop telling his story, and half in surprise half in discomfort ask why I, his Gay Black friend, would find this funny. It took some explaining for me to realize this person was not joking, was in fact alarmed he might be promoting homosexuality by playing a Beatles record. This ignorance is comedy on one level but I found it hilarious because of something else. I fall on a certain side of the like/dislike Beatles debate, but I think people hate the Beatles precisely because they were fags: posh and well-dressed, self-obsessed, maybe confusingly popular. I don’t know if I don’t see a problem with that.
Gayness, I’ve maintained, is a sensibility; perhaps it can be called a lifestyle, but it’s Life style. It’s feeling. I’m talking about sushi bars, or whipped cream on your cupcake. Firework shows, baby foxes. The salty smell at the beach. The particular shade of red on stage curtains. Wearing new shoes for the first time. The voice of Chuck Jackson on “Any Day Now,” Amy Winehouse’s mascara, or Daniel Craig’s mouth slightly pursing as he calls himself Bond, James Bond. Anything grand—or desperately trying to be, anything wide-eyed with being alive, is where being gay comes from (in me). It’s an excess that’s somehow not unnecessary, or redundant. To be gay is to feel high and huge on the tender details adorning life. Usually yours.
Not everyone would define their gayness in this way. I’m no expert, words are free-roaming critters anyway. I won’t pretend we should take back “the old way of meaning gay as being happy.” But it’s an idea. We live in uncertain times (like the last times), and perhaps the most revolutionary thing is feeling gay, loving life itself in all its wonderful weird beauty. Having happiness and hope, though that doesn’t mean we don’t think critically at the same time. We’re in a moment when it’s more important than ever that we re-visit and re-value our values. And when words have value, they have currency, evoking responses and connections with others when used. If we choose.
I’d never been faced with a choice like that before, until that night at work. This suicidal teenager teetering on the edge of becoming another statistic, and me just thinking maybe reciprocity is more important than sticking to my old resistance, like I once needed to know there were others like me. For that moment, it was a word for a feeling of faith, or connection, or both. I brought myself to say it quickly, then it was over. “I’m gay.” And he looked up.
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Matthew A. Jonassaint has worked with at-risk youth in Provo for just over two years. He’s been published in peculiar, as well as with the Rock Canyon poets and Pillars of Salt. His favorite summer read has been Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, his favorite record Time Fades Away by Neil Young. This fall, he’ll live in Spain doing a high school teaching gig, and you’ll probably be able to read about it soon somewhere.

“Once When I Was 12 It Took Me an Hour to Read Through 1st Nephi Ch 1” by Alyssa Pyper

peculiar once when i was 12 it took me an hour to get through 1st nephi ch 1.jpg

“Once When I Was 12 It Took Me an Hour to Read Through 1st Nephi Ch 1”
by Alyssa Pyper

I, Nephi, having been born..having been, I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; of my father; taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions…of my father—

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught, been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught, was taught, therefore I was taught, somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord, of the Lord, having been highly favored of the Lord, in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, having—had—a—great—knowledge—therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days—

i was afraid something bad would happen to me if i didn’t read it just right


Check out our recent Q&A with Alyssa Pyper and order the latest copy of peculiar online.

Q&A with Featured Writer: Alyssa Pyper


For our third print issue of peculiar, we chose Alyssa Pyper as our Featured Writer because of her humble authenticity and the way she uses not just the words but spacing, shape, and repetition to transform her writing into something no one else can replicate. She truly is an artist, often expressing herself through music as well—specifically the violin. Alyssa was kind enough to take a pause between concert gigs to answer some questions about poetry and life.

When did you start writing poetry?

I was dating this girl a couple summers back. During that summer I found out that she was moving out of state to finish her schooling come fall. I was crushed. She was always making me the most beautiful cards and collages, leaving things here and there for me, flowers at the doorstep, etc. It was lovely. When I began to process the fact that she’d be leaving, I worked it out in writing. I was an avid journalist as a teenager but I’d never pursued any creative pieces or written anything for anyone…her endless gifts to me of things she’d created inspired me, and I ended up writing her some sappy/tenderhearted lines about the fact that she was leaving. That fall, I enrolled in my first creative writing class at Utah Valley University.

Why do you write poetry?

I have a need to create. I was always creating as a kid, painting pictures, making films with friends…my best friend and I even had our own film company called “Kid Productions”—slogan, Let’s Play! (Pretty cute and clever, right!? Also, yes, we really did!) I was always making meaning in relation to my friends and family through creating.

As a teenager I kept a lot of things bottled up. I was scared of my experiences, didn’t know why I cared so much about the girl in my 8th grade choir class, why I wanted her approval so badly, why it all bothered me so much. I was excelling in the world of classical violin and spent most of my time outside school learning concertos and waking up for Saturday morning orchestra rehearsals. I put all of my creative, anxious energies into music. This training has been invaluable to me, but I came to a point at 19 when I realized I could not thrive within a classical frame for much longer. There was something else I needed to be doing. People came along who helped me open up and be comfortable with simple acts of self-expression and sharing in my day to day life. I met friends and integrated into communities who helped me to own my lived experience. This openness has translated into a deeper need to continue creating and synthesizing my lived experience into works of music and writing.

What poets do you yourself read?

Well, I can tell you what’s on my shelf right now: 4 Anne Carson books, Ali Smith’s How to be Both, several books on Jungian psychology, a book on chakras, Leap by Terry Tempest Williams, a couple of local zines including the first edition of Pillars of Salt [go check out the zine community on Facebook and Instagram], a copy of Pigs When They Straddle The Air by local author/professor Julie Nichols [BUY HER BOOK AND READ IT, NOW], Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, The Queer Art of Failure, Flight From Neveryon

I actually probably read psychology books more often than I read poetry! I think it’s a life-phase sort of thing, though I find it fascinating and it often propels a lot of my work forward…but I also really gravitate toward narrative nonfiction, confessional poetry, historical fiction (esp. if its queer or local or both), experimental texts… though I’m not that good at reading from cover to cover. I’m lucky if that happens. More often than not I grab a couple lines here and there, or finish a few chapters and then pick up a different book the next time, only to circle back to the first…I carry a backpack with me wherever I go because I hate being without an extra shirt or pair of socks etc. if I want to change or if the temperature changes, and I pack a couple books too, choice of book always dependent on my mood that day…keyword being mood, because everything revolves around that. (I have to joke about it but it’s real. Haha.)

What’s your writing process?

In some ways I’m always “brainstorming”—thinking about the symbols, underlying connections and storylines of my every day experiences. I’ve always been pretty pensive. My actual output is varied, much like my attempts at reading. Sometimes I can sit down and flesh something out quickly, consistently, and walk away with a polished piece a few hours later. But most of the time, I’m just thinking, jotting notes and phrases so I don’t forget them. Whether music or poetry, I’ll often develop a general concept or structure that I want to explore for a piece, and then I’ll work to fill in the details over a period of days and weeks and months. 

What inspires you to write?

Experience is what keeps me writing. It’s definitely self-centered and it’s all about processing my feelings and thoughts.

Recently I’ve been obsessed over Merrill Garbus’s work with her band Tune-Yards, as well as Annie Clark & hers in ST Vincent. I’m inspired by countless mentors in my life—amazing professors at UVU who write and create and teach authentically and give me permission to do the same…kindhearted therapists and healers who have shared their strength and caring with me…so many badass friends starting their own collectives, zines, and journals to foster community and give voice to those who need it. You all give me strength.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written? 

I’ve been really liking a lot of the things I’ve been writing lately. I’m getting comfortable with my processes—how and when to push myself, when to rest. I’m working on a full length album that I’ll be releasing in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Musically this album is experimental chamber folk. Lyrically it’s like poetry. I used to just kind of throw down the first lyrics that I thought of for a song, but I’ve been a bit more selective about how the lyrics and narratives are crafted in this project. This album is the culmination of a lot of work and growing I’ve been doing over the past few years, musically, emotionally, spiritually. I think in general, I really like what I’m writing when I’m writing it, and I look forward to writing more in the future—changing my parameters, exploring new ideas, methods of execution, etc. I used to be afraid that I’d run out of ideas or “write my best thing” and then wither away. I’ve been fascinated and fueled by the idea of possibility lately. I think it’s endless. I will always have ways to push myself and to explore. I think that’s pretty great.

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people? 

I hope to put out what I’ve been grateful to receive. Authenticity. Love of sound, love of words. Connection. Sharing experience honestly is so important to me. Learning to use my voice is so important to me. It’s a process I’m humbled to be a part of.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Performing, mentoring, writing, collaborating. Resting.

What’s it like being gay in Utah?

I keep trying to leave! I’ve lived here my whole life and I tire of the heaviness of it. I’m a Mormon girl at heart and I just want to love another Mormon girl. No matter how I approach that, it’s never easy.

But I also love this valley and I have grown to understand that Utah is a place like any other, with its own set of prevalent cultural norms. Some of those norms are infuriating and hurtful and exhausting. But I’ve met so many incredible people navigating their way around it just like me, and I find needed understanding there.

I think a lot of things are changing and growing and expanding in Utah on a cultural level. I’d like to experience being in other places, but I’ve come to accept that Utah Valley will never really leave me. I feel a very strong sense of connection to my home.

What makes you peculiar?

LOL. Idk. I only wear certain colors. I change my outfit multiple times during the day depending on my mood. I was obsessed with Pinocchio as a four-year-old and even dressed up as Pinocchio for Halloween. I watched the movie again a couple years ago and I don’t know why I wasn’t scared of it! But it’s actually a pretty powerful story of rebirth and growth…so I find my childhood obsession with Pinocchio quite peculiar and lovely.



To experience Alyssa’s music, follow her artist page on Facebook  or visit her Bandcamp website. Her new album will be released in the fall. She also plays with the folk band Quiet House.
Her poetry can be found in the first and third issues of peculiar, available for purchase online.