H. Melt

It was a lazy summer afternoon when I walked into Quimby’s, my favorite bookstore in Chicago. Quimby’s is a prime location for finding underground literature like independent comics and zines, knick knacks like plastic cake-topping brides, and newly published fiction, poetry, politics and more.

I usually peruse the “gay smut” section first. Sometimes it’s a little too phallocentric and I move on to my second favorite area in the store—labeled “made in Chicago.” That’s where I found the first issue of Chicago IRL, advertising itself as “a queer Chicago collaboration of culture and class(lessness).” Seeing the words queer and Chicago next to each other instantly convinced me to pick up the white, glossy, and sleek looking publication. The neon green price tag said it cost twenty dollars, which seemed a bit steep but I couldn’t resist. This was exactly what I was searching for—a space where queer artists in Chicago could come together in print.

I took it home and couldn’t stop looking at it. I knew there was potential in its pages but also felt like there were voices and bodies missing. There were a lot of butts and chest hair. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those two things—I am a fan of both. I wanted more balance. I enjoyed Daviel Shy’s comic, Rebecca Kling’s writing, and Jesus Plazas’ photographs. I still desired an even broader range of experiences from trans and gender nonconforming people, women, feminine, and femme identified individuals, and people of color. These are the representations lacking in mainstream queer culture at large. Chicago IRL became more inclusive with every issue. I took the advice on the back cover and submitted to the next issue number two. Luckily, my work was accepted into the second and later fourth Chicago IRL, which would be the final one.

When I first looked through the different issues of Chicago IRL, I did not know one person who was featured in its pages. All these writers, artists, performers, and creative people were complete strangers to me. I moved back to Chicago just in time to attend the release party for issue four. The party took place at Beauty Bar—one of many bars in Chicago where queer people take over a few nights out of the month for events like Salonathon and Queerer Park.

As I walked up to Beauty Bar, Joe Varisco (co-founder of Chicago IRL along with Topher McCulloch) was standing outside smoking a cigarette. We recognized each other from the internet and he greeted me with a hug. I gave him a copy of Cuntfessions, my latest poetry collection at the time. I performed several poems at the release party, alongside Jesus Plaza, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Wes Perry, Janie Stamm, and many others. Nico Lang was in the audience. Mar Curran was there. The real question is: who wasn’t there? After the performances were over, many people came up to say hello, to introduce themselves, give me a hug, a compliment. I knew I’d found home.

Even though Chicago IRL is no longer in production, the community that surrounded it is still very much alive. It is constantly evolving, expanding, and taking care of itself. Jesus does my hair. Kiam took an author photo for my latest book SIRvival in the Second City. I performed at Wes Perry’s monthly event Making Out. Janie is my partner. Nico wrote about me for Windy City Times and publishes my work. Mar makes tea for me when I’m sick and shares the same birthday. These are the people who keep me alive. Who understand me or are willing to ask when they don’t. These are the people who I write about. My writing is about the people, events, and places that make up this beautiful community, as well as our flaws, conflicts, and contradictions. Joe helped me understand the need to document our performances, our writing, our art, our loves, and our own lives. If we don’t document ourselves, who will?

If you are looking for another publication featuring creative Chicago queers, check out 3rd Language.