According to a definition cited by Ariel Gore, editor of this LGBT-themed story collection, the word "queer" means "unusually different." Different from what? From you. Unless you self-identify as "queer"—and even a fair number of LGBTs do not—you find yourself outside the circle of people whom Portland Queer (Lit Star Press, 247 pages, $15.95) is written by, about and implicitly for. The title sets a tone of oppositeness and self-segregation that the stories themselves do little to dispel. In theory, it would be possible to collect stories in which LGBTs form a dynamic part of a larger community. But this book doesn't do that; in fact, there's hardly a sympathetic, heterosexual, nontransgendered character in it.
From its confrontational pink-and-black cover depicting shirtless cuddling sailors to its ruthlessly insider argot—including a specialized glossary, "The Lesbian Lexicon"—Portland Queer is all about being self-consciously different and apart. The stories generally follow one of several "I'm different" trajectories, which include discovering one's alternative sexuality/gender, squaring one's alternative sexuality/gender with parents/God, and confronting bigotry. Such a collection is perhaps useful as an inspiration to conflicted young people, but for anyone without a dog in the fight, it will quickly come to feel predictable, claustrophobic and self-righteous.
Highlights—which generally eschew the above rubric—include campy pieces by Marc Acito and Michael Sage Ricci; several compelling anecdotal histories compiled by Christa Orth; and a moving tale of illness and recovery by Jacqueline Raphael. In "The Strange and Highly Selective Mating Patterns of the Human Male Animal," Ricci tells the tale of an online dalliance conducted through World of Warcraft. There's just one problem. Hunky HearthBubble doesn't know that winnowy Glutter, an apparently female elf, is actually a middle-aged man. Hilarity ensues. In "Stage Zero," author Raphael unfolds in devastating detail the way in which a woman must part with her breasts to stave off incipient breast cancer. It's true; these stories aren't subtle, but they more than compensate with candor, a clear narrative arc and a well-developed voice.
At the other end of the spectrum are pieces like "The Trailer" by Megan Kruse and "PDXOX" by David Ciminello. Here, glances, flirtations, betrayals and one-night stands—admittedly, ubiquitous plot devices throughout this collection—fail to integrate into the fabric of the story. Instead, they are the story. A gay waiter hooks up with an ostensibly straight waiter. A lesbian on the rebound fucks her best friend. Especially considering the soft focus of this anthology's erotic lens—Portland Queer is, I regret to say, relentlessly softcore—such stories can't even aspire to the condition of titillating smut. They're just poorly written hookup drama.
Editor Ariel Gore and contributors Nicole Vaicunas, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, David Oates and Lois Leveen read at Portland Q Center, 4115 N Mississippi Ave., 234-7837. 7 pm Wednesday, July 8.