By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
Like many LGBTQ folks, Rowan Wren didn’t have queer role models when she was growing up. She had to leave home to find a sense of belonging, but now she’s working to the bring the world to youth and other isolated queer folks through her oral history project, Marvel Queer America.
“One day it occurred to me that if I had access to LGBTQ stories when I was younger it would have been easier for me to come out,” Wren says. “It seems like this is true for so many of us who feel alone in our experience until we find our tribe.”
So the 30-year-old student began recording interviews with LGBTQ people in her community. She launched a website in October featuring a handful of video interviews and says she plans to add audio segments soon.
The interviews cover a wide range of topics including coming out, gender identity, technology, and queer women in the arts. Each segment is presented with a rawness that resembles a real-life conversation. This is intentional.
“There is minimal editing that is done to each interview,” Wren says. “My hope is that the authenticity of each person’s story is showcased in this way.”
An interview with Portland Community College student Natalie, 32, delves into the complexities of gender and sexual identity.
“Every day something happens to inspire me, but a lot of things also happen to kind of discourage me. Part of being genderqueer or someone who identifies outside of the gender binary is difficult in the community nowadays. I don’t think there’s been a lot of education,” Natalie says. “If you’re walking down the street and somebody sees you and is like, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ my typical response is ‘yes, or ‘It’s none of your business.’”
Rick, 53, talks about coming out to his parents at age 40, some 14 years after telling his friends he was gay.
“[Coming out to my parents at 40] was surprisingly good. It exceeded my expectations,” Rick says. “It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done…. It’s never too late to come out, and it’s never too late for things to get better.”
Wren got her first taste of video editing while volunteering for Q Center’s media team, where she helped produce and edit short videos for the Queer Heroes NW Project, the Bureau of Labor and Industry’s housing nondiscrimination advocacy work, and the 2013 fundraising gala, Fire and Ice.
“The stories that move me most are stories of accomplishment and perseverance,” Wren says. “I love to hear stories of how people work to overcome what is standing in their way.”
It is these stories that have the greatest potential to bring hope to LGBTQ folks who are isolated or struggling. And Wren hopes to collect a whole lot more of them. She envisions a project similar to National Public Radio’s Story Corps, which would only lend visibility to queer stories, but also preserve them for the historical record.
“My hope is that MQA will have the community support and participation it needs to thrive,” Wren says. “I see MQA as a place where anyone can go to hear stories that are not featured in any other place. I would like to see MQA turn into an organization that is collecting stories from all over the country.”
So why did she call it Marvel Queer America?
“Because I marvel every time I hear a story from someone in our community. I am constantly awed by the strength and courage of the human spirit,” Wren says. “The title of the project is a command. I want other people to stop and marvel too. We are all so uniquely different and that is a beautiful thing.”
Watch Wren’s video interviews at marvelqueeramerica.com.
Originally published in PQ Monthly.