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Grieving While Gay

My favourite place in the world no longer exists. 

This statement isn’t entirely true—the house remains along with its old wallpaper and fraying sofas. The light still makes its way through the glass doors easily, revealing the harbour just beyond them where we used to eat salami sandwiches in the summertime. The place exists, sure, but its purpose is removed. I can still sit on the old Chesterfield in that carved-out cushion on the right, but why would I? The man who prefers the middle seat is gone. 


My grandfather passed away on March 3rd, though he began the process of leaving years ago. An amputation after a near-deadly infection had advanced his dementia greatly, leaving only scraps of him behind. On the other side of the operating table, his laughter rang hollow. There was an emptiness to his voice that stung, but as long as he kept talking, dialogue was a gift. And if you could manage to make him laugh? Well, you were halfway home.


No one is laughing now.


No one is laughing as we approach the front door of the familiar and estranged house with chocolates for my grandmother and condolences to give. But, it isn’t all selfless— I have my heart set on a trophy from the vast collection of the (now deceased) King of the Argyle Cardigan. A blue button-down with a hole in the right-hand pocket. The garment is threadbare, as we all are.


No.”


The voice is unexpected in its harshness. It is the spearpoint we’re all feeling, but not aiming. Not yet.


“What?”


“You are not wearing that inside. Not today.”


I look down at my tank top and jean jacket, the one with the rainbow heart pinned to the front of it. I look to see a family member whose eyes are on fire.


“You know your Religious grandmother is inside with her Religious sister. You don’t need to be making any statements.”


It is warm outside—one of the first warm days, in fact. The birds spent the morning

singing praises and reminding us to dress lightly.


“I wasn’t making one.”


We regard one another for a long moment.


“You can take off the jacket, or you can go home. You can’t come in looking like that and upsetting people.”


We both wait as I weigh my options. My grandmother is not prejudiced. I do not know her sister, but I have difficulty imagining that, in the wake of a family tragedy, an elderly woman with poor eyesight would inspect my jacket, zero in on the pin, and cast me out.

But, I have stood on that porch for years. I know the cost of entering a familial space and am well accustomed to paying it. 


Before I had the jacket, I had a mask—a dearly beloved piece of porcelain that served me well. It allowed me to attend Christmas dinners, school dances, and sociology classes in which the dignity of queer people sparked heated debate. You see, we have always been real, just never enough


It took me years to don that jacket, but still, I am asked by the world to wear the mask it prefers. The one it recognizes.


I am tired.


It does not matter how devastating the loss because I am still not worthy of processing it as I am. Not if I want support or community. You see, in order to enter that space, I must accommodate everyone else in it. I must be the one who is emotionally mature, adjusting my existence to suit the comfort of “family.” 


This is, I believe, a snapshot of a universal aspect of the queer experience—the demand which an ill-tempered society places upon us to exhibit emotional maturity. To be stoic, calm, and adult while others ban books and drag, attempting to push us into smaller and smaller containers for them to store in their closets next to their shoes and their untapped supply of empathy. 


In a world where a single pin is rebellion, I wonder what it must be like to exist as a person whose selfhood is reflected everywhere, unquestioningly. To walk through a department store in March is to be bombarded with painted eggs, rabbits, and watercolour paintings of bible verses, yet no sane person would accuse local Christians of ‘flagrantly flaunting their lifestyles.’ 


The expectation that queerness will be tolerated only when it is silent and therefore

palatable is a betrayal, and queer people are consistently asked to betray themselves to suit the comfort of every other voice. 


My grief is every bit as real as yours, so why must I experience it on your terms?


Dear Reader, I do not intend to preach. Instead, I am asking you to join me on the porch.

I am too tired to meet you where you are. For once, I want someone to come to me. To find me in that No Man’s Land where I have learned to dwell because your cities and towns come with prerequisites I did not take and tests I did not study for. 

There is no hero in this story. I was not defiant. Failing to resist, I removed my jacket to don a cardigan. I went inside, met my grandmother’s sister (who seemed kind), and continued the palatable lie of my existence. Meanwhile, the couch was still empty, and no amount of grief could fill it.


I tell you of my defeat because the queer people in your life deserve to be heard. Particularly now, in the wake of Nex Benedict’s death, and the rise of anti-LGBTQ laws which had precipitated it, I argue that we need to be. Because grief looks different for everyone and so must the response. Because for the mourner, grief will be there, no matter what. Will you be? 


Will you have the emotional maturity to meet someone where they are?




Jen Colclough is a poet, novelist, digital artist, and ESL Instructor from Nova Scotia, Canada. She holds a Master of Arts in Classics from Western University and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from Acadia University.

Her poetry has appeared in Ionosphere, MORIA Literary Magazine, OpenDoor Magazine, Tidewise Illustrated Quarterly, Free the Verse, and The Power of Hope Anthology. Her original short story, “The Opposite of Hunger,” was published in The Petal Pages Anthology in August 2023. Additionally, her article, “Memorialization in Thucydides’ Plague Episode,” was published by the Journal of Ancient History in June 2023. 






You can find Jen at:

Instagram: @jenmcolclough

X: @jenmcolclough

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