Gay’s Best of 2019

Some of our favorite essays this year

Roxane Gay
Jan 1, 2020 · 7 min read

Gay Magazine came online on May 1, 2019. Since then, we’ve published 109 pieces by 94 different writers: essays, cultural criticism, and short fiction that we believe in and handle with care. Some of our writers were well known and established, many were publishing for the first time. These are some of our favorites from the past eight months.

The Pleasure Scale, by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Many parts of my body are numb from surgery. My inner thigh on the right side from open heart surgery. Under my left boob from open heart surgery. My left chest all the way up to my neck from an autologous transplant, with an exception for a quixotic sliver of nipple. My right thumb from the other autologous transplant. The top of my back hurt in a vehicular accident. The inside of my right arm from the transplant. My right nipple from breast surgery.”

Music as a Lifeline, by Tracy Lynne Oliver

“There’s a moment after daughters become mothers when their mother falls from the pedestal, wings shatter, glow dims. My moment came when my daughter was six months old and I was a twenty-four-year-old new mom, living a waking nightmare of inadequacy and worry.”

Mother: A Dictionary, by Jen Soong

“There is an expression 吃苦 chī kǔ that translates into “eat bitterness.” It is often used by parents to remind a child that life requires us to endure hardships.

I look at my reflection in the mirror and repeat a mantra: “I am not my mother. I am not my mother.””

Hashtag Jacaranda Propaganda, by Carey Baraka

“The ubiquity of the jacaranda tree in Kisumu, and in Kenya is unusual in the sense that the tree itself has little, if any, utilitarian value. The British were building a colony, and they planted trees that would help them in this stark colony-building: cedars, pines, and eucalyptus trees were introduced, because these were a heady source of the timber that the British needed, while the Black wattle and the Grevillea were cash crops.”

For Magicians Who Die on Stage, by jayy dodd.

“Only one person ever called me an alcoholic to my face and he was too much of a monster otherwise for me to believe him. While it’s not his fault, he wasn’t able to show me that my act wasn’t working. It took me almost two years to get sober after this singular unsolicited indictment to alcoholism. Both my parents have been practically sober my entire life (my mom only attempting to learn about hard liquor as I approached 21, years ago).”

Song of My Asshole, by Rennie McDougall

“The doctor’s recommended treatment for this condition — anal fissure the medical term — is bath-sitting. Every day, twice a day, I will sit in the bath. Other remedies are equally quaint, apothecarian: a salve of coconut oil, tea tree oil, and witch-hazel is applied daily. Sometimes a doctor seals the wound by poking it with a burning ember, blistering the torn flesh. I learn to have the bath already drawn before shitting, which I do while biting down on a towel. I am told not to worry, that the wound will heal within a month, maybe two. A month passes, then two, then twelve. Sometimes there is less blood, sometimes no pain, but all healing repeatedly reverses and there is no better plan than to return to a slow, watery recovery — sentenced to bathe.”

English Language Glossary for a Daughter of Refugees, by Amy Lam

“I needed to learn English better and more. I wanted to tell people to go to hell and know exactly where that was. Even if they never appeared on spelling tests, I knew about “payment due dates” and “dependants.” I called bored-sounding adults, always beginning with the caveat that I was a child representative on behalf of my parents, to ask about unfamiliar charges on utility bills. When I was incapable of parsing out the legalese of my parents official-looking mail from the health insurance company, they would ask me in Cantonese, what are you even going to school for? I was a good girl and didn’t talk back. It was a rhetorical question that made me feel smaller and more helpless than the requisite smallness and helplessness of being in a child’s body who both wanted to please and also knew the paperwork of grown-up life wasn’t her responsibility.”

Mercy Killing, by Ashley Farmer

“I’ve made a quiet study of pain, the blinding, bewildering strain you don’t see coming, the pain of our family is over, the pain of reality biting the dust, of looking toward the horizon to see pain extending forever into the future, an unforgiving, hopeless desert. Or maybe pain has made a study of me, taking up residence in my body, thrumming in my chest, sky-rocketing my blood pressure to E.R. levels and throttling me from sleep at 2 a.m. until night eases and the sun slides up. Because there’s grief, yes, but it’s complicated, too: what do you do with pain caused by someone you love, for actions you don’t agree with but, on some level, understand? For a gunshot, a gunshot in public, no less, in a time of mass shootings? For my suffering grandmother? For my weeping grandfather who tried, but failed, to leave us and was now condemned to live?”

The Settle Point, by Megan Pillow

“For years, this is what I thought it meant to be a wife and mother and student: every day, you’re filled to the brim with tasks, and there is never a break.

My ex-husband told me once that he’d had to learn how to be a father, how to do his fair share of the housework. That it had taken time.

I remember staring at him, gritty-eyed with exhaustion, unshowered, feeling utterly alone. I had to learn too, but I didn’t have time, I thought. All the while, I did the work. All the while, I was waiting.”

The Motherhood Literature Paradox, by Laura June

“Mothers, we know, are held to a very high standard. You can’t really say it “sucks to be a mother sometimes” more than once or twice without people talking about you behind your back, wondering if you’re a criminal, a monster. And who gets to complain — the writers on motherhood — well, the deck is still stacked.”

Sex with a Brain Injury, by Annie Liontas

“I used to be good at sex. This is a secret I’ve held close, but I’ll tell you now because it’s been taken from me. That’s how I caught my wife — sex and poetry, and the promise of more sex through poetry. It started in seventh grade when Sean Callahan kissed me atop the doghouse, my knees straddling his concave shoulders, and he asked, Where did you learn that, do you watch dad movies? I understood then that I had a hidden intelligence, and it had to do with attunement. From then on, I decided I was only going to share it with people I liked.”

We are looking forward to welcoming even more writers and readers in 2020. In January, we feature our Community issue, where writers examine the ways in which we are and are not connected to one another.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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