Documenting Queerness in the Midwest

If you grew up in Chicago, you know that walking downtown with your headphones equates to the feeling of biting into a fresh Krispy Kreme donut. For high-school-aged Jose Quinones, his downtown walk playlist included Panic! at the Disco, All American Rejects and System of the Down, to name a few. These walks gave Quinones the opportunity to plug into his silver iPod nano and tune out the thoughts and the uncertainty of his sexual identity.

When thinking about LGBTQ experiences, many of the stories are centered around the coasts, either coming from places like New York City or Los Angeles, not the Midwest. With this in mind, an anthology was developed called “Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology from Middle America.”

Quinones starts off his contribution to the anthology by taking his readers back to a time when we had to wait for our iPods to charge. Now 30 years old, Quinones lives in Cicero, is a DePaul alumnus and is openly queer. His essay rings with familiarity of what it’s like to be a Latinx teen in the city and details the struggle of coming out to traditional, religious Mexican parents.

“I remember growing up and thinking, ‘There is literally something wrong with me,’” Quinones said.

His personal essay, “Kindergarten,” will be included in the newly released anthology, featuring over 70 pieces centered around queerness in the Midwest.

“[It’s about] thinking about queerness in different places besides the coasts,” said book editor Kevin Whiteneir Jr. “A lot of queer voices are coming from either New York or Los Angeles and that is shaping what people think about queerness.”

Being intentional is what Whitenier said shaped the book. Being strict with what pieces to include led to the inclusion of several languages besides English, allowing for a more diverse representation of backgrounds.

“If we had just gone solely by the submissions we got, the book would have been mostly white, mostly female, mostly cisgender. It would have been very monolithic,” said Ryan Schuessler, an editor of “Sweeter Voices Still.”.

Schuessler and Whiteneir are a queer couple living in Chicago and the idea for an anthology came to them while on vacation. They sent out their first call for submissions in April 2019.

As Whiteneir puts it, “two queer people from the Midwest reaching out to other queer people in the Midwest.” 

The two got over 200 submissions making it difficult to narrow down the entries. Quinones’s essay was one of the select few to be included in the anthology. 

Quinones’s words are reminiscent of that awkward stage in high school where we are trying to figure our shit out. His essay is set on a rainy afternoon, the day his mom tells him that she knows he’s gay.

“It would be dramatic as hell,” says Quinones adding that, “she essentially told me that she had always known, ella sabía desde que era chiquito.”

Although I’m not queer, the essay is filled with anecdotes that tugged at my first-generation heart strings. The details in the storytelling, coupled with sincerity, are what works so well and set a precedent for the rest of the pieces in the anthology. 

This will be Quinones’s first published essay, an accomplishment that elates his mom, Evelia. 

“Eso es normal, a mi me da gusto,” Evelia said referring to her son’s sexuality. 


Header image by Phoebe Nerem