“Granny Death and the Drag King of London” by A. J. Fitzwater could be described as a story about Queer culture in the early 90s, Freddie Mercury, and grief. But more than just grief, it’s about loss… about losing almost an entire generation of queer men (and many women) to AIDs. Why don’t you ever see an old Drag Queen? Because death comes all too soon, all too young, thanks to a virus. You can read the story at the link, or you can download and listen to the podcast.
Lacey James is a bisexual drag king who has nursed many friends ill with HIV and seen their lives end. She’s said good bye to a great many people she’s loved, and that’s scarred her and scared her. She’s far from her New Zealand place of birth, working a job she doesn’t particularly like for a boss she loathes, when one of her heroes and icons dies of AIDs: Freddie Mercury. As you might expect, this absolutely shatters her. She’s already preoccupied with death, occupied with mourning, carrying a litany of names with her. Now she’s lost Mercury, too. It’s odd, but the death of a famous person we’re emotionally invested in can sometimes unlock all the other grief we’re carrying with us. And on yet another day at her crappy job catering yet another funeral she once again runs into the old woman who shows up at every single funeral like it’s free entertainment and slips sandwiches into her handbag to take home.
The old woman, of course, works for Death and reveals that Lacey has the ability to do what she does, as well; that she shares a Calling. She can see oncoming death, those about to die. She can spot the Rifts that open, the passageways the dead travel through. Lacey’s able to find a role and a home with “Granny Death” and come to terms with the grief she’s been carrying with her so very long.
Sometimes you need to be able to let go to grieve and heal, and you can’t do that if you aren’t in a safe place, if you aren’t supported.
“Granny Death” does a fantastic job sketching a specific area, a specific time, and a specific subculture. Much of GLBQT history is lost because so many people who lived it, who witnessed it, died of AIDs; what was recorded was often lost or destroyed on purpose (for example, the Nazi book burning of trans related medical documents and literature). It can leave young Queers feeling lost and adrift. Who came before? What came before? Who fought before? Who can mentor us? Who can show us how to live? Who can show us how to survive? Who can show us how to grieve?
This is a solid story about grief and loss, but also about hope.
Quick edit — I can’t believe I forgot this — this story also covers the rarely discussed fact that it was queer women/AFAB people who nursed gay and bi men & AMAB people who contracted HIV, and provided hospice care as they died. It’s a fact that’s rarely mentioned now except by queer women/AFAB people. They did this before people realized exactly how HIV was spread, and after as well. Remember for a while there were fears it was spread by breathing, or by any physical contact at all. Now we know it’s spread by certain bodily fluids, and when exhausted and nursing someone it’s really easy to become accidentally exposed to their blood. Queer women/AFAB people witness the death of nearly a generation of queer men/AMAB people and that’s its own form of heartbreak. How do people heal from that? How do communities form and reform and be whole? The AIDs epidemic was heart breaking in so many ways and certain groups are still reeling from its early effects… although it feels miraculous sometimes how well medication is working at keeping people alive.