Aug Sept 2016
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Literary Community Mourns Trans Writer Bryn Kelly

Bryn Kelly

Fellow writers, her partner, Gaines Parker, and friends like Kelli Dunham, Sarah Schulman, and Bevin Branlandingham have taken to social media to sing praises for Bryn Kelly

The beloved trans woman writer was lost to an apparent suicide, and was found in her Brooklyn apartment on January 13, according to a tribute at the Lambda Literary Foundation that includes Branlandingham's remembrances from her website.

A writer of fiction, essays, columns, and book reviews, Kelly, an Ohio native, moved to New York City after a stint in Michigan. Kelly was, at one time, active within the Femme Collective, and she participated in Baltimore's 2012 Femme Conference. In her tribute, Branlandingham spoke of how Kelly was also a vital part of the "Femme Family," a community to which both Kelly and Branlandingham belonged.  

“She was part of the Femme Family—an important part. She trusted us enough to organize with us. She showed up,” Branlandingham shared in her tribute. 

"Early at a Femme Family organizing meeting she said she had just gone to queer/trans yoga at Third Root and said she felt so free," Branlandingham continued. "I just remember the look in her eyes, we were in the lounge at Re/Dress. She was so relaxed and happy. She was usually kind of on edge, socially, as I think she loved being social and like many of us, had some social anxiety.”

Kelly was the author of a now-classic short story, “Other Balms, Other Gileads,” which was published in the Time Is Not a Line: Reflections on HIV/AIDS issue of the We Who Feel Differently journal edited by Theodore Kerr. Her luminous, richly detailed prose often shared the realities of living and loving as an HIV-positive trans woman in Brooklyn.

“Her short story ‘Other Balms, Other Gileads’ brings together the various vectors of anxiety, identity, and transmission traced throughout Time Is Not a Line,” said Kerr, in his introduction to the journal that anthologized Kelly’s short story.

Kerr went on to highlight the winsome hallmarks of Kelly’s fiction-writing technique: “Kelly demonstrates the banality of endemic time by describing a day in the life through the eyes of an HIV-positive transwoman in Brooklyn. This includes sending a money order to an overseas prescription drug dealer, coming home to her insatiable boyfriend, cooking, fucking, and dreaming of a punk-camp white wedding. Breaking up these everyday activities, her mind wanders off into meditations on subjects like Truvada, Rentboy, and how the word Valium feels in her mouth.”

Along with being a Lambda Literary Fellow and writing a well-regarded 2009 guest column titled “Telephone” for OurChart.com, Showtime's now-closed online social networking spinoff of The L Word, Kelly was honored by the HIV resource The Body as one of its 2015 Trans 100. Kelly also parlayed her one-of-a-kind, at-home salon business into a much-read beauty blog, Bklooks.com

Kelly’s tenderness toward her trans peers was legendary. It is a well-known secret among many transfeminine people that some hair salons specializing in women’s services still say that they charge “extra for men” when transfeminine customers visit. As Branlandingham notes, Kelly would often travel to the apartments of her trans peers in New York City to do their hair for reduced fees. And when she bought her hairdressing chair, she continued the work of making her trans peers beautiful at her Brooklyn apartment. 

“I knew she was a professional hairdresser, and worked out of her Brooklyn apartment,” Kelly’s friend, Hannah Simpson, told The Advocate. Simpson was one of the beneficiaries of Kelly’s hairstyling largess.

Simpson goes on to explain that “about a month after I went full-time, I wanted to exercise my newfound femme self with highlights and styling befitting my gender presentation. However, I was terrified to present myself as a transgender woman in any salon around the city."

"I booked an appointment with Bryn, and had the full salon treatment of cut and coloring in the privacy and security of her own room, using her kitchen sink to wash out the bleach, feeling totally secure in the comfort and experience of another transgender woman," Simpson continued. "Of course I paid her, this was her trade and her work spoke for itself. In fact, I hired her again just two months ago, to do hair and makeup for myself and a few friends of mine who wanted professional headshots."

"Bryn was a talent, a role model, and confidant," Simpson concluded.

On Facebook, Sarah Schulman stated, “We will be gathering on February 7 to remember our beloved friend Bryn Kelly, to recognize the beauty and depth of her life and to support each other in our love and grief." The public may look out for updates about the memorial service on the Facebook event page.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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