Brian Louis Mack, also known by his pen name BFoundAPen, died Thursday morning in the company of loved ones. Brian, a trans Black man, struck me as a remarkable person not because of the challenges he faced—we all have troubles, despite society’s penchant for skewing some more problematic than others—but because of the manner in which he faced them. Truth is, large or small, public or private, life’s slings and arrows can either debilitate or liberate. Brian pursued his dreams with determination and grace and in doing so taught more readers and writers than he ever knew about what it is to be a man.
Living with a debilitating disease, pursuing life as a trans man and all the benefits therein, first in the South and then above the Mason-Dixon line—Brian lived his best life on his own terms. How many people can honestly say they fought and prevailed against society’s attempts to “should on them” and became the person they believed God created them to be.
Few. Very few.
The group of writers and poets who have come to know one another over the past five years is more than a disparate group of wanna-be writers. We are a family. Even if some of us come and go for whatever reasons—relatives, mental or physical health, burning out or falling out with Medium or one another—who among us hasn’t sought the emotional support of another in our cadre? And found not only sustenance, but encouragement.
We writers appreciate the literary prowess of one another and are all too familiar with the agonizing that comes with stringing just the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs together to properly convey our thoughts and emotions. And we relish those moments when our contemporaries “nail it.” Brian did this often.
Let us grieve the loss of our friend, our brother, Brian Mack. But let us celebrate his life, his love, and the enduring lessons he taught us through his work.
Our Human Family, Founder and Editorial Director
I’m in New York City this week, taking part in commemorations related to the twentieth year since the events of 9/11/2001. I was making plans for my visit to the memorial and museum down on Church Street when I got the email from Clay.
Brian Mack had died.
We’d never met, Brian and I. He had submitted a few pieces to our Medium publication Our Human Family, and I’d worked with him to edit and shape his work. I grew to know him better through his words and his passions. I know he was concerned with the hardships of those on the economic margins, especially when they are also members of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities. He used his voice to advocate for people, to open our eyes to those who live on the sidewalks and benches or in low-income housing, who have struggled to survive. I respected his work because it came from his lived experiences and his knowledge of those around him. I looked forward to his writing because he used his whole self to express his views and argue for the dignity of others—a good man using his life to make a difference.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum were sobering and reminders that we cannot know the final days of our lives. Many of us will be caught short of our goals when we take our last breaths. The memorial told stories of people going about their day, traveling to visit family, taking part in a conference, responding to an emergency call for assistance, or simply working at their station in a restaurant a hundred or so floors above the city streets. They were doing their jobs, taking care of business, or just being alive in the early morning. Perhaps waiting for the end of their shifts so they could go back home to family and friends, confident that they’d have another meal, another night, another moment with their loved ones.
I considered all this as I thought of Brian and his life. He had used his life consistently for the good of others. He had used his voice to raise awareness by those who read his work. As an editor who worked with him, I can see how much he wanted to have his voice count. I believe he used every bit of his energy to make sure of that.
Our Human Family, Senior Editor
My friend Brian . . . where to even start?
He was a poor, Black, trans man with a life-threatening genetic disease in a world that doesn’t look kindly on any of those traits. He grew up in the deep South and lost his mother to the same brutal disease at a young age. He had kidney and liver transplants as a child. Yet, he didn’t let any of those things define him. He was proud to be who he was, yet he was also so much more.
He had a grandmother and a dog he adored. He found a way to attend college for a while, till he struggled to even walk. He was an active writer, producing volumes of beautiful, empathetic prose and poetry. He made friends easily, in-person and online.
A group of us started Slacking. I was the odd one, as a straight white woman; Brian was somewhat quiet at first, and I suspect he was a little leery of me as the demographic outlier. But once he accepted me, there were no barriers. Indeed, although he wrote heavily about Black and LGBTQ rights, he talked to me mostly about the things that would interest any young man: girls. His dog. His latest video game. Things he’d speak to a mom about. I suspect I erred at times by being too protective.
A couple of years ago, our Medium friends Eric and Gwen became concerned enough about his health that they swooped in and moved him to Michigan so he’d be safer and have access to better medical care. There he became a part of Gwen’s family and loved them all fiercely, finally having the parents he hadn’t had in so long and siblings for the first time ever. Eventually, he also fulfilled his dream of marrying his soul mate and had terrific stepchildren.
Brian was unfailingly polite and caring. So many texts began with, “On my way to dialysis, but how are you?” He celebrated the little things, like a new t-shirt or video game. And finally, growing facial hair! He knew his life would be short, but he was determined to make the most of it—and he did.
He made it to what—not quite twenty-five?—and is gone way too soon. Perhaps, as they say, he was too good for this world. But we so desperately need more people like him. I’m still struggling to imagine no more text that start with “Sherryyyyyy!” My heart is broken.
Our Human Family, Managing Editor
Please follow these links to read more of Brian’s impact on the larger writing community and his poetry and prose for OHF Weekly and Our Human Family.
Top photo courtesy of Brian’s family.