Tag Archives: queer

Coming out: in your own time

A couple months ago I wrote about coming out as a lifelong experience. Since June is Pride month, I went on a little thing about coming out on Twitter. I thought I would put it all in one place, so I could refer back to it and folks could share it more easily if they wanted.

Try a free week

I think everyone should come out WHEN THEY ARE READY.

There is no requirement that once you figure things out, you need to tell anyone at a particular pace. If you are in that place, now, where you know and maybe you have told one person or two people or no one, just know that you are loved, just as you are. You only owe YOURSELF right now.

It might be hard to figure out who is safe to talk to. It is OKAY to take your time. There is NO RUSH. No one has it all figured out. I try to allow for space for my friends, because I know they are wise about themselves.

It can be tempting to rush, to fill that void because we as a culture are uncomfortable with things being undefined, the in between spaces. Let it be okay. YOU ARE OKAY.

Also, once you figure one thing out, it may shift your understanding of other things. You need not commit to any one thing. I’m talking about sexuality and gender, but there may be other aspects of yourself, too. These things don’t need to define you, but they do inform you, and how others will and do relate to you. Understanding this took me years.

YOU ARE LOVED. You are enough, wherever you are in your journey.

If someone doesn’t accept you, move on. There are people who will accept you. Take your time. Trust yourself. Find your people.

Fin!

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Coming out: or mountains beyond mountains

Last week Barry Manilow publicly acknowledged that he was gay. I saw a lot of responses along the lines of “oh, that’s last weeks news” to “what is the big deal?”. There was a nice piece on the Boston Globe that addressed some of the issues around this response. And then I went on a twitter rant, and then I posted it on Facebook. But I wanted to put this some place that would be easier to find – and share – because this is part of a larger and ongoing conversation, just like coming out.

Door to education

This piece addresses coming out as a lifelong process. Often when people ask “when did you come out?” they are referring to the moment when a person acknowledged or affirmed their identity to themselves. Because once we admit it to ourselves, telling other people happens for the rest of our lives – particularly if we do not visually fit into a stereotype. If you aren’t familiar with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work The Epistemology of the Closet I highly recommend learning more. She challenges the notion of the binary, especially the idea of in and out when it comes to the “closet” (there’s also the phenomenon of bringing people IN to your closet …).

There are various calculations we make every time we reveal that we are LGBTQIA. Here are the questions I ask myself, before I decide whether I will say something: Is my personal safety at stake? Is my reputation? What about my livelihood, my housing, my access to health care? How much power does this person have? Now imagine doing that times 325 million. If you are fairly well known, there is the added onus of the pressure to be a spokesperson or representative once you come out. I consider these things every time I meet someone new. Do you?

I’m lucky I live in a state with protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA people. I’m white (or white-passing), cisgendered, femme, female and educated. I have a lot of advantages. I don’t worry about losing my job or housing. Even with protections, like any form of discrimination, it’s easy to cover homophobia/bigotry if an employer wants to. I live in a big city with a lot of openly LGBTQIA people. I have access to resources. My family accepts and loves me – and my partner. I have a huge buffer and safety net. That’s not the case for many people.

I’ve said this before: my sexuality doesn’t DEFINE me, but it informs me, my experiences, and how people respond/interact. So does yours. I was watching a silly movie and one of the characters comes out to his friend. The friend’s response, “How do you know you are gay?” It’s stuff like this – the microagressions, that wear a person down. Constantly being questioned, having to defend, or be prepared to defend, that exhausts someone. Trust that we know. Coming out to strangers also opens you up to all kinds of personally invasive questions. I’ve had at least two men ask me how I have sex. WTF? Why do people think that kind of question is acceptable? If I didn’t share that information with you, you can trust that you don’t need to know.

I could talk about erasure, absence of representation, and bystander effect, all of which contribute to isolation and confusion. And people wonder why mental health and substance abuse issues are higher in LGBTQIA populations. So the next time a celebrity comes out, look around and see what you can do to make the world safer – not just for the celebrity, but for everyone, including the people in your life, because we are there. And we are here.

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Writing Queer Characters

There have been a lot of conversations in the last few years about diversity, inclusion, and representation in fiction. I have followed along with a lot of interest, in part because I want to see pieces of myself reflected in stories – whether queer, Jewish, female, identical twin, femme, tea drinker, you get the idea, etc.

For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to focus on representing sexuality that is non-heteronormative. If nothing is explicitly stated or said in the text, the reader will assume the characters are straight. (And white. And cisgendered.) The question for many writers who want to represent these characters, then, is how to describe or show their characters are queer without it feeling artificial to the reader.

There are two points I want to make here:

1. How to show a character is LGBT
2. How their sexuality relates to the plot

glowing dahlia

Showing the character is LGBT

You might be tempted to just state it directly. A friend allowed me to use this example from their WIP. Your protagonist enters a room and catalogs the people. They see your gay character, who they also know is gay. They say, “Clearly, Juan and Bob are in a relationship,” without giving any additional information. It’s clear to that character, but it’s not clear to the reader. What is it about any couple that indicates they are in a relationship? How do you show that to the reader? What if they were in an opposite-sex relationship? Without having the characters engage in sex, here are a couple of ways I could think off the top of my head: they wear matching wedding bands, they are holding hands, they mention how they met/their first date/their anniversary/their wedding in conversation.

Also, where they stand in relation to one another will tell the reader a lot about their relationship and/or personalities – are they close in private but won’t stand within five feet in public? Are there societal things that make that kind of behavior normal, or is that just the personality of the characters (could be both).

Finally, the attitudes towards the queer characters will tell the reader a lot about the society in your book. Are all forms of sexual orientation equally valued? Are some accepted and others not? This will inform how your characters behave in public versus private, and an individual character’s opinion and judgment about those characters will tell the reader a lot about them.
Last weekend I went to a restaurant for lunch. It had a very long bar. I noticed two women sitting next to each other. The one to the right had her arms stretched out on either side of her, resting on the seatbacks of the chairs. It was a very possessive posture, and it let me know that the two women were a couple.

Here’s an exercise: go to a restaurant in your area. Watch the people and how they interact with each other. See if you can figure out who is in an intimate relationship. What are the cues they are giving? Is it different for same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples? Are there cues that a single person is sending that tells you what their sexuality might be?

Sexuality as a plot point

I have been having this conversation a lot, so I figured I would write it up. It’s very common to read a story or see a movie where the character’s sexuality moves the plot along. The one most people are probably familiar with is the coming out story, where the moment of reveal is the climax, and then the character is punished because of their sexuality.

The movie Carol defies this trope this incredibly well. It’s set in the ‘50s, when American society was less accepting and there were laws against being gay. The titular character, Carol, is married to a man, but has affairs with women. She meets a young woman and tries to run away with her, but her husband sends someone after her. She has a young daughter and is sued for divorce. There are consequences for her due to the cultural context, but the character herself isn’t punished for being queer. She doesn’t feel ashamed or sorry for her sexuality. It is an immutable fact of who she is, just as being blonde or 5’6” tall. This is not to say that everyone’s sexuality is fixed, just that it is for this character.

What I’m trying to get around to is this: your characters will be informed by their sexuality and their social/cultural contexts, but it shouldn’t define them.

I will try to see what resources I can pull together, including a recommended reading list of queer fiction, but that will be in a future post. In the meantime, check out these resources for finding and working with sensitivity readers: Write in the Margins, Writing the Other, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s advice on working with sensitivity readers.

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Over a cuppa

#OverACupOfTeaToday …

I would tell you that my heart is heavy and light, full of emotion, swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other.

cuppa Assam

It’s World AIDS Day, and I think about all the people we’ve lost, before their time, due to fear. I still remember Mark, a beautiful, warm-hearted man who welcomed me when I first moved to Seattle. He was sweet and kind, and we had a special connection. My heart aches for the people around the world whose families have been destroyed, and who are denied treatment due to lack of access or funds. I hold the Bush administration complicit in the deaths of many people in Africa, due to their withdrawal of funding for comprehensive sex ed, in favor of abstinence-only sex ed.

It’s also the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience. I can’t remember when I learned that she was an activist, trained for action, not a tired woman acting alone, but it blew my mind and made me so angry when I did. I know it was long after I finished all formal schooling. How much more powerful a story, and one that mainstream educators didn’t want us to know: collective action can and does push the needle. See also: ACT UP.

I saw a young black girl sitting at the front of the bus this morning, while I sat toward the back. I was struck by the ordinariness of it. There was no friction or conflict about where either of us sat. We sat where we chose. I was pleased by it, aware at the same time that there is still so much work to be done to reach true racial equality, as the Black Lives Matter work has made abundantly clear.

The past returns, in Yeats’ ever widening gyre, but I don’t believe it trends toward anarchy, as he predicts. History repeats, and the echoes reverberate. Some lessons it seems we need to learn over and over, with a node to Santayana.

I despair over humanity ever finding a sustainable peace, as the fresh wave of refugees, driven from their homelands, seek safer ground and find themselves rebuffed for the same reasons the German Jews were in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s Bosnia, it’s Sarajevo, it’s Rwanda, it’s Syria. It’s Armenia, it’s Tibet, it’s fucking “ethnic cleansing” which let’s be honest is state-sanctioned murder. If these are the examples I can list off the top of my head, I’m sure there are an equal number of atrocities I’m missing. And most of them haven’t been made into movies, sanitized for Hollywood audiences.

I try to take the long view, to see that progress is happening, even if it’s not on the timeline I’d prefer. In HALF my lifetime, gay people in America went from being persona non grata to having access to marriage. There’s still a long way to go in terms of protections, particularly for trans women of color, but given that 20 years ago there were NONE, this gives me hope. Hope for American culture to shift on things like gun ownership, access to health care, housing, gainful employment, and a standing down of the military. Hope for acceptance of all people. No, not just acceptance or tolerance, but celebration of the variety and diversity of what it means to be human, across sexuality, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, ability, age, and any other variable you can name. It may be naive, but the alternative is too painful to bear.

In my slowbloom way, I choose to return my focus to what I want. It’s easy to get distracted by all the things. It’s hard to admit what I want.

This is what I would tell you over a cup of tea today.

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Queer as in Weird

floral dress topiary

Recently I was having a conversation with some people about identity and labeling – specifically around sexuality. One of my friends asked me what queer meant to me. He felt it was vague and unspecific, whereas for me, I feel it’s more meaningful and a better descriptor than the other options that are available.

Erika Moen drew a comic a couple of years ago that encapsulates fairly well how I feel, but yesterday after another friend asked me what queer meant to me, I realized it didn’t tell the whole story.

I came out as bisexual over twenty years ago, and I felt that identity/label fit for a long, long time. I was (and am) attracted to both men and women. But over the last several years, as I learned more about the gender spectrum, I felt constrained by this particular label. As the comments and discussions around Facebook’s decision to allow people to indicate a “custom” gender illustrate, there are far more than the two genders we’ve been led to believe.

But there are a few other components that Erika’s comic doesn’t touch on. Just as lesbians and gay men get a label that doesn’t have sexual in it, neither does queer. If you ask most people along the spectrum of gender and sexuality, I’d guess that while sexuality is a component of who they are, it’s not THE defining quality.

Finally, as I indicate in the title of this piece, I like queer for its OTHER and much OLDER meaning: odd, strange, or weird. I’ve always felt a little bit like an outsider, even within supposedly queer space. I’m too much this or not enough that. I like that queer is inclusive, broad and maybe a little slippery. It makes it that much harder for other people to define me, and that suits me just fine.

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