Posted in Books, Real Life

Writing from the Closet

My very first therapist once asked about my sexuality.

I told her I was queerer than most people but still considered myself more-or-less straight.

Yes, I thought women were pretty in a strictly heterosexual way. Romantically and sexually, though, I only liked dudes.

At the time, I meant it.

*

At fourteen, I jammed myself far into the closet and spent the next decade convincing everyone around me that I was TOTALLY STRAIGHT.

I’m not sure if anyone believed me. I’m not sure if I believed me.

In college, I befriended a fellow writer who seemingly bought my charade and wanted to work on projects with me.

I was flattered. SHE, a fabulous writer, wanted to work on projects with ME, a baby blogger who liked to scream about Star Wars.

We wrote stories separately and together. All our protagonists (hers and mine) and the secondary characters we based on each other were close, “like sisters.”

(How else would one describe a strong emotional bond between two women?

We never acknowledged how much time we spent at each others’ houses, how late we stayed up talking on the phone, how many miles we drove to visit each other after we graduated.

We certainly never acknowledged how she spent more time with me than she did with her live-in boyfriend.

We kept writing together despite the distance. Our characters’ relationships were tense, fraught. At times, so was ours.

I figured this was normal. Sisters fought. My other female friendships were equally complex.

I put it all in a box marked “Friendship” and refused to think about it.

*

If my life was a movie, I would realize that I’d been in love with her the whole time.

Looking back though, I don’t think I was.

People jokingly “shipped” us and we laughed it off.

We were friends. There was nothing to talk about.

For all the queer characters and intense female relationships we wrote, we were both straight.

Right?

*

Whatever our relationship was, it ended badly.

We stopped talking and I stopped functioning.

My body hurt. My head ached. I couldn’t stop crying.

I couldn’t believe that a relationship I’d invested so much time in could just END.

I struggled to communicate my grief to others. She and I had been friends, yet I felt like I’d lost a partner. It felt like a breakup, even though it wasn’t.

I wrote dozens of angry poems directed at her, filling them with all rage I’d never dared express.

I filled an entire notebook with work that read like breakup poetry, even though it wasn’t.

Or maybe it was.

I’m still not sure.

*

Before the breakup/not-breakup, I’d been writing a novel.

The protagonist, Mia, fit my typical heroine template: awkward, mannish, unsure of herself, surprisingly funny (if harsh.)

I also wrote a love interest, Henry, with the aim of making him seem appealing.

Instead, he came off mean. His clashes with Mia were sad instead of sexy.

(In that way, they were realistic – at the time, I still sought attention from men who didn’t like me very much.)

I pushed the characters into a friendship, trying to plop them into the romance I’d envisioned.

Though I managed some nice bonding scenes, I couldn’t get their connection to morph into a romance.

Frustrated, I spent more time on Mia’s relationship with her (female) neighbor. Writing their interactions felt much more natural.

Like Mia, said neighbor had a male love interest (obviously.) Both Mia and the neighbor were straight, just like I was.

*

I stopped meeting with my therapist when I sensed her trying to boot me out of the closet.

“Don’t you want to talk about it?” she asked at one of our last sessions.

No, I thought. Not with you.

I kept writing instead.

*

In 2018, I resurrected the novel I’d been writing with my former friend, carefully extracted all my original characters, and put them in a new setting.

One of the side characters was a lesbian. The rest were straight.

I replaced my friend’s character with Sana, the “close friend” of my protagonist Jorah.

The two of them lived together and shared a room. You know, “like sisters.”

Once again, I brought in a male love interest who never jelled. All my plans immediately fell apart and Sana and Jorah’s relationship became the focus of the novel.

I could never pin down exactly what their relationship was. Their dynamic felt too charged to be familial; on the other hand, romantic affection felt out of place.

As such, the characters never knew what their relationship was either.

I felt like I was exorcising a demon I couldn’t yet name.

*

During that time, my life as I knew it kept changing.

I resumed therapy (this time with a competent therapist.)

I got an office job.

I joined a church that celebrated queerness and attended my first Pride parade.

I sought out queer friends and called myself an ally.

I read tons of queer fiction (because it was “interesting”) and books on queer theology (to “broaden my views.”)

Books by Becky Albertalli and Ashley Herring Blake moved me and sparked questions: did I ever feel this way? Was there a word for what I was?

During that time, I still called myself straight and no one questioned it.

*

The “friendship” novel was a tipping point.

When I finally admitted that I’d written something sort-of gay, I allowed myself to entertain the label “bisexual.”

I allowed myself to notice women as well as men.

I allowed myself to read whatever books I wanted, simply because I wanted to.

I snapped up books about bisexuals and told my parents about them.

After all this buildup, coming out felt like a no-brainer.

I wanted to verbalize for the first time what made me different from others.

I was 26. I was terrified. I felt like a late bloomer.

I felt like I hadn’t been ready before.

*

A past version of me would have agreed with Lev Rosen and Gaby Dunn’s takes on writing queer content.

I used to think it was unfair for authors to profit off of queer identities they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) divulge.

I hated that m/m stories written by authors perceived as cis, straight women eclipsed works by out queer creators.

I didn’t see how these views could be harmful, how they put pressure on authors who were curious, who were unsure, who considered themselves “allies” only, who were probably more-or-less straight.

I didn’t see that demanding certainty can endanger authors, whether by throwing them deeper into the closet or by threatening their safety.

With these things in mind, I’m worried about the impact of Dunn’s comments especially.

I’m worried her comments will stop writers from creating queer content at all.

I’m worried they’ll lead closeted individuals to spend their lives feeling like undeserving impostors.

I’m afraid allies and mostly-straight creators will feel ashamed of their desire to write queer stories.

I hope they write instead.

Author:

Lover of cheese and performative angst. I love to call out, complain, overreact, analyze, and reimagine. This site contains the fruit of that labor.

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