All things queer and wonderful.

My insane girlcrush on Ellen Page has reached new heights after watching her achingly sincere coming out speech this Valentine’s Day. Haters and homophobes love to say things like, “What’s the point?” and, “Why does this deserve attention? Straight people don’t come out as straight.”

Well, Jerky McHatesthegays, it’s necessary because awareness and visibility are key to making queerness normal, and accepted. Because “straight” is the assumed norm. Because people who don’t fit neatly into the “straight” category are still denied equal rights and opportunities. Because Russia. Because every inch of this earth isn’t safe yet to be yourself.

I’m not a celebrity (despite what my mom and Dahlia think), and I’m not exactly in the closet (have you seen my debut cover? SO MUCH RAINBOW), but Ellen’s courageous speech inspired me to say something, too. You never know who’s out there, reading, listening, wishing they didn’t feel so alone.

So, I’m queer.

I tell people that I’m bi because it’s a simpler concept to grasp, but I’m waaaaaaaay more on the gay side of bi than the straight. I’m in an awesome long-term relationship with a man I love dearly, and I’ve had relationships with both men and women before this, and I have mad girlcrushes like erry day (ELLEN PAGE YOU ARE SO FUCKING CUTE MARRY ME). But yeah. In my heart of hearts, I know I’m pretty fucking far from straight. And it’s something I struggle with. Ironically, I feel alienated from both worlds: I can’t just say, “Hey everyone, I’m bi!” and feel the loving embrace of the QUILTBAG community and progressive-minded people, because believe it or not, bisexuality is something those folks still struggle with understanding and accepting, too. Ever heard the old saw, “You’re either gay, straight, or lying?” Some say being bi is just a phase (gee, where have I heard THAT before), or that your problems aren’t as serious/legitimate because you don’t identify as 100% gay. And if I’ve been with a man for six years, how dare I claim I’m queer? I’m safely ensconced in my cocoon of hetero privilege, right? Sure. Except for how disingenuous and conflicted I feel inside. Except for how I hate the way it makes people assume things about me. Except for how it’s easier and safer to just not say anything and let them assume. Except for how I feel like a double exile, not fully accepted by either world, stranded out here on my own deserted Queer Island.

(Queer Island is kinda like Monkey Island but with fewer pirates and more sad.)

In high school I was open about it, and I identified as 100% gay. My first high school was big and diverse enough that most people were fairly accepting. It also helped that I was a theater nerd, and half the people in drama club were superfabulously queer, too. But in sophomore year my family moved to a smaller town with a more insular, narrow-minded community, and the kids at that high school were not tolerant. At all. They made fun of how I dressed (“Why do you wear boys’ clothes? Are you a hermaphrodite?”). They started rumors (“She likes you.” “Ew!”). They even played a nasty trick on Valentine’s Day: a jock boy bought me a rose during lunch and had it delivered to me in front of the whole cafeteria, but he signed a girl’s name on the card. And I was still young and dumb enough to actually fall for it. I blushed, and smiled shyly, and looked up…and saw the jocks snickering and saying those words I’d learned to fear.

Dyke. Fag. Lezzie.

That was my new identity. I wasn’t the fiery, smart-mouthed girl who embraced the weirdness of what she was. I was just a disgusting freak. They figured out exactly what I secretly longed for, and made it a weapon. And the whole school knew. It was incredibly isolating. I felt like I was in a bubble, an invisible force field filled with grossness, and no one wanted to get near. The only person I talked to was a nerdy boy in English who thought it was cool that I played video games. He was an outcast, too. Outcasts have a way of staying near each other for herd protection, like the last kids picked in dodgeball. But that one boy didn’t make up for every time I had to walk the halls between classes and hear those words, feel those stares, and know the entire fucking world knew exactly how disgusting and pathetic I was.

At least I had the internet. I had friends online who were going through the same shit. We got each other through those dark years more or less intact. I didn’t have the It Gets Better videos, and I’m not sure those videos are sending the right message, anyway. Does it actually get better? Sort of. The world slowly, slowly changes. It happens over generations. Polls show that support for same-sex marriage and QUILTBAG rights is highest with younger people. There’s an entrenched mindset of hate and intolerance that we can chip away at, but for the most part it’s a matter of cultural shift over time. Like a glacier, massive and slow, but unstoppable.

I think the actual message we should be sending out is you get better. You get older, and tougher, and thicker-skinned. You change faster than the world does. You will adapt, and survive, with all your scars. And I think Ellen is exactly right: it’s the responsibility of people like us, those who’ve survived and achieved their dreams, to stand up and be counted. To put a human face on social issues. To show kids that you can survive. Maybe you’ll be a little fucked up, but your scars will give you character. Your experiences are worth sharing.

So, hi. I’m queer. My teen years sucked. So did my 20s. My 30s are okay so far, now that I’ve stopped giving a fuck about most things, but it’s still kinda shitty having to struggle with this. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in fucking high school, my ears perking every time I hear the word dyke or fag or lesbian, hoping they’re not talking about me. My hackles still go up any time someone comments on my clothes, or hair, or lifestyle. “Why don’t you have kids? Why aren’t you married? Why don’t you ever wear a dress?”

Why the fuck does it matter? Why are you still asking me these questions? Why do you care how I live?

When the hell does high school actually end?

Gaying up New Adult

This stuff has been weighing on me a lot lately, so I decided to confront it in my writing. The novel I’m currently working on grapples with these issues. Sexual identity. Questioning. Experimenting. Dealing with the fallout. Hatred and intolerance. And, you know, some really fucking hot girl-on-girl sex scenes, because dammit, New Adult is way too fucking heteronormative. It’s time to gay it up.

I want to see more queerness in New Adult. I want to see characters who are more like me: those who defy easy classification, who don’t neatly fit into Slot A or B, who eschew the restrictive binary gender roles that we’ve had shoved down our throats since childhood. But almost as importantly, I want these characters and stories to be genuine. Not agenda-driven. Not something that feels like a PSA or an after-school special. Back in HS, the only queer fiction and film I could find was so cheesy and messagey it made me feel even more ridiculous for seeking it out. And when you’re already a freak, and the only art that accepts you for who you are is hokey as fuck, it pretty much affirms your freakishness. Its heart is in the right place, but we can do better. We can tell stories with the nuance and elegance and subtlety that we take for granted in heteronormative storytelling. Preaching and pontificating merely emphasize the otherness of not being straight. The abnormality of it. I want to read stories where queerness is part of a character’s identity in an organic way. Where it feels natural and normal.

Because that’s what it is for us. It’s natural and normal. Full stop.

65 Responses to All things queer and wonderful.

  1. What a beautiful post. You are one of the few shining lights in NA. Seriously, a lot of it is mysogynistic, abusive crap with a token gay friend thrown in. I’m so happy you will be bringing more authentic characters (gay, straight, bi, whatever) to it. It has the potential to be a great genre. Can’t wait for the next book!

  2. *applauding loudly* For your honesty and the upcoming NA. So pumped for this. SO. PUMPED.Thanks for writing this. I relate on so many levels and I wrote a huge comment and deleted it bc it was getting long and rambly. Bottom line, you’re awesome. : )

  3. I think it’s awesome you shared that. I think a lot of people never lose that high school mentality unfortunately. And I so think you are a celebrity although I wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a line up. If I ever see someone walking around wearing a tshirt that says “I am the Author of UNTEACHABLE” I will squeal like a school girl and ask you to sign something.

    • Love and agree with your comments. In my other comment below, I forgot to mention that (while I can’t say I have experience) with the gender or orientation issue in school, I was the victim of bullying because I was smart, nerdy, and different. It’s too bad that too many people never actually grow out of their HS mentality.

      • Arwen, thanks for saying this. You’re right: people get bullied for everything in HS. If you’re the least bit different from the norm, you’re a target.

  4. This is such an awesome post. Thank you for speaking out and being so honest.

    Also, YES TO GAYING UP NA. That’s pretty much the number one thing on my wishlist, because I think realizing and/or exploring sexuality is a gigantic part of those years. And not every girl is going to have the hot jock or motorcycle racer or bareknuckle boxer or whatever the current thing is. I like NA, I really do, but I want to see it grow. And so I want LGBTQ books! Especially ones about gay girls, because I really do think they’re underrepresented everywhere.

    • So right. M/M fiction is starting to take off, but F/F seems to remain sadly neglected. I’ve discussed why this is with my writer friends, and we have some Theories. Possibly a good topic for a future blog post. :D

      • Yeah, I’ve seen this in fanfiction as well. M/M is vastly more popular than any het pairing, and then F/F is a far behind third. I have a theory or two myself, so I do hope you do a blog post! Pretty please?

        Off the top of my head, I can only name two authors who write F/F YA, one traditional, and one indie. They’re both great, but I want more! Especially in NA, because I think that’s a good time to explore more beyond the traditional coming out or crushes.

        I could talk about this all day, so I shall stop now before I write a book.

    • Yes this! I just posted my “to-read review” on goodreads for your book. There are so many “hot” M/M books out there, and there’s just not enough f/f. The f/f I’ve read decidedly lack in steam ;p

  5. Leah, you know I loved your book, and I love the person I’ve come to know over the past few months since we first started chatting on Twitter and GoodReads. I have so much respect and even more love for you now after reading this post. I can’t pretend to understand the challenges you’ve faced, or how much guts it takes to write with this much painful honesty, but I’ve no doubt that it’s hearing stories like yours that will make it just a little bit easier for other girls or boys to know that they aren’t alone.

    I teared up reading this, and I will tweet it out when it’s not all crickets around the internetz. But DAMN, woman, hurry up and write those books! I want them, and the world needs them.

    <3

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  6. Couldn’t be more proud to have this post forever recorded on the day of my birthday.
    It’s who you are that matters, and you are a beautiful person.

  7. Leah, you are a lovely, tremendously gifted writer whether you are writing fiction (I loved your book tremendously) or expressing yourself in real life. I appreciate your candor, honesty and courage in sharing your truth. I personally have never had any problem with others’ orientation – sad that it is still such a huge social challenge and division. I wholeheartedly agree with all the above comments. I look forward to your next book, and wish you all the best and happiness in your personal life, whomever you are sharing it with!!! :)

  8. Also: Love is precious and beautiful, a rare gift that remains elusive in any lasting way for too many of us. At the risk of relying on cliche’, there’s not enough of it in the world. We should do rain dances, offer prayers and be joyful, instead of judging where or in what manner our friend or neighbor finds love.

  9. *loud applause* A wonderful post. I love your writing, and really don’t care what your sexual orientation is (meant in the nicest possible way). I’m sorry you have experienced bigoted views and behaviour. I applaud you got standing up and being counted. I am really looking forward to your next book.

  10. Leah, you don’t know me, but I wish you did so I could hug you. I had my own experiences with bullying at a small middle & high school (being the first girl to start puberty and get boobs makes you a slut, according to my classmates’ 6th grade logic). Reading Dan Savage’s column in high school actually saved me from a lot of my own internal slut-shaming and made me feel confident to be myself. I know it’s not the same; I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know what it’s like to be isolated, to feel like you don’t belong and that everyone is making fun of you, all for something you have no control over.

    You are awesome and have NOTHING to be ashamed of – not being attracted to women, not being in a long-term relationship with a man, none of it. Sexuality is not an either/or proposition and I really wish both gay and straight people would stop trying to make it that way. It’s a spectrum, with some people falling at either end AND most people falling at all points in the middle. What matters is that you’re happy in a relationship that works for you.

    So, in my long winded way, know that you do have support from people you’ve never even met. I’m one of them. I judge people on the content of their character, not on who they’re sleeping with, and from what I’ve read on Goodreads, your blog and in your writing, you rock. I think we’d be friends (come to the dark side, we have wine!) IRL.

    And keep queering up NA fiction! I love the way you write and look forward to your next book!

    • Thank you, Holly. <3 And I think SO MANY of us can relate to being bullied or treated shittily in school, for whatever reason. Anything that makes you different makes you a target. I'm glad that my post is getting others to talk about this, and tell their own truths, and generally just make the world a tiny bit awesomer.

  11. Leah, you are awesome! I loved Unteachable and emailed you after I read it…(and you emailed me back! ) Can’t wait to read your next book and the one after that and the one after that and the one after that….

  12. This…this is why I love you and your talent. I love you so much it hurts actually. I read Unteachable two weeks ago and I’m STILL reeling over it! I am in love with you…on a not creepy reader level…Okay, maybe a tad creepy. <3

  13. *applauds*

    I *hate* all the “Why is this news?” stuff. It’s news because it was (essentially) a press conference at an event for supporting LBGTQ youth. Not everybody lives in a nice world where everybody is accepting, and even if they do, it can still be pretty damn difficult to stand up and say … whatever. Normalisation is still a long way off – we still have the “People and Women” problem FFS – so I think this can never be said enough.

    Plus, it would be news if she’d announced she was marrying Robert Pattinson. It’s not as though this is some kind of double standard of reporting: celebrities’ private lives are the subject of prurient interest. I’m just glad she was able to come out because she wanted to.

    Have you read Laura Lam’s Pantomime? Transgender MC, but you wouldn’t know it from the blurb. Worth a read.

    • Nope, but thank you for the rec. Added to my TBR. A friend of mine has a fantastic YA MS with a trans MC, too, and I really wish there were more of them.

  14. I’ve had a huge amount of respect and admiration for you since reading Unteachable, and that’s pretty much doubled now. Amazing blog post. Like so many others, I can relate to a lot of what you wrote in here. I can’t wait for your next book, more now that I know what it’s about. Keeping being awesome :)

  15. OMFG, I sympathise with this post SO MUCH. I’m bi too, grew up in a shitty homophobic small town, got bullied, suffered for having no positive or authentic representations of queer relationships . . .

    So, yeah, hi. I really appreciate this post and I’ll be keeping an eye out for your books!

  16. I somehow managed to miss this blog post, and now you’re making me cry at work. :(

    While I am not gay or bi, I do know what it’s like to be bullied, shunned, and forced into unpleasant social situations simply to survive. But while I know what it’s like to suffer, I can’t say any of it can compare to how much you have suffered, or even continue to suffer. The reasons I was harassed in elementary through high school were all largely temporary (being too small, being shy/quiet, being dirt poor). I don’t have to struggle on a daily basis with who I am. My very existence is not challenged by our culture. I have it easy, and after watching Ellen Page and reading this blog post I feel self-loathing for even thinking I ever had it hard in the first place.

    One of my best friends came out to me in high school, and then later to the rest of my family. My mom was working in the local LGBT community at the time, so she was a pretty good resource for talking and becoming comfortable. But… My mom made a playful joke about him one day (he wasn’t there) and I just lost it. He had told me how afraid he was of people making fun of him, and it just hit a really sore spot for me. I felt like my mom was betraying him, although I know she wasn’t intentionally being mean, she was just trying to be her weird flavor of silly. She defended herself by saying that she worked in the LGBT community and they make jokes like that all the time, but I knew my friend and knew he wouldn’t have taken it well. But yeah, for some time afterward, she was convinced I was also gay because of how strongly I reacted to her joke (and also for not showing interest in the girls at my high school but that’s another story).

    I don’t know where I am going with this anymore. I am going to stop. Sorry.

    Leah, thank you for writing this. You are amazing. No, really. I’m really interested to hear your theories on the lack of F/F in NA, and I can’t wait for your new novel to come out! <3

    • I <3 you so much, Travis.

      It's not about who's suffered more. Don't ever feel guilty because you didn't have it "as bad" as someone else. So many people have been treated shittily because of something beyond their control. It's not a misery contest. What happened to you is horrible, and it's still happening to boys today, and a lot of it traces back to toxic, fucked-up gender roles and ridiculous notions about "masculinity" and "femininity" and all that bullshit.

      I'm coming at this from my own experiences, so obviously being queer means this is something personal and important to me. But your experiences are JUST as important, and it's just as vital that people acknowledge the horrible way straight boys are treated and bullied and forced into warped macho gender roles. The homophobes who make queer kids' lives hell tend to be the same ones who make straight kids' lives hell, too--the straight kids who don't fit into their ideas of what it means to "be a man" or a woman or whatever they're trying to tell you you should be.

      I want to give you the biggest hug. You're an awesome person, and I am so glad you're in this world, making it a little bit awesomer.

  17. Yay for this! <3

    I am happy you wrote this, even if the world tries to tell you "it doesn't need to be a big deal". Clearly it still is a big deal, because assumptions keep happening all the time on both sides. And it makes me especially sad that just because a woman might fall in love with a man, and that relationship ends up making her happy, that every feeling/thought/experience in her life leading up to that moment is discounted as "a phase".

    I would also like to hear your theories about why f/f is so unpopular in fiction. One of my next WIPs is YA/NA and features a f/f couple, but it's a literary/women's fic relationship drama, not romance, so probably likely to be unpopular no matter what. ;)

    • Thank you, Laura. And yes, exactly–I hate that people take whoever you are with at the moment as some kind of fixed, immutable statement about who you are.

      Glad to hear you’re tackling an F/F relationship in your writing. Lots of people are chiming in about the lack of F/F popularity, so that’ll definitely be a blog post in the near future.

  18. Word.

    Or rather, way to use the power of words for good–sharing your story and adding difference–perspective–to the universal narrative. We should all do more of that. To truly change the “norm”.

  19. Love this blog post Leah. So much you said had me nodding thinking “that’s exactly how I feel!” I currently live in a very conservative (read bigoted and intolerant) area. I keep getting blindsided by people who have no idea who they are talking to. I’ve had a coworker, who I had liked and respected a great deal until this, tell me that “Bisexuality is just experimenting and isn’t real”. At my gym where I otherwise feel very comfortable and at home hear one of the trainers making disparaging comments about the music video for Take Me to Church because there were two men kissing. I mean really? It’s not contageous, your masculinity is not in danger. Another coworker complain about two men holding hands in public as “shoving it down my throat”.

    UGH! And the whole time, I’m like, hello? do you know who you’re talking to? Oh right, you don’t, because I’m currently in a relationship with a man. The thing is that usually these comments just sort of slap me out of my happy place and shock me. I get that ball of dread in the stomach feeling. Your blog post really spoke to me. It’s really nice to know we’re not alone. That’s the point of speaking out. It’s to make a connection to other people; we may feel isolated and alone, but we’re not.

    Anyway, can’t wait for your book :)

  20. High school is an awful time, especially since everyone’s starting to come into their own. Your personality is what identifies you not things like whether you are gay. Also I have to put out there, I’m not against gays, one of my best friends is gay but I reckon everyone has their own preferences like I just don’t get turned on that way so this book wouldn’t necessarily be for me. As I’m sure is the case for some people, if that makes sense.

  21. I know this was posted a while ago, but I just found it. This was amazing to read. When I was 13, I had this huge crush on one of my female classmates. I made sure no one ever knew, because I knew everyone would freak out, especially my parents. I had a crush on that girl 6 years ago, and I am still interested in girls. I should also say that I’m still interested in boys, I never stopped liking them. However, I’ve never come out. So many people don’t recognize bisexuality as being real, especially my family. People view the world as gay or straight, no in between, and because of that, I’ve never come out. It’s heard knowing that you can’t open up about who you truly are because people don’t understand. It’s painful and it hurts. And this was an amazing thing to read. I hope that more people can become more open to bisexuality, and other sexualities as well.
    With all of that being said, I can’t wait for this book!

Leave a reply