Here and Queer: On Writing a Bi Romance Heroine

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*deep breath* There’s something you might not know about me.

I’m queer.

As in, LGBTQIA+. As in, bisexual (but I prefer queer). I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ve been out for years, but it’s not something I talk about often. Even though I’m proud as fuck to be bi—to be me—there’s another part of this story that is painful. Well, a few parts actually:

  • When I tried to come out to family, the first person I told said to me that there’s no such thing.
  • When I came out to my then-boyfriend (who was a complete scumbag anyway), all he could talk about was threesomes.
  • More recently, when discussing my sexuality with someone, they were all “Hold up. You can’t be queer. You married a dude!”

Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system when I came out: a whole bunch of queer people in my high school. We may have all drifted apart, as people tend to do after high school, but I’ll never, ever forget my friends Lisa*, Lacie*, Joy*, Phoebe*, and Starr*, who were all super supportive during the great LGBTQIA+ coming out party. (By the way, I’ve been searching desperately for Phoebe on Facebook, with no luck. I can’t remember her birth name or last name. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I was one of very few people that she shared her name with and told she was trans, and I would love to know how she’s doing, how her story after high school unfolded.) This was before Twitter, so I can appreciate how very lucky I was to have such a support system.

Not many people are so fortunate.

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I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. A lot. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t lose that piece of me. That it doesn’t get lost in my heterosexual marriage or these strange, dark times we’re living in.

Being queer is an extremely big part of who I am.

I knew that Krista, the heroine and main character of my work in progress Cruising with the Blues, would be queer. I also knew that she and Perry were meant to be. I’ve struggled so much with this novel, writing tens of thousands of words only to scrap them because I just couldn’t get it right. I think I was trying to do too much with one book: play matchmaker, address a few social issues, wrap up the series… You know, nothing major. 😅

In the very first draft I wrote, Krista was a bi woman struggling with depression. I wrote something like 5,000 words and then tossed it because it just didn’t feel right.

In my second try, Krista was a spoonie like me, only living with Lupus. (My disease is possibly pre-Lupus.) She was also bi. Again, I was trying to squeeze too much into one book. I threw away over 16,000 words, which stung.

With my third shot, I wrote another 6,000 or so words, cutting the mental and chronic illnesses. This time I approached the story from another angle, matchmaking Krista and Perry by using their shared desire to get their band mates into rehab. Once again, though, I was focusing too much on things outside of Krista, rather than on Krista herself. So I scrapped those words, too.

Altogether I’ve thrown out something like 20,000 words. Can you say ouch?

But fourth time’s the charm because this time around, I understand Krista a bit better. I now totally get why she’s so upset with Poppy for ditching their plans to share a cabin during the cruise.

Krista is in love with her best friend.

She’s also got a thing for Perry.

There have been two times in my life when I was in love with two people at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair that the heart can be so conflicted, but it happens. It’s a painful experience, something that you can’t just turn off—just like Krista’s and my sexuality.

While I’m still incorporating other elements into SOF4—getting Krista and Perry together, wrapping up the series, getting Jett and Max help—I’m focusing more on bisexuality and the stigma from all sides.

How non-queer people just don’t get how you can have feelings for and be attracted to both the opposite and the same gender.

How queer people often exclude bisexual people, writing us off as “confused” or “looking for attention.”

How you just don’t feel like you fit in with either the straight or gay world sometimes, or all the time.

This kind of erasure—from two opposite parts of your life—can be heartbreaking and confusing, to say the least.

By exploring Krista’s feelings for both Perry and Poppy, I’m hoping to give other bi people a safe haven where they can find characters they relate to. There are so few books out there with bi characters, and the few that do usually have them in same-sex relationships. I’m writing the book that I’ve desperately needed for years, damn it.

I wonder all the time if I’ll someday regret marrying a man. I love my husband with all of my heart, and I’m happily monogamous. Making the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship despite my still-very-much-alive attraction to the same sex is conflicting enough, without other people saying things like “But you’re married. You can’t be queer!”

To which I reply, “The hell I can’t!”

I’m over 6,000 words into Cruising with the Blues now. It’s both painfully and proudly #ownvoices—written based on my own experiences as a marginalized person.

(Side note: I feel kind of weird using the word “marginalized,” but I also feel that it’s important to call it like you see it. A lot of my bi friends have purposely assimilated into heterosexuality, because even though gay people are for the most part accepted by our culture, our society just doesn’t understand or accept bi people. And trans people, and ace people, and… *neverending sigh*)

The first 5,000 words came slowly, but now that I’ve realized where Krista is coming from, man am I on a roll.

Letting her shoulders relax, she melted back into the music. Perry moved with her, letting her set the pace and tone. His hands never wandered—even though she desperately wanted them to—and he kept a respectable distance between them. Still, he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off his body.

And something else.

Something like desire.

Or maybe she was just projecting.

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*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The Lone Crazy Person in the Room

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I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts and feelings since last week’s presidential election, when it was announced that the majority of the U.S. electoral college voted for Mr. Trump. (The majority of the popular vote was for Mrs. Clinton.) Mostly I’ve been trying to have conversations with friends and family members. Many of the people I love and cherish have been rationalizing Mr. Trump’s words and behavior since the beginning of his campaign. It’s hard not to take it personally when I’m one of the marginalized people his presidency would affect; it’s even harder not to feel dismayed knowing that so many others are going to suffer even more under his leadership.

Most recently, Mr. Trump has announced his choices of RNC chairman Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and openly racist white nationalist Stephen Bannon as Strategist. Even more alarming, David Duke announced his approval of these choices.

People I love continue to rationalize and normalize Mr Trump’s actions.

None of this has been normal.

Right now I feel like the lone hysteric shouting in the middle of the room: “We’re in trouble. This is serious. Please listen.”

Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to educate fellow white friends and family on privilege: how it works in tiers, how it builds a bubble around those who are more privileged than others, how it harms marginalized people. I’ve gotten into arguments with friends and family. People have tried to discredit me by saying “You’re not making any sense.” I am an educated adult with a college degree and also a published author, so I found this dismissive and sometimes even insulting. I’ve seen friends and family who previously thought racial relations in America were fine eventually begin to see that they’re in fact not, which gave me a lot of hope. Maybe I really could make a difference. Using my place of privilege—white—to educate others and elevate marginalized voices has worked, albeit slowly.

But I fear it’s no longer enough.

Right now, even friends and family who previously agreed that Mr. Trump’s campaign was toxic are beginning to normalize his behavior. When I say things like “He enlisted Stephen Bannon as his Strategist,” they say they don’t know who Bannon is. When I express my concern for our country, they tell me it will be fine or to give Mr. Trump a chance. At the very least, I and thousands of economically disadvantaged people are going to lose their health insurance and therefore our healthcare. At the very most, we’re about to have a president endorsed by the KKK who has made white supremacist statements. I’ve been told that I’m being ridiculous. I’ve also been told too bad, I’ll just have to live without my healthcare.

We live in a culture of busy. In fact, it’s glorified to be overwhelmed with items on a To Do list. If you’re a busy person, you’re an Important Person. But along with the rise of this fast-paced culture, I’m seeing a decline in critical thinking. Maybe it’s my love for reading and learning, but I’ve long been passionate about reading widely and trying to be objective. Being busy and having a position of privilege, I think, creates a vacuum around people. There’s less reading of a wide array of topics, less interaction with marginalized people, and more reliance on the environment around you to help form your opinions on issues—creating a more narrow perspective.

I’m surprised by how many people flippantly say Mr. Trump was just saying the things he’s said to get people’s attention or that the media created this bigoted image. There’s the old adage that if someone shows you who they are, believe them. Mr. Trump has been showing us who he is, and continues to show us. Even more, the mainstream media have done little else than schmooze him. His campaign has had unprecedented coverage from mainstream media, with little actual journalism. Journalism is intended to be unbiased, to investigate, to question, to present researched facts. Media outlets have gone so far as to praise him, without ever questioning the inflammatory things he’s said about disabled people, women, queer people, trans people, Muslim and Jewish people, Black and Latinx people… the list goes on. There is not a single marginalized group of Americans that Mr. Trump has not at least blatantly offended, yet the media continued on as if he was our lord and savior returned.

This election is not about politics. It never was. It’s about civil rights, about Americans’ unalienable rights and freedoms as described in the Constitution. The ACLU—a non-profit, nonpartisan group of lawyers who work to protect the Constitution—has expressed their shock at Mr. Trump’s beliefs and promises. They have mobilized their lawyers, researched the law in regards to Mr. Trump’s campaign and plans, and outlined the Constitutional violations that his promises represent.

Respected political analysts, economists, independent journalists, historians, environmentalists, and other unbiased and educated people have long commented on how damaging a Trump presidency would be to our country and, in ripple effect, the rest of the world. These are people with PhDs and published bodies of work, people who have dedicated their lives to studying their areas of expertise, people who have fled similar crises in other countries, all lending their voices to the same chorus: “We’re in trouble. This is serious.” We are witnessing a global shift.

The amount of apathy in Trump supporters or people who previously did not support him is startling. It’s made me question my relationships. It’s made me wonder whether people can really be so oblivious. It’s made me consider that maybe these people are truly secretly supportive of the bigoted views Mr. Trump holds. Which makes me wonder what they in turn think of me: a queer disabled woman. Do they quietly look down on me with contempt? Or are they just victims of their inherent privilege?

The thing I’ve realized is that there comes a point when one can no longer use their privilege as an excuse. Checking and acknowledging your privilege can be a difficult act, but as autonomous beings with naturally curious and logical brains, it’s not impossible. Nor is it impossible to turn off mainstream media and start reading academic articles and books outside of your own views. There is no such thing as being a victim of privilege; there is only a choice. We can either continue to live in the safety of our privileged bubble, or start to grow.

Here’s the thing about the safety that privilege affords: It’s merely an illusion. It’s an invisible cape that has protected those who are more privileged than others from being marginalized or oppressed too. It’s only a luxury that can easily be taken away in a different social or cultural context. Looking at the events of the rise of German nationalism pre-World War II, there was a systemic violation of privilege in tiers. To quote Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who loudly spoke against Hitler:

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I quote this poem not to insinuate that we’re on the brink of our own nationalism and third world war or even second civil war, but to demonstrate the power of apathy. When we do not speak for others who are economically, racially, or otherwise less powerful than we are, we are only paving a path to ourselves and our peers.

However, I can’t help but notice the parallels between nationalism and autocracy in other countries and what’s happening now on our own soil. Those similarities scare me more than being without health insurance.

I love our country and I love our people. I think we’re already a great country that can only be better, especially under the leadership of qualified, experienced, and compassionate individuals. Just as I’ve never stopped fighting for my own right to equal healthcare, I will never stop using the privilege of being born white to elevate others’ voices. I will never stop fighting for marginalized people’s civil rights.

And I will never stop begging my friends and family to open their eyes and do the same.

The Harry Potter Elephant in the Room

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I’m a firm believer that, if we want authentic diverse and #ownvoices books, we have to be willing to call out problematic behavior when we see it—even if that means stepping on the toes of a giant.

I love the Harry Potter series so much, I started re-reading it this summer. J.K. Rowling brought real magic to the middle grade lit community. She wrote strong female characters and dealt with heavy subject matter like death and grief without holding back. Even the story behind the books she wrote is impressive and inspiring. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her.

But I still have to say that all of the recent post-publication revelations she’s made are extremely harmful to the diverse lit community and marginalized readers.

During all of the controversy surrounding which actress would play adult Hermione in the upcoming play, Rowling announced that as a matter of fact, Hermione was written as racially ambiguous because she is actually secretly black. Personally I think the whole uproar would have been better handled had Rowling said, “Pipe down kids, the color of Noma Dumezweni’s skin has no bearing on her ability to play this character.” It would have been direct and to the point rather than puzzling; several readers pored over the texts and found several instances were Hermione was described as white.

If Hermione’s blackness had been crafted into the story with intent and purpose, it could have been a major win for girls and women of color. Instead, this muddled announcement comes off as confusing at best.

Another grand divulgement was that Dumbledore is totally gay. Which, again, would be so cool—had his sexuality ever been mentioned or even affected the plot. As a queer woman, this super piqued my interest. But there are only a few ambiguous references, such as when Nicholas Flammel is mentioned to have been Dumbledore’s partner. However, timeline-wise, Flammel has been married too long to ever have had a romantic relationship with Dumbledore (unless they’ve been having an affair, which would quickly get the entire cast of characters on the set of Jerry Springer).

Queer kids need heroes like themselves in fiction that they can look up to but, despite his kindness and bravery, Dumbledore just isn’t that kind of hero.

I could have completely overlooked all of this, though, because at the end of the day it might just all add up to semantics and perspective. But I was completely speechless when I heard that Rowling recently explained that Lupin’s condition is a metaphor for HIV/AIDS.

Dude.

I appreciate Lupin’s struggle. Every time there is a full moon, against his will, he turns into a werewolf and gets destructive. He has little control over his actions during this time, until the full moon wanes. However, Lupin’s condition affects him exactly once a month. It is not life-threatening like HIV and AIDS are. Nor are people living with these very real illnesses at all monsters.

This comparison is simply offensive and harmful, and I can’t stay silent.

Rowling’s status as a household name doesn’t make her immune to being checked. I wish more authors and readers would speak up when there is harmful behavior happening in the lit community. Keeping our mouths shut because we don’t want to upset an author or their fans will only continue to enable problematic books with marginalized characters.

If Rowling wants to write diverse books and characters, our little village would love to have her. There is an aching need for more books that readers can identify with—especially young readers who are searching for their place in the world. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to write diverse or #ownvoices books with intent and authenticity, creating characters who are loudly themselves, even if they’re still struggling within.

Again, I love J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. And, even though I’m frustrated, I still enjoy the books and characters. But I have to use my voice and say that these post-publication declarations are more harmful than they are helpful—just as harmful as authors who purposely exclude marginalized characters from their work.