I have known Maya for years as the person who announced the events at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble. But now we’re friends! I was so worried about how I was going to close out this event, and then Maya sent me the perfect post to do the job. You can find Maya on Twitter. They also write for The Body is Not an Apology.
I have so many messy feelings about Pride and my relationship to it, year-round. Because it is not a single thing, a flat experience. Pride is a palimpsest, simultaneity, tragedy inextricable from joy and vice versa. Pride as we know it began as a riot, a revolution of angry and hurt Black and brown trans women fighting for safety, for healthcare, for protection from the state. Today Pride celebrations are too often actively inaccessible and fail to center Black and brown queer trans voices. Pride has become a capitalistic, exploitative nightmare, coopted by cis, sometimes allohet white folks to party and sell things.
And yet…I find so much joy in it.
The thing is, I want to be unapologetically queer year-round. I want to exist outside of cisheteronormativity. I want to surround myself with queer everything: queer fairytales, queer sci fi, queer businesses, queer stories, queer love, queer community. All of my identities are nonbinary: my sexuality (bi), my race (mixed, Filipinx-Jewish, and diaspora too), my gender (literally nonbinary). Lots of folks, including LGBTQAI+ elders, have told me I’ll grow out of wanting to wear my queerness on my sleeve, that I will grow up and settle into being just like straight folks, except also I like people who aren’t cis men.
Some people love that idea, and that’s fine! But I don’t want that. I love being queer. I love knowing myself enough to know I can lead a different life than what the a cishet patriarchy wants from me. I can be honest with my body and my heart now. I can live honestly in the love I share with a woman.
I’ve always felt a distance from the expression “Love is Love,” which parallels the idea that hey, queer folks are just like you cisallohets! It’s asking to be seen as human, too. But what it leaves out is that LGBTQAI+ folks…we navigate this world differently. Pride is inextricable from grief, from loss, from danger and fear. Not for everyone, not to the same degree, and privilege is always a factor.
Yet in general at least, queer love is a triumph.
In a world, a set of systems that prescribes who we are supposed to be and love and become, queer love and queer self-love is an act of revolution. It’s such a tender, magical thing, such an absolute privilege and a gift, to survive and exist like this, and to get to love myself and my girlfriend within in. I can’t believe it, sometimes. For all the tensions surrounding Pride, it feels like a reminder, resonating, cliché but true: we’re here, we matter, you are not alone.
And that’s what LGTBQAI+ books do for me. Year-round.
I realized a few months ago that I can picture the queerest scenes from my favorite books so easily, because I’ve read and reread them so often. For so many, many years I only had tragic stories, stereotypes, or fanfiction. Now, I have the beautiful bi love story of Labyrinth Lost. The all too necessary vindication of I Wish You All the Best. The glory of This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story. The self-love of Patsy. The revolution of We Set the Dark on Fire. The magic of When the Moon Was Ours. The poetry of When the Chant Comes. The messy bi love triangle of Odd One Out. And so many, many more. The surge of LGBTQAI+ is still a small one compared to the whole of publishing, but it’s gamechanging. It means I get to read stories in which people have bodies like mine and loves like mine and not only survive, but get happy endings, and that lets me envision a future I once wasn’t sure I was allowed to have.
Love should be love, but it’s not. Queer love and queer self love are hard-won things. So even though Pride is a messy month, I am grateful for it: for the community, for the reckoning with our past and how far we have yet to go, and for the excuse to be absolutely brazenly queer. I hope soon we can do it every day of the year. Until then, I’ll spend my days reading books that let me celebrate queerness in all its messy, magic triumph.
Here today to talk about identity, privilege and more is Olivia Hinebaugh, debut author of The Birds, The Bees, and You & Me, which you can buy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. I love this book a lot and Olivia is incredibly sweet. You can find her on Twitter and at her website.
I was watching Orange Is The New Black with my spouse. It was the episode where we get to see Laverne Cox’s character’s backstory. Her wife was so supportive of her transition and it made me feel sappy, so I turned to my spouse and said, “I would support you and love you the same if you were a woman.” He turned and looked at me in disbelief. When he said the reverse wasn’t true, I was offended.
Because I love and am attracted people regardless of their gender or sex. Like, that literally does not matter at all to me. Generally, I thought most people were like me. Hearing that my spouse cared about my gender or sex so much was weird to me. It started the wheels turning. I never thought I’d be 30ish and questioning my sexuality. Nothing about me felt different, though. I had always had crushes on guys, girls, and especially people who weren’t, like, super masculine or feminine. But, I only ever really dated guys. (OK. Honest talk here: I married my first boyfriend…so…kisses on the other hand, men were in the minority)
A great thing happens when you get a little older. First of all, so many of the people I knew in younger years as straight and cis, are openly LGBTQIA. All of these wonderful shades of nuance came into focus as more and more of my peers lived their truths. And suddenly, the fact that I had kissed more girls than guys, and the fact that a huge majority of what I considered crushes were almost solely platonic started to make me wonder.
Right now, where I sit, as a 34 year old woman: I am a white cis woman who is married to a white cis man and has children, but I’m also pansexual and demisexual. Another way I look at it is, I’m queer enough that I identify, but I’m also super privileged so I need to cede my voice and listen when my more marginalized pals talk.
Learning the term “demisexual,” by the way, was the closest thing I’ve had to a true lightbulb moment in my entire life. I’ve just never walked around thinking about sex. Or having urges to jump anyone. My urges were more like “I want to have coffee with them” or “I’d like to make them smile.” Only when I was really and truly fully enamored with someone on a fairly deep platonic level, did I *ever* want to kiss them. I need to be super comfortable with someone. And the other lightbulb moment came when I realized that my friends who had flings and one-night stands were maybe allosexual. I had always struggled to understand how you, like, meet someone, think they’re hot, and then jump in the sack with them. I wouldn’t say I judged them. Because that’s, like, against the rules of feminism. I just didn’t understand them, even though I’m very sex positive. I want all people to have the sex life they want (with consensual parties). I don’t need to understand someone’s sexual experiences to accept them. And that has been a really powerful lesson.
We can all, all the time, work on being more understanding and accepting. I have always been an ally and a feminist, but I still learn ways to be better at both of those things.
As a writer for teens, part of me is excited to include things that I didn’t know about at that age. In The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me there are characters who are bi and on the ace spectrum (*cough* very similar to me). I grace those characters with more self-knowledge than I had, because I can’t imagine how awesome it would have felt if a friend turned to me and said “yeah, I choose random celebrities to be ‘obsessed with’ because other people are doing that,” and I’d be, like, “right?” Or someone to be like “well, gee, I actually think androgynous people are hot. And that’s valid.” Or if anyone ever used the term “nonbinary.” Holy smokes, the doors it might have opened.
This is by no means a “kids these days have it so good,” kind of post. It’s just that I do want to do my part to help kids these days. If I’ve done that–even in a small way–as an author, then a dream has come true.
Folks, there are just billions of ways to be a person. You can label these facets, or you could decide you hate labels. You can love in so many different ways. When I think about that, it’s impossible not to smile.
I’m so happy to welcome Savvy to the blog today to share their coming out story (and I am so, so proud of them). Savvy is a queer teen book blogger and bookstagrammer Check out their book blog Twitter and writing Twitter. You can also find them at their blog.
I’ve gone back and forth on how I wanted to word this. I’ve rewritten it time and time again, and not just for this post. I’ve said it in my head so many times, but I’ve never been able to fully put into words how I feel being out to most people. About how I feel now that I’m able to fully be myself.
I think the best way I can think of putting it is, a breath of fresh air. It’s like trying to swim from one end of the long pool to the other without ever surfacing and then finally, when you can’t take it anymore and your lungs are burning and yelling, bursting from the water for that first gasp of air. You never realize how much you needed it until you finally got it.
I never realized how much of myself I was hiding until I finally shared with my mom, my grandparents, and my aunts that I’m gay. To my mom that I’m nonbinary.
It was like surfacing from sitting on the bottom of the pool. It was my breath of fresh air. The gasp I needed after a long time of pretending to be someone other than me.
Being able to be me was like finally being able to breathe.
I was confused and felt like I was being held down when I was questioning and it was as alright when I finally settled on not really labeling my sexuality beyond gay and queer. I was as good as one can be when they finally admit to themselves that they haven’t been honest with others about who they are. And it was better for a time but the looming thought of sharing this new part of myself that I discovered, that I continued to keep to myself, was terrifying. Proclaiming who you are to the world is terrifying. But after so long I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t stand not being me around the people who thought they knew me the best. The people who, a lot of the time, know me better than I know myself.
I wanted to be able to be comfortable being me and I wanted to be able to be me around the people I care about. And even though they have to work on some things, I’m lucky enough that they want me to be comfortable being myself with them. They taught me to be unapologetically myself,and to get everything off my chest and to beable to beme, not hiding any part of myself,is thrilling.It’s terrifying, but thrilling.
I can just be me.
And that feeling, even if from very few peopleand even if some of their reactions were not the best, that feeling ofputting a piece of myself out there to share with the world is enough to keep me going.It reminds me of what it’s like to unapologetically be myself and that no one should be able to holdyouback from that feeling. No one can stopyoufrom beingyouand if they try they’ve never really been therefor you. They’ve only been there for their image ofyouand that’s not the realyou.
That feeling isbeingyourselfandthere’s almost nothing as refreshing.
It’s all about feeling when the time is right, when you feel it’s safest for you.I’m still in one situation where I can’t be myself because I can’t read the people. I can’t tell where they stand. Andthat’s okay.Notpushing for a situation you can’t read is okay.You get to choose when you want to be you. When you’re ready.
But dang, do I long to be able to feel that thrill of unleashing me to everyone I know. To be able to finallybe very openly gay . . . And maybe one day, openly nonbinary.
Until then, I’ll just keep being as much of me as I can with the people around me.I’ll take my small breaths here and there and I’ll wait for those last few big gasps.For now, I’mcontent withslowly being able to breathe again.
I am so excited to welcome Becca to the blog today to talk about their story of self-discovery and talk about their identity today for 30 Days of Pride. It is such a joy to welcome them to share their story in this space. Becca is a blogger and gamer who is autistic and has incredible tattoos. You can find them on Twitter and their blog.
I didn’t realize till I was 18 that the curiosity I’d had for girls all throughout middle school (and even earlier) was the same curiosity I had for boys. I’d thought I simply admired them, wanted to befriend them, wanted to be them, found them aesthetically and platonically pleasing to look at, etc. But because I didn’t necessarily want to make out with them the way I did boys, I didn’t see those feelings as romantic at all. It never even occurred to me. See, no one told me that sexuality could be so nuanced. Nobody told me that you can have a preference for one gender and still be bisexual. I thought you had to like the 2+ genders you were attracted to equally in order to be bisexual. I didn’t know demiromantic or demisexual were things. I didn’t know attraction could vary greatly among genders. So that’s part of the reason that I didn’t even realize my feelings had been of a romantic nature until one day my senior year of high school when it very suddenly hit me that I liked this girl in a “more than friends” kind of way. I’ve struggled a lot with doubt these past couple years, unsure if I’d read my feelings correctly and coming to terms with the fact that preferences and varying degrees of attraction existed within bisexuality.
As for the Aspec part of my sexuality, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve never really had intense romantic feelings for anyone, including my crushes, which is what first led me believe that I was maybe demiromantic or demisexual. Now, I’m thinking I’m gray aro when it comes to girls, and possibly demisexual when it comes to them as well, if not for all genders. I still have sexual fantasies, I still have libido, I know that I want a sexual aspect to my romantic relationships and it can be very hard to determine whether I’m feeling libido or attraction when I’m reading erotic romances. It’s especially hard since I have no romantic or sexual experience. It’s something I’ll need to figure out as I go, but for now I’m comfortable calling myself gray aro and demi.
Then there’s the polyamorous aspect to my bisexuality. I don’t think people understand that, at least for me, polyamory isn’t a decision I made. It’s not a choice. Instead, it’s more of a realization I came to. A realization that I need to be with both a man and a woman in order to feel completely satisfied in my relationship. And that’s why I see polyamory as a queer identity, as a queer type of relationship. I’m just way too bisexual to settle down with only one gender for my whole life. I may not experience attraction to men and women the same way, and I’m still not sure whether I’m sexually attracted to women at all, but I do know that I’m capable of loving them romantically and I know without a doubt that I want to spend my life with two people of two different genders. Realizing this has made me more confident in my bisexuality than I’ve ever been before. Now, when I picture getting married, having kids, being in a relationship, there’s always two people involved rather than one. I want to build a family and live in a house and live happily ever after with two people I love unconditionally, and I can’t imagine it any other way. It TRULY is 20biteen.
I won’t even get into my gender identity right now cause I’m still not entirely sure I’m not cis and I don’t really know what exactly to label myself or how I feel about how I present, or about gendered terms. I do know I don’t wanna be confined to “feminine” ideals, clothing, etc. I’m experimenting with how I dress and how I present and still trying to figure out whether I’m confusing attraction to non binary genders with wanting to BE a non-binary gender. I’ll let you know when I figure it out, but for now my pronouns are she/they or xie/xer/xem.
Thank you to everyone I’ve met online who’ve encouraged me to be myself, who’ve offered me advice and encouragement and solidarity. You’ve helped me come to terms with so much and helped me learn to accept myself without reservations and I’ll forever be grateful.
I’m so excited to welcome a teen blogger to the blog today to share some book recommendations with you all for 30 Days of Pride!
When Ben announced that they were doing a pride month blog post session, I knew I wanted to participate. I wanted to share my story and share some of my favorite books with bisexual rep!
1. They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera
Not only is Adam Silvera a queer author, but one of the main characters of TBDATE is bi! This story is exhilarating, heartbreaking, mysterious and fun. I would highly encourage people to read this if they are looking for Queer POC rep!
2. The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater
This series has a bi/gay relationship around halfway through, so I won’t spoil who it is because it isn’t known at the beginning, but I love the character. I can’t wait for Maggie’s follow-up series!
3. Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab
Like all the books before, this series has a bi/gay relationship and I personally am a big fan. V.E. Schwab is a magical storyteller and as a Queer author herself, I think she deserves to be mentioned on this pride list!
4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
I talk about this book all the time on my blog, and I would be remiss not to include my fave disaster bi who is pining for his best friend on a hijinks-filled trip across Europe. (Fun fact: the sequel that stars The MC’s sister, The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, has Ace rep!)
5. The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments spin-off)
This stars a self-titled freewheeling bisexual warlock and a gay Shadowhunter! Magnus and Alec were one of the first queer relationships I ever read, and Magnus personally means a lot to me ❤
6. Godsgrave (Nevernight, #2) by Jay Kristoff
Let’s start this one off by mentioning that THIS IS NOT A YA BOOK. It is adult. However, that doesn’t make it any less amazing (if you get past the footnotes). This is actually the first Bisexual woman on this list, and she is a total badass. Jay shows the male and female relationships in throughout the first and second books (jury’s still out on the third as it comes out in #Stabtember) If you are okay with violence in abundance, strong swearing and on page sex, then definitely give this one a try.
7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This book is full of representation. Bi, gay, POC, disabled, fat, survivor of abuse, and probably more that I’m forgetting. You don’t have to have read Leigh’s Grisha Trilogy beforehand, but this duology is mind-blowingly good.
8. The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
The MC is introduced as Bi, and at the end, there are clues to another character being bi/gay. I can definitely see more happening between a few of these characters and if you want more POC, disabled, queer rep that takes place in a magical town with a murderous forest, magical powers, and 4 troubled teens, then you will definitely want to pick this book up. I’m dying for the next one!
9. The Fever King by Victoria Lee
This book, man. This book has been described by Victoria Lee herself as every character being queer. In the first book, we have a bi/gay relationship and I can’t wait to see where this series is going. It has Queer, POC, and Survivor rep, not to mention it’s a cool dystopian take on a future North Carolina (Durham, to be exact) and it ended on such a cliffhanger!
Make sure you check out my post for The Fever King blog tour that included my interview with Victoria Lee, playlists for each character and an exclusive short story about 2 of the characters!
10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This is the 3rd BI woman on this list, and this book is a doozy. I like to describe it as a very gay flashback about the Marilyn Monroe of this fictional world. This book is impressive, gorgeous, heartbreaking and tragic. I will recommend this to everyone, ever.
I hope anyone who sees this discovers a book they didn’t know had Queer rep and you find a new character you can relate to! These books make me feel not so alone, and they’re written wonderfully.
I want to thank Ben for allowing me to share my list of Bisexual book rep list and my coming out story, even if it isn’t as vital as some other stories are. I know I didn’t have to go through any of the bad like most queer people, and I am aware of what others go through. Sometimes it’s cathartic to share your story, and I wanted to share my mom’s business with those who may need it.
Hi, my name is Sam and I am an LGBT+ teen book blogger located in Georgia! I specialize in blog tours, reviews, book tags and more! My favorite genres are fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary fantasy. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Email!
I’m so excited to welcome middle grade and young adult author Greg Howard to the blog today to talk about his middle grade debut The Whispers and his young adult debut Social Intercourse. Greg writes with heart and humor, and I adore both of these books. Greg’s next middle grade novel, Middle School’s a Drag, will be out February 11, 2020 and I am already so excited for it. If you are too, pre-order it here. You can also find Greg on his website and on Twitter.
Taylor Tracy: 30 Days of Pride is all about creating a sense of queer community during Pride Month by giving writers, bloggers, etc. a platform to share their voices and identities. Can you talk a bit about what queer identity, community and pride mean to you?
Greg Howard: It actually took me most of my life to be so comfortable with being gay that I didn’t want any part of my life to be hidden from anyone. Family was the final frontier in that regard. I feel like queer pride is about owning, loving, and accepting yourself. Unconditionally.
Taylor: I love both THE WHISPERS and SOCIAL INTERCOURSE so much, and can’t wait to discuss them both with you. First, how was the experience of writing a queer middle grade novel different than writing a queer young adult book?
Greg: Honestly, they both came pretty naturally but for very different reasons. In high school, I was usually pretty crass—always trying to make people laugh and uncomfortable at the same time. That’s the kind of humor to which I respond, so writing SOCIAL INTERCOURSE (especially in Beck’s point of view) was kind of second nature. THE WHISPERS, of course, is a different voice all together—younger, more innocent, but also wise beyond your years. But since so much of that story is based on my life when I was around Riley’s age, I didn’t have much trouble slipping back into the mindset of eleven-year old queer Greg Howard. And in my opinion, Riley is just as funny as Beck, but in a totally G-rated way.
Taylor: Part of what I loved about THE WHISPERS is that Riley knows that he’s gay, but because he’s a kid he’s also still working out the language to describe himself and navigate his relationships in the beautiful, clumsy way of a kid. At what point did THE WHISPERS become a queer story–did you know that that was a part of Riley’s identity from before you wrote or did that develop over the course of writing?
Greg: Since the story is my story in a lot of ways, and I was a gay kid trying to figure it out, the choice of making Riley gay was always the plan. And I want those queer kids living out in the rural South to feel seen and know that they are not alone. And let’s face it, queer kids are just as “messy” as non-queer kids. I believe in showing that reality—warts and all. When queer kids are romanticized and sterilized in YA and MG books, it’s feels like those books are written for a non-queer audience because it doesn’t always feel authentic (with some exceptions, of course). Obviously, I want non-queer kids and adults to read my books as well because reading promotes empathy. But I mostly want queer kids to feel like they are realistically represented
Taylor: SOCIAL INTERCOURSE is such a special book that looks at the growing friendship, alliance, etc. (no spoilers here!) between the deeply closeted bisexual son of two moms and an out and proud gay teen. How did you go about creating these characters and develop the queer representation in this book?
Greg: It all started with Beck. I wrote that first chapter in the voice of the kid that I wish I had been in high school. Out, proud, honest, confident in his queer identity, because it is the exact opposite of who I was in high school. It was very freeing to get lost in Beck’s voice as he took over the story. Jax needed to be the polar opposite, so I based his character a lot on the non-queer guys friends I had in high school. One classmate in particular as far as Jax’s looks, and another for his personality and how he related to the world and his sexuality.
Taylor: A southern setting is so key to both THE WHISPERS and SOCIAL INTERCOURSE, and it’s so incredibly done in both books. How does your choice to set your books in the south influence how you write books about queerness and community?
Greg: Growing up gay in the South is such an interesting and unique experience—the social norms, over-bearing religion, growing up around casual racism and homophobia, etc. Because I grew up in South Carolina with all of those factors influencing my journey, I feel that I can pretty accurately portray that experience in an authentic way. Of course, my journey is and was not everyone’s journey who grew up there, but I think a lot of the same themes resonate.
Taylor: What are some queer identities, stories, themes, etc. you want to see in YA that you haven’t seen yet?
Greg: One reason why I love writing middle grade, is that I can push boundaries without getting dragged on Goodreads and Twitter. SOCIAL INTERCOURSE (my YA debut) has been called bi-phobic, anti-lesbian, misogynist, fat-phobic, trans-phobic and just about everything else you can imagine. I doubt the people who said those things finished or even read the book at all, because I show teenagers as raw and messy. They do and say really stupid things. And guess what. They are messy! But lessons are learned, and characters are redeemed by the end of the book. And when I talk to teens who read it— they get it all and LOVE it all because it’s realistic. I feel strongly that we need more authentic and realistic queer representation in YA. And I would love to read those stories by “own voices” writers.
Taylor: What are some of your favorite queer middle grade and young adult recommendations?
Greg: In middle grade I absolutely loved Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, The Best Man by Richard Peck and Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. We need more queer reads for middle grade readers, but the representation is improving slowly but surely. Some favorite queer YA books are Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Ziggy, Stardust, and Me by James Brandon, and Proxyby Alex London.
Taylor: What other pieces of media (so books, movies, TV, theater, music, etc.) have been fundamental to your experience as a queer person or are your favorite examples of queer representation?
Greg: I am “of a certain age” so when I discovered the first Tales of the City mini-series on PBS, my eyes were opened to a whole new beautiful world of queer possibilities. It was the first unabashedly queer television series I’d seen on television. I immediately devoured the whole series of books by Armistead Maupin and all the following seasons of the show. Right after that first season of Tales of the City aired, Will and Grace took things mainstream—which was great. But Tales of the City made a lasting imprint on me and I am loving watching the newest iteration on Netflix now.
Taylor: If you could give advice or a message to the LGBTQPIA+ identifying folks who maybe don’t have a sense of community, feel alone, aren’t out, etc. this month, what would you say?
Greg: I see you. You matter. You are not alone. Your story has value.
Mari is one of my favorite people and one of the friends I would loosely call a true soul mate. In another life, we were definitely besties who got into all kinds of shenanigans. In this life, we’re both chaotically busy but I am always, always rooting for her. Mari is an incredible mom to my fav little heart warrior and a passionate blogger. You should definitely check out her blog and Twitter.
When I was twenty-four I was married to a cis
male. We had had a son the year before. I was a straight ally. Where I was at
in life I thought I knew who I was. Until suddenly I didn’t.
I honestly don’t remember what events took place
on the day everything hit me. Maybe there weren’t any major happenings. But
something did change when I came to the realization that all of my looking at
girls and thinking how beautiful they were was more than just me giving them a
It meant I was bisexual.
I’ve never kissed a girl, but in high school, I
thought about it. Because of how I was raised though I never did. It was
twenty-four years of burying that side of me as far down as I could. To be
fair, I never realized that my being interested in girls meant something.
I really thought it was just something everybody
thought about. And none of this is meant to say that I’m no longer attracted to
or love my husband.
It just means I’m bisexual.
As kids, we grow up thinking adults have it all
figured out. We go through our teen years trying so hard to figure ourselves
out and when we graduate high school we think we know the answer.
But I’m here to tell you that life is one long
period of constantly discovering yourself. There are times I feel like a fraud
for not discovering my bisexuality until my adulthood. Sometimes I worry that
I’ll come out to somebody and they’ll think I’m “following a trend” based on
the fact that I’ve never kissed or dated a girl. Something I’ve learned in this
self-discovery process is that sexuality is fluid. It can change. I’m proud to
call myself bisexual.
For me, it’s the word that best describes how I
feel inside. And even though it took me twenty-four years to feel that way, it
doesn’t make it any less valid.
So many of the posts for 30 Days of Pride so far have been unapologetically celebratory. However, I think it’s also important to recognize the strength that we draw from difficult experiences as well. That’s why I am so excited to welcome my friend Brian to the blog today with this darker, poignant post. Brian is every bit the book nerd (and fellow Sara Bareilles stan) that I am and is currently an English PhD candidate, so I am doubly grateful he took the time to write this post for me. You can find Brian on Twitter.
Your mouth is running a mile a minute, But it’s leaving you in the dust with your Used up cigarette butts. Do those butts ever Miss their cigarette? “Don’t leave me. You’re all I have in the world.” “I’m sorry, babe, but this turning to ash thing is just so much better than clinging to you. You always filter me. Take a little of what I’m giving. Why can’t you just let go?” “Once you go what am I?” the butt would cry, “Without you I’m useless. You change, you get to burn bright, and I just get crushed.” “Sorry, babe, but that’s the way it works. Things burn out. Things change.” “But I don’t wanna say goodbye.” “Sometimes goodbye is the easiest thing to say because it’s the only thing to say.” And with a last puff the cigarette disappears. And the butt gets thrown for a loop. “But you were my thing.” Until you weren’t.
I started smoking cigarettes in October of the year I lived in London getting my MA. I would always smoke when I was walking, or when I was with my crush at the time. We also started hooking up in October, but he wasn’t out and he didn’t want anyone in our program to know. I accepted that for a lot of reasons, chief among them my dismally low self-esteem. This poem is about him, but it’s also about me.
My smoking habit stemmed for a desire to spend more time with Bobby (not his real name). During our classes together he’d go smoke afterwards and it gave me an excuse to join him. But I started smoking earlier in the month, not just to get a few more minutes in the day with Bobby. Early in that October I was assaulted. In my flat. After bringing a guy home with me. I was, admittedly, very drunk. He was too, but we were kissing and holding hands on the street walking back to my place from the bar. We got back to my room. Things heated up. About an hour into our escapades something flipped.
He started choking me. But not in a sexy way, in a I-want-you-to-die way. I was able to flip us off the bed and curl into the fetal position to protect myself from the onslaught of fists and objects that came flying at me while he spewed vitriol at me. My room was trashed. I was in pain. He stormed out of my room and I called the cops.
I didn’t want to press charges, I just wanted him to leave. But I was arrested (he claimed I had sexually assaulted him). I spent 16 hours in a holding cell before being interviewed by the officers. I was in and out of consciousness from the alcohol, adrenaline, and the fact that this all transpired around three in the morning. I was cleared of all charges, thankfully, and was on my way. I had a black eye, a broken rib, and bumps and bruises all over. I was okay, I told myself.
The next day, I saw him at a bar not too far from my flat. He had a cast on his wrist (he had broken it while hitting me). I panicked. I couldn’t breathe. I walked into a shop to get off of the street. That’s when I bought my first pack of cigarettes. I walked outside and lit one up. That was how I dealt with the trauma. I didn’t want it to be “obvious” that I felt a need to protect myself; I could burn him if he came after me while I was smoking. The most fucked up part about it was the fact that I felt like I needed to hide the fact that I wanted to protect myself.
The strangest thing to me, looking back on it all is how cigarettes came to represent Bobby and the man who attacked me. Bobby turned out to be a terrible person too, so maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising, but I think it’s odd because the cigarettes came to represent both my fear and my hope. I think that happens a lot for me (it might happen a lot in the queer community, but I don’t want to impose my voice on everyone). My trauma becomes a badge that I wear to protect myself and try to reassign to something happy. It took me years to work through that trauma and to stop smoking.
I used to feel that so much of my queerness, for my adolescence and early adulthood, was framed by lacking autonomy. I couldn’t protect myself; I couldn’t be myself. I still struggle, within and without myself, but I realize now that it has more to do with my humanity than my queerness. I was conditioned to feel that my queerness was weakness, but now I see that it’s not. While my trauma shaped me, healing, constantly, from that trauma also shapes me. While cigarettes gave me something to hold on to, my queerness gives me something to celebrate. And for me, life is worth celebrating.
Welcome back to 30 Days of Pride! Today I’m so happy to have had the chance to talk to Derek Milman, who I shook down these answers from during his BEA signing (JK JK JK). Derek is one of my favorite people in YA right now and I know y’all are going to love this conversation. He has also worked as a playwright and actor, and ran an underground humor magazine as a teen…which makes a lot of sense if you read his books. His next book, SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER, is out August 6, 2019 and his debut SCREAM ALL NIGHT is out right now. You can pre-order SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER, and you should (or else), from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. And you can find Derek on Twitter!
Taylor: SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER, which comes out August 9, is your second book. To start us off, could you begin by talking a bit about how writing your second book was different than writing your first book and what you brought into your sophomore book that you learned from writing your debut?
Derek Milman: I wrote SWIPE right on the heels of of SCREAM ALL NIGHT. Barely a pause at all, I was afraid to pause. It’s like I had the same engine and that thing was just whirring in high gear and I needed that horsepower. I feel like that engine has since been replaced with something more searching and deliberate (which is fine, just different) because my third book which I’m currently drafting is moving at a much more measured pace.
Once SAN got acquired, everyone asked what else I was working on. I really wanted to put a troubled gay kid at the center of an action-adventure story, and address that part of my identity in my own way. I said something to my agent about how I wanted to write a “dark, funny, gay Hitchcock” — something that felt very now but also had a subtle gloss of something classical to it, and she was like: please write this for me! The main thing that was different this time was that I didn’t have Moldavia. I wasn’t sheltered behind a fictional movie studio; this was happening more so in the real world (as we know it), so there was a different level of research needed. Not less, or more, just different. But I got to do some fun reconnaissance work. I went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (from the first scene in the book) and scoped it, had their tea service, took photos. I set a chunk of the book around where I live, so I went to those parts of Brooklyn and took photographs (of the tennis courts, for instance, where Aidan makes that climactic drop near the end) and of all the wild urban art in Bushwick, and the glowing re-purposed factory spaces, to see what it all looked like late at night. It has a fantastic Neo-noir glow to it all.
I’ve never been afraid of really “going there” in what I write. Life can be over-the-top and sometimes unbelievable. Look what’s going on right now, it’s like we’re living in a dystopian sci-fi story. But, that said, people might be surprised by how many aspects of SWIPE are real — Vegas Hotel death rays, co-living start-ups, the Merrick Gables, Samy Kamkar, the anonymous leaflet the Swans use as their manifesto — all are real or based on real things. And going off all that, the main thing I brought to SWIPE that I learned from my debut is probably a firmer sense of myself as an artist – -this is what I do, this is how I develop characters and tell stories, this is clearly my style, and having more of an awareness of that and embracing it, which allows for more risk-taking in my writing. And I believe in taking risks. I like when things are a little dirty, a little messy, so they pop.
Taylor: In SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER, Aidan is a gay teenager who is both experiencing things that are very normal or average for a gay teenager to experience and also dealing with the FBI, cults and terrorist organizations. Can you discuss a little bit about how you one, created Aidan as a character and two, crafted these very different feelings and situations that he experiences in the book.
Derek: Aidan is similar to me in that we both grew up in relatively sheltered suburbs. But people still go through shit growing up, and coming out, and we both had our hearts broken (albeit in different ways, but pain is pain). Writing books takes a huge toll on me I’ve learned, not just the emotional/psychological/mental, but also physical. For some reason the process of writing SAN led to these mysterious stomach issues; when a doctor did take an EKG and thought my heart might be enlarged (it’s not) I went through the same process as Aidan in the beginning of the book, having an echocardiogram done on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I use everything that happens to me in life in my writing; I have a very slanted, sometimes wicked sense of humor, and if these wild things did occur, I’m pretty sure I would joke about them — in the way Aidan does — since humor is a healthy, necessary way of dealing with all the darkness and the horror of life (and coming of age, especially if you’re broken like Aidan is, and have added pressure on top of all that to figure out who you are, and who you’re going to be).
It’s really about forging a link from Aidan — his distinct voice — to the circumstances surrounding him, and keeping that link strong. They aren’t two diverging things per se, character and plot, it’s all happening through Aidan’s eyes, so he’s the reader’s way in, through his own observations, which are built out of his life experiences. Aidan came alive on the page as I went along. I just don’t see the gay people that I know, that I meet in life, reflected in movies and contemporary literature much. Gay dudes love rock n’ roll and EDM and art and have piercings and tattoos and complex family relationships, and they’re architects and cardiologists and museum curators and drink craft beer.
There’s a whole spectrum of humanity out there, and I wanted to explore that. I wanted to create a very different kind of hero for all the gay kids out there who may not feel like they belong where they are, or see themselves reflected in contemporary media. Aidan’s had some real tragedy in his young life, and out of that, he’s made some questionable decisions as a way of dealing with pain, and guilt, and out of that came more questionable decisions, so creating his psychological profile was like going from point A to point B, understanding all his flaws and where they stem from. It all makes a kind of sense when you think about what he’s been through, what he’s running from. And then this spring break happens to him! In Hollywood parlance, I wanted an out gay teen to be the one “holding the gun” in an action-adventure caper — I wanted him to be Carey Grant. At the end of the day, Aidan just wants to be loved, like any of us do. That’s all he truly wants.
Taylor: In SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER, you include a terrorist organization that specifically targets homophobes, which is such an interesting and tantalizing concept. Can you discuss what led you to include this organization in your thriller and what you hope it adds to the conversation around queerness and identity in your book?
Derek: I will never suggest we all become the Swans and kill right-wing homophobes or harm anyone, I’ll never be for violence and destruction, but we can’t let complacency swallow us up either. This is going to shock you — but when I first started drafting this book, approximately three years ago, Trump wasn’t even in office yet! It wasn’t as bad as it is now, and I do think our rights are perpetually being endangered. It just takes one bakery in the middle of nowhere that is allowed to deny service to gay people, and from there, it’s a domino effect. It starts very small, people don’t realize that. Sometimes it just starts with a cake.
I cannot tell you how many gay men told me, around 2016, that “Hillary wasn’t an option for them” and they probably just weren’t going to vote because no one “spoke to them.” SIDE RANT: People have to understand the stakes are even higher for 2020. We may not get the exact candidate that we want; we may not get our first choice, but we have to come together and vote for the right side anyway. The damage being done now by the Republicans is already incalculable; it will reverberate for generations. It is very hard undoing an autocracy. Everyone must vote for the sake of our lives.
This does come up in the book a bit, but there is less of a culture these days, I think, tying LGBTQ people together. We’re all isolated, sprayed out into the digital universe, streaming our own TV shows, having anything we want be delivered via app, any piece of information can be googled, anything can be downloaded, and I think this leads to a removal of reality, of any actual danger, thinking we’re just on the periphery, and it’s other people’s rights who will be taken away. During the AIDS crisis, members of ACT UP chained themselves to the New York Stock Exchange to protest the soaring price of AIDS drugs, they stood in front of the FDA and shut it down! They went to jail. Can you imagine that happening today? Everyone should look to the Women’s March, which is amazing and vital, even though protests need to be constant and organized, and all marginalized communities need to have them CONSTANTLY to protest any infringement on their rights — quickly, constantly, with much fury! Plus, Gay History, the struggle for LGBTQ equality, is not taught in schools, and that needs to change.
The Swans were born out of a simple conversation I had with a gay friend many years ago, who’s a writer and performance artist. We were talking about how it was still just sort of culturally and politically OK in many sectors to marginalize members of the LGBTQ community by hiding behind these loose ideas of “religious freedom” — this was before Mike Pence was our VP. I said, “well, what do we do? How can we mobilize?” He gave me a dark look. He said: “You’re not going to like what I have to say.” I said: “what, tell me?” He said: “we need to start blowing stuff up.” I have never forgotten that conversation.
Taylor: Your writing is so notable for its wit and humor. Can you discuss a bit why it’s important for you to include humor in your books, especially thrillers?
Derek: Thank you, that’s kind of you to say, it’s nice to be considered “notable” for something, haha. I have a humorous brain. I think comically, always have. This keeps me up at night thinking about the absurdity of situations. I think life is absurd; I’ve found escape through humor, through comedy, and as a writer I think it’s important to take the side of your reader, and sort of chaperone them, to an extent, onto the battlefield that is your own book. It can’t just be about you, the writer. Humor is a great way to keep a story tonally balanced; if there’s horror, pain, darkness, you can’t hammer your reader over the head with just the heavy stuff, you have to give them a palate cleanser, a little cup of grapefruit sorbet to keep them going. I always want to write things that will make people feel things, but I never want to leave a reader feeling destroyed, exhausted, and hopeless.
Taylor: What are some queer identities, stories, themes, etc. you want to see in YA that you haven’t seen yet?
Derek: Holy cow, where do I start? OK, this isn’t strictly YA, but I want to read about a gay marriage. Maybe even divorce. I want the whole thing. There is virtually nothing written about long-term gay couples and how they survive and stay together in today’s world. I have been with my partner for almost 19 years. We met when we were very young; I guess I don’t talk about this much for the sake of our privacy, and my partner’s privacy, but young gay men, and perhaps society at large, should know this is possible. Gay people can find lasting love.
More ideas: how gay couples manage their money! Haha, I know that sounds so mundane, but I feel like a whole book could be written about that topic. In more YA, I’d love to see a gay superhero, a gay assassin, a gay warrior, chef, whatever, where the character’s identity isn’t the plot, but just a given about who they are. Spider Man, but instead of Mary Jane Watson he has a boyfriend, who happens to be a journalist. Wonder Woman, but she has a girlfriend who’s also pilots a fighter jet. Why not? I’d love to read more stories about gender fluidity like Jeff Garvin’s amazing Symptoms of Being Human, queer retellings and pansexuality, especially in high concept, like Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori Mccarthy, and f/f romance in beautifully-written fantasy like Girls of Paper and Fire.
Video games are now really upping the level of storytelling, and they have touched on this briefly, but I’d be interested in seeing a gay hero of a video game. I don’t care about the specific genre.
I used to teach at a film school, and I was surprised by how many boys — not just gay ones, but straight ones — were completely obsessed with Kieran Culkin’s character from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He was low-key, chill about his identity, unapologetically sexual, very confident, he was who he was. That character was quietly groundbreaking, I think.
Taylor: What are some of your favorite queer YA recommendations right now?
Derek: Lie With Me is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel about gay love, essentially YA, similar to Call Me By Your Name, except there’s no age difference, there’s a class difference; they’re both high school boys, in rural France, way too aware that they both have two very different futures ahead of them that will ultimately splinter them apart. Two LGBT graphic novels really gripped me recently: Home After Dark, and Bloom. There are a lot of great authors writing YA with LGBTQ characters and themes these days; people seem to celebrate the same three or four, but make sure you check out books by David Levithan, Caleb Roehrig, Cale Dietrich, Shaun David Hutchinson, Jandy Nelson, Michael Barakiva, and Bill Konigsberg.
Taylor: What other pieces of media (so books, movies, TV, theater, music, etc.) have been fundamental to your experience as a queer person or are your favorite examples of queer representation?
Derek: Andrew Smith with his Winger books has written some of the funniest, truest YA incorporating young gay characters that I can think of. I came of age during the peak of what’s now regarded as New Queer Cinema and early films by Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, and Gregg Araki were formative for me. Oscar Wilde’s life story (and his work) is such a massive influence on queer culture, but too many queer icons and artists are being forgotten and need to be re-discovered: Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp, Arthur Rimbaud, Derek Jarman, Jobriath, James Baldwin, Charles Ludlam, Thomas Eakins, E.M. Forster, to name a few.
Taylor: If you could give advice or a message to the LGBTQPIA+ identifying folks who maybe don’t have a sense of community, feel alone, aren’t out, etc. this month, what would you say?
Derek: I wasn’t always OK as a young gay man. Oftentimes, I felt alone, confused, broken, and worthless. I really struggled with my self-worth and identity. I fell prey to a string of unhealthy relationships, because that’s what I felt I deserved. I had no idea where or whom to turn to at times. There was just nothing back then, a dark empty field. I wound up seeing a therapist when I was around 20 who really helped me come to terms with a lot of things. It’s the tangential people sometimes, those in the blurry margins of the painting of your life, who make the most difference, and wake you up. Every human being on this planet has worth, and no one should ever dare tell you otherwise. Thankfully, there are more resources now than ever, and no one should ever feel ashamed about reaching out, and getting help. Being a person is hard. This planet is rough and cruel. As bad as things can get, they will, and they do, get better. Please know that above all. No one is ever alone.
I’m so excited to welcome my friend Rey to the blog today. They are a sweetheart, and so wonderful and kind. They are a writer and podcaster with incredible fur babies. I love Rey’s selfies and it’s one of the things I miss most about Twitter right now, but you can see their perfect face on their Twitter.
The existence of being queer often comes with the cloying sense of loss. Whether it be the loss of our childhood, our safety within our communities, or familial, loss is something is a like a rotating door. The question isn’t necessarily when will we stop feeling it; the question is how long we will go without. There isn’t much to sate the feeling that the loss can bring with it, one of many symptoms of its ever-going plague, but with time I’ve found something that does what it can to heal the wound. It doesn’t get rid of the scar, and it certainly will not dull the pain, but it distracts and strengthens us so that we can pick ourselves up and move forward. So that the next loss, we know how to navigate, how to feel and find ourselves.
Bear with me, because this is the moment that you may disagree: it’s selfies.
I know. It feels callous and ridiculous and why on Earth would a vain, digital incarnation of your face do anything to combat the loss that so many of us feel so often over the course of our lives? How could something so measly in comparison possibly be a response, nay, a reaction to such an overbearing and ever-hanging cloud of dread and despair?
If you’re here, I assume you’ve heard of the notion of pride.
Not Pride as in “it’s not a party it’s a protest”, but the core element of the word: satisfaction and fulfillment with yourself. Whether that be because of something we created or something we found within ourselves. Especially at this time of year, when rainbows are being shoved down our throats by the corporations that fund to keep us down the other eleven months, I think we find it easy to conflate Pride with exactly that. Rainbows, parties, glitter and parades. In the queer community, Pride is a spectacle, Pride is a demonstration, but pride, with a lowercase p? That sort of pride can be what turns the loss you feel inside of yourself into something that you can be proud of.
I used to hate selfies. I hated the notion of taking photos of yourself just because. Why would anyone ever want to look at themselves that much? Why would anyone ever take the time to angle their face just so and find that perfect lighting? It felt strangely audacious and mystifying to me. And as is the way of humans when faced with things we don’t understand, I lashed out at them because they scratched against a deep seated insecurity of mine. I had little to no confidence within myself. When iPhones and instagram were becoming popular enough that selfies were slowly taking over, I made snide remarks to my friends about how conceited people must be to take them so often. I ignored the fact that I, someone who at the time identified as a queer woman and was not out to anyone but her closest friends (my identity and pronouns have changed since then), had no self esteem and thus had nothing to feel worth taking photos of. I ignored the fact that I spent so much of my life hiding from myself that I didn’t realize that that hidden person deserved to be seen. I didn’t understand that the hate I felt for selfies was really directed at the fact that I didn’t think I deserved to feel as good about myself as the people who did feel like they could take and post selfies.
A quick scroll through my personal Instagram will show you how often I took selfies up until the year I came out. I almost never, ever took photos of my face – and when I did, they were at odd angles, trying to get my face to look as different as possible from reality or using my hair to distract. Up until mid-2015, every selfie I took made it incredibly obvious just how unhappy I was with myself and who I was. I came out as a lesbian in February of 2016, and almost immediately afterward the uptick in my selfies is evident – and I can tell you that in real life, the spirit that I had slowly been tamping down was beginning to find its way back to the surface. The more comfortable I felt in my identity, the more comfortable I felt in my body and with myself as a whole. I’ve learned more about myself since then – three years later and I’ve found that I was never a queer woman to begin with, but nonbinary, and my sexuality has broadened. Selfies have taken over my instagram, documenting moments that I felt confident in my transness, documenting the slow shift of my identity and discovering more about who I am with each post. With each photo I was able to see myself appreciating me more. Appreciating my journey from past to present, and feeling hopeful for the future in a way I couldn’t before. Nothing makes me feel quite as good as when someone sees an old photo of me and says, “that doesn’t look anything like you!” because it’s proof that not only have I changed, but I’ve grown. I’ve laid roots in myself when before I had always pulled them up, too afraid to let them find their way into the soil.
Now, I’m not saying that taking selfies has completely and utterly changed my life and led me to my identity or anything of the sort. I’m just saying that I don’t feel the same sort of emptiness that loss brings when I am able to look back at myself – from years ago to yesterday – and know that in the process of it all, I found myself – and at this time of the year, for Pride? I don’t think there is anything better we can do to celebrate the month than celebrate ourselves, in our fullest capabilities.
So take that selfie and feel that swell of pride in your chest as you know you’ve captured another moment of your beautiful, ever changing journey. You deserve it.