That's when I gave a shout out on twitter and this incredible woman answered. She was willing to share a personal story. And as always with personal stories, they are never short. Still, I wouldn't want K.A. Mitchell to edit one word. So I'm giving the floor to her:
Leontine suggested I talk to you about the incident of homophobia that stands out the most, one particular point of discrimination. I'm a lesbian and while it gets easier to state that plainly every year, it's never without an awareness of risk, a tiny hesitation before I say or speak that word. And that hesitation is what I want to talk about.
For me, homophobia has been a lifelong experience. There wasn't any time I was bashed or fired for being who I am. I suppose if you want to take the biggest, most painful example, it would be when my now-legal- in-New-York-and-most- of-the-surrounding-states wife needed three months leave from her job to complete a certification she needed to keep her job. I couldn't add her to my health insurance because although my school was private and state-funded, we couldn't upset the bishop with a domestic partnership rider on our insurance. If the situation had been reversed I could have been on hers. We were two grand out of pocket. Expensive bit of homophobia.
But it isn't that which causes that hesitation, that moment. It's a lifetime of knowing. Of having the choice to hide or to be true to who I am. To find the courage to speak it no matter what effects the truth has.
From an adult perspective, I can tell you I should have always known I was gay. I didn't dream about marriages, but about settling into a house with my best friend. I sobbed for days if any of those relationships went sour. It seemed like an effort to drag myself into the whole "liking boys" thing we were supposed to do when we grew up. When I was sixteen, I was just realizing that my feelings for girls I'd never even hugged ran far deeper than those for boys I'd made out with. Harvey Milk's assassination that year was a salient example and sent me scurrying back to convincing myself that okay, I'd be closer to my female friends, but I'd find a guy I could fall for.
No one gets out of high school without knowing what it feels like to be "other." To know who the misfits are, the queers, the ones who even while you're nice enough to smile at them in the hall, you would never take the risk of wanting to be them. Those names that kids use--it wasn't "gay" in my day but "fag" and "dyke"—the disapproval, the fear gets into you deep and never lets go.
Eventually, I couldn't fake it anymore and came out, at least to myself. Then to others. From some of my friends it was "mazel tov," from others "I can't be seen with you or people will think I'm like that." From family, it was figuring out "What happened?" No big terrible fights. No shunning. But a judgment, when my grandfather said "You look more like a schoolmarm everyday" I knew what the connotation was. Old maid, unmarried, unwomanly. Homophobia doesn't have to be overt. On the other side, I had a grandmother who didn't speak to my eventual wife for sixteen years, though she never dared refuse us into her house.
Sometimes it felt easier to wear an otherness on the outside, so that I could fight the pretending. I had and still have waist length hair and a love of feminine clothes. I couldn't seem to conform to the militant lesbian look popular on my college campus, but I wore my favorite bright pink "Dyke Princess" pin almost every day. Insulated in college, I got a thicker skin.
But I still worried about being an embarrassment to my parents. And if you wanted to see an image of yourself reflected in fiction, there were many agonizing films about unhappy gay people to watch, tragic plays and books. It was the early days of AIDS and people were dying, and in the media, there was a clear "serves the queers right" kind of feeling to fight.
I took my internalized homophobia with me to work. While I would never permit name-calling, I could never tell my high school students. All I could imagine was the headline of "Avowed lesbian denies molesting female student at all girls school." That sense of otherness teaches you that when the world is not on your side, you hide, you blend. You worry about being seen going into a gay bar. You worry about what books you might be seen reading.
As a romance writer, I discovered a whole new world of homophobia. At my first writer conferences in the beginning of this century, I could tell what the attitude was. Women who didn't conform to the feminine in clothes and hair were immediately labeled queer, especially as they grew more successful. I don't know how many people tried to tell this newbie Suzanne Brockmann and Eloisa James were gay. I decided the publishing world would not accept a lesbian romance writer and swallowed all casual mentions of my family life.
Ten years later, here I am in a genre that I still wasn't sure would accept me, where I still get asked why would you a lesbian, chose to write about gay men, often with some agenda behind the question. I can't tell you why I find gay male romance to be the romance I love most to read and tell, anymore than I can tell you why I've always fallen in love with women instead of men.
And I want to tell you that for most gay people, we don't daily face a gauntlet of name-calling and sneers. It's the underlying digs, the knowledge that you will always be other, always have to correct the assumption of heterosexuality and in do so take a risk of rejection that wears on our souls.
In fact, the name calling is kind of funny. At least you know where you stand. None of this fake politelness to your face while they hate you behind your back. The only time I've ever been harassed in the "traditional" way is when while holding hands with my future wife while walking in Provincetown, putatively a gay haven, someone in a car threw a cigarette at me yelling "Fucking faggots." I was mostly worried about my hair and he was gone before I could correct his gender confusion of "That's a fucking dyke to you, moron."
While saying "I'm a lesbian" may be getting easier, there are still those moments that make my heart pound with fear. Just last summer, I was leaving a marriage-equality rally in Albany (we won!). It was noon. I had a pro marriage equality sign with me as I crossed the street in front of city hall. A driver leaned out of his truck to yell, "Fuck queers." The sudden explosion of hate and anger called up a lifetime of that fear, but I've had a lot of practice lately. Or maybe one of my cockier characters took hold of me. In an instant I yelled back "Thanks, I do."
Yeah. those three little words are getting easier. Maybe I'll try sliding them into conversations a little more. Hi, I'd like the eggplant I'm-a-lesbian Panini and a side of, yes, I'm queer, salad. Harvey Milk was right. Despite all the fear the institution of homophobia instills in us, it never gets better until we come out.
Thanks for having me here.
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GIVEAWAY 2: K.A. Mitchell has been generous to offer the prize of an e-book of your choice from her backlist save The Christmas Proposition.
Just leave a meaningful comment to this blogpost, tell me if you have a preference for one of the giveaways and come back on May 20th to check back if you've won!!
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