I want to tell you a story.
I had something else planned to post today, but in light of recent events, this is more appropriate. I don’t want to drag it all through the mud again, but the tl;dr of it is that Becky Albertalli was ruthlessly bullied and harassed until she felt forced to come out even though she wasn’t comfortable with doing so. Several people in the queer community have acted as gatekeepers, saying that she wasn’t allowed to write queer stories as a straight woman, and, after she came out, saying that she wasn’t allowed to feel as she was, disjointed and upset and forced into something she didn’t want to expose.
I don’t want to talk about that because that’s Becky’s story, and it’s not mine to tell, but it is the reason that I’m here today, doing something I never, ever planned to do. Because gatekeeping is such a real and terrible problem in many communities, but one that I see especially prevalent in the queer community. We preach diversity and inclusion, and yet we are often the most exclusionary. If you don’t fit some random person’s exact definition of queer, you’re not allowed in. And if you try to seek acceptance, you’re pigeon-holed, “made an example of,” and just dragged over hot coals until you feel, well and truly, like you don’t belong. And that, among many other reasons, is why I never planned on publicly, explicitly stating that I was queer.
I know what you’re thinking. I discussed why I write queer characters in June, and I did talk about being queer. I wrote a whole post last June about my first Pride, and how much it meant to me. I try to read every queer book I can get my hands on, and I’m not exactly quiet about how I identify, but this was never in the cards for me. I never planned on dedicating an entire post to talking about it. But as I’m sitting here, with some of the most important people in my life still not fully knowing me, watching Becky be part of some of the worst kind of Twitter discourse I’ve ever seen, there suddenly seems like no other path for me.
Growing up, I was taught a few very specific things. I was raised Episcopalian, and while many churches were, and still are, very homophobic, mine was pretty progressive. And while I have a lot of issues with Christianity/Catholicism, that’s not what this is about. I left the church for different reasons, and, at the time, I hadn’t really been exposed to queer culture yet. Or, rather, not in healthy ways? My first introduction to queer culture was through slash fanfiction, and I thought it was weird and a little bit gross because that’s what I’d been taught as a child. Gay people were wrong, and they shouldn’t exist. The church didn’t tell me that, though. My family did. And this is not meant to shine a horrible light on them and make them out to be terrible people because they never actually said that. It was more in their actions. When I held my best friend’s hand in public, I was warned not to because people would think I was a lesbian. If, miraculously, there was a same sex kiss on television, the channel was immediately changed. And while those two might not have done the damage, the fanfiction definitely did.
I’m a 90s kid, so computers were still kind of a novelty, and I wasn’t allowed a laptop or a cell phone until I was in high school. I discovered fanfiction in middle school, though, and my first introduction was in seventh grade, at around 12. It would take a very short amount of time before I transitioned from kind of side-eyeing slash to sneakily reading it. I mean, please picture this so you can cringe with me. I was on our home computer that was shared by the entire family, in the middle of the living room, reading fanfiction as a brand new teenager. Gods, it was such a disaster. But it appealed to me, and I couldn’t understand why, and the more I read, the less I felt weird about what I was reading. My best friend, at the time, was into all the same music and books that I was, and we bonded over slash fanfiction, too. We were still young, and though we were new friends, emo music and a mutual hatred of everything brings people together pretty quickly, and, soon, we were talking on our respective house phones for as long as our parents would allow us. Those conversations were transformative. It was the first time I admitted to liking slash fanfiction and finding another mutual interest with my best friend. I talked about how I’d found it odd at first, and he agreed, and it was like a relief, to know someone else was stumbling through these strange waters with me. Together, we peeled apart the layers of why we thought it was odd, got to the heart of our submerged love of this culture, and started writing our own slash fanfiction.
Remember, though, that I was still in middle school, and the only way for me to write was on the family computer. My parents mostly trusted me, despite some sketchy emo forums that made them hover over my shoulder for a few months before they eventually decided to give me space again. The process, then, to publish my fanfiction was interesting, to say the least.
After much begging and pleading, I was finally awarded a laptop. I can’t remember if it was just before high school, or during, but I do know that it had no Internet connection. Literally the only thing it was good for was writing, and I was plenty happy with that. I would write and write all night, and then, in the morning, I would hand my dad a floppy disk that I’d copied my stories on. When he got to work, he would download everything and email it to me. He promised not to read any of it, and I believed him. After school, after I’d received the email of my stories, I would download them to the home computer and upload them to my fanfiction website of choice. (I’m being vague because those stories really don’t need to be viewed.)
I don’t blame my dad for what came next. I can understand, now, why he eventually read what he was sending me. If I’d been in his position, I would have been curious what was consuming all my child’s time, too. I’m not saying it’s right because no matter what age you are, that’s an invasion of privacy, and just because there’s a parent/child dynamic does not give anyone the right to breach that privacy, but I’m also not saying it doesn’t make sense. It does. I know why he looked. I just wish his response had been different.
One evening, I was sat down after dinner. My sister and brother were sent upstairs to their rooms, though I’m sure they eavesdropped because I was obviously in trouble. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do know it was the beginning of a very specific bit of distance between us. They wanted to know what was wrong with me that I would write that kind of story. They wanted to know why I was so fascinated by gay people, and if there was any way that they could help me. As though what I was doing wasn’t okay. As though writing about queer characters was something to be ashamed of. And I know what you’re thinking. I’ve never stated, clearly and without a doubt, that I’m queer because that conversation made me feel ashamed.
Honestly? It did the opposite. A couple days ago, we watched Love, Simon because I was furious with literally everyone, and I wanted to punch a hole through a wall, and even trying to explain to my mom why I was so upset nearly made me cry. It’s too close to my own heart. I have never told my parents that I’m queer because I’m not comfortable with them knowing. And trying to explain to them that an author I look up to was forcefully outed and now felt scared and vulnerable was just–it was too close to my own truth.
Fuck. I hate this.
Watching Love, Simon has always felt too close to my own truth, but this time? How could they not know? And I really believe that my parents do know, despite us never even coming close to the conversation. But how could they not see, clear as day, why this latest piece of Twitter hate was making me so upset? I’m sitting here, trying to write this, and I’m just crying because I’m scared to be out to certain people, and I think it’s absolute bullshit that I have to be out to anyone because it’s my story, and that should be my business. It should never matter to anyone but me who I love. Becky’s life is literally none of anyone’s business but her own. Her emotions, who she loves, and how she wants to display those things are 100% up to her. Gatekeeping is the worst fucking thing in the world, and I despise every single person who has ever done that to someone and made them feel like they don’t belong.
We’ve gotten off track. But I’m this weird mix of terrified and furious right now, and it feels like I’ve swallowed bees, and I just want to rage at anyone who makes Becky, or anyone else, feel unwelcome or like they can’t be exactly who they are. I don’t care who or what you are. I don’t care what color you are. I don’t care who you love. I don’t care what you believe in. I don’t care about anything but that you are happy and that you feel loved because you deserve the entire world.
When my parents asked me what was wrong when they discovered I was writing queer characters into my fanfiction, I didn’t feel ashamed. I wanted to set things on fire. My sister joked, the other night, that I was the theater teacher, but honestly? Yeah, that’s me. I might be crying, but I’ll still go straight for the jugular. I really took that conversation to heart, and I started writing like I was being chased. You think there’s something wrong with gay people? my heart screamed, Well, alright then, let’s dismantle that notion one fanfiction at a time. I can’t even tell you how many stories I wrote throughout high school and college, but I can tell you that 98% of them were queer, and the 2% that were straight were self-inserts because ya girl loves certain musicians too much not to imagine the impossible possibility. I wrote in every genre that you can think of. There was smut in all of them. Fluff in all of them. Usually plot, but a couple without. It spanned fandoms like you can’t even imagine. Someone had told me there was something wrong with the people that I identified with, even if I hadn’t realized it at the time, and I took that as a personal challenge.
In high school, the best friend that I’d had those transformative conversations with, came out as queer. “Alright,” I said, “What does that mean for you?” I never wanted him to feel unwelcome in my heart. And even right now, despite the fact that he has hurt me beyond repair, despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in years after he ripped my life down the middle, I still don’t want him to feel unwelcome. I want the world to embrace him with open arms. I want so much good for him. I want him to be happy, and I want him to know that, no matter what has come between us, I will always champion for him.
He and I would go through a lot in the coming years. Truthfully, he was the first person that I ever “came out” to, though I can’t really call it that. It’s been the same pretty much every time. I don’t tell people that I’m queer outright, I just thread it into everyday conversation. Like I said above, I think coming out is bullshit, and we shouldn’t be forced to do it just because straight is the default. I’m not saying that I don’t think people should come out if that’s what they want for themselves, but it’s not what I want for me. And I really, really can’t believe I’m saying that while I’m sitting here writing this post, but in case it wasn’t explicitly clear:
Hi, my name is Mary, and I’m queer.
I’ve identified as bi for a while, and though I’m not really convinced that’s the right label for me, it’s the one that works most often. Lately, I’ve just identified as queer because I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m hella lazy, and I don’t feel like researching, but that’s also just the part of me that hates labels in general and would just like to love and let live, you know? I’m not totally interested in a label beyond queer, and that’s okay for me right now. And so, while I wouldn’t say bi is totally right, it’s not totally wrong, either.
But, anyway, swerving away from the story again. I still remember how the conversation went. We were in his car, on his way back to his house, and we were talking about queer authors and how we wanted to be part of that community someday. “Wait,” he said. He was smiling. He looked both relieved and excited and nervous all at once. “You’re–queer, too?”
I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said, “I don’t know how long, but probably always. It’s no big deal.”
It was to him because, at the time, all of his fellow queer friends had been made at college, and he didn’t know anyone else in our city. But, here we were, best queer friends. You know, as I’m trying to peel apart the layers of this story, it occurs to me that one of the reasons our eventual friendship breakup hurt so much was because he told me that my experiences both didn’t count and didn’t matter. And even though I know now that the queer community is so toxic and hateful, I didn’t know it then because he was literally my entire queer community, and to hear that from someone who shared that thread of love felt like being stabbed in the spine.
College was, as I think it likely was for a lot of people still discovering themselves, very illuminating. It confirmed a lot of things that I was only squinting at and mostly ignoring with all of my willpower. I started to have that very visceral reaction of ehhhhhhhhh whenever someone labeled me as straight. I started to look for more of a queer community, for people who loved freely like I wanted to. And though I found those people, I never came out. Last year, for Pride, I put the colors of the bi flag on my cheek in glitter, and I had a moment of, well, I guess this is my public coming out? I didn’t actually say anything, but I posted pictures. I didn’t call attention to it, but it was there, and I will never forget the conversation I had after.
I was at a fundraiser, and one of my best friends came running over to me. “Can we talk?” she said as she stepped in close, keeping her voice low, “I saw your pictures from Pride, and I just want you to know that I love you, and I support you, and I think you’re amazing.” Like, hell, I’m crying again. I didn’t even have to say anything to her. She saw the flag, and she knew, and she wasn’t surprised because, honestly, how the hell can it be surprising for anyone? I’m not exactly quiet about the fact that I think Kate Beckinsale is the most gorgeous human being on the planet. But it was just that instant support that I didn’t know that I needed that nearly broke me in half.
“Don’t tell my parents,” was the first thing I said in response, “They don’t know, and I don’t want them to.” She said it was impossible that they didn’t considering her mom had figured it out, and even though I knew, and know now, that my parents probably knew, I didn’t want to talk to them about it. I still haven’t, and I don’t know if I ever will. The idea of coming out is terrifying to me. I don’t want to come out. I just want to be me. I just want to be queer without it being anything different from me wanting to be a writer. I write queer characters because I’m queer. And that’s it.
I have had some “coming out” conversations with friends over the years. I’m putting it in quotation marks because, again, they weren’t really coming out conversations. One, I just confirmed what she’d always known, but I’d never made explicitly clear. Another, I actually talked about how I was afraid to tell my parents, and I guess you could probably call that one a coming out because she didn’t know prior, but it wasn’t like me telling her that I was queer, just that I was telling her another story in the long line of stories we’d been exchanging throughout our hike. Some, I’m still nervous around. There are definitely homophobic tendencies in some of my friends, and I’ve mostly distanced myself from those, but they’re still there on the edges, and being around them has become a strange balancing act that I would just like to end. I don’t have time for that in my life. If you’ve got phobias that pertain to who and what people are, I don’t want to be your friend.
But while I’m out to most of my friends, I’m not out to my family. When I started at my current company at the beginning of the year, one of my coworkers tried to very indiscreetly ask after my orientation. I’m always very specific about my wording. “I’d like to find a person like my dad someday,” I said, and my coworker nodded in relief. “You are straight, then,” he said, like he felt better having confirmed that. “A kind person would be nice, yeah,” I said, and panic trickled into his expression again. That was distinctly not a confirmation of heterosexuality, and he didn’t know how to navigate those waters. And when I relayed the story later, my mom said that he might have someone in mind for me, and he was wondering what kind of men I was into. My whole self begged me to just say, “But men aren’t the only option.” But I didn’t. And I don’t know if I ever will.
There are a lot of little micro aggressions surrounding homophobia in my house. “You look like a lesbian in that shirt,” is the one I get most, and often the one that makes me want to crawl back into bed. “So?” I want to spit, “Is there something wrong with that?” But I don’t know how to have those conversations with my family because, at the end of the day, I have to see them. If one of my friends wasn’t okay with me being queer, well. That’d be the end of our friendship. If my family wasn’t? Yeah, I live with them.
And, honestly, though I say I don’t think we’ll ever talk about it, we’ve gotten a lot closer to the possibility over the last couple of years. If I’d tried to show my dad Love, Simon last year, he would have absolutely refused to go anywhere even near it. He wouldn’t have outright called it gross, though he definitely would have several years ago, but there’s no way I could have convinced him to watch it. But now, not only did he sit through the entire thing and cry, he called it outstanding. And he chose to watch it. He could have left, but when I said I was watching a queer movie because an author had been through the ringer, even explained what had happened to her, he was disgusted with the way people were treating Becky, and he made the decision to stay right where he was and try to understand better why this meant so much to me. And that is so powerful. I can’t even describe to you how far he’s come. This is a man who used to say, “I don’t care if people are gay, I just don’t want to see it.” And now? Now, he’s yelling and fist-pumping and weeping when Simon & Blue finally kiss. Damn.
My mom, too, has come leaps and bounds. I think she’s tried to subtly ask me a few times lately. She recently talked about a podcast she’d listened to where they discussed what to do and how to react when your child comes out, how you’re not supposed to make it about how you’re feeling, but to make sure they understand that you still love them. I know what that conversation was meant to be, and I’m sure part of her hoped I would just tell her. Or, heck, maybe I’m way off base, and she doesn’t know, but I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due because she knows me better than anyone.
But I’m still here, living in a house where everyone at least pretends that I’m straight, because I don’t feel like I should have to come out. Why is straight the default? Why is it just automatically assumed that I want to fall in love with a man? Honestly, the way things have been looking the last few years, that’s less and less likely every damn day.
This story is not linear. It’s messy. It’s full of secrets. It’s going to be similar to the experiences of others, and wildly different from still others. Some of you aren’t going to agree with me, and some of you are going to cheer for me. I don’t really care, honestly. This is my life, and I’m going to keep living it this way. Coming out is not something I ever plan on doing. I just am queer. I have been for a long time. If this is your first time experiencing that knowledge, congrats. Now you know me better. If it’s not, thanks for being there and for always opening your heart to me.
The thing I do care about? Gatekeeping. I didn’t want to write this post. I didn’t want to share it. And it’s probably only going to reach a small audience of people, many of whom are here because they vibe with a lot of the same beliefs as me, or they wouldn’t be here in the first place. Truthfully, at the end of the day, this little post is not going to mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. But much like Simon inspiring others to be honest, what has happened to Becky made it very clear to me that I couldn’t continue on exactly as I had before. I identified as straight growing up. I felt comfortable with bi for a while. I’m hanging out under the queer umbrella now, and maybe someday, that’ll get more specific. But I need it to be explicitly clear that I will not stand for gatekeeping. You are welcome here no matter who or what you are. I will ask no questions. I will hold no judgements. And if you change your mind along the way, I will celebrate that with you. This little corner of the Internet that I’ve carved out for myself is a place of love. It’s a place where you can just live in whatever shape you want to. It’s a place where we absolutely scream with joy and pride that Aiden Thomas hit the fucking New York Times bestseller list with Cemetery Boys. It’s a place where we shout that WE ARE HERE AND WE ARE QUEER because the world better start listening. It’s a place where we accept people like Becky Albertalli exactly as she is, and exactly as who she may still become. I said it once, and I’ll say it again. (And again and again and again.)
You really want to know what the “gay agenda” is?
Acceptance. Love. Honesty. Openness. Freedom.
You are welcome here.
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