As an adult I find I still have the same habits. Instead of joining in the conversation of the “cool mums” about the latest episode of some TV program they watched during the day, I often find myself in conversation with the minorities. Last week I chatted to a mum about her child who has cerebral palsy and the difficulties she has. The week before that were an elderly couple who had just immigrated from overseas and were picking up their granddaughter. I make it my mission to go out of my way to speak to the mum in the full Muslim dress, or the granddad who tells me in broken English he was born in the Torres Strait islands region.
I’m an example of the adage, if you don’t like what you’re reading, go out and write the book yourself. I have blogged about my writing roots many times. It started back in 2012 when I was reading M/M Romance and not finding what I wanted. There were some great books out there – but not a complete and true reflection of what I thought the LGBT community looked like. After reading my umpteenth novel about two alpha-gay-guys who look and act straight, I decided to write my own. Not because that story was wrong, but because I felt there was an under-representation of certain people in our society. In this case – femme twinks who were out, and proud to look and act gay.
I started Loving Jay in April 2013. I hasten to add that writing the book was solely for me. I had no thoughts at all of publishing it. Before 2014, M/M Romance was growing but there were a lot less books and authors around – and I was struggling to find more than a handful that featured the types of LGBT men who were my friends. There has been an explosion in M/M Romance now, and you can find all types.
But still, a lot of my book ideas came from those dark corners of society where other authors weren’t going. I was happy to lurk and talk to these fringe dwellers and ask their stories. My stories concentrate on the minorities within the minorities – and despite what people may think, I do my research and I seek out the words and feelings of these people before I write.
The Straight Boyfriend features another of these minorities – those people who don’t neatly fit into the preconceived idea that all people must fit one of the labels: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex, asexual. There is another label on this spectrum – it’s a Q and many people say it stands for “questioning.” I like that. I like when people don’t just take the information someone gives them and never questions it. There are a LOT of people out there who are questioning the label they’ve assigned to themselves previously. And not JUST young people. I know of people in their 40s and 50s who are Q=questioning.
Despite the outrage some people may feel (“Of course he’s bi – why didn’t he just admit it?”) you have to maybe take a step back and ask why must he assign a label to himself? Why must a fictional character in the book be a reflection of “this”? (*draws a box with her hands to indicate the boundaries*). Aaron is actually a reflection of that person over there (*points to the shadowy figure lurking on the outskirts of what people think of as the LGBTQIA spectrum*)
Do you think that a book about a gay man means that every other sexuality on the spectrum doesn’t exist? I actively seek out the people who feel under-represented in the genre and I write about them. I make no apologies for that, no matter how loudly the “cool crowd” want to yell that my character is not a true reflection of them. I’m happy about that. I don’t want to write about the “in” thing.
Without fail, after writing every single novel I have released, I have received at least one message from a reader that says “THANK YOU for writing MY story.” There’s the email I received from a crying reader who thanked me for writing Casey who had been sexually abused as a child and was still working on the emotional issues for that. There’s the email I received from Australia guy who asked me if I was stalking him, because my character of Quackle was so much like him and followed his life story (even down to the sexy shearer boyfriend) – but the only thing I’d gotten wrong was that he was nurse, not a doctor. There’s the message I got from a reader whose parent is blind, the one from the Catholic lesbian, and the one who said that he must’ve modelled for Shawn.
And the numerous messages I’ve received about The Straight Boyfriend from readers who said, “Thank you – I don’t like labels either.”
Earlier a received a message from a reader who said, “Thank you for writing Ryan and Tyler’s story – 21 years after it happened.” She went on to give me the story of Ryan and Tyler which (with her permission and at her request) I’ve copied below for you all to read.
But it brings me point that I’m proud to make. I may not write about “you” – but I write about someone. I do my research. I talk to people. I hang out with the fringe dwellers and I write “their” stories. No story is right or wrong because it’s not about the “majority” of people. Because my character is not “you” does not influence your own self-label. Please, be more sensitive to others who you are trying to shout out of existence. You could be actually telling a minority-minority LGBTQIA person that they’re worthless. Peace, please. If you’re unhappy, write your story, enjoy your people, and leave judgements aside.
First I want to applaud your courage is allowing Aaron to stay true to his own identity. I know that there are those who won't agree with me (and that's fine), it's likely because I have a different view point than they do. To understand where I'm coming from I need to tell you a story that starts 22 years ago.
My first year of college I met Ryan who would quickly become my best friend. He is the opposite of every gay stereotype, but very much gay and very out about it. He became a part of my college group of friends (we were all studying criminal justice), and another person in that group was a guy named Tyler. Ryan and Tyler soon became very good friends, and while Tyler was straight, he had no issues with Ryan's orientation, and we quickly became the three musketeers spending almost all of our time on campus together.
Over the course of our first year together, Ryan and Tyler became even closer, and being as close as I was to both of them, I noticed the change in their relationship. Because I was Tyler's closest friend (aside from Ryan) I'm the one he came to when he was confused and honestly scared of the feelings he was developing for Ryan. I see a lot of Tyler's struggles with his identity in Aaron's story. I will admit that I personally am not a fan of labels, especially when other people apply them to someone else. Even as much as Tyler shared with me of his feelings and what he was going through, I wasn't him, I didn't live in his mind or body so I could feel what he was feeling or live the struggle he was he dealing with between his heart and his mind. What it came down to is Tyler still felt straight, was still sexually attracted to only women, with the exception that he was in love with Ryan, and in being in love with Ryan allowed him to express those feelings in a sexually intimate way.
To this day 21 years later Tyler identifies as straight and openly says "I'm straight, I just happened to fall in love with a man". Ryan and Tyler have been together for 21 years and we're finally able to marry 18 months ago.
It takes great courage in my mind to stick up for what you believe and for your own identity. I am sure that there are those who will read your story and scream about it erasing bisexuality, however what they fail to take into account is that by doing so they are also erasing someone else's identity. NO ONE gets to decide what label applies to someone else, and attempting to force a label onto someone who doesn't identify that way is much more of an eraser than someone believing that someone else's identity affects theirs.
Really all I wanted to say was thank you for your story (which yes I will be buying a copy of for my friend Ryan and Tyler) because while the setting, time frame and family reactions were different, you essentially told my friends’ love story to the world, and honestly it's a beautiful gift that I can give them.