A few years ago, I wasn’t out. Anywhere. I followed the rules, did what I was supposed to, what was expected of me, behaved myself. And was fucking miserable. So I had to do it. Had to say, “Hey, this is who I am, and let’s talk about what this means for how we interact.” Most people reading this would say, that’s brave. That’s awesome. Be yourself!
Okay, so I need to come out again. As a woman writing with a male persona in the m/m romance genre.
I’m not going to presume your reactions, only hope that those of you still reading this will consider my explanation.
You know, I’ve written all my life, in some form or another. Even when I was in a relationship where my writing anything more than a résumé or a grocery list was frowned upon unless it was helpful to him, I still managed to find an outlet, through blogging. I wasn’t out. Not even to myself. I was married, two kids, and living a lie about being bisexual. I wondered why I couldn’t hold friendships long (and for someone with social anxiety disorder, that is torture) and the ones I did have were superficial, but the answer came to me after I became friends with Theo Fenraven. I wasn’t defective as a friend, I was just not being my real self with them, and of course, over time, that killed the friendship.
Until Fen. Because of him, I decided to stop pretending in my marriage, which had become rocky (the living a lie thing will kill a marriage too, not just friendships), and start accepting who I was. This began in little ways, first by reading fanfic. Then by writing it. I gained a little courage with Fen’s help, and came out to my husband.
It did not go well.
At the same time, things at my work changed. Before coming out at home, I’d been promoted, worked for a different supervisor, took on more duties, got a pay grade hike. As heated phone calls with my husband took place, things at work began to change. First, my new boss quit talking to me. This was a man who had sent me joke emails all the time, the man who, as long as the joke was heterosexual, had a reputation for being the most perverted, inappropriately humored man who worked there. Right up my alley, except the het part. He was a frat boy in an older man’s body, and while he was understanding I was going through some tough things at home, that stopped after the one time he heard me on the phone arguing with my husband on my lunch break, where I whisper-yelled I wasn’t going to cheat on him with a woman.
Getting to the point here, when he discovered what I was writing after I’d made the mistake of emailing something saved on a thumb drive from my work email address, I lost my job.
Two weeks later, my marriage was over.
In record time, I went from being part of a family of four with a decent income to being a single mother on an unemployment share that left me short of my bills by several hundred dollars every month. Of course, I got depressed. Of course I panicked. I had no health insurance, nor did my kids since I was the one who carried it before losing my job. But I knew two things:
1.) For thirty years, I’d followed the rules. Behaved. And other than my kids, I had nothing to show for it but a broken marriage, a house I would probably lose and debt I couldn’t pay.
2.) I had to find a way to care for my kids, stat.
Programs. Pffft. Either I didn’t qualify because even the paltry sum of unemployment was high enough to keep me from them, or they took months to set up and I didn’t have months.
Sooooo, I turned to writing. Freelancing, temp jobs, anything I could get my hands on. I had a degree, goddammit, but I was competing for day jobs alongside hundreds of others in my field and it was 2010. Huge recession, thanks to GDUB and his friends on Wall Street.
It was then, one of the fanfic writers I followed announced she’d had a book accepted for publication by DSP. A lightbulb went on. Oh my god, you mean this thing I do where I can write about people like me (because to me, same sex relationships are same sex relationships, gender be damned), could be something people pay me for? I had no idea there was a book market for m/m stories.
But wait, I’d lost a job for writing this stuff and for being out. I still hadn’t found one. My soon-to-be-ex could potentially dispute custody if I wrote for money about what most people think of as porn. Potential employers were Googling my name, and if they found me online peddling m/m stories, I could be rejected. Again.
But I needed money, and I knew I could write. Maybe it wouldn’t ever amount to more than a tank of gas to get to a job interview, but I wasn’t in a position to turn my back on an income stream, no matter how far fetched. When I had to raid my son’s piggy bank for quarters to buy milk, and I stopped eating every meal so they could have mine, no, I wasn’t turning away from any idea to keep going.
My family was out of state, and even if I ended up homeless, I’d have wound up in a court battle over my kids because there was no way I’d be allowed to move in with my parents and take them with me. And I did not want them to grow up without their father, even if we hadn’t made it as a couple. Not to mention, money for a lawyer? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I wasn’t even sure how to pay to get my divorce finalized.
I’d already lost nearly everything for coming out. I wasn’t going to lose my kids, too.
So with Fen’s help, I hatched an idea about writing under not just a pen name, but an online identity no new employer would find, and even if they did, wouldn’t match my personal details. Could I have picked a different genre? In hindsight, yeah, except for that whole bit about choosing to be true to myself and living my way or being that thirty-something rule follower who lost everything anyway. I was kind of over doing things that went against who I was finding myself to be. Look where it had gotten me?
Also, in the fandom I was in, it was almost expected for the people writing the stories to be something other than they presented themselves online. So I didn’t give any thought to the m/m publishing world being any different. It was offline people I was trying to hide from. Readers just bought the books to read, and went on to the next, right?
A year later, I had a temp job with a promise of becoming permanent, a couple published novellas, and my maiden name back (which I’d stupidly used as part of my pen name, so suddenly my secret identity was the equivalent of Clark Kent donning a pair of glasses, except for the embellished details of a personal life that didn’t exist). No one at work knew about my home or writing life. No one at home knew about my writing life. And no one in the writing life knew any of the rest of it, except Fen.
Yeah, that whole being out and proud bit? Totally bit me in the ass.
Then I released Power Exchange, and suddenly, the tightness in my budget that had me still juggling bills, that had forced me into bankruptcy to save my house from foreclosure, was gone. People were noticing my work. People were buying my book. People were following my blog.
People who I’d let believe I was a guy.
During this, I’d seen some stuff about AJ Llewellyn being outed and the outcry of it, and suddenly I was scared. It was my employers I didn’t want discovering my secret, but now, I realized people who were getting my book, becoming invested in my blog, these people did care about the person behind it. By the time I realized the very real possibility existed that I could write full time, I saw what I had done.
Nice catch 22, AJ. Hide the writing behind a fictional identity to get a job. Succeed enough at the writing to quit the job. Lose the writing for the fictional identity getting outed.
I waffled back and forth on what to do. Quit this pen name and start over? Hope that whatever magic I’d found when I released PE would happen for me again? JK Rowling tried that (as a male war veteran cooked up by her PR people) and she sold so little her publisher leaked the person behind the pen name.
J.K. fucking Rowling.
No way I could try again and get the same chance. Not only that, but I was able to provide for my kids. I didn’t have to tell them no to their questions about doing things that cost money. I didn’t have to wonder if I could squeeze a pair of shoes out of this paycheck from the temp job. And something else happened. Even with the pen name, and the incorrect details about my gender and where I lived and who lived under my roof, I feel more real as AJ than I ever had in my real life. AJ is me, and I am AJ.
Then Safeword came out, and for a few short hours, my book, my book, was number one on Amazon’s Gay and Lesbian best seller list.
Coming out after that? Risking that? Since I was seven I’d dreamed of the day I’d be published and potentially making a living as a writer. With Safeword, I could literally reach out and feel the heat from it.
The influx of readers contacting me grew exponentially and I knew I couldn’t keep it up, but I couldn’t lose it either. So I took down a bunch of the most grievous blog posts, and for months, tried to rectify this without losing AJ. Without losing what I have wanted for basically my whole life.
But there are scary things about it, too. I have gotten invasive questions, emails from people I don’t know, who’ve read my books and are under the impression my characters are pieces of me, and as such, demand information. My address. My picture (which I’m not comfortable with being online anyway, regardless of gender). I’ve had facebook followers who, within a few short PMs, have shown they are unstable and had to be blocked. I’ve had people tell me things about themselves and their sexual proclivities I have no business knowing, nor do I want to know. And I realized also, that perhaps, this layer of protection between me and the reading public isn’t such a bad idea. But even so, I don’t have to divulge my personal life details in order to blow the lid off this last truth about me.
I talked to Fen, told him I wanted to quit the embellishments, have tried to keep readers from getting too close, and basically have stopped the whole lie. Except the part where I’m not a guy. I “moved” back home. I have a house now. I have my pets now. And I’ve met someone (Trouble) and she’s so far beyond what I thought I could find in a partner I didn’t know this level of devotion existed, even though I write about it.
I see posts all the time, does it matter if the writer is male or female? Some care, some don’t. I realize this is so much more than me writing under a pen name. I led people to believe things about me that aren’t true. I actively perpetuated a fake ID online. And I’m done with it. I don’t want this albatross anymore. It was never my intention to deceive anyone in the m/m genre. My deception was aimed at the people who controlled my paycheck and benefits, because they’d proven unwavering about me being my true self before. And I suffered a large amount of naiveté thinking what was common in the fanfic world in which I played that nobody is who they present themselves to be would be the same in the m/m readership world.
Those of you who’ve stuck through this, you may get it, even if you’re hurt by it. I understand what I have done. Those of you who quit reading, and will quit buying my books, you won’t see me waving goodbye. I hope no one reading this is ever faced with the very real possibility of losing everything you have, and aren’t in a position to make stupid decisions to stay afloat.
But the question is, why did I lose everything when I told people in my real life I’m bisexual? Why did I feel I had to hide again who I really am, a writer of same sex relationships and a woman with a gorgeous fiancée (ahem), when I’ve watched other writers get outed at their jobs and also fired for their writing and their beliefs (if they’re allies) or their orientation (if they’re LGBT)?
We all have a line of what we will and will not say about our personal lives online, and as I’ve stepped out of the closet the last few years (to my family, all the friends who stuck around from my previous life—all two of them—and after making sure my employers are LGBT friendly, at work), this was the last bit to do before I’m out everywhere. No more hiding. For those who are hurt, I apologize.
I’m not going to shut off comments. If you’re mad and feel the need to call me names and rage at me, that’s fine. If you want to talk to me privately, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply. This, of course, will raise questions about Fen, because we were partners. Fen knew what I was doing and agreed to help me out. Fen understood my reasons and went along with this because he’s my best friend, the one person who saw the real me and smiled instead of making me feel like a freak, when everyone else in my life said I was.