Coming Out

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 ajrosefiction@gmail.com 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.

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97 thoughts on “Coming Out

  1. Seriously, this is powerful! I am so moved. Thank you for sharing this! I’m not LGBT but I do know what it is to have lived lies and to have undergone serious transitions in leaving the lies behind and it’s incredibly helpful to read about other people’s journeys…it’s particularly timely, as well.

    This blog, personally, has done quite the opposite from that which you fear. I’ve never read anything you’ve written before. Now I will.

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  2. I have loved your writing style from the moment I read Power Exchange. Whether you are male or female will not change your style of writing. I’m sorry you had to hide the real you and feel you are so courageous at this time to reveal everything. No matter what I will continue to follow your blog and eagerly await any and all of your books to be published.
    Congratulations as well on your engagement.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are amazing through and through. Nothing you have told us today changes any views I have in you, nor will it waiver any support. If anything, I am in awe of your strength and courage. Congratulations on your happiness and your engagement! I look forward to all your future words.
    I have nothing but smiles for you.

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  4. AJ, you rock! It doesn’t matter.. none of it.. except that I am so sorry you went through all that in the first place!!! I’m glad you’re happy with Trouble.. and that things are going your way.. you deserve it!!!

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  5. Sweet Aj for me you are Aj Rose author extraordinary a great person and someone i am proud to call me friend ….The rest …who cares . You are you that doesnt change
    still it took a hell of a lot of courage and more to tell this . What a weight must have been lifted from your shoulders

    congrats on the fiancee part 😉
    much love Dani (elle)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such an amazing post to read; I totally admire your courage in revealing so much. And it changes nothing in how much I love your stories. Congratulations to you and Trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey, AJ, I’m glad you felt like you could let everyone everywhere know the real you in this way. It may be that I don’t “know” you but, even if I had hurt feelings, I would still feel very happy for you, and for Fen.
    The fact that we live in a world that still demands some people have to hide in order to survive is what we all need to keep working to change.
    I hope this is maybe the start of something in that other authors like you, Fen, Steph (SE), etc., can either come out, whether in terms of gender, sexuality or whatever it may be.
    I hope for both you and Fen that life just became a bit easier for you today.
    I’m going to leave the same message on his page. 🙂
    ~Andrea

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have to be honest at first after reading the post I was annoyed. I thought I found a cool guy writing amazing M/M books that tugged at my heartstrings and had issues like alot of us.

    But, I am not angry now. I am sad that you had to hide who you were to publish. The work stands for itself and really, who cares which gender wrote it.

    Will this stop me from buying your books? Hell no! It’s the writing that grabbed me to begin with.

    Does knowing that you mislead people in your blog bug me? Meh, a little but I hate to say it, it’s very common now and not the first I’ve heard of.

    This too shall pass and I am glad you can be honest with people in your blog.

    Still a fan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a tremendous amount of guilt that, while my deception wasn’t aimed at readers and the m/m community, those were the people most affected by it. For this, I am truly sorry.

      Thank you for sticking with me. It means the world to me.

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      • Unfortunately, no matter our intent when we deceive, there will be guilt.
        I’m still a reader and will be.

        Best of luck and this will blow over. You have tremendous talent and THAT is the reason you sell books.

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  9. You’re an amazing woman, don’t ever doubt of it. You are one of the authors I won’t let a chance to miss one book. So enjoy, be proud of yourself and continue to write ! Smooches

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m deeply sorry that you had to go through all of that. Honestly I don’t understand those who have hurt feelings over this. As readers we buy books because we like the way the author writes, and we like their stories. None of this is dependent upon the writers gender or orientation. Frankly society has gone over the edge in thinking they are owed anything about an author (or other celebrities) life. Congratulations on getting engaged, I wish you both many years of love and happiness

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So sad that everyone has to be all up in everyone’s business. You write good books. Period. It’s no matter to me what you do or how you live in your personal life. That’s YOUR business. So glad you were able to care for your kids and so sorry you had to deal with butt-heads at your work.

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  12. You just had to pick this day, huh? The one day I stayed off-line on purpose – and now I have to read up on all of it *snicker* All I want to say is this : I’m happy for you, you deserve to be with your special someone, and it looks like you found her. You’re an absolutely amazing person and your books will forever have a special place in my heart. Not only because they touched me in ways nothing else has ever done before, but also because reading them, meeting you and Fen made my world so much bigger and brighter and ultimately allowed me to meet even more wonderful people – thank you for that. Could you now please hurry up finishing Consent?

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  13. WOW!!! Amazing and brave woman to have over come everything you have had to endure. You are an amazing writer & person who came out fighting good for you! I’m proud to read your books I don’t care if you are male or female! You had your reasons and any person that isn’t close minded will see that and continue on reading! If they don’t its their loss. When I read your books you take me to that place and I can see in my head what I’m reading! To me it takes a lot for an author to captivate someone’s attention that strongly! Your true fans are here and will stick by you. I’m very happy things have finally worked out for you!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!
    One of you loyal fans! Thank you AJ

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  14. Wow. While I admit to being a tad shocked by your post, I can say wholly and without reservation that I really admire your courage and I support you. I hate that you ever felt unsafe to be who you are. And I hate that trying to be true to yourself cost you so much. That is so unfair.

    Personally, I don’t care whether you are male, female, straight, bi, gay or any point on either spectrum. You are an amazing writer and I can’t imagine NOT reading your books.

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  15. You are still you and the only thing that I am saddened or angry about is that anyone is put in the position of having to present an image to the world that isn’t true to who they are in order to survive. I’m so happy you’ve found someone who loves you for yourself and I wish you many, many wonderful years together with her. And I can’t wait to buy your next book and the next book. You keep writing them and I’ll keep buying them. Be happy, be proud of who you are. I think you and Fen are both amazing.

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  16. As others have said (and I particularly liked the Bronte reference!), your work speaks for itself and who you are is, in the nicest way possible, not relevant other than as the author. My only remembered Shakespeare quote (from English O level in 1980) is ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ and I think fits the Rose bill!
    I always assume authors write under pseudonyms so it never bothers me, though you having to hide yourself to protect your job and family is sad and it is annoying it is necessary.
    However, so long as you keep writing great stories, I won’t be mad – they are the truth of it all.
    Probably got a bit rambling in there. Congrats on your engagement and hope everything is good for you now.

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  17. Ok, this is going to feel bitchy but this is the truth as I see it- who cares? In all honesty, the answer to that is that nobody worth it cares. Be true to yourself and know that whether you are male,female, straight or gay, young or old, none of that matters to me. Can you write? That’s what I care about. And you can!

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  18. Pingback: On Coming Out by AJ Rose | BookLover62

  19. AJ, Love. Just Love and Support. Sending radiant light to bathe you in your truth. I’m grateful you & Fen found each other. Knowing a bit of your story renews my faith and gives me hope.
    Thank you. Thank you.

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  20. As I said over at Fen’s website, You are amazing! What a courageous & scary thing to do. I love what you write, & that hasn’t changed. And yeah, there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance when you realize your perception of someone is slightly different than you thought, but is that so different from the way our mental image of people we have only interacted with online & seen their avatar, may greatly differ from their actual appearance? Hey, I recently sent a real pic of myself to someone & he had trouble getting his mind around the fact I was not a Sheltie, so ;-D

    I’m so sorry for all the things you went thru & the need to hide the real you for so long. So happy you can now be the real you everwhere & so happy for you that you’ve found love. There’s nothing like it, is there? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Sorry you have had some bad experiences with readers/fans. Personally I can’t wait for your next book! So glad you were able to get free of the burden you’ve been carrying around for so long.

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  22. Dear AJ I am one of your many reader fans and you are an automatic buy for me. This will not change:). Kudos to you for sharing your story. You are awesome.

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  23. We’ll you did have me fooled but what the hell? From one female m/m writer to another, you go girl! U were the one who inspired me to seek publication in the first place an I never would have succeeded if not for u. Keep doing that voodoo that u do so well sister!

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  24. Pingback: Thorny, Not Prickly | An Interview, A Giveaway, & Why I Don’t Care Who You Are

  25. AJ, I really did not question what gender you are. I just thought you were a fantastic writer. I am sorry for what you have had to endure, but you have survived and thrived. Congratulations and much success in your future. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

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  26. I’m really sorry that you were put in such a position that you felt you had no choice but to make the decisions you did. I sit and think…if I were in your position would I do the same thing? You bet your sweet little bippy I would. What ever I could do (mostly legal) to keep my kids safe and fed and with me would be done. So, whether or not this matters, I fully support you. You don’t owe us anything and I feel blessed to have found you as a writer. Male or female, I don’t care. You write what I love to read. For me that’s what’s important. I think you’ll find a lot of support for you, and for those who don’t? Well, they can go screw themselves. This too shall pass. Just remember all of us in your corner.

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  27. I started to suspect this could be the case a while back when I happened upon the stock photo that you used to use as “your eye”. At the time I was like “huh…” Not like that automatically meant that you were a woman rather than a man, but I guess it just started my mind going in that direction as a possibility. My thoughts at the time were “well, I already know he is an amazing storyteller, and if “he” is a “she” then, that makes the storytelling even more impressive, considering the story in the blog” (which you had already admitted was at least partly fiction). Honestly doesn’t matter to me. We come to you because of your writing, and in your blog and fb, we have gotten juicy stories free of charge.
    I also like to write stories, and have thought that if I ever tried to get published, I would also want to hide my writing identity from those who know me, and I am not even a m/m writer. So I can totally understand how something like that could get started.
    I don’t think you owe anyone (except yourself and your kids…and trouble) anything. Just because we love your books doesn’t mean we are entitled to you or your personal story. I am just happy for you that you finally feel free to be who you are. Keeping up with all of the details of such a thorough alter ego must have been exhausting.

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