I like to think of myself as a moderately courageous person. I went to college a thousand miles from home without having visited–the campus or the state of New York. I and my fledgling cake business auditioned for Cupcake Wars. I work with college students (and faculty, for that matter) for a living. On top of that, I’m an out lesbian. As we’ve (unfortunately) been discussing lately, that mere existence implies a certain amount of bravery.
But as much as I embrace some of life’s big challenges, I can be a bit of a chicken. I’m prone to many of the same insecurities and fears of embarrassment that plague a lot of people, especially women. I’ve spent years angsting about whether or not to bare my arms (or thighs) in public. I’ve allowed the fact that I can’t carry a tune hold me back from karaoke. I worry that people won’t like me.
As I’ve gotten older, some of that has gotten better. While I’ve yet to free myself from body image issues, I no longer tie my self worth to the number on the scale or the size sewn into the back of my skirt. I can laugh at myself (at least most of the time). I attribute a lot of that to simply growing up, coming into my own. Not to mention the wonders of having a good therapist, great friends, and a partner who loves me exactly as I am.
I think, though, that joining the lesbian literary community has a lot to do with it as well. First, there is something liberating about the act very act of writing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard-ass work, but the ability to create characters and situations–to control the outcome of those situations and the fates of those characters–is profoundly satisfying. It’s exciting and, truthfully, addicting. (I could go on about the fact that it remains an act of defiance to write women-centered stories, but that’s another post.)
Then there’s the lesfic community itself. Part of that is how supporting and welcoming everyone is. Part of it is getting notes from perfect strangers who’ve enjoyed my books. (Seriously, it’s the biggest thrill. If you want to make someone’s day, email an author whose book you loved.)
I’ve decided, however, that it might also have something to do with using a pen name. Although I don’t keep my identities secret or even completely separate, being Aurora is different than being Dawn. And there’s something powerful about that.
Aurora isn’t bogged down by the teasing Dawn got on the school bus in middle school. For all anyone knows, Aurora is a sassy, confident femme who loves herself and her body. She’s not afraid to be flirty or try new things or stand in front of a crowd and read a sex scene. Aurora can be the best parts of me. Kind, but also bold. Clever, but in a halter dress.
Dawn eyed this dress for months. Aurora bought it to wear to the Golden Crown Literary Society awards. And a crinoline to make it extra flouncy. (She might still wear a little cardigan with it. Sorry, Carsen.)
It’s become a running joke at my house that Aurora gets away with things Dawn would never even try. All joking aside, though, it’s been lovely to open up in new ways and to new things. At the end of the day, I’m left with me and I like the not new, but definitely improved, version.
I don’t think there’s some magical switch to be flipped. But if I can do it, anyone can. So try something you haven’t before. It’s okay to start small. Maybe it’s a new kind of food or speaking up in a meeting at work. Maybe it’s writing that novel that’s been kicking around in your mind for years. Maybe it’s as simple as wearing a flouncy dress. Whatever it is, I’m already sending you a virtual high-five.