A Year of Aurora Rey

I got a notification from WordPress today that my site is up for annual renewal. I had one of those cliche moments of being  surprised that a whole year has passed while at the same time feeling like it’s been forever. You know that feeling, right? Then I started thinking about all that’s happened.

A year ago, I’d just finished my first full manuscript. I sent it off to Bold Strokes Books with high hopes and a little squee in my heart. I created a website and a twitter account and thought all about how to market myself as a writer. I figured I’d need to pass the months of waiting somehow.

But then a little magic happened. I was sitting at work doing worky things and got an email offering me a contract. I yelped, jumped up and down, and barely managed to sit through my next meeting. I signed the contract, updated my website and author profile with my publisher’s information. I was giddy for days.

Before too long, I was assigned an editor. Some internet stalking revealed she had four books under her belts and was both edgier and younger than me. I felt frumpy and weird until I got the first round of feedback, which was funny and kind and critical in all the right ways. My story got so much better and I started to feel like an author more than just a writer. I started a second book without hemming or hawing.

I sold my house and saw the end of Much Ado About Cake, my custom-order bakery. I was sad until I realized that I wanted to write more than I wanted to bake (and always had). I bought a house and fifteen (fifteen!) acres with my partner and learned the lingo of tractors. I made friends with fellow authors and had my friends asking for autographs and offering to provide security detail when my celebrity kicks in.

This week, I’m finishing up the final edits for Winter’s Harbor and fretting about the fast-approaching deadline to submit Built to Last, which was accepted on proposal and already has an amazing cover (no pressure). Part of me can’t believe how quickly the last year has passed. The other part can’t believe how much has been crammed into the last 365 days. It’s cliche, but it’s true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With Liberty and Marriage for All

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I’ve spent much of my day bathing in the ebullience of my facebook and twitter pages. Shortly after the SCOTUS decision was announced, rainbows and kissing couples and heartfelt reactions were everywhere. I smiled, I laughed, I cried a little. Tears of joy mostly. There were a few tears, too, for the men and women who were shut out of their partner’s hospital room or funeral, whose children were taken from them, whose families were ignored or torn apart because they had no legal protections.

I’m reminded that the fight isn’t over. There is still racism and homophobia and classism and xenophobia and hate in so many forms. There is an eerie silence from many of my family and friends that I know is covering up distaste, or worse.

But in spite of all that, or perhaps even because of it, I celebrate today. Because whether or not marriage is of personal importance to you, it is a big deal. Symbolically and legally, it is life-changing for thousands of couples and families. It’s also a big deal because victories lift us up and give us hope. They replenish our souls an give us the heart and the stamina to continue fighting for equality and justice. For ourselves and for those without a voice, those who live in fear.

So today I celebrate. I celebrate the couples lining up for marriage licenses and those whose marriages will finally be recognized. I celebrate the health insurance and hospital visitation and Social Security benefits that will be accessible. I celebrate feeling safer when I head to Louisiana next month. I also celebrate the fact that we have something to celebrate. Even when there is work still to do, that’s something we should never take for granted.

Being Femme

Some are born femme.  Some achieve femme.  Some have femme thrust upon them.

Of course, it’s not always that simple.

The label of femme was thrust upon me while I was in graduate school. My girlfriend and I went to some LGBT pride event and a woman who was only slightly older than me nodded knowingly. “You’re a femme.”

I’d heard the term, but didn’t know what it meant. At least not beyond knowing I liked girly things but not girly girlfriends. I started reading, joined a couple of online forums. It took a while, but I grew into it, owning femme as my own identity and not just who I was in juxtaposition to someone else. Now, it feels as natural to me as my own skin and I can’t imagine being anything else.

I wonder, though. I think back to the days before that time. When I was a little bit boy crazy, but mostly a good girl. A good girl by Catholic school standards, no less.

I like to think there is some is some femme essence that has been with me always, long before I even knew what femme meant. That the inexplicable fascination I had with the sporty volleyball player who I tutored in algebra was really my first authentic girl crush. That my secret obsession with the k.d. lang/Cindy Crawford cover of Vanity Fair came from a place of deep knowing. Yeah, you know the one. (Was I really fifteen when it came out?)

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I like to think that both my body and my subconscious knew before I did, and waited patiently for the rest of me to catch up.

It’s sort of the same as being a writer. I dabbled with writing in high school. I desperately wanted to be a writer in college. I forgot along the way, but I remembered. Now, I can’t imagine being anything else.  I like to think that it, too, was there the whole time.

Sometimes, It Matters Too Much to Agree to Disagree

I’ve done a pretty good job of separating my worlds. There’s day job world and family world, friend world and lesbian romance novelist world. At times, I allow them to overlap. Sometimes, they even play nicely together. When it comes to myself, however, things get a little tricky.

I know at work to avoid talking about politics. And I know that there are members of my family that I can’t talk to at all anymore and maintain my sanity. I know who to compartmentalize and how.

I have a few cousins, for example, who I love dearly and who are pretty staunch conservatives. We’ve been close for so many years and I believe that they are good people who are trying to lead good lives. We agree to disagree and I just hide some of the things they share on Facebook. (Why can’t Facebook make an I-only-want-to-see-pictures-of-your-kids-and-TBT-photos setting?) We maintain deep affection for one another and keep our interactions focused on the experiences we’ve shared.

Mostly, I keep my wits about me and my heart intact. But sometime it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes, I’m in a mood or I think of a witty comment and I can’t contain myself. I engage. I know that I’ll regret it and that I’ll end up queasy and sad, but I do it anyway. And it begins.

When you say that kids do better with a mom and a dad than with two moms, but that you don’t mean me because I would make a great parent, it’s not okay. When you say you don’t get why people say Caitlyn Jenner is brave, you are denying and dismissing the reality that so many–too, too many–people have been murdered because they were transgender. When you say that a baker should be able to refuse making my wedding cake because you also think I should be able to refuse to bake for the KKK, you aren’t helping.  When you say it isn’t personal, you’re lying. You might think that you can separate the two, but you can’t.

I’ve given myself a lot of stomach aches through the years. I’ve done it because I feel in my heart that these people are worth it. because I believe that meaningful conversation might open their minds just a little. Because maybe I can learn something, too. Because I think walking away will make me more sad in the long run.

Each time, though, the sadness of the moment compounds. I can’t shake the hurt and I can’t shake the gnawing feeling that it’s a losing battle. Or the feeling that there is so much more at stake than me and you and our relationship. The feeling that the whole world on the cusp and I can’t tolerate anyone whose beliefs and opinions and votes will make it less safe, less kind, less generous.

I don’t have answers–for myself or for them or for anyone else. Writing is good salve, though. It eases the tightness in my chest so that I can breathe. Depending on the day, it gives me patience or clarity or resolve. I’m not sure what it’s giving me right now, but I have more hope than I did when I started writing twenty minutes ago. So that’s something.

Out and Proud

It’s pride month, such an uplifting time of year. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read quite a few coming out stories. Some have been funny, some sweet; some have been downright raw. There seems to be a common thread, though–hope. The luxury of hindsight helps, for sure, but it’s the spirit that counts. Even when things are hard, even when you think you might throw up just thinking about it, there is the hope that things will get better. They did, they do. If you’re questioning that right now, reach out to someone. We’ll listen.

All this has me thinking about my own experience. I was in my mid twenties when I started coming out to my mostly conservative, Catholic, Southern family. They were far away. It was complicated. The usual. But in the end, I did and I survived. Today I have a good relationship with most of them. It got better.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of taking a course with Minnie Bruce Pratt, legendary femme writer and activist. Out of that class came one version of my coming out story, inspired by the style of Aurora Levins Morales’s Remedios (which I highly recommend). Looking back, the writing feels a little rough, but it was the first time I wrote about coming out. It was also the first time I wrote about some of the tensions in my family, a topic that used to instill its own brand of panic in me. But I’ve learned a lot since then, and again I have the luxury of hindsight. I’ve come to appreciate, for example, that my Aunt Claire is fiercely protective of her sisters (my mother and her twin, my godmother), both of whom have schizophrenia. She also turned out to be one of my biggest champions and allies. I hope she knows how much I appreciate that, among other things.

The story was published in G.R.I.T.S. – Girls Raised In the South: An Anthology of Southern Queer Womyns’ Voices and Their Allies (2013, CreateSpace Independent Publishing). In the spirit of pride month, I thought I’d share it with you.

“Roux”

Roux makes things thick; it gives them flavor and body. Fat and flour stirred over heat for a little while or a long long time. Cajun roux is cooked dark—not caramel dark, not peanut butter dark—chocolate dark. It is a test of will as much of skill, waiting until the exact moment before flecks of black mean you have to start all over. It’s a culinary game of chicken, played in a cast iron pot with a wooden spoon in one hand and a beer in the other. It’s the beginning of countless recipes, written or otherwise: First, you make a roux…

The call comes at about nine in the evening. I pick up the land line in the kitchen; I think the call will be quick. I am mistaken. There are serious concerns. Aunt Claire wastes no time.

“You know your Mama and Nannie will go along with whatever you say. You and Michelle could be best friends who decide to live together for the rest of your lives. We had and aunt who did that and no one ever even talked about it.”

“There’s only one bed,” I say. “Omission is one thing. All-out lying is another. I don’t want to lie to them.”

“You have no idea how they are going to react. You know when your MaMaw died, your mom cried for weeks. And your Nannie, she didn’t cry at all and ended up in the hospital because of it. This could be just as traumatic for them.”

My stomach starts to twist over on itself. I feel like I need to sit down, but I’m stuck in the kitchen and there is nowhere to go. “I just, I think they will be okay. They’re going to be able to see that I’m happy. They’ll probably have questions. I printed out some PFLAG literature.”

Claire pounces on that. “I’ve read some of that. It’s very academic and I really don’t think it would help them. Look, are you prepared to deal with the consequences if your news causes one of them to have a psychotic break? Are you going to come home and deal with it if that happens?”

I’m pacing now. Back and forth, lining up my socked feet on the faux-brick linoleum of the floor. One-two-three-four steps toward the dining room. One-two-three-four steps toward the stove.

“I really hope it doesn’t come to that. But I assure the family that if things get really bad, then I will find a way to come home and help. Yes, I assume responsibility for that. I do care about them, you know. I don’t want them to be left out of a giant part of my life for the rest of their lives. And I don’t want them to find out later and feel like I lied to them. What if we decide to have children? I have to do this.”

Claire sighs.

“I’ll call you once they’re here. I know you’re trying to do what’s best for them. So am I.”

***

Nannie and I are sitting at the kitchen table. It’s a little after 9:00, so Mama won’t be up for at least another couple of hours. We’re playing a round of kalukah—we each have a hand of fifteen cards and a little dish of nickels and pennies. The pot is up to sixty cents, a lot for just two people playing.

Nannie takes the three of hearts that I discard and goes down. She plays four sets, leaving only three cards in her hand. If she pulls the right card, she’ll go out. I’m only one card from getting kalukah, but I don’t want to get caught and have to pay her a quarter.

“You’re scaring me down,” I say with a laugh.

Nannie doesn’t laugh. She adjusts her glasses, rubs her nose, touches her short gray hair. She’s been fidgety ever since they put her on Seroquel. I know lithium has more dangerous side effects, but the twitching is hard to watch.

“So, Dawn, do you um…” Glasses, hair, nose. “Do you and Michelle do things in bed that people would call, um, lesbian?”

And here it is. Mama and Nannie said little last night when I told them. They didn’t seem upset, and the little they did say was positive—supportive even—so I was feeling cautiously optimistic. This could really go either way.

“We…” Fuck. What do I say? “We love each other very much and we’re very committed to each other and plan to be together, so yes. Yes, our relationship is physical that way.”

Wait. Wait. Wait. I’m holding my breath.

“Okay, shugah, I just wanted to know.”

Nannie takes the queen of clubs and sets down queen-king-ace. It’s a good thing I went down when I did; I only owe her for the three cards I’m still holding. I give her three pennies and add a nickel to the pot for the next hand. I pick up all of the cards and start to shuffle them. It’s my deal.