Lessons and Leaving

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I just finished the final round of edits for Crescent City Confidential. Because the book is set in New Orleans, I decided to dedicate the story to the Southern women who taught me a great deal and helped me become the woman I am today. Grandmothers and aunts and cousins, teachers and nuns and neighbors. These women taught me about resilience and grace, perseverance, and not being afraid to be smart, or strong.

And then the election happened and everything about that felt cheap. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by some of those same aunts and cousins and neighbors and friends. But even in that darkness, I knew that the lessons I learned were still there. Things like believing in myself, social justice, and not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Perhaps more than anything else, they taught me it was okay to leave. That I needed to leave. It was a lesson I didn’t fully understand until much later—that staying was tantamount to a death sentence. Every single day of my life, I’m profoundly grateful for having left.

What started out as going away to college turned into a full and satisfying life in a place I didn’t know existed and with people I couldn’t even imagine as a kid.  I can’t fathom what my life would look like had I stayed. I may have never come out; I may have never taken myself seriously as a writer. I might have gotten married and had kids and aspired to a (little pink) house in the suburbs and vacations (down at the Gulf of Mexico).

Without these women, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to imagine something else.

But they saw something more. And even though they probably never fathomed that I’d live in New York and be a dean at a college and write lesbian romance, they sensed that I was different, needed something different. They laid the groundwork and offered the encouragement that set me on my way to becoming me.

I think the process of becoming is at the core of all my books. As much as my characters find love, they find themselves. This is definitely the case with Crescent City Confidential. Both Tess and Sam have strong feelings on who they are and what they want. Their identities have been shaped by family and geography and life circumstances; they are happy, but not complete. They fall in love, sure, but they also become themselves—more authentic, more whole.

It feels ironic now that I set this story in Louisiana, the place I needed to escape from. As I write this, I’m here visiting my mother and godmother. I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land, counting the hours until I go back to my life a thousand miles away.

But I like to think I’ve come full circle. I know I’ll never again call Louisiana home, but it will always be part of me–messy, contradictory, infuriating, enchanting. I’m not ashamed or afraid of it. It’s mine.

I like to think maybe there’s a little girl somewhere with a big bow and a feeling she can’t quite put a finger on, a feeling that tells her she doesn’t belong. She might not be the next lesbian romance writer, but maybe this lost little girl turned romance writer can show her there’s more to life than the world she knows.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Crescent City Confidential from Bold Strokes Books. Catherine, Claire, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Landry, Mrs. Kurtz, Sr. McFayden, Cindee, Laura Lee, Leslie, Sara and all the rest of you fabulous women, this one’s for you.

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To My Family and Friends Who Voted for Trump

First, I’m not about to yell at you or call you names. No, really. I’m not a yeller by nature. Besides, I also know doing so will make matters between us worse, not better. And I’ve committed to making things better. So I’d like to give you some context and ask for your help. Okay? Okay.

Let’s start with the premise that you voted for Trump/Pence in spite of, not because of, their hate-laced, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic speech and actions. If you’re in the “because” category, we probably don’t speak anymore and you’re unlikely to happen upon this. But I digress.

Here’s the thing. You may have voted the way you did for a million reasons. I’m not going to try to haggle with you over all those reasons. But whatever those reasons, the reality is that you voted for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. A man who thinks it’s okay to psychologically abuse and use shock therapy on LGBTQ kids. A ticket endorsed by the KKK.

That baggage is now yours. You don’t get to pretend that isn’t part of the platform your voted for. You don’t get to assume that I or anyone else will give you the benefit of the doubt. In our eyes, in my eyes, you are now suspect.

I know that seems unfair. It is. But it’s no more unfair than a Muslim woman being expected to denounce radical Islam every time someone of Middle Eastern descent commits a crime. No more unfair than a black man being pulled over for driving through a white neighborhood. And, to a lesser degree, it’s no more unfair than me having to decide whether or not to come out every time the plumber or the lady at the nail salon asks about my husband. So welcome to the club.

I know, it feels like I’m yelling. I’m not. I’m laying the groundwork to ask you to do something really important. I’m asking you to be vocal. Be vocal about the things you don’t want me to assume about you.

Don’t tell me you’re okay with marriage equality. Tell your friends and coworkers and the guy at the gym who makes a comment about faggots. When someone you know makes a racist or sexist joke, call them out. If you don’t know what conversion therapy is, find out and speak out against it, up to and including a phone call to the Vice President you chose.

It might feel like I’m asking a lot. I am. But I want to believe that however much you and I disagree on matters of trade or taxes or even national security, we are both on the side of decency, humanity, and equity. I want to believe it so badly. And it’s the only way I know how to start reconciling the cognitive dissonance that has consumed me for the last few days.

And it matters now. It matters so much. I’m not being dramatic when I say that people feel–physically, literally–unsafe. I do. And I’m a middle class, feminine-presenting, white woman. I’m about to visit my mother in Louisiana and I’m dreading it. I’m afraid. (And I feel guilty for being afraid, but that’s another post.)

The stakes are so high. And you, more than me or any of the other liberal queer folks who are freaking out right now, have power. You’re in a position of influence that I don’t enjoy with other conservatives. You can draw a line in the sand between yourself and the people who are setting fire to the rainbow flags on people’s houses. Because if you don’t, those people will feel even bolder, thinking that they are somehow in the majority. That their hatred and their violence is acceptable.

We can’t let that happen. You can’t let that happen. I beg you. Please do your part so that doesn’t happen.