Short Story – As Sad as Rhonda

Malik watched the woman today, as he watched her almost every day.

She moved about the diner, coffee pot in hand, stopping to laugh with just about everyone in the place. Not him, but everyone else. He supposed he was still a newcomer. She swept away from what Malik assumed were a group of farmers and headed toward him with the pot. Five months of breakfast here five times a week, and she knew he would drink at least four cups of coffee before he headed out on the interminable job search.

“Hi, kid,” she said, pouring his coffee and dropping another handful of creamers on his table. She pursed her lips and threw a few extra napkins down as well.

Malik looked down. He had spilled egg yolk on his white shirt. “Guess I’m not job-hunting until I change.”

“You’re having a hard time finding a job,” she said. “There’ll be work once school lets out, but you got time before that happens.”

Malik shrugged. “It’s not urgent. It’s just that I hate looking for work. I feel like I’m going on endless first dates and I’m always coming up short.”

She smiled for the first time. It changed her face. Malik noticed the fine lines around her eyes. He couldn’t guess her age.

“If I had my way, you could have this job.” She walked away to serve another customer.

Malik finished his coffee and left his money on the table.

He went home, stripped off his clothes, and turned on the computer. He’d put in a few more online applications and start fresh tomorrow. He was sick of going door to door.

Later, when dinner was simmering on the stove, Malik was on hangouts, chatting with Johnna and Anthony. He leaned into the screen, wanting to jump through and touch their faces. “I miss you so much,” Johnna said. “It isn’t the same without you.”

Edward came through the front door and put his hands on Malik’s shoulders. He leaned toward the screen. “We’ll try to come for a visit when classes let out this summer.”

They disconnected, and Malik stood, turning to hold Edward. Edward’s hair brushed Malik’s nose for a moment, but he didn’t turn his face to kiss Malik’s mouth.

“How was the job hunt?”

“We’re not going for a visit when classes let out,” Malik said. “Not when you’re teaching summer classes.”

Edward was carefully taking off his suit jacket, and hanging it up on the garment rack in the corner. Malik watched him hang up his button-front shirt, his tie. He carefully aligned the seams of his pants, brushing out the wrinkles before draping it over the hanger. Edward thought he had to look pristine when he taught. Malik had tried to tell him the students would relate to him if he acted a little more natural. He hated that Edward looked so dapper. He wanted him to try to be more rugged, to fit in. He knew it was hard to be a first-year professor, fresh out of grad school. And Malik didn’t want Edward to stand out in this farming community.

He couldn’t fault his husband, though. Edward had tried so hard to get a job at a school in California, leaning on Malik’s salary at the insurance company as the months passed with no calls.

Now Malik was the one without a job. He got up to take dinner off the stove. He had promised to follow Edward anywhere.

In the morning, Malik watched Edward getting dressed. It was the same process as the night before, in reverse. It was Tuesday. Edward would be wearing his gray slacks and the light blue sweater vest. Malik saw the way the other professors dressed on campus, especially now, when it was cold and wet, and everyone was prepping for a long, ugly winter. Malik stared out the window at the gray sky. “I can’t remember what the California sky looks like,” he said.

 

(To be continued on Patreon)

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The One About My Publisher

Okay, I officially love my publisher. Seriously. So. As most of you know by now, I have been struggling with the second book. I keep turning it over in my head, trying new stuff, fighting myself about it, wondering about it, writing, erasing, rewriting. I just couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around this story.

Finally, I knew that I needed some professional help. I did two things. I sent a plea for help out to a trusted friend (and there will be more on that in a later blog, I’m sure.) And, I send a message to my publisher telling her that I was having a crisis.

She came back with a request (?) to see what I have so far. I sent it to her. She sent me back several questions asking where I was going with it. I answered the best that I could. Just trying to answer the questions helped give me some clarification. She countered with a reason why I really shouldn’t go with one of the plot points I had been planning. She was right. She gave me several more pointers as a writer. She gave me a couple of pointers as a friend…

And then…

She put on the publisher’s hat and gave me a deadline.

Well, shit.

A deadline.

A deadline. You know, a deadline is actually a REALLY FANTASTIC IDEA! I had a deadline on my last book. I imposed it on myself, but I sat there and worked my butt off every single night to finish it because I told myself that I was going to be done with that book before I left the Virgin Islands. I didn’t want to be trying to work on it while getting rid of most of my stuff, moving overseas with a dog and a cat, extricating myself for a long-term relationship, leaving behind my home, and going back to my old home and family. It was too much. I knew it would be tossed aside. So I finished it *before* I left island and I did set it aside and forget about it for a month. Then I started editing it. And working on figuring out how to publish. And all of that took a long time, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing, but the very important thing… the MAIN thing, the fact that I should not have pushed out of my head is that I wrote the book on a deadline. And it wasn’t a leisurely deadline, either. I pushed myself. *AND* I was working and going to school full time. So now that I am not working and I have all of this free time, I somehow seem to find it easy to tell myself that I will work on it “later.”

Well, no longer. I have a deadline now. I have a job. I have actually written out a schedule. This is my work schedule. I do not get to skip work. From now on, certain hours are devoted to writing and I will be writing during those hours. No Facebook, no phone calls, no errands, not even blogging or marketing for the last novel. That stuff can be done after hours.

As of right now, I am employed again. I am a writer. This is not my hobby, this is not a game. This is my craft. It’s important. And I’m going to do it.

So, thank you Chris at Sapphire Books Publishing who is not only a fantastic person, but a tough, take no shit publisher. I needed that kick in the head. I needed it.

And for the record, I wrote 1500 words today after I got that message. Hey, I’m on a deadline now.

An Award-Winning Novelist

Yep. That’s me. An Award-Winning Novelist. I’m pretty sure I speak it in all caps, too. See, I submitted my little novel to the Elisa Rolles LGBT Rainbow Awards and guess what happened? I won three. Yep. Number one in one category, number two in another, and honorable mention in yet a third. Am I stoked? Yeah.

Not that this really changes much. I’m still living below the poverty level. I’m still trying to get my homework done on time. I’m still trying to figure out how to market my book so people will buy it. And I am still fighting tooth and nail with the second book. I swear that for every thousand words I write, I go back and delete eight hundred. Despite my power of positive thinking that I have been trying so desperately to practice, I am still floundering on that one. The editor who worked on Man Enough sent me an email the other day asking how it was going and I told her that it was going badly. She emailed me back that she was sending me good vibes. It helped. I wrote well that day. Maybe it was just the centering from knowing someone was sending me good thoughts. Or maybe she helped me focus my own good thoughts. Either way, it helped. I need to figure out how to do that every single day on my own. So, that’s where I am with that. My goal for the next week is to maybe spend a few minutes of each morning (maybe during morning yoga) just focusing positive thoughts and maybe some visualizations on Andy’s Song.

In the meantime, I am now an  Award-Winning Novelist! Boo-ya! I am kind of coasting on the excitement of that. I did scream (loudly) when I found out, causing Lucretia to come tearing in with her hand over her heart thinking I was dying or that I had seen a snake or something. I then forwarded the email to my mother, my stepmother, and my publisher. (That’s telling, isn’t it?)

Well, being an *A*ward-*W*inning *N*ovelist definitely comes with some responsibility. I have a responsibility now to get the word out there about Man Enough. I have a responsibility to finish Andy’s Song so I can move on to the next novel that is already pushing at my brain. And I have a responsibility to be absolutely fabulous at all times. (That’s the easy part, at least.)

So, keep your eyes open. Who knows? Maybe soon you’ll see me strutting across the stage of the Ellen show or Oprah’s new show. Hey! It could happen!

Is This Going to be in Your Book?

I have had an interesting couple of days. Friday, I went to my first Yoga class, and it was delightful. Please understand, my only experience with yoga before this was Tony Horton’s Power Yoga, in which there is no such thing as relaxing, gentle stretching, or becoming one with your breathing… it is a relentless 90 minute pain fest that leaves me wanting to punch Tony in his stupid face, if only I could lift my arms at that point to do it. So, Gentle Yoga. The instructor spoke in a soft voice and told us to do what we can… bend into the stretch but don’t go too far. Feel the moment. Not that it wasn’t a workout, because it was. But it was a gentle and comforting workout that stretched out my entire body and allowed me to focus on my breathing and be completely present in the moment. At the end of the class, we all spent about ten minutes on our mats, with blankets and pillows, listening to the instructor take us through a guided mediation. Afterward, we all relaxed into almost unconsciousness and I probably would have fallen asleep if not for the fact that one lady who was on a mat near me, asked in a loud voice, “So, are we going to be in your next book?”

Fast forward to Sunday. My love and I went to an honest to goodness hootenanny. Yup. A bunch of people, mostly old, mostly men, with fiddles and banjos and harmonicas and guitars picking away at old bluegrass music. It was AWESOME. Those of us who were non-musicians generally hung out in the kitchen, getting the food ready and chatting. I got involved in a pretty deep conversation with a few people. We started talking about gay marriage and how it was legalized in Iowa. I was fortunate to be with a bunch of like minded people, including one very old guy with a pointy beard who was pretty quiet throughout the whole conversation, just listening to all of the back and forth until at one point, he pointed his finger into the middle of the circle of people and said, “Anyone should be allowed to get married.” and then didn’t say another word. Another lesson learned. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I would have assumed this old guy was totally against gay marriage. I like lessons such as that, though. I like it when my assumptions are challenged because I shouldn’t be making assumptions like that in the first place.

Fast forward a bit, the conversation was getting heated (though not argumentative) and we were all having a great time, when someone who had been relatively quiet throughout the whole talk said, “Do you think this is going to go in your next book?”

I am actually asked that question a lot. When people find out that I am a writer, that is usually one of the first things I hear along with “Oh, I’m writing (will write, want to write, did write) a book too!”

The one about the book is the big one, though. People want to see themselves in something, after all. So, will this yoga class/hootenanny/auction/coffee house/whatever be in my next book? Well, yes…in a small way, I think that almost everything I experience goes into what I write in one way or another. The events shape me, which in turn shapes my writing. Big events have big places. After the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I wrote a couple of paragraphs in which one of the characters tries and fails to explain the essence of the festival to other characters. So, yes, events often show up in my writings.

Of course, that’s not what people really want to know. What they really want to know, specifically, is if they are going to show up as a character. And the only answer to that is… yes and no. Definitive, huh? The thing is that if you have a quirky character trait, or something about you interests me, or I find something strange or likable or unlikable about you, chances are that a future character may show up with that particular trait. But will that character be you? No. It will be the amalgamation of you and me and the guy at the bus stop and that woman I talked to on the internet last week and my sister and my girlfriend and the lady who rides her bike through town collecting bottles to return for deposit. Look, every character I have has bits of me in it. And it’s possible that some of them have bits of you. But with the exception of Andy’s racquetball partner who is named after my sister’s co-worker, Nate, I do not have any characters who are based on any one person, including myself. And this is probably important to note, because my mother was adamant about wanting people to know that she is *not* the pot-smoking, sex class attending, strap-on fan, hippie mom from “Man Enough.”  In fact, the only thing my mother has in common with the mom in my novel is that they are both mothers.

And that’s okay. That’s good. Just like life itself, a novel becomes the sum of its parts. And you, all of you, are, in one way or another, my parts. You have all helped to make me who I am at this very moment and for that, I am extremely grateful. So, make sure to read my next book… and look for yourself. Chances are, you might be able to point to something and turn to your friends and say, “Hey. That’s me.”

http://www.sapphirebooks.com/beth.html

Recognizing Each Other

I think there has to come a time in everyone’s life when they stop judging people and start loving them and recognizing their value instead. I’ve seen too many people that I love fall into the old habit of making negative comments about other people. “Would you look at what she is wearing!” or “Man, he has really gained a lot of weight.” In these last few years of making a serious effort to become a more mindful and kind person, I’ve really tried to squash not just comments like that, but thoughts of them as well. It is not my place to judge if someone’s skirt is too short or if they have too many piercings. It is only my place to judge whether or not those things are right for me.

In coming to a place where we learn to stop being unkind to other people, we can move into a place where we recognize and love and promote each other. Instead of making ourselves toxic by being cruel, we can open ourselves up to being loving and helpful. We can turn into the kind of person who lifts and bolsters others, instead of bringing them down. And I think, when we do this, it has the effect of lifting us up as well.

In this case, I am talking specifically about promoting other authors. I don’t think it has a hurtful effect on my book sales if I tell people that they absolutely *must* buy the latest book by Linda Kay Silva. It doesn’t do me any harm to let it be known that I am in the middle of “Flowers from Iraq” by Sunny Alexander. And I don’t see how telling my erotic loving friends that if they want to read something steamy, they should pick up “Always Faithful” by Isabella. The list goes on. When I read a new book that I love, I tell people about it. It doesn’t hurt my book sales. And it may help people who are in the same boat that I am… writing, struggling, living their dream, getting their word out there.

The thing about embracing people and working to help them succeed is that it will come back to you. I don’t give with the expectation of receiving something in return. But I can tell you that the universe recognizes love over hate and it returns the love. One author recently called me to light a fire under me to market more, write more, do more. I needed it and I needed it precisely at that time. Another author just sent me a private message with some ideas for marketing. Another friend has a friend who is a librarian and wants to get us together to talk about getting my book out there. These people aren’t doing these things because they want me to do something for them. They are doing them because, like me, they believe in paying it forward, in helping other people in whatever way you have the power to help. And I believe, I truly do, that things are coming back to them as well, even if I am not the one returning the favor to those particular people.

It’s an amazing circle, isn’t it? The point is that we can create this in all areas of our lives. You can make a conscious decision to be positive. You can make a conscious decision to be kind, loving, and generous. This isn’t necessarily an innate trait… this is something you can cultivate in yourself. You can choose to be happy and you can choose to share your happiness and the more happiness you share, the more will come back to you. I believe this is true of everything. Success, love, happiness… it all comes back to you when you put it out there.

So, yes, I will keep promoting other authors and I will keep taking help when it is offered. And in the meantime, I will get back to working on my second novel before my friend Wen comes through the phone line and hits me in the head with my computer. (Her own fashion of loving help, trust me.)

And in the meantime… buy *my* book… it’s awesome.

http://www.sapphirebooks.com/beth.html

Creating Community

I went to a writer’s group a couple of weeks ago. There were eight of us. One was a gamer who is writing a role playing game about the death of the Ice Lord or something like that…. Another is working on a historical fantasy novel. One wants to write a book and is there for guidance. Three have self-published at least one book. One was the daughter of the historical fantasy guy. And there was me.

It turned out that we didn’t do much comparing our notes about writing. We introduced ourselves. I was the only new person, so they asked me a lot of questions about my book, about publishing, about editing, etc. Then we all just kind of basically chatted. It was nice, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for. What I really want in a writer’s group is a place where we are all forced to write something every week, then bring it to the group and critique each other. Still, it was nice to be around other writers, if only for the sense of community.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great. I have a lot of virtual writer friends and belong to a couple of online author’s groups where I can throw out questions and get answers. But there is nothing like the back and forth of actual face to face interaction and I miss that.

It isn’t just the forced accountability. It’s knowing that once a week (or month or whatever) you are going to be with a group of people who understand what you are going through and who are possibly going through the same things. It’s having a place to ask questions and being able to answer others. I don’t know about you, but if someone just randomly throws out to me, “So, do you have any questions about writing?” I draw a blank. The questions come in the discourse, in the give and take, when there is a quick and joyful conversation going on and everyone’s neurons are being stimulated. *Then* the questions lead to more questions and the answers lead to more questions and the conversation becomes a living and breathing thing that grows into one big ball of creativity. Or something like that.

At any rate, *that* is what I am looking for. A round table discussion with a bunch of writers who will help to stimulate my creativity and get me excited about marketing and editing and publishing and all of that icky behind the scenes stuff that isn’t nearly as exciting as writing, but still just as important.

And you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer’s group. It could be a group of creative individuals. It could be a group of feminists. It could be a group of people who like to drink coffee and talk about Neil Gaiman books. It could be a circle of middle aged college students. It could be anything.

I think this has become important to me lately because I am lonely. I miss being around people. I miss having circles… whether it is a circle of writers, a circle of lesbians, a circle of friends, or a circle of family, I think I am used to being around groups of people who care about me and stimulate me intellectually. I don’t think I am meant to be one of those solitary writers, living alone in the woods, not bathing, growing a long beard, and communing with wolves. (Well, I can’t really grow a beard, but it has been a while since I shaved my legs.) (Not, of course, that it isn’t wonderful to be with my love and my dogs, but I miss people… plural.)

And maybe that is why I am still mourning for Mich fest, though a few months have passed. There was a community to end all communities. Thousands of womyn, working together, eating together, walking in the woods, playing music, writing, shooting arrows, throwing tomahawks, sharing stories around bonfires, dancing, loving, embracing each other in spirit and reality and just generally having an amazing time.

I want to go back to Michigan. I want Michfest to exist every day. But since it doesn’t, maybe it is up to me to create a community wherever I am. Maybe I need to figure out a way to get out there and meet people with common interests and common goals and bring them together to create little circles of inspiration and action.

What do you all think? How do you create community in your lives?

Marketing

I’ve said it before that some writers are just natural personalities. They have a gift for getting up in front of a crowd and getting themselves out there. They tout their novels, they sell themselves, and they just somehow seem to instinctively know what to do to make it work.

Some of us are a little more introverted. Now, let’s be fair, I am a pretty outgoing person. I enjoy meeting new people, I have a good time in small social groups, and once I get the first few minutes behind me, I am actually pretty good at speaking to a crowd.

But I have to admit that selling myself is a little more difficult than I thought it would be. I don’t know where to begin. Do I call random bookstores and ask them if they want me to come in and talk about my book? And if so, and if they say yes, what if no one shows up? Do I find groups that might want to hear me? Since my book has a transgendered character, I think I should seek out trans groups, but I am just not sure how to approach them. “Hi, I wrote a really charming and adorable FTM character. Want me to come sell myself at your group?” It’s a little awkward.

My good friend and mentor has given me some ideas and, armed with the list, I have been attacking some of the online resources. Somehow, tempered in that, is the idea that I don’t want to be *too* pushy, too in-your-face with myself. Is that a societal construct? Is that a latent belief that women should be quiet and unassuming? I think that I am a pretty out and proud feminist woman, but maybe there are some lingering doubts that if I am too pushy, then people won’t like me.

I’m not sure. But for whatever reason, I do seem to have trouble marketing myself, despite the fact that I actually adore my novel and I think it is a charming and funny, yet socially important piece on orientation and gender in today’s world. It’s important. And it should be important to more people than just the groups that are already affected by these issues. I would like to see it read by people who *don’t* know anything about transgender or gay issues. I need to market to them as well, and I am not sure how to make that happen.

So, I am calling on you, my wonderful friends to offer some ideas and help me figure out how to make it happen.

http://www.sapphirebooks.com/beth.html

The Plunge

Well, I have three more days left of the day job. Three. Then the days of regular weekly paychecks are over. Small as they sometimes are, they are always there, directly deposited into my account and enough for me to pay my bills and have some extras. I’ve never been wealthy. There have been times in my life when I lived pretty high. In Phoenix, when I was working corporate payroll and my then partner owned her own business, we had quite a lot of disposable income. But we weren’t happy, and the money went into things to try to fill the emptiness… drinking, shopping, loading up on *stuff* because it gave us some sense of moving up in the world, even if we both acknowledged on some level that material possessions didn’t make us happier.

Fast forward to the person I am today. I made a decision to make myself into the kind of person I admire. That person is full of love and warmth. That person has compassion. That person believes that human beings are basically good and some of them need help.  That person believes in simplifying and getting rid of attachments to “things.” That person believes that in living simply, one can live far below the financial “needs” of most human beings.

It’s kind of a Zen thing. Everything is our own choice. You can choose to quit your job. There may be consequences, such as not being able to afford to go out to eat, or buy that new DVD, or have a big car payment, but you can make the choice.

Here it is. I am choosing freedom over financial security. I could continue working until I finish my degree, then get a better job. I could continue to try to fit in little bits of writing around the day job. I could be secure in the knowledge that if I want to buy a new laptop, I can get one or if I want to have cable tv or fashionable clothing, I could swing it. I could have a mortgage and a car payment. But I would be a slave to someone else’s demands on my time.

Instead, I am about to be a slave to my own demands and it scares me because I can be really hard on myself, insisting I get up at 6 AM to start writing, making long lists of all my assignments and checking them off one by one. Or I can find myself lazying around, running errands, checking facebook, walking the dog, looking at flowers, pondering the greater mysteries of the universe, doing a new Yoga video, listening to music, or reading “just a few pages” of this Neil Gaiman book. I’m undisciplined and inconsistent. Easily distracted. Mildly lazy. Ridiculously flighty. Even now, I should be reading a chapter on the English invasion of America and the American Indian reaction to it, but instead, I’m writing this blog and texting with my girlfriend and trying to decide what to make for lunch because my sister is coming over from work and needs something to eat. I sometimes think I need a life coach.

Still, even without the steady paycheck, I am feeling a sense of peace about my impending unemployment. I don’t have a lot of bills. I don’t have to pay rent or utilities. I don’t have a car payment. And I have recently moved into a love that fulfills me in a kind and healthy way. I keep half-expecting that being so happy and in love will stifle my creativity, but so far, I am feeling more inspired – driven to write more, driven to want to get caught up on all of my to-dos, so I can come to her with a clean slate, the proverbial unemployed girlfriend who is living below the poverty level, but who can count on that royalty check coming in every month.

And I am now free and on my own time. I got up this morning and actually wrote for a couple of hours, something that has been failing me in the last few weeks of long hours at the job. I gathered up a big bag of clothes and a box of books to be donated. I drove my mother on some errands. I wrote down my school assignments, though I haven’t actually started working on any of them yet.

So, I’m free. Free to take off to parts unknown. Free to travel the open road, as long as I have enough money to pay for gas. Free to go spend a month in Iowa with my girlfriend. Free to make my own choices, good or bad. And I am ready and willing to face the consequences of those choices.

This is all on me now. I need to settle in to marketing my book. I am responsible for that. At the day job, if I am lazy and don’t work as hard, I still make the same paycheck. If I am excited and work my butt off, I still make the same paycheck. When I market, I sell more books. When I get lazy and don’t market, I don’t sell books. When I write, I get closer to completing the second novel which will bring me closer to not having to ever worry about having a day job again. When I don’t work on it, I am hurting no one by myself. When I write essays to submit to contests, I am helping to market the novel and the future novels. When I let deadlines slip by, I am wasting my opportunity to get my name out there. I have to believe in myself enough to put myself out there and make this happen for me.

It makes it easier that I adore my little novel and that I believe in the second one, as well. I like “Man Enough.” I think it is a wonderful book. It’s funny and cute and loving and the people who have read it have told me that they love it. (And not just my sisters, but perfect strangers as well.) I believe this book deserves a wider audience and I believe the next one will as well.

So I believe in myself. And now, that belief needs to carry me through this fact: I am always touting personal responsibility and taking possession of our own choices and now I am going to have to live that. No matter what else happens, from this moment on, I am personally responsible for my own success or failure.

That is both powerfully awesome and incredibly terrifying. And I believe that I can do it. I believe in me. I believe.

http://www.amazon.com/Man-Enough-ebook/dp/B008GVR7BK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1341484984&sr=1-1

“Guest author, Beth Burnett.”

I had my first author appearance today at the trans family support group at the LGBT community center in Cleveland. I was terrified, because terrified is what I do. I was anxious about any number of things. Will they hate me? Will I make my pitch and ask for questions and get nothing but dead silence? Will this group which consists mostly of transgendered people wonder why I think I have the ability to write a trans character that they will find believable or interesting? What if my voice completely shakes? What if I pass out, can’t talk, forget what I’m supposed to say, screw up dreadfully?

Yeah, that’s me. Ms. Confidence.

My sister Dorothy went with me. When we got there, right on time, there was no one there except the couple who run the group. I was worried that no one was going to show. However, people started to filter in as we got closer to the start time. As we got very close to start, I decided to make a quick bathroom break. Well, I got locked in the stall! It wouldn’t open. I tried unlocking it, relocking it, jiggling the lock and it wouldn’t open. I had this moment of panic where I thought that I was going to have to try to crawl under the door at my first author appearance and could just picture someone walking in as I am stuck halfway through! Finally, I yanked on the door and it slammed open. Later, on the way home, Dorothy said, “I forgot to tell you this earlier, but guess what happened to me in the bathroom?” I said, “Did you get locked in?!!” She said, “Yes!” I was like, “Thanks for the warning!”

Back to the meeting. We arrived with business cards and fliers. Per the advice of my mentor, Linda Kay Silva, I had a giveaway. I marked three of the business cards and let the people know that someone was going to win a free book at the end of the session. That got them all talking a little before we even started.

The meeting started with everyone in the room introducing themselves. I introduced myself in turn, but didn’t really give any info about myself and told them that I wanted to save it so they would all feel inspired to ask me questions after my speech.

There were about twenty people there. There were three young people, maybe teenagers or possibly early twenties. Some people who looked to be in their thirties, the rest older than that. The only ones who seemed uninterested were the three youngsters. Everyone else looked excited to have a “guest author.”

After the introductions, I got up and stood at the head of the room, so I could make eye contact with everyone there. I had written a speech, but at the request (read: order) of my mentor, LKS, I didn’t bring it. Instead, I decided to wing it.

I started off with my name, the name of my novel, etc. Then, I realized my voice was completely shaking. So, I said this:

“Some writers are also natural born performers. They can get in front of a crowd and suddenly, they are in the spotlight, working the crowd, getting the laughs, and selling themselves without a care in the world. I am not one of those authors. I have terrible stage fright right now. But I try to live by the motto of ‘Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.’ And that’s what I’m doing.”

At that point, they all got interested. Every single one of them, including the youngsters smiled at me when I met their eyes. One woman gave me a thumbs up when I looked in her direction.

I went on to say, “I had a whole speech written that I was going to give today. It was a delightful speech. I read it to the dog. I read it to my mom and she loved it. I practiced it in front of the mirror. I totally had it down. But when I woke up this morning, I realized that I didn’t want to give a delightful speech. I want to talk to you instead about the lack of transgender representation in the media. So, please excuse me if this sounds a little stilted, but I didn’t get a chance to practice this one on anyone, not even the dog.”

They laughed and I suddenly relaxed. My voice stopped shaking. They were all smiling at me, every single one. Then I asked them to give me a show of hands of how many of them thought transgendered people were fairly represented in mainstream media. No one raised their hands.

I said, “Off hand, two transgendered characters come to mind. There’s the transgendered character in Silence of the Lambs who was… oh, yeah. A serial killer! And there was that stupid Jim Carey movie… Ace Ventura? Sean Young’s character was a Male to Female transsexual. The big joke was that she had made out with Jim Carey earlier in the movie and when Carey found out that she was transgendered, he yells “Einhorn is a man!” and runs into the corner to puke. Really funny, right? Right. It just seems to me as I was looking for lists of transgendered characters in mainstream media, what I was finding were predators or criminals or “sneaky” transsexuals who pretend to be something they’re not in order to fool the poor, innocent cisgender, heterosexual males. Give me a break.”

A couple of people actually said “Yeah!” at this point. I was not even close to nervous at this point. I felt like they all wanted me to succeed by now. It was pretty awesome.

Then I said, “I don’t claim to be some Pulitzer prize winning novelist who penned the next Great American Novel in which the transgendered people are so believable and rich and well-rounded that everyone in the world will read about them and change their ignorant minds immediately!” (They all laughed again here.)

“I never had any intention of writing a novel at all. I mean, I was technically a professional writer. That is to say, when I was working as a bartender at a beach bar in the Virgin Islands, I wrote short stories on bar napkins and sold them to drunk tourists for five dollars a pop. Of course, the laws in the Virgin Islands are a little more lax than they are here, so more likely than not, I was a little drunk writing them, too. Most likely, they were all used to mop up spilled drinks. Still, I was broke, but content. I might have told people that I wanted to write a novel, but most writers do say that, whether they actually intend to do so or not. ”

Another person actually said, “Right on” here and everyone laughed again. I could totally get addicted to this stuff.

I went on. “But one night, I was sitting with a group of supposedly enlightened and educated friends. They were different races, but they were all gay. The ages ranged from the mid 30s to the mid 50s. As drunk gay people are wont to do, we started talking about gay politics, and stuff like that. I simply mentioned that I thought the T in LGBT was largely ignored by the community as a whole. Well, I was attacked. The transphobia coming out of the mouths of so many of these people was depressing. And I was shocked and appalled at some of the ignorant things I was hearing. I guess I’m naive, but I honestly could not believe that people who have suffered from oppression and bigotry because of something that they can not help or change would turn around and do it to someone else. So, yes, I was shocked. And frankly, I was pissed. And when I get pissed, do I beat people up? No, I’m a total wimp! Instead, I write nasty things about them!” (Another big laugh here) I wrote several blog posts about it, then decided that since fiction is my forte, I needed to go a little deeper. What I really wanted to do was to write a light, funny, romantic book which happens to contain transgendered and gay characters in which all of the so-called “fringe” people are completely normal and the only ones who are idiots are the ones who judge my characters! Basically, the bigots were the bad guys. My book involves the good guys… my FTM character, the straight ally, the pot-smoking single mom, the big, sexy butch lesbian… they are all beautiful and loved and valid. They’re flawed, yes. But they’re good.

I think the important thing about my book is that is may contain subject matter that some people find uncomfrtable, but it isn’t in your face. It’s sweet and light and non-confrontational. It addresses the issues without pounding it down people’s throats. It calls out the bigots without calling them bigots. I have had several great reviews on this, including a few from straight Christians. And the reviews from people who have never really had any dealings with trans people are saying that they will never be able to look at someone, regardless of gender or orientation without realizing that it is not their place to judge.

THAT is some kind of amazing! So, while I really want all of you to read my book and love it, which I think you will, what I really want is for “mainstream” society to get a hold of this novel, read it, and possibly change their minds. Wouldn’t that be a trip?”

At this point, taking the advice YET AGAIN of the lovely Linda Silva, I said, “Before I ask you if you have any questions, let me ask you a question. Is there anything that you would like to see addressed in my next novel as I continue to write transgendered characters?” There was silence for a few seconds, then a few people started speaking up. One wanted to know if I would talk about the process. One wanted me to address the high suicide rate of trans people. Another thought that it would be good if I could talk about depression and loss.

Then, I said, “Does anyone have any questions?” (I was armed here… Linda warned me that there might not be any questions, or people wouldn’t know what to ask. If that happened, I was going to say, “One question I am often asked… “) But there was a moment of silence… then one lady said asked a question. By the time I finished answering that, three hands were in the air. Everyone had name tags (total bonus for me) so I just called on everyone by their names. I spent AN HOUR answering questions!! An hour! They asked all sorts of things:

Did you miss your characters when you were done writing the book?

How long did it take you to write?

What are you working on now?

Why would you leave the Virgin Islands to come back to Ohio? (That one got a lot of laughs.)

Do you think bigotry should be confronted with anger or patience? This was a great one for me to answer. Earlier in the session, before I spoke, a sweet trans woman said that she didn’t mind ignorant comments as long as they weren’t spiteful. A few other people scoffed at her and said that ignorance is ignorance. I was able to address her comments for this question. I said, “As XX said (I am not putting names here because not all people are out) if the questions are not meant in a mean-spirited or ugly way, I think you can use it as a learning tool. A case in point, I recently had cause to confront some of my own bigotry in regards to religion.” Then I talked a little bit about that and they were all nodding and smiling. The lady who had made the original statement looked very excited that I called her name and agreed with her in my response. It was really cute.

“What color is your mini-van?” (What? LOL… I had mentioned earlier that I was going to drive to California in my mini-van. But I thought it was an odd question.

“Is it true what they say about fiction writers?” (Said with a bit of a leer.) Me: I don’t know… what exactly do “they” say about fiction writers?  “That you use your family as your characters.” (Looks at Dorothy.) Everyone laughed.

“Why do you think there is so much bias in the gay community against trans people?”

“Do you have any MTF characters in your book? Is there going to be one in the next book?”

It was an incredible time. I think that right from the beginning, they had empathy for me because I was nervous. I forget who gave me the advice to tell them I was nervous, but it was spot on. I’m also glad I didn’t bring the speech because it felt more like a conversation than a speech.

After the meeting, I was approached by almost everyone there and they all thanked me for coming to speak and said they couldn’t wait to read my book. A few people actually said, “Wow, I’ve never met an author before!” which almost made me laugh, but didn’t. (Not laughing at them, mind you, but at someone being excited to meet me.) The teenagers (or twenty somethings) who were so bored at the very beginning, but so excited a few minutes in, made sure to come over and tell me how much they loved it. They ended up asking more questions than anyone else, and asked for my Facebook information so they could find me there.

All in all, it was an incredible time from start to finish. I tried so hard not to be nervous and I hate that my voice shakes like that. I don’t know what to do about that, but hopefully the more appearances like the one I have, the more comfortable I’ll feel with them.

Quick funny side note. My sister Dorothy kept smiling encouragingly at me… so as I was looking around the room as I was speaking, I would often glance at her for encouragement. Well, at one point, when I was talking about bigots being forced to confront their bigotry, she claims I was looking right at her the whole time! She said she was thinking “Hey! Stop, they’re all going to think *I* am one!!”

In the end, the entire thing was awesome and I am so glad that I went. And again, as seems to keep happening these days, I was confronted by the fact that things are rarely as bad as I think they’re going to be. Wow, I sure don’t seem to be able to swallow that lesson, do I? 🙂

 

Gays versus God.

It’s time for me to come out of the closet. I’m a jerk. I’m a total asshole. I’m a hypocrite. I’m working on trying not to be those things, if that is any consolation, but for now, we might as well just face the facts. I’m a bigot.

Here’s the thing. I preach against homophobes all of the time. I can’t believe there are people in the world who still think being gay is something to be ashamed of. I post news stories about people getting beat up because they’re gay. I follow the stories of the LGBT youth who are so bullied at school that they feel their only recourse is to take their own life. My heart breaks over these stories. So I cry and I rail and I send out these stories to my friends and I post them on Facebook and I donate to the “It Gets Better Project” and I put a special message in my novel about how it really *does* get better and I try to live my life as an example of a good person (for the most part) who can (and has!) changed people’s minds about their own homophobia. And that stuff is all great. If we leave it there, I’m a good person. I’m stellar. If I end this blog right now, you can walk away from this thinking about how nice I am and how much I care and how I try to facilitate change and we will all be happy.

Except, I’m not. And it is time for me to correct a wrong that I have been perpetrating for a long time now. See, I’m anti-Christian. I have been for many years. Whenever I met someone who said they were a Christian, or that they had a relationship with God, I kind of nodded and my eyes glazed over and I got away from them as quick as possible. Of course, I have my reasons. All bigots can find reasons for their bigotry. There’s Fred Phelps and his contingent of hatred. There’s the fact that so many homophobes use the bible as an excuse to bash gays. There are all of those Southern preachers making headlines for their many comments about gays. “Let’s throw them all in a prison and let them die out.” “If your child exhibits gay behavior, beat it out of him.” “God hates fags.” I was even in a church once, and it was the last time I went to church, where the whole sermon was about AIDS being an example of God’s wrath. It was likened to Noah’s flood. Only this time, I guess all of the straight people were going to live, as long as they didn’t have any contact with any gay people. This is important to note. God-loving Christians in this church were being told that they shouldn’t associate with gay people, that they shouldn’t allow them to make physical contact. That’s a pleasant thought. Not only was I an abomination, but people were being directed not to touch me… not to pat me on the shoulder or give me a hug or even hold my hand.

It’s enough to make any gay person cry.

So I shut down interest in being friends with anyone who was Christian or religious or who said things like, “I’ll pray for you,” because let’s be honest, when people say that, they really mean, “I’ll pray for you because you’re a miserable sinner and I don’t want to be contaminated by your wickedness.”

Am I bitter? Maybe a little.

It didn’t stop there. If it had, then maybe I could refrain from calling myself an asshole. If all I did was fester in my own little bubble of bitterness and fear, I could still be okay with the fact that I am now having to take a second look at my bigotry. But that wasn’t all I did. I actively worked to bring an anti-Christian bias to other people. Did I run around to churches with signs, protesting their services? No. But I sought out stories about the evil Christians, the ones who “hate fags,” the ones who advocate beating the gay out of your children, the ones who think it is okay to rape a woman to “cure” her of lesbianism, the ones who still think being gay can be prayed away, as long as there is sufficient motivation and perhaps some electric shock treatments. I sought those stories out and I reposted them. I shared them on my Facebook page and I sent them out to my Twitter followers and I emailed them to my contacts. And so, without meaning to be an activist, I became one. I became an activist against God and Christians.

Let me equate this to someone who seeks out stories about gay people who happen to be criminals and uses them as an example of why all gay people are evil. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

It gets worse.

Within the past couple of weeks, I have started having a lot of questions about God and Christianity. It came about because of two stellar people I have met, one gay, one not, who are Christians with a strong and joyous faith in God. Neither of them preached at me, nor did they try to convert me. They just exist as they are and let me see by their peaceful and loving lives.

Well, meeting intelligent and loving Christians confused me. And when I am confused, I look for answers. So what do I do when I have a question about anything? I put it out to my Facebook friends. I simply wrote this:

Gay Christians… or non-gay, but accepting Christians. If you want, please consider messaging me. I’m curious about a couple of things and would love to ask a couple of questions in a completely non-judgmental way. Thanks. 

In fifteen hours after sending out that message, I got sixty responses. Sixty. I haven’t even finished sorting through them. I’m overwhelmed with the responses. Some of them were from people I know personally. Some of them were from people with whom I have become facebook friends in one way or another, even though we have never met in real life. Some were from people who weren’t even Facebook friends, but friends of Facebook friends. Some were removed by two or three or even four direct links. And my email exploded, too. The call went out and people responded, forwarding the questions to their preachers and their uncles and their friends and their fellow church members and their old college buddies.

The two main questions I had were these:

1. How do you reconcile homosexuality with being Christian?

2. If there is a God, does He hate me?

This is where it gets kind of embarrassing.

All of the messages were brimming with love. I mean, every single one. All of them. I don’t know how else to express this. I have been message bombed by people who have taken time out of their own lives to tell me that they love me and that their God loves me. They explained how and why the bible has been misinterpreted and how the press likes to focus on these bad Christians which makes a lot of the rest of them look like intolerant bigots, when really they are just people living their lives in non-judgmental ways. JUST LIKE JESUS SAID! The messages were short or long. They quoted bible verses or they were just personal heartfelt expressions. Some were scholarly, some were not. One was listed in bullet points with references. Many said they needed time to think about just *how* to answer, but in the meantime, yes, you are loved, yes, you are loved, yes, you are loved. A couple were requests for a face to face meeting or a phone call to talk the issues over in person. Without exception, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, they were kind, loving, beautiful, and overflowing with that kind of warm and joyous faith that I found in the first two women who even made me start questioning in the first place.

Well, now I feel like a total dick.

And now I have to go back and rethink everything I have thought about God and his followers. Now I have to stop looking for the evil in Christians, and let myself be open to the good. Now I have to take a good hard look at my own bigotry and my own thoughtlessness and figure out how to move forward from here in a loving and compassionate, and dare I say it, Christian way. Am I a Christian now? No. Do I have a deep and abiding faith in God? Not really. But I have a strong and joyous love for all of the Christians who messaged me last night and this morning. And this is how it starts. *THIS* is where we start building the bridges. Because there are gay Christians out there… and there are straight, but accepting Christians out there. And even more importantly, it seems, at least from what I have seen in the last couple of days, that there is a place in this world for gays and God.

For the record, though, I still think Fred Phelps is a douche.