Jen Wang, author of the upcoming graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker, interviews Tilly Walden, author of Spinning, an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up and coming out.
First of all Tillie, I wanted to say Spinning is so fantastic. Reading it felt so intimate, I kept flashing back to my own teenage memories. So much about being a teenager is about learning what you do or don’t have control over. You started skating before you were old enough to know what you wanted and later as a teenager you took up art. In both you’re extremely driven. How do you compare the drive you had toward skating with the drive toward making art, or being successful in comics?
Thank you so much! And honestly, it’s kind of exactly the same. Which sort of endlessly cracks me up and also makes me feel a little weird, haha. When I was skating, I felt this huge urge to excel. This urge to win, to be known, to be recognized, all of that. And good lord, does that parallel me and my comics. When I started making comics seriously in 12th grade I remember thinking to myself “I need to do this right. I need to be great at this.” And that of course led me to think “I will be great at this. If I work hard enough, I will get there.” That kind of thinking was so familiar to me. But I forget that it’s the same because how I feel about my comics is so different from skating. I worked hard at skating and at the same time, I didn’t like it. Now, I work hard on comics, and I fucking love it. Can you imagine what that’d done to me? To feel this work ethic inside me while also actually enjoying what I do… and people ask me how I produce so much work so quickly. That’s how.
It’s rare to see underage female desire depicted in literature. It’s often desexualized to appear more innocent. In Spinning you recount early memories of realizing you are a lesbian that feel very honest. Were you conscious of this while making the book?
It is rare! That drives me crazy too. As if kids feel no sexual desire, what bs. I was very conscious that I was putting that in SPINNING. I really wanted it in there. I wanted people to know that I felt desire towards women and girls at the age of 6. I never understood why feeling that way would make people think I was less innocent. Of course I was innocent, I was 6! It was an innocent kind of love. Just because I was too young to have the words to explain how I felt doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel it. People are so afraid of sexuality, especially when it creeps into the LGBTQ spectrum. I want to wash that fear away, and I want kids to know that its normal to have desires.
Everyone recognizes Texas as a conservative state, but you grew up in Austin which is a city known for being a “liberal haven”. Do you feel like that environment impacted your experience as a queer teenager? Do you think it would’ve been different if your family stayed in New Jersey?
I think my life would have played out very differently had I stayed in NJ, yes. But honestly that idea of Austin sort of bugs me. Yes, it is much more liberal than most of the rest of Texas. But people act as if it still isn’t Texas! I was acutely aware of where I was growing up. The homophobia of Texas seeped in from all sides. I remember in high school I read about a lesbian couple being attacked in Corpus Christi, a town not too far from Austin. That really, really impacted me. I was a car ride away from that.
There are very few queer heroes in fiction for young people to connect to. Were there characters that were important to you or that you projected queerness onto as a kid?
Great question! I had none in fiction, haha. Really, I can’t think of anyone. My heroes were all in musicals. Music was where I found my heroes. There’s a musical called Spring Awakening, and that changed everything for me. It had queer characters, it had sex, it had violence and honesty and youth all mixed together. All the characters in that musical did something for me. The same with Rent. I saw Rent at a local theater in Austin in middle school and that was the first time I got to see two women kiss. I gave up pretty quickly on books because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. And when I found queerness and openness in musicals, well, that was where I put my heart.
As drawing comics has become more of your job and part of your public life, are there creative activities you do outside of it that are more private outlets?
God, YES. Haha, I would go crazy if this was all I did! I play a lot of music. I play cello and I’ve been learning violin. I will say that I’m very proud, that after only a month or so of playing, I sound like a really solid 6th grade player. That feels good, and I’ll keep getting better. I also love singing, though I do it very casually. In fact, after I finish answering these questions I need to practice some violin, I have a lesson in an hour!
Skating and comics both involve a sense of exposure and being vulnerable in public. With Spinning your personal life is now public. Are there boundaries you’re setting to cope with that?
I have a lot of boundaries, and I appreciate you asking about it. People are very quick to ask me ALL the personal questions, most of which I can deal with, but it can go pretty far. I have very clear lines. Everyone ever wants to ask me about how people in my life reacted to the book, and that’s no one’s damn business but my own. I won’t talk about other characters in the book, unless it’s me. And for the most part, I keep the information I share pretty close to what I said in the book. There’s a lot more about me and my life that isn’t in the book, and will never be a part of my public persona, and that’s really just to protect myself. It’s a struggle though – people read Spinning and feel like they know me. And in a way, they do know a part of me after reading the book. But that’s all it is: a part of me. A piece. Not everything. And its been a balance to try and negotiate that.
In the book there’s a scene where you mention not being on Facebook. Many teenagers out of step with their environment end up seeking connection on social media. Did you eventually find a community or space online that became important to you?
You know, I really didn’t. I never felt entirely comfortable online, I don’t think it’s ever really suited me. It works for a lot of teens, but I found it all to be a little too artificial. Ultimately, I found a community when I went to school, The Center for Cartoon Studies, aka CCS. It was the first place in my life where I had been fully out of the closet, and I made some friends there that will be in my life forever. And I’m still sort of seeking a real LGBT community, or a place for that. Somewhere physical, not online. I’m only 21 though, I think I have some time. I’ll keep hunting for the spot where the lesbians hang.
The process of making comics can be so isolating and many comic artists turn to social media to share their process. Do you think creators are becoming more or less private online about their work? What is your relationship with it?
Huh, interesting question. I think creators are becoming less and less private because I think social media naturally encourages us to share. I like the isolating nature of comics, actually. I’m an introvert, though most people don’t believe me when I say that because I’m quite adept at pretending to be an extrovert. I find social media pretty toxic, actually. I’m also a bit secretive about my comics process and I sort of prefer it that way. I don’t like all that information coming at me so fast, and I don’t like the whole culture of favs and likes and retweets. It feels performative, and it feels competitive. And that right there is what I ran away from in ice skating, and what I’m still running from. And as soon as I have enough money to pay someone to run all my social media… well, then I’ll have a lot more time to practice violin.
Today, Serial Box kicks off Season 3 of Tremontaine, a wildly lush, queer, gorgeous fantasy told in a serialized format through their app. I’m a fan of the work and especially the writers who’ve come through the series like Malinda Lo and Tessa Gratton. So when Serial Box reached out to us about doing something for the launch of season 3, we absolutely jumped at the chance!
We’re thrilled to have Tessa Gratton here with us today to talk about writing for Serial Box and writing queer characters, especially!
How did you get involved in Serial Box?
I met Ellen Kushner, the creator of the Riverside series, in the fall of 2014 at the Louisiana Book Festival, and we hit it off immediately—it helped, I think, that I was a huge fan of Swordspoint and nearly melted when I realized I was talking to her. We kept in touch through social media, and in December 2015 she emailed me out of the blue to ask if she could call me to discuss something mysterious. I obviously said yes, and we talked about my career and my writing, and then she just asked me right on the phone if I wanted to join Tremontaine season 2. It would require I join the writing team in NYC in just over a month for the Story Summit. I leapt at the chance. It felt very once-in-a-lifetime, not only because I’d be working with someone I admired on a series I’d love since I was about 14 years old, but because of how exciting I found (and continue to find) Serial Box Publishing in general.
What’s been the hardest about working on a story with other people?
Oh, I am not great at group work. I knew it would be a challenge—and I remember telling Ellen as much on that very first phone call. She didn’t believe me! I’d had a successful group fiction blog for 3 years (merryfates.com) and collaborated on two books about writing for teens. But I really, truly, have never liked relying on other people to create stories. I feel very wild when I’m drafting, and chaotic, and introducing other people’s ideas throws me even more. So I knew going in I was going to have to be brave and find the right kind of structure to allow myself creative space but also flexibility. Two things really worked in my favor: 1) my co-writers are all smart, talented, and don’t mind arguing with me, and 2) Tremontaine is based on an already living series, so I wasn’t bringing my own, intensely personal creation or story to be touched by other people. I was the dabbler, I was the one approaching another wild animal in order to try and get along.
I was sick to my stomach with nerves at the first story summit, because I wanted everybody to like me, to think I was smart and creative, and also I wanted to find a way to put my own mark on the series. It was a stressful balance, but it also seemed like what I wanted was what everybody wanted: to create something awesome and come out the other side friends.
Were you intimidated to come into something in its second season?
I joined for season 2, so this season 3 is my second full year working on Tremontaine. But as I indicated in the previous question, I was extremely intimidated. I was sleeping on the sofa in SFF legends Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s NYC apartment in order to create backstories for characters I’d loved and hated for twenty years. That was my life! I had a lot to live up to, regarding the cult classic status of Swordspoint and my own expectations for myself.
How does this differ from what you normally write?
Oooof, besides the obvious things, like solo work verses collaboration, the serial aspect and incredibly speedy editorial and publishing schedule, there are creative things. I have never written something without magic in some form, so although technically the Riverside series is fantasy, it feels more like alternate historical to me. Everybody in the stories is queer and it’s built into the world so there’s no real structural homophobia (though as we expand the world to other nations and continents we’re playing with different forms of structural oppression based on gender and sexuality, as well as class). All my novels so far have been analogs for our world in some way that include most of our Western systemic oppressions, so it’s very freeing to not worry about homophobia.
Do you think it makes a difference being a queer author writing queer characters?
I do! It always makes a difference to write about a marginalization from the experience of that marginalization—even though queer folk aren’t marginalized in Tremontaine (for the most part—like I mentioned, we’re bringing in some complicating factors including the Chartil characters, who come from a nation that is homophobic, and introducing genderfluid characters). The most intense way it makes a difference to me is that there are things I write about that I feel so deeply, because I’ve experienced it, because I remember what that epiphany or that heartbreak feels like exactly. There’s a moment in season 3 when our Chartil character is reflecting on how when he was in Chartil he never was allowed to be open about his lover, but in Riverside he could have been. It’s too late for them, so even though it’s a wondrous realization, it’s also bittersweet. And it’s such a small moment, just a couple of lines, but I barely could write them without being overwhelmed because I remember the first time I was in a space where I wasn’t afraid at all just to hold my lover’s hand. That’s the sort of moment I can write in Tremontaine and it feels cathartic to me as a queer writer.
But along with that catharsis comes a particular vulnerability that I only associate with writing about a marginalization from that marginalization. You know the danger and hope, and you know the truth of that moment, and it can be terrifying to put that on a page in bald, plain words. It’s nice to be on a team when you hit a moment like that.
What’s been your favorite part about writing Tremontaine?
Those moments when everything comes together. I love this part of working alone, too, when you’ve been holding a story in your head for a long time, picking at it, reworking, trying to find the right expression… and then boom, it comes together at a point, and you see the entire story spool out in front of you, behind you, in every spiraling direction the story has gone to and come from. When that happens in a group it’s even better, because it’s harder when the pieces are coming from different imaginations. You can’t touch other people’s vision, no matter how clearly you discuss it together. So when one of the other writers’ vision aligns perfectly with mine, or when all of us slam together and have that yes yes yes moment, it’s shockingly satisfying.
Who’s been your favorite character to write?
Oh, this is hard! Of the characters present when I joined, I think Rafe—he’s so melodramatic and makes bad choices, but from this place of genuinely wanting to make the world better. I see my younger self in him to an almost embarrassing level. When I was in grad school I was impossible to shut up, and I’d argue anything for hours if I believed in it; anytime, anywhere. I was determined to change the world, and be wildly in love, and I also was not good at diplomacy. I enjoy writing Rafe’s thought process, his trying to reign himself in, but also when he lets himself get flirtatious or just resort to ridiculous, flowery language.
But this season I’ve also really gotten invested in Reza, our Chartil ambassador. I sort of took over Chartil and Reza in season 2—we needed somebody to be point on the world building and the Reza/Vincent backstory, and I was happy to do it (Vincent was one of my favorite characcters in Swordspoint). So with Reza I have a close, possessive understanding of who he is and what he needs as a characters. Luckily, everybody else is really into him, too, and all the writers bring unique insight into him. I’ve loved how Karen Lord has worked to draw out the nuance of Reza’s relationship with sword-fighting, and with the character of Esha in particular, and Joel Derfner gives such great dialogue when Reza and Rafe are together, especially regarding their education and philosophies. Reza wouldn’t be the character he is without all the writers.
We’re so excited for Tremontaine, and you can check out Season 3 here!
Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. She now spends her days staring at the sky and telling lots of stories about magic. You can find her online at tessagratton.com or @tessagratton.
Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV show. The only thing missing from her plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice told her she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating—no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done. But when Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for, her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn.
Claire Kann is the author of the forthcoming novel Let’s Talk About Love, which comes out January 23, 2018.
Let’s Talk About Love will be published through Swoon Reads, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group that invites writers to submit YA manuscript directly to its site and allows readers to have a say in what gets published. Writers chosen for publication are offered a traditional publishing contract.
Here’s Claire in conversation with her editor, Kat Brzozowski.
Kat asks Claire…
What inspired you to write Let’s Talk About Love?
“Write the kind of book you want to read.”
So I did.
Alice has such a strong voice in this novel. How did you develop Alice’s character?
At any given time, I have several characters and storylines running through my mind. Alice popped into my head fully formed. Initially, she had zero chill, tended to overreact, was always laughing and screeching her joy, and cried at the drop of a hat—a lively, raw, and emotionally driven character.
It took a lot of time, finessing, and cut words to whittle her personality down to get to the core of who Alice was. In the first draft, I wrote LTAL in first person, but upon editing, I realized Alice was just too chaotic to steer the narrative, so I switched to third person in efforts to give the story the structure it needed—Alice told me what happened, I wrote it down.
However, I still wanted her to be able to shine. I would write a section and Alice would throw out a million asides—I ended up incorporating her exact words into the book using parenthesis.
Alice identifies as asexual. How did this help shape her character?
When Alice came to me, she had already known she was biromantic asexual but didn’t know those specific words existed. I decided to set the story after that tumultuous period of discovery and self-acceptance because it definitely shaped how she interacted with the people she was romantically interested in. Alice, the hopeless romantic that she is, was so insistent on focusing on a her future HEA that it became the one thing she wanted most, which I believe is always the most compelling story to tell.
What made you submit your novel to Swoon Reads?
I adored Love Fortunes and Other Disasters by Kim Karalius. I read it on the site, pre-selection. I even remember the original title! LTAL was kind of an outlier for me. Contemporary romance isn’t my preferred genre to write. My work typically dives into the magical side of life. Seeing Kim’s book get chosen for publication, in all of its quirky, whimsical, Kissingtown-esque glory, gave me hope that there might’ve been a place for me and my strange, magical books at Swoon Reads.
How did the feedback from readers on Swoon Reads help guide your writing process?
Pre-selection, the majority of the feedback was open, positive, and constructive. Post-selection, the original manuscript had remained up on the site for a limited time, and there was an influx of new reviews that were decidedly less positive—some were flat-out negative, invalidating, and angry. I won’t lie: sifting through those negative reviews was an emotionally brutal process and hurt me both as a writer and as a person more than I thought it would. But I still had time to correct my mistakes. It would have been irresponsible of me to ignore what they had to say. I became determined to find a common root for the issues pointed out and apply those changes during edits.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, particularly for those writing books with LGBTIA+ characters?
Critique partners and beta readers aren’t for everyone, but I would suggest thinking twice about writing in a bubble. Everyone has internalized biases and prejudices that they aren’t aware exist. Those will show up in the work—even if it’s considered #ownvoices, they’ll still be there. Write your truth, but also seek feedback, compensate your readers for their time, be open to listening and learning from differing experiences, and always strive to do better.
Claire asks Kat…
When I found out you were going to edit LTAL, I nearly fainted because of your author list. How do you approach working with such an eclectic and diverse group of authors?
*blushes* No matter what kind of book I’m working on, whether it’s magical realism, LGTBQIA+ contemporary, a mystery, or a genre book, I’m always drawn to a few key things – a strong sense of voice, fully developed characters, and great dialogue. I love working on so many different genres because my editing workload always feels totally fresh, and I learn new things from every author on my list.
Does your editing process change depending on the book you’re working on or do you employ a one-size fits all approach?
It definitely changes based on the book I’m working on! Some books need more editorial help when it comes to big picture changes – restructuring the plot, clarifying character motivations, etc. Some books have all of the big stuff worked out but need time finessing the writing on the sentence level – making the dialogue feel natural, letting the voice shine through. I try to start with big picture notes and work towards the smaller notes as we progress, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to edit lines that are going to be cut later when we chop scenes away! I love to line edit, though, so I can’t help making line notes here and there, even in early drafts.
Does the feedback from Swoon Readers affect how you approach an edit letter?
Definitely! Before I start editing a Swoon Reads book, I look at all of the comments from our trusty readers, and I often incorporate their feedback into my editorial letter. It’s especially useful when I see the same comment over and over; that means there’s a big glaring thing that’s hanging up readers, and that’s what the author and I should focus on first. It’s wonderful to have real readers offer feedback on a novel before it’s even published!
Is Swoon Reads open to using sensitivity readers during the editing process if needed? How do you approach potentially incorporating the feedback?
Definitely! We are always open to using sensitivity readers on our novels. The process of incorporating feedback from these readers starts with sharing their feedback with the author and talking about what changes should be made to the text. The author has to feel comfortable with the final product, of course, so we always discuss any changes that should be made first and then work together to make these changes. We always appreciate sensitivity reads because they help draw our attention to issues that the editor and the author aren’t always aware of.
The colors for the final LTAL cover were purposefully chosen to reflect the asexual flag. As an editor, do you have any part in deciding which elements of representation appear on the covers?
I swoon so hard for the Let’s Talk About Love cover! As an editor, I offer suggestions about what the cover should look like and provide background info like character descriptions, setting descriptions, and more, but the designer has a lot of freedom to play around, and the designers often come up with ideas I never would have thought of! What’s so great about Swoon Reads is that our users vote on the cover direction they want, and we were so excited they chose this beautiful cover for your book.
When we launched GayYA in 2011, our goal was to mobilize a clear and active market for LGBTQIA+ YA, to make it known to publishers that people were excited to buy these books. In early 2011, several authors had shared stories of being told “we love your book— but can you make your character straight?” It was clear that these requests agents and editors made did not come from outright homophobia, but the idea that books like that couldn’t sell— that at best, they were issue books. This sparked many conversations in the YA Twitter community of the day, but there was a need for a central place to keep that conversation about the need (& excitement!) for LGBTQIA+ YA going. So, we started one. We had no idea it would grow into what it is today, and that we would be able to sustain it for 6+ years.
We chose the name GayYA because it was fun and rhyme-y, and it clearly stated who we were. We also naively believed that “gay” was an acceptable umbrella term for the LGBTQIA+ community. As we grew to understand our own various identities, and heard from many community members, it soon became clear that that was not the case. The name GayYA is not at all inclusive. It’s also mostly only descriptive and has never really felt like a true name. As our vision for the site grew, we began trying to figure out a new name.
As we began the long journey toward a new name, there were a few criteria we had in mind. We wanted a name that clearly stated who we were, but was more than a descriptor; was inclusive and would remain inclusive for years to come; and captured the joyfulness of our work and the ferocity of the love, strength, and pride behind it.
Last year, we tested out a new hashtag for a pride month giveaway challenge, and found that it fit us, completely.
With that, we’re thrilled to announce our new name— YA Pride.
This name encapsulates what we do as an organization, and everything we strive to become. I’ve never felt more proud of the team behind this site or more committed to sustaining (and growing) the work we do— and over the next few years, we plan to double down on that work. We’ll be beginning hands-on work with librarians, teachers, and the publishing industry, in order to ensure that LGBTQIA+ YA is getting into the hands of teens that need it.
To commemorate our name change– as well as being thisclose to 10,000 Twitter followers– we’re hosting a huge giveaway.
The prize? A box of ten books & swag. The box will include hotly anticipated 2018 ARCs, our favorite reads from the past years, and at least one book will be signed. To enter, tweet the hashtag #YAPride and do any of the following:
- post the link of one of your favorite YA Pride posts/interviews
- write an open letter to the author of an LGBTQIA+ YA book explaining what the book meant to you
- boost the name of one of your favorite book bloggers who promotes LGBTQIA+ YA titles
- post a picture of one of your favorite LGBTQIA+ YA titles and share why you love it
- post a picture of a book rainbow– only trick is that every book has to feature a LGBTQIA+ character
This giveaway is open across all platforms– that means if you want to use Tumblr, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even a personal blog, your entries will count. Just make sure you post it on some social media account with the hashtag #YAPride so that we’ll be able to see it! You can enter as many times as you like. And if you make a Youtube video or blog post with multiple recommendations, or multiple open letters, etc. each book or person you recommend in your post or video will count as a new entry! Giveaway is international. Winner will be chosen by raffle.
But wait– there’s more!
If we reach 10,000 Twitter followers by September 13th we’ll be adding a second box of 5 books for another lucky winner to receive. So help us spread the LGBTQIA+ YA love!
-Vee, admin & co-founder of YA Pride
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 15 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Cam Montgomery
The first time you kiss a girl, you’re twenty-two-years-old. A college junior, majoring in two things that’d make you spiritually rich, but broke in the pockets. Young, queer, and naïve, is what they call that.
You call it living.
Oh, the girl? You’re still friends. (On Facebook.) And she, to this day, doesn’t know she was “your first.” All the same, you remind yourself, constantly, that you owe her more than you’re willing to admit. She, this femme with the eyes like whoa and the hair like yeah, would be your re-introduction to yourself. Your new self.
The first time you label yourself, you’re twenty-three. Almost a year to the date of The Kiss Felt ‘Round Your Entire Body. You’re sitting in day one of Martin’s 400-level Gay Male Writers class when he decides to have each of the students go around and say their name, their orientation and their pronouns—if comfortable.
And you are. Of course you are! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your heart beats faster, the closer they get to your side of the room, students announcing their orientations down and up each row like a line of dominoes, falling, one-by-one.
How do they all know about these terms? These words that sound both like song lyrics and the bluest of swears. Some of them, being exactly the latter—here’s a wink and a nod at you, Genderfucks.
About halfway to you, a guy states his name, announces he is pansexual and prefers he-him-his pronouns.
It is the work of moments to pull your phone out under your desk and hit Google.
The world opens up.
The first time you’re gay bashed, you are twenty-four-years-old. You’re a year and a half out of college and by now you’ve been over and under every type of human your heart had imagined and some, much to your heart’s rainbow-y delight, you hadn’t. “Love is love” means something spectacular to you, but that night you learn that loving your partner and loving yourself has to overpower all the people who will never feel that way about you.
You spend a week smothering screams into your pillow in the aftermath.
You seek a therapist out.
You get your PTSD diagnosis.
You learn to solder steel into your spine.
You decided to wear armor out in public from then on.
The first time your label changes, you are twenty-six-years-old. You sit stunned for all of twenty minutes, but you know immediately it is right. You vlog about it—this is 2016, after all.
It explains so much. Why you haven’t enjoyed sex. Why you feel like you’ve been feeding your little queer body McDonald’s for all these years. Why you’ve always wanted to throw up all over every dude who’s ever called you “Sexy.”
Demisexual fits your heart like the gayest puzzle piece.
The first time you experience gender dysphoria, you are… well. You’re not sure. It’s happened to you more times than you can count. You chalk it up to societal pressure to carry your hips a certain way, to hunch your shoulders in or out or whatever way is softest, pinkest, the most model-esque.
You learn at twenty-seven, however, it’s none of that. You learn that you’ve maybe felt this way since you started wearing a bra at sixteen. (You were a late bloomer—it’s okay.)
You’re twenty-eight now and you’re still not sure how to handle this part of you that isn’t cisgender. The whole of you that isn’t sure what it is, but knows exactly what it isn’t.
It’s like being afraid to come out to Mama all over again—she’ll never get it, the family will laugh, she’ll say you’re just being difficult.
But here’s the thing.
You’ve got people, now.
You’ve got Professor Martin, who is the Out and Outrageous King of Queer Academics from your days back at university. You’ve got Kar who paints things like QUEER AS FUCK on their back just to walk through what you both know is one of the most conservative neighborhoods in the city. You’ve got a best friend (Hi, T-Dot!) who knows and understands you inside and out. Someone whose own queer heart speaks to yours.
You’ve unexpectedly found the most stellar group of pals from that time a day job brought you down to the weekly 56th and Broadway Gay AA meeting.
Twitter gave you a space to vent and then went a step further and gifted you Ryan and Chay and Jay Elliot and Dahlia and Lyssa and Hadeel and Lolo and Christina and my goodness, you have GOT people, kid.
You’ve got people and communities who love and support you no matter what name you go by or what pronouns you don’t or how many times your label changes. They make sure you know that it is absolutely okay to still be figuring things out. That at any age—in your teens or your mid-twenties, or, yes, even in your late twenties—it’s okay to still be questioning, evolving like some sort of queer Pokémon, bigger, better, and more badass with every upgrade.
You learn, through it all, that you have to be patient with yourself. That it’s never easy but it’s always worthwhile to check-in with yourself and find out where your heart is, what it needs, whether that’s time or an ear or a supportive shoulder.
None of this is fiction. This is my life and oh, man, has it been a rollercoaster. I might not have made it without them. And going into the next four years, will be more of a challenge than so many others most of us have lived through. Which is why I’m here, telling you all this. Telling you about my patience and my questioning and my armor and my tears and my happys and my sads. It’s why I’m promising to hold your hand through the same if you need me to.
But that’s the thing about loving yourself and loving a community. They love you back. And they have your back.
Cam Montgomery is an LA transplant now residing in Seattle. By night, she writes YA lit about Black teens across all their intersections. By day, she teaches ballet to teen boys and works in the land of sobriety and rehab. It is the goal of her stories to interrogate the spaces of race, love, the body, and sexuality, all while being a witness of life. She is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.