Pride Month Blogathon: Day 13 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by EC King
Depression and anxiety have always run deeply in my veins. These issues are hereditary in my case and, though they are not my constant companions, they are definitely frequent visitors. Even though I was a privileged, seemingly happy and rambunctious child, I remember clearly the days or weeks when I felt a malaise that I didn’t know how to describe. I called it “being bored”, as I lay in bed staring listlessly out the window without even a book to keep me company, or as I ditched elementary school for a time to hang out in an empty house where no one could find me.
These visitors stayed with me intermittently throughout my teens, 20s, and 30s, and are even now standing outside that figurative door with suitcases in hand, hoping to be let in. But, you see, I have a particular coping mechanism called “reading” (with a side helping of “listening to music”) that has been instrumental in saving my life over the years.
I was one of those annoyingly precocious kids that started reading at a very young age. My parents, happy with me being such an early and avid reader, didn’t pay all that much attention to what books I was actually consuming. I read everything I could get my hands on for fun, including the dictionary and encyclopedias (look it up, young’uns!), and even old school sex manuals like The Joy of Sex that I found while snooping. If it was something way over my age range, all the better! I wanted to know everything there was to know about everything.
I, of course, read the usual kid’s books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but my favorite was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I probably read that book at least 50 times when I was little, and even tried to start my own (very short lived) spy route because of it. I really should have known something was up when I immediately felt a kinship with such a brutally honest and individualistically butch curmudgeon. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
As I got a bit older, I segued into horror and fantasy, with a sprinkling of romance. While other 10-12-year-olds were reading Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic, I reveled in scaring the crap out of myself on a regular basis. Stephen King was my go to at that age, but I felt a homecoming when I happened upon Clive Barker’s extremely dark, kinky and grotesque worlds.
Clive and Stephen often employed a mixture of fantasy and horror, but I looked elsewhere when I needed a hit of that high fantasy goodness. Authors like Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Orson Scott Card, Guy Gavriel Kay and David Eddings took me out of myself on epic journeys of derring-do. Suffice it to say that the more recent personal revelations from some of those authors really threw me for a loop (Bigotry and racism galore? Aslan was an allegory for God?? What?? Why couldn’t he have just been a very talkative lion?).
In the ‘80s, novels in these genres were often written by (and chock full of) cis white males, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the unapologetically queer characters in Mercedes Lackey’s work. These books opened up an entirely new world for this incipient queer. I had been struggling with the fact that I liked boys very much even though I also had strong crushes on girls. We didn’t really talk about “those types of things” all the way back in the olden days, and especially not in Central America.
I ended up devouring these books and internalizing Lackey’s message of “it’s perfectly normal to be anything other than straight.” Thinking back, I realize that her books (and a few others) were partly catalysts for my decision to come out in the early ‘90s. I mean, if her gay characters could emerge victorious from all those trials and tribulations, why couldn’t I?
I was in my early 20s and living in San Diego, CA when I came out. The queer scene there was vibrant, but primarily consisted of gay men and lesbians. I came out as a lesbian because I felt that was the only identity available to me at the time. Much of the community was of the strong mindset that bisexuality was just a short stop on the voyage to full on gayness. If pushed on that subject they became very stubborn and often ostracized people who challenged that viewpoint. I even lost touch with a best friend I’d had since I was 12 over this issue. As a proud lesbian, she was firmly in the “bisexuals are just misguided” camp. Sadly she died in the early 2000s, and I never got the chance to try to resolve our friendship.
During this time I continued to use books as my escape from real life. In the ‘90s, the SFF and horror genres were still extremely lacking in LGBT rep, and I found most gay fiction to be too depressing. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon Anne Rice’s kink filled Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure) in a used bookstore and they became my gateway drug into queer erotica. I was amazed by, and drawn to, the author’s depictions of endless acts of bisexual and gay BDSM, and went on to read whatever I could get my hands on in the genre.
Depression, Anxiety and I became BFFs throughout those years, with a long sojourn after my friend’s death in the early 2000s. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I identify as non-binary and pansexual instead of bisexual and cis. I’d like to think that if my friend were alive today, she would eventually grow to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation can change or become more actualized as we go through life, and that these changes are all valid.
I’m in my 40s now, and my Frequent Unwanted Callers still come to visit from time to time, sometimes longer than others. I’ve been primarily into LGBTQ+ romances for a long while, and am absolutely loving that there’s so many authors writing about different aspects of the queer spectrum these days. It’s been an incredible experience to finally see parts of myself within the pages of a book.
So yes: when I mentioned above that reading has saved my life, I meant it. I’ve received so much enjoyment and peace of mind from allowing my imagination to propel me to fictional worlds. Good books have broadened my perspective and vocabulary, and helped me to unearth and express my sexuality and gender expression. They’ve helped me to deal with (but never completely overcome) my depression and anxiety in productive ways. They’ve been the best kind of constant companion, and I thank them profusely for their service.
EC King is a non-binary Afro-Latinx writer who hails from a tiny and unnecessarily hot country in Central America. She currently resides in Florida (also unnecessarily hot) where she reads a lot and considers writing a book but never quite gets around to it. EC blogs about beauty and has, in the past, fangirled extensively over kpop and fashion for her own blog and others. You can find her many tweets under @OverlySarcasmic.