Embracing the label "writer"

In the conversations Foster has created for me over the past couple weeks, I would name coming out as a theme.

Being queer is hard. Mainstream media tells us it’s the worst, even. But for me, it’s mainly just confusing. A solid pro of being queer, however, is that it gives you appreciation for this coming out thing: the decision, its weight, its difficulty, and its continuousness.

Hearing fellow writers who I hope will become longtime friends grapple with truths they’re unaccustomed to confronting makes me go aww, you’re coming out, and makes me feel lucky that I’ve, as a queer, had plenty of practice.

I once heard Dan Savage say something about the strength conferred on people who have looked their moms in the eye and told them about their sex lives in the way that coming out implies, though the way I told my mom left room for plausible deniability that any sex was or ever would be involved, and I most certainly didn’t look her in the eye.

But I do come out, dutifully, almost every time someone comes out to me, or anytime I’m in a conversation about relationships, particularly mine, and I’m sounding too hetero for my taste, even though in my case it’s arguably unnecessary to occupy the space of bi, and it always feels dorky to say.

That my mind goes aww, you’re coming out during Foster does not mean I’ve shed all my layers, however, even though I may have gotten a headstart. An untold truth they’ve asked me to access that I’m just now accepting, that I have yet to say aloud, that I must practice not deflecting from my friends who are journalists and MFAs, that I’m sure my lips and tongue would stumble over, is that I’m a writer.

Another new idea for me lately, one that I can easily accept, is the idea that language is the first and only truly decentralized system. As Vitalik offers, “the English spoken between Alice and Bob and the English spoken between Charlie and David do not need to agree at all.” That language, English especially, is so self-governed, renders these labels to which we’re so attached both meaningless, and because they reflect our subjective experiences, our everything. Labels, these verbal commitments to words, can be claimed by anyone who wants them. The thing is, it’s easier to want something that’s meaningless, hard to claim something that means everything.

In another Foster conversation, riffing about our creative journeys, the desire to create “big art,” the impulse to tell our parents, the need to grieve old selves. To some people, to people like me, this task of writer looms dangerously close to everything. Being writer threatens to swallow the rest of our entire beings. So we resist.

What constitutes this resistance for me? After all, here we are, communing at this smoky pile of letters and spaces for kindling.

Writers are people who get paid for their writing. Writers have book deals and bylines, or if not those, are self-published on Amazon. Or they blog, religiously, or they journal, extensively. Writers are people with innate drives to externalize thinking, regardless of extrinsic rewards. They use plain language, they get to the point. They’re relatable, they show, don’t tell. They don’t watch The Bachelor, they don’t party or drink. Writers give good endings. They structure, they outline, they keep deep dossiers of their characters that only ever live to serve as internal reference. They deliver three acts, a hero’s journey where the hero, he changes, he triumphs, he comes home.

So then, what is the need? Maybe my perspective is unique and worth preserving. Maybe being plopped down in ‘Merica by Chinese parents—in Minnesota of all places—with my inklings, my tastes, my appetite, my brain, my face, is not so everyday. Maybe leaving home, moving to the city, falling in love, is passé, but my grail. Maybe, now that my last grandparent is gone and I’m the adult generation, who I’m writing for only boils down to me and my family. And I know, not maybe, that my friends, my friends, oh are they worth documenting. Maybe, maybe, writing is everything, how I turn the jumbled mix of it all into immutable meaning, things that even I myself can’t minimize or erase. Writing is how I’ll continue to carry out this act of coming out, as queer, as writer, as fill in the blank, again and again.

Of all the things we can but don’t do, do but don’t name, simultaneously crave and deny, writing, and calling it that, what a thin veil. Not a closet, but a clear, wet film. And she wants out, to come out on the page, a writer, the label, I embrace.

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