Redefining Self

Figuring out who you are isn’t something that happens once. Life is an ongoing process of change, reconsidering, and redefining. But when it comes to some subjects, people don’t always remember that.

I’ve known people who came out as homosexual in their 40s or later, after years of giving no sign at all that they were interested in people of the same sex. In a couple of cases, they themselves didn’t realize they were interested, or at least they didn’t admit it to themselves. But then they realized, or they came to terms with what they already knew.

That doesn’t mean they were heterosexual up until that point. It means they were living in the way they thought was best for them, or the way they thought they had to in order to be accepted by others, but over time they realized that wasn’t who they truly were.

Online, I’ve seen teens and young adults accused of “faking” their sexual orientation or gender “to get attention,” or of “jumping on the bandwagon,” because they’ve changed their self-identification over time. That doesn’t mean they’ve ever been dishonest about it. It means they might not have thought it completely through before they first came out. They also might, over time, have seen references to orientations or genders they didn’t know existed, and realized one of those terms fit them better than the way they’d previously identified.

I’ve also seen people say that certain genders and sexual orientations were “invented” by people on the Internet. This is not true. Those genders and orientations might not have had names until recently, but they still existed.

The Internet has been a help and support to a lot of people as they work on defining and identifying themselves. People who might have thought something was wrong with them because of the way they felt can now learn they aren’t the only one who feels that way. Of course, the Internet also has its downside; people can be judgmental and bully one another.

But the process of defining and identifying oneself doesn’t have a finite ending point. We all learn new things about ourselves over time. Life isn’t stagnant, and neither are we.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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We finished lunch and went off to finish the day. Things seemed to be going pretty well until I walked into my last block class and found a note on the chair where I usually sat.

Dear slut, hope you’re happy that Jim’s going to have the same thing done to him in jail that you claim he did to you. Way to destroy someone else’s life.

The moment I read the note, my throat tightened and the little I’d managed to eat for lunch threatened to come back up.

Whatever happened to Jim wasn’t my fault, though. I had to remember that. No matter what anyone else said, I wasn’t the one who’d broken the law. I’d turned him in, but he was the one who’d chosen to plead guilty. The judge was the one who’d decided Jim should go to juvenile detention.

It wasn’t my fault. None of it was my fault.

I took a couple of deep breaths. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so the room was still mostly empty, and there was no way to guess who’d written the thing. I didn’t recognize the handwriting. The only thing I could tell was it looked more like a girl’s than a guy’s.

The teacher was at her desk. I picked up the note and walked over to her. I refused to break down this time. The note was harassment, and I was going to take action. Even if no one ever found out who wrote it, at least I was taking control.

“What can I do for you, Chastaine?” she asked.

I held out the piece of paper. “I just found this on my chair.”

She took the note, and her eyes widened. Without a word to me, she picked up the intercom phone and asked whoever answered in the office to send Mr. Lawrence to our room.

“We’re going to find out who did this,” she said. “This isn’t acceptable by any stretch. We can’t prove it was meant for you, though.”

“We kind of can,” I said. “Aside from the ‘slut’ thing that half the school’s been calling me lately, it directly refers to Jim going to jail for what he did. The only people he did anything to that’s sending him to jail are me and Maryellen Rourke, and I think you’re aware she doesn’t go to school here anymore, so the note can’t be for her. It’s probably someone in this class, because I don’t think anyone in your other classes would know where I sit.” As I spoke, the lump in my throat melted away.

“You’re probably right.” She looked around the room at the other students who had shown up so far. “Why don’t you go sit down? Mr. Lawrence will be here in a minute, and then we’ll take care of this.”

There were a few other things I wanted to say, but I stopped myself. Throwing a fit about people putting me down all the time wouldn’t change anything, and I would probably end up getting myself in trouble for swearing. So I went back to my seat.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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Out of the three of them, Holly was the only one I wanted to talk to at a time like this. She was the one I wanted to talk to most of the time. And now I really needed to talk to her. I didn’t want to bother her, because she was in most of my classes, so I knew how much homework she had. But I had to talk to someone, so I pressed her name.

“Hey, Chastaine.” Her warm voice pushed away some of the dark cloud over me. “Do you think the teachers get paid extra if they give us so much homework we don’t have time to sleep?”

“Who knows?” I tried to laugh and failed. I usually enjoyed Holly’s sense of humor, but tonight, nothing struck me as funny.

“Are you okay?” Paper rustled. “I guess you aren’t calling about the chemistry assignment.”

“Not really.” I hesitated. I spent way too much time whining to Holly.

“Tell me,” Holly said.

I took a deep breath and let it all out without giving myself time for second thoughts. “Jim pled guilty. He admitted what he did to me and Maryellen. The court’s going to sentence him. I don’t know when, and I don’t know what, but he’s going to pay. But people aren’t going to believe it even if he’s the one saying it. They’re still going to say Maryellen and I lied.” The words poured out of my mouth.

“Whoa. Slow down.” Again I heard rustling at her end of the phone. “He said he did it?”

“Yeah.” Tears started running down my cheeks, and this time I didn’t manage to hold back the sobs. I had no clue why I was crying. Jim pleading guilty was good news.

I was ruining my makeup and going back on my promise to myself to not let the jerks win. But now that I had someone listening to me, I couldn’t stop.

Holly didn’t say anything until I managed to calm down. “They’re going to send him to jail or something?”

“I don’t know yet. Whoever talked to my dad said Jim hasn’t been sentenced yet.” I didn’t even know for sure who Dad had talked to. The prosecutor, I guessed.

I started crying harder again, and my nose got all stuffed up, which annoyed the hell out of me since I didn’t have any tissues. I grabbed a shirt off the floor and held that against my nose. Holly’s breathing on the other end of the phone became a rope I held onto for a few minutes. Proof that someone was there for me.

Finally, she said, “Relief? Is that why you’re crying?”

“I don’t know.” I sniffled and tried to convince myself I was through with the tears. “Probably. Plus you’re listening to me. Most people don’t.”

“I’m not most people.” She paused. “All the crap you and Maryellen deal with. Maybe it’ll be over now. People will find out he pled guilty, and they’ll stop saying you’re lying and all the other stuff. And it’s about damn time. It isn’t right that you and Maryellen are getting the consequences for what Jim did.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want me to come over?” she asked.

“Um.” I had to think about that one. Having her sitting beside me would make things a little easier, but it was getting late, at least by my parents’ standards. I wasn’t supposed to have company or leave the house after eight on school nights, and if I was already out, I had to be home before ten. Those had always been my rules, even before all the shit hit the fan. For some stupid reason, my parents thought being strict would keep me from doing things they considered wrong.

They’d pretty much figured out otherwise once the whole thing about Jim and my sex life came out, but they hadn’t let up on the rules. And I didn’t dare to ask if they would consider it.

“I can’t,” I said finally. “My parents.”

In Your Own Time

Coming out can be a scary thing. You don’t know how your family and friends will react. You might still be defining who you are, and it’s difficult to explain it to others when you aren’t entirely sure yourself. You might fear for your safety.

Unfortunately, sometimes people think they have the right to dictate how others handle things like coming out. I know of two people who were not emotionally ready to come out, and were afraid of the consequences. They talked to people they trusted, who told them if they were “really” gay or transgender, they would be open about it.

Both people came out. Not because they were ready, but because they felt pressured. They felt as if they had to prove themselves to others.

Both experienced very negative results, which I’d rather not detail.

No one has the right to tell you how to be a “real” ANYTHING. You are you, and you are who and what you are. Whatever that is, you are real. And you have the right to approach everything in your life in your own time, at your own pace, in the way that helps you feel safest and most comfortable.

Trust yourself, and don’t let others tell you how to be you.

Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

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“Drink some juice,” Dad said, pointing at the glass of orange juice beside my seat.

“Um….” I looked at him.

He looked worried. Not angry or anything. Just worried.

I took a tiny sip of juice to make him happy. “What’s going on?”

“We’ll talk when your mother sits down.”

“Breakfast is almost ready,” Mom said in the fake cheerful voice she used when she was so frustrated she wanted to throw something.

That wasn’t much of a surprise. She didn’t enjoy cooking, and when she did it, she often messed things up. Judging from how much trouble she was having with the pancake, I guessed she hadn’t had a whole lot of luck with breakfast in general.

Which gave me even more of a reason to wonder why she was cooking, especially on a weekday when she and Dad would have to leave soon to catch the train into the city for work.

She finally finished attempting to cook and set a plate of pancakes and one of bacon in the center of the table. “Dig in. We don’t have much time. Holly, your dad and I wanted to talk to you, and we thought it would be better to take care of it right away rather than wait until the weekend.”

“Oh.” That sounded even more ominous. My heart sped up a little, and my stomach started rolling again. “What are we taking care of?”

“You’ve lost quite a bit of weight lately.” Dad took a couple of pancakes and dumped syrup on them. “Losing weight isn’t a bad thing, but it’s happened very fast.”

“And you don’t eat,” Mom said. “You argue with me when I make supper, and I come home and there’s the same amount of food in the cupboards and fridge as when I left, which makes me think you aren’t eating during the day.”

“What do you do, take inventory?” I rolled my eyes, trying to act like I had no clue what their problem was.

But my chest was tight, and I couldn’t look at either of them. They’d figured out what was going on. I couldn’t let them know they were right, or they would force me to eat or something. Maybe they would actually start taking inventory.

They would make me stop losing weight, and I couldn’t let that happen. When I’d tried on my clothes the other day, some of the things Chastaine had given me that were too tight at first had fit a lot better, and some of the things I’d wanted to hold onto had been way too big. I liked that. It was proof that even if I only saw a fat girl in the mirror, I was actually making progress.

Teaser Thursday- Fresh Meat

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I hadn’t decided yet if I actually liked guys. Girls didn’t fascinate me as much as they did my friends. I still noticed them, though. Then again, I was younger than Shawn and Eddie by several months. Maybe when I was older I’d be more into girls. I hoped so. I didn’t want to think about what my friends, and especially my parents, would say if I turned out gay. I didn’t think finding guys hot had anything to do with how old I was.

“That guy’s weird,” Eddie said. “He’s been here a few times lately.”

“I haven’t seen him.” I started to look back over my shoulder and stopped myself. I’d calmed down my first reaction to him. I didn’t know if I’d be as successful again.

“You just haven’t been here at the same time as him. Your stupid mother keeps making you go home early.”

“Shut up.” I shot him a look that made him look away fast. I wasn’t always happy about Mom telling me to be home in time to help with Peri and Amber, but I didn’t want Eddie whining about it. And he had no business insulting my mother. Mom wasn’t stupid, just overwhelmed.

“I think that guy’s kind of a creep,” he said after a few seconds. “I mean, he’s a lot older than us, and he’s hanging around a place where kids go? Kind of weird, don’t you think?”

“Maybe he just likes pinball, dummy.” The guy hadn’t looked too old to me. I didn’t think he looked much more than twenty or so. Which was still older than us. It just wasn’t ancient or anything.

“He was looking at you, wasn’t he?” Eddie made a face. “That’s disgusting, man.”

“I guess.” I didn’t quite dare to ask if he meant the guy’s age or the guy checking me out. Knowing Eddie, he might have meant either or both.

Another reason not to let on that sometimes guys interested me. I’d lose the few friends I had.

“Just watch your back.” Eddie gave a little laugh. “Or maybe I should say watch your ass.”

I wanted to slug him. Instead I just said, “Dude, stop being a dink,” and kept walking.

We finally took over our favorite machine. I had the top three scores on the game, and Eddie had the next two. I sent him to the change counter for quarters while I stayed put so no one else took our game.

“Hi.”

Before I even turned around, I knew the voice behind me belonged to the guy in the white T-shirt. I couldn’t have explained how I knew; I just did. I was almost afraid to look at him, but my parents’ constant manners drills got the better of me. Not responding to someone who’d spoken to you was rude.

I took a deep breath and turned. Up close, those piercing eyes turned out to be grey. His hair was shaggy, light brown or dark blond depending on how you looked at it. It kind of shone under the overhead light. His shirt outlined his chest and abs, and the tattoo stood out against the tan skin on his arm. Seeing him more clearly, I couldn’t do much about the sudden bulge in my shorts. I just hoped he wouldn’t notice.

My mouth went dry and for a few seconds, I couldn’t talk.

He looked amused. “Yes, I was speaking to you. Hi.”

“Um, hi.” Yeah, I was great at conversation.

He held out his hand. “I’m Larry.”

“Tobias.”

When I shook his hand, something like a lightning bolt shot through me. Startled, I looked into his eyes, and the electricity grew stronger. I wouldn’t have been able to look away if I’d wanted to. Fortunately, I didn’t want to.

Teaser Thursday- Ball Caps and Khakis

Unedited from my current work-in-progress, which is book 6 in my Deep Secrets and Hope series.

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I sighed and finished shoving books into my backpack. Until my mother spread the word, no one in town had even known about Jim’s past. He’d trusted me enough to tell me, or maybe he’d told me because he hoped I would leave him alone. And I’d told my parents because I didn’t hide things from them. I figured if I was going to keep spending time with Jim, they should know the whole truth, even if it meant them telling me to stay away from him.

Jim’s mistake had been trusting me. Mine had been trusting my parents. As soon as they heard the news, Mom was on the phone to her friends. People went ballistic. Some of the business owners in town had told Delia to keep Jim away from their shops. And some morons from my school had spray painted threats and slurs all over Delia’s shop windows.

In the two weeks since, things had calmed down a little. Jim wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms, but most people left him and Delia alone. Mom had talked to Jim and Delia, and she and Dad had agreed that they didn’t have a problem if Jim and I were friends. They even let him come to our house, which I’d never expected. Mom’s main reason for flipping out in the first place was that I had an eleven-year-old sister. At first, my parents had insisted that Jim never come anywhere near Jae. But once Mom met Jim and understood him a little better, she and Dad had no problem with Jim spending time at our house.

Not that he did. I’d invited him over a few times, and every time, he’d turned me down. I had a pretty strong feeling he didn’t actually want to be friends with me, but I hadn’t actually asked. I just went along acting as if I considered him my friend and ignored his attempts to push me away. Delia backed me on that. According to her, Jim needed people more than he wanted to admit, but he’d gotten too used to not having anyone to count on. So I tried to show him he could count on me, whether he wanted to or not.

I left school and headed toward the small downtown area that ended at the edge of Lake Michigan. It was finally warm outside, a more than welcome change from the freezing cold and snow we’d dealt with up until the end of April. Even now that it was May, snow and ice was still visible in some spots, but most of it had melted.

As I walked, I mentally composed my excuse for showing up at the art supply shop today. It wasn’t Wednesday, which meant I couldn’t say it had anything to do with the school’s art club. The sketchbook I’d ordered wouldn’t be in until Friday, three days away, because I hadn’t wanted to pay extra to get it sooner. I’d only ordered it because I liked the look of the maroon pseudo-leather cover and the fact that it had a lock, like a diary. I didn’t have a problem sharing my sketches most of the time, but some of the things I drew were more private.

Like the portraits I’d done of Jim over the past couple of weeks. He didn’t know about them and neither did anyone else, and I planned to keep it that way. The best that would happen if anyone found them would be them asking why I’d drawn him. And I didn’t want to answer that, because I wasn’t totally sure myself.

So Proud

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court declared that every adult has the right to legally marry the person they love. Regardless of whether it’s a man marrying a woman, or a man marrying a man, or a woman marrying a woman.

EVERY adult has the right to be legally married in the United States now. In EVERY state.

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Growing up, I had three “uncles” (my dad’s best friend and the friend’s partners) who were in a committed triad. Not a typical, mainstream relationship arrangement. Not something most people in the 1970s-1980s would have even understood, let alone accepted. But those three men had, as I saw it, a healthier relationship than my parents. They were together for decades.

Even if only two of them had been together, they couldn’t have married. No matter how much they wanted to. Back then, legal marriage could only happen between a man and a woman. Even though they lived in Massachusetts, which was the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, they lived here *before* that happened. By the time Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my dad’s friend had passed away and the other two men had moved to a different state.

I found out a couple years ago that one of the other two men had also passed away. I don’t know if the third is still alive at this point or not, but I hope so. I hope he lived to see this happen. And I wish his partners could have as well.

Right now, I’m so proud of my country for recognizing and acknowledging that love is love, and that all loving adult couples should have the right to have their union recognized by the law. That all should have the right to share parental rights, to say goodbye to their loved ones in the final days, to share property. To share their LIVES in a way that’s legally recognized.

I’m proud for those who fought for this. I’m proud for those who have always believed this is how it should be. I’m proud to be able to say my kids live in a world where they can marry whomever they want.

When I heard the news on Friday, I cried. I don’t think I was the only one.

Release Day! Teaser- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

Today’s the official release day for Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts, book 4 in my Deep Secrets and Hope series from Harmony Ink Press! I hope you enjoy this teaser from the beginning of the book.

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Bent over with my elbows resting on the kitchen counter, I frowned at the letter in front of me. I’d been frowning at it for about an hour now, and the words hadn’t changed, much to my frustration.

Dear Holly,

While we appreciate your concern for those who have been assaulted, we have come to the conclusion that the group you’ve suggested would not be appropriate for our school. People who have been through those types of experience benefit from professional counseling, and a support group would be best run by a mental health worker, not by high school students or even high school staff. Therefore, we are rejecting your application to start an after-school support group.

Sincerely,

Sheryl Rondeau, principal

I’d found the letter after final bell, in an envelope stuck in the grate of my locker. The powers-that-pretended-to-be at my high school hadn’t even had the guts to meet with me face-to-face or even hand me their response in person.

And they were too gutless to even mention the purpose of the group. “Assault” and “type of experience” were completely lame ways of wording “rape” and “molestation.” Things way more kids at my high school had been through than anyone realized.

“What are you reading?” Mom asked from behind me.

I quickly flipped over the letter. I hadn’t told Mom anything about my proposal. My parents were pretty decent, but they tried to avoid anything unpleasant. They probably wouldn’t have been able to handle knowing people my age had gone through sexual assault.

At least it had never happened to me. I was thankful for that, but I also felt guilty, even though I knew it didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense for me to have escaped anything bad being done to me when it seemed like half the people I knew had gone through something awful.

I’d seen what my girlfriend Chastaine went through after reporting a guy in our grade for raping her the previous summer. What he’d done to her had been easier for her to cope with in some ways than the harassment and threats she’d gotten from people we’d gone to school with for years.

And everyone had heard about Maryellen, the fourteen-year-old girl who’d had the same thing done to her by the same guy. She’d tried to kill herself after he pled guilty. She didn’t go to our school anymore. I wasn’t sure what had happened to her.

The Story Behind Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

Thursday will mark the official release of Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts, book 4 in my Deep Secrets and Hope series from Harmony Ink Press.  The series started two years ago with the release of Nail Polish and Feathers and the requests and pleas of a few readers, including an author I greatly admire, that I continue Evan Granger’s story.

Evan is only the main character of Nail Polish and Feathers, but he makes appearances in the other three books currently available as well, as Guillermo’s boyfriend in Shoulder Pads and Flannel, part of Chastaine’s support system in High Heels and Lipstick, and of course Holly’s cousin in Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts. But the storyline of the series has gone far past Evan’s struggles with bullying and trying to become a drag queen.

In Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts, main character Holly McCormack is keeping secrets even from her best friend and confidant Evan. While Evan knows about Holly and Chastaine’s relationship–which Holly and Chastaine are hiding from almost everyone else–he doesn’t know that Holly has almost stopped eating. Neither does Chastaine, even though in Holly’s mind, Chastaine is the reason for it. And while Holly loves Chastaine and wants to help her, her fears and insecurities are getting in the way.

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Writing Guillermo’s and Chastaine’s stories were a no-brainer for me. But I wasn’t originally planning to write Holly’s. It took me a while to see that there was a story there. Even though Holly has appeared in the previous three books and played a big role in Chastaine’s, I didn’t really know her as a character. She was mostly in the background providing support to the others.

But since I’d written Guillermo’s story as the flip side of Evan’s, I thought I should write Holly’s as the flip side of Chastaine’s. And the folks at Harmony Ink Press agreed, especially since they were looking for more books with female main characters. So I sat down to brainstorm, and in the process learned a lot more about Holly than I’d bargained for. In good ways.

Holly’s insecurities about her body, and especially the development of her eating disorder, are something very personal to me. Aside from having had similar insecurities myself, I’m close to a teenage girl who battled bulimia for three years. Although she’s recovered, she still sometimes battles the urges, and she did lasting damage to her stomach and esophagus. I’ve known other girls who had similar thoughts and disordered eating, and I believed they deserved a voice.

Holly’s story, like the other three, has light moments and definite signs of hope, as well as struggles and dark moments. I hope readers will enjoy Holly’s story as much as I did.