In 2018, I took my now wife to see Love, Simon. My memories of that film are ones of deep relief at seeing a major motion picture so beautifully capture the act of coming out, particularly when that act is done in a way you would prefer not to. I’ve been outed several times (because coming out is never a one time thing, it is a daily declaration and, frankly, exhausting) when I wasn’t ready to. My wife’s first major coming out was done at the behest of an ex who, it became clear later, was more interested in driving a wedge between my wife and her family than my wife’s safety.
Coming out is a deeply personal thing. People tend to think that everyone knows they are queer early. But I didn’t come to terms with my queerness until I was in my twenties and even now I find that I find new and better words to describe myself. We learn as we grow who we are and what words or labels work for us.
I have been critical of voices who argue that “cishet women” shouldn’t write mlm romances. It is true that M/M fiction (fanfiction in particular) often fetishizes mlm romances. Fans of mlm romances can be vocally hostile to wlw romances, too, which adds to the idea of fetishization by focusing on men in a sexual relationship with other men while expressing disgust when women are in a sexual relationship with other women. And while I think these critiques have some validity, I’ve always hesitated to suggest that “cishet women” should avoid writing mlm or wlw romance for a simple reason: I was writing those kinds of stories long before I was out even to myself.
Oftentimes, I believe that women use these stories as a way of exploring their own sexuality. I’ve argued that forcing authors to disclose their sexuality when writing queer characters is a way of forcing people out of the closet. It is harmful and potentially damaging to these people.
Today, Becky Albertalli came out as bi.
I’ve read her statement. I’m so glad that she is learning more about herself and her identity. I hope that the queer community is welcoming and loving to her because it is really hard to come out later in life.
But the fact of the matter is that the constant scrutinizing of Albertalli forced her hand, causing her to come out in a way that, as she says herself, doesn’t feel empowering. This is not the first time this has happened, and unless we actively work on how we interact with queer stories, it will happen again.
We should absolutely celebrate own-voices stories and help make sure that there is space for these stories. But we have to remember that not everyone is in a position where it is safe or comfortable for them to be out. The world overall is not a safe place for queer people. Albertalli and I are lucky in that we are white and queer because the world is far worse for queer POC.
I hope that Albertalli can find peace. I hope that the book community gives her space and room to explore this side of herself. And I hope we all learn from this because, frankly, I’m heartbroken that she had to come out the way she did.
The world is hard enough on us. Let’s all be kind to each other.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.