Writing Fantasy Allowed Me to Come Out
Yes, it’s true. Even before I knew how to read or write, I’ve always found myself telling stories. When I was a kid riding in the back of my grandfather’s truck, en route to farm toy shows in Iowa, I drew pictures, unable to write but still empowered to tell a story. My first was a gender-bent version of the Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy was portrayed as an attractive farm boy named Tanner who was scooped up by a tornado and thrown into the fantastical land of Oz.
Though it was simply an appropriated version of L. Frank Baum’s classic story, it was the gateway into expressing myself through storytelling. Fast-forward to junior high, when I was a sexually frustrated eighth grader, unconscious of the fact that I was gay. I had more than enough free time in study hall, so one day, I decided to write what would become my first self-published fantasy. What started as a fun side project about my friends should they have superpowers became an all-out novel six years later.
Once I started touring schools with the book, a common question that came up was why I had written the work from the point of view of a female — even though I was a guy. At the time, I told the younger boys who asked this question that it was simply easier to write from a female perspective because writing fantasy “requires a lot of detail, and it’s more believable if that detail is coming from the mouth of a girl.”
But there was more at work than even I realized at the time. Once the first book was released, I still wasn’t out and wouldn’t be for another few years. It wouldn’t be until my senior year of college that I would even come out, acknowledging a truth I had disregarded for the longest time. I still wrote, but I hadn’t made the connection that my writing was linked to how I expressed my sexuality.
It wasn’t until after I had released the sequel to my first book and begun my present project that I realized my writing had been a source of solace at a time when I wasn’t allowed to be myself. Through my fantasy books, I was able to convey an identity that was fighting to see the light of day — that of my female protagonist. Though I don’t identify as a female, I was able to live through her freedom to pursue the love of a man — a nonthreatening venture that the outside world accepted when it was conveyed between a man and a woman.
The fantasy world in my books also was not dictated by concrete rules, another reality I sought at a time when I felt as if every aspect of my life was dictated by rules — whether because of religion or because of the general rules society impressed on the greater public regarding sexuality. What’s so fascinating about it all, though, was that I wasn’t even conscious that this dynamic was at play when I wrote my books. I was simply doing something that came natural to me.
But it was because of writing that a version of myself — the real version — was able to live and hopefully enrich the lives of others, an identity confined to the pages of a book. Now that I am out, my writing style has changed. I no longer feel the need to write fantasy. I don’t need the escape like I once did. Now that I’ve embraced my true self, I want to celebrate that through my writing, and it’s for that reason that I now write realistic fiction. Perhaps one day I’ll feel the need to go back to fantasy, but for now, I’m grateful to have been able to rescue myself through this beautiful medium we call writing.