Story Time: How I Realized I’m Bisexual

Bisexual Visibility Week 2016

Something not many people know about me is that I’m queer—totally bi, dude. It’s been a long journey of self-discovery and I’m still learning a lot, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m completely comfortable with who I am, and I don’t care who knows. It’s not about them, after all.

Being bi doesn’t mean that you’re into swinging or threesomes (though some people are and that’s totally cool). I’m happily monogamous in my marriage to a bearded dude who will kick your ass if you make ignorant comments toward me. Kidding. Maybe.

Bisexual means that you’re physically attracted to both male and female genders. It doesn’t mean that you’re confused or promiscuous. It just means that you’re wired to appreciate women and men. Bisexuality is not a choice, phase, or excuse.

It’s an important part of who I am, but it also doesn’t define me as a person.

Growing up watching soap operas and not knowing any other queer people, it was my understanding that women married men. Still, I had crushes on both Devon Sawa and Aaliyah. I would sit on my school bus admiring other girls’ asses and had no clue that something was different about me.

Until high school.

Every morning we stood in the old Municipal Stadium parking lot, smoking cigarettes (and maybe other things, heh). Two of my friends from our morning crew, Lisa* and Lacie*, announced that they were together and that they were bi.

This piqued my attention. I knew I wasn’t gay because I still liked guys, but I was also very much attracted to other women. Finally there was a word to describe how I felt. I had to know everything about this completely new-to-me sexuality. Between my friends and the internet, I realized I was bi, too.

And it wasn’t just me.

Lisa and Lacie’s brave coming out sparked an entire LGBT+ movement throughout our high school. Suddenly dozens of students were also proudly declaring their sexuality and gender IDs. “I’m gay,” a usually quiet and shy boy I knew proclaimed. “I’m trans!” my friend Helena* announced. The school gave us a weekly support group and, for the first time, I met lots of people like me.

People who didn’t fit the mold, who were different and vibrant. We were artists and writers, daydreamers and metalheads. Ordinarily we might have never spoken while passing in the halls, but in “gay group,” as we dubbed it, we found kindred spirits in each other.

Gay group ended up collapsing after our facilitator Karen* suddenly stopped coming. Looking back, she was an adult that we all looked to for guidance, but she was only human, and dealing with her own issues. A lot of us were hurt and angry. We tried to carry on without her, but things just fell apart from there.

One thing that didn’t change, though, was the wave of tolerance and acceptance that flowed through our school. Kids in new freshman classes openly came out long after gay group ended and Lisa and Lacie graduated. I like to think that the legacy we built continues.

Though I’ve dated many women and men, I met my match in a tall, blue-eyed artist who keeps me on my toes. Actually, for the first year or so that we were dating, he drove me bonkers. It took me a while to snag him, but once I did, I knew I’d found the real deal.

Marrying a man doesn’t make me any less bisexual, though. I’m still queer as fuck, just like married people still feel attracted to other people but don’t act on their attractions. Nor does it mean that I have feelings for every woman I come across. I have a type, thank you very much. If you’re related to me or we’re friends, you don’t have to worry about me coming on to you. And never, under any circumstances, would I cheat on my husband.

These days, I use my sexuality to write #ownvoices novels for readers just entering adulthood. Krista—the main character in the fourth and final South of Forever book—is bisexual, and I’m exploring some tough themes with her in my WIP.

So that’s my Bisexual Visibility Week story. I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m still the same person I’ve always been. Just a little bit more colorful.

💗💜💙


*Names changed for privacy.

5 Kick-Ass NA Books I Read This Summer

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Even though summer isn’t officially over, the PSL is back within my reach and the weather has turned a little cooler. Mornings and evenings are now for soft sweaters, and I’ve broken out my boots again. It’s back to reality, and I’ve been busy writing a new book. My iPad is loaded up with books to be read as soon as I type The End, but I’m still mooning over these brilliant New Adult books that I read over the summer.

Kick back, and prepare to load up your Kindle!

Lex Talionis, by S.A. HuchtonLex Talionis, by S.A. Huchton
Standalone. New Adult suspense / romance.

Let the punishment fit the crime.

When Lexi receives a message from her dead best friend after Randi is senselessly murdered, she decides to take revenge into her own hands. A dangerous and calculated cat and mouse game begins, with Lexi holding the strings. I cheered Lexi on, even when her moves were morally questionable. The romance is a small element of the story; it mostly focuses on the friendship between Lexi and Randi. This was a stellar read that I couldn’t put down. A standing ovation for S.A. Huchton.

1-Click buy on Amazon

The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years, Book 1), by Sarina BowenThe Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen
First in a series. New Adult romance.

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

I read this book in one sitting, staying up late into the night because I couldn’t stop. It was the first time I’ve read this author but now I’m determined to read every word she’s ever written. Unlike your typical college sports romance, this book tells a love story between Corey—ex-hockey player who was permanently sidelined after a life-changing injury—and Adam, a hockey star out on temporary injury leave. The author perfectly captures both the frustration and beauty of disability, and the HEA romance that unfolds is a rollercoaster worth the ride.

1-Click buy on Amazon

Fuck Love, by Tarryn FisherFuck Love, by Tarryn Fisher
Standalone. New Adult dark romance.

This book, this book, this book. Another first for me, but I’m itching to read everything by this author now, too. I ripped through it, pausing only to sleep a little. It was like a good but strong drink that goes down like water. I got a little buzzed off Tarryn Fisher’s words; she truly is a fantastic writer. The story is about Helena, a Harry Potter obsessed door mat who begins pursuing her best friend’s boyfriend after she has a dream about what their life could look like. The whole thing is so insane, but I couldn’t help but root for Helena and Kit. This is another rollercoaster that will frustrate you but the ending is so very satisfying.

1-Click buy on Amazon

Rebel Soul (Rebel Series, Book 1), by J.C. HanniganRebel Soul, by J.C. Hannigan
First in series. New Adult romance.

Disclaimer: J.C. is my good friend who I’ve dubbed my “work wife” because even though our publisher closed, we still do a lot of strategizing (and laughing and commiserating) together. I love all of her books, but her latest release is just beautiful. It’s not as heavy as her other books are, though there are still plenty of social issues woven in. Tessa is enjoying her last summer before college when fate shoves her into the arms of bad boy Brock. This book encompasses that hazy, warm summer love feeling, complete with bonfire parties and tender nights full of burning, slow kisses. Though this book is HEA, there’s plenty of aching push and shove between these two. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

1-Click buy on Amazon

Kaleidoscope Hearts (Hearts, Book 1), by Claire ContrerasKaleidoscope Hearts, by Claire Contreras
First in series. New Adult romance.

This NA is a bit different from the usual, because the main character Estelle has recently graduated college. But that whole “adjusting to being on your own” element is still there, because Estelle’s fiancee died in a freak accident, leaving her alone in their house and the gallery they co-ran. Estelle has to pick up the pieces of her broke heart, and just when she thinks she’s recovered, a flame from the past walks back into town. There are a few chapters in Oliver’s point of view, but mostly the story is told through Estelle’s eyes. It’s a beautiful novel with some really brilliant lines.

1-Click buy on Amazon
(You can also purchase the entire three-book series here.)

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment and let me know!

The Harry Potter Elephant in the Room

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

I’m a firm believer that, if we want authentic diverse and #ownvoices books, we have to be willing to call out problematic behavior when we see it—even if that means stepping on the toes of a giant.

I love the Harry Potter series so much, I started re-reading it this summer. J.K. Rowling brought real magic to the middle grade lit community. She wrote strong female characters and dealt with heavy subject matter like death and grief without holding back. Even the story behind the books she wrote is impressive and inspiring. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her.

But I still have to say that all of the recent post-publication revelations she’s made are extremely harmful to the diverse lit community and marginalized readers.

During all of the controversy surrounding which actress would play adult Hermione in the upcoming play, Rowling announced that as a matter of fact, Hermione was written as racially ambiguous because she is actually secretly black. Personally I think the whole uproar would have been better handled had Rowling said, “Pipe down kids, the color of Noma Dumezweni’s skin has no bearing on her ability to play this character.” It would have been direct and to the point rather than puzzling; several readers pored over the texts and found several instances were Hermione was described as white.

If Hermione’s blackness had been crafted into the story with intent and purpose, it could have been a major win for girls and women of color. Instead, this muddled announcement comes off as confusing at best.

Another grand divulgement was that Dumbledore is totally gay. Which, again, would be so cool—had his sexuality ever been mentioned or even affected the plot. As a queer woman, this super piqued my interest. But there are only a few ambiguous references, such as when Nicholas Flammel is mentioned to have been Dumbledore’s partner. However, timeline-wise, Flammel has been married too long to ever have had a romantic relationship with Dumbledore (unless they’ve been having an affair, which would quickly get the entire cast of characters on the set of Jerry Springer).

Queer kids need heroes like themselves in fiction that they can look up to but, despite his kindness and bravery, Dumbledore just isn’t that kind of hero.

I could have completely overlooked all of this, though, because at the end of the day it might just all add up to semantics and perspective. But I was completely speechless when I heard that Rowling recently explained that Lupin’s condition is a metaphor for HIV/AIDS.

Dude.

I appreciate Lupin’s struggle. Every time there is a full moon, against his will, he turns into a werewolf and gets destructive. He has little control over his actions during this time, until the full moon wanes. However, Lupin’s condition affects him exactly once a month. It is not life-threatening like HIV and AIDS are. Nor are people living with these very real illnesses at all monsters.

This comparison is simply offensive and harmful, and I can’t stay silent.

Rowling’s status as a household name doesn’t make her immune to being checked. I wish more authors and readers would speak up when there is harmful behavior happening in the lit community. Keeping our mouths shut because we don’t want to upset an author or their fans will only continue to enable problematic books with marginalized characters.

If Rowling wants to write diverse books and characters, our little village would love to have her. There is an aching need for more books that readers can identify with—especially young readers who are searching for their place in the world. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to write diverse or #ownvoices books with intent and authenticity, creating characters who are loudly themselves, even if they’re still struggling within.

Again, I love J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. And, even though I’m frustrated, I still enjoy the books and characters. But I have to use my voice and say that these post-publication declarations are more harmful than they are helpful—just as harmful as authors who purposely exclude marginalized characters from their work.

 

10 Years Together, 3 Years of Marriage

Singing karaoke at our wedding.
Singing karaoke at our wedding.

Sometimes I marvel that this man is mine—even when he’s driving me absolutely bonkers. Especially then, actually. I look into those soft blue eyes and I feel like I’m living a real-life NA romance. We’ve had plenty of our share of the back-and-forth.

Fire, meet gasoline.

When Mike and I first met*, I’d just started working at Toys R Us and also just exited a series of bad relationships. I was the heroine just looking to have a good time. Or so I thought.

All 6’3″ of him strolled up to me one night at work and asked me what my plans were. I hadn’t heard from my friends about our tentative plans, so I smiled up at him and shrugged. One night of drinking vodka and beer in a friend’s garage quickly turned into seeing each other almost every night for three months straight. I was giggly-drunk when he dropped me off that first night.

“Who do you like at work?” he asked in that low voice.

It was sexy as hell but I still managed to play it cool. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said, planting a sweet kiss goodnight on his cheek. “Someone.”

Still, the more time we spent together, the less nonchalant I was able to be. No matter how hard I tried not to, I wanted more of this guy who was a mind-blowing kisser and could kick my ass at Scrabble. He, however, did not appear to want more; brat wouldn’t even hold my hand in public.

As the end of the summer neared, I started to accept that we would not end up boyfriend and girlfriend. Too bad, too, because I could actually see myself dating him—really dating.

Right around my birthday, he called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner. A real date. I was surprised. This was the same guy who’d told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious. Thus he has been confusing me for the last decade: when we’re ordering food at a drive-thru; when he stops painting a piece halfway through and starts another; when he changes the song right when it’s getting good and switches to an entirely different band while driving. But even though he can be extremely indecisive, he’s always been loyal.

That night, when we went out to dinner, he officially asked me to be his girlfriend. That was August 31st, 2006. Five years later, on the same day, he took me out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I was a nervous wreck; I just knew he was going to propose. I couldn’t decide what to wear or if I’d even say yes.

I mean, marriage? For real?! Getting married was for adults. People who knew how to be in mature, serious relationships. I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, never mind who I wanted to wake up next to.

After we finished eating, I went to the ladies’ room to pee and collect myself. As I washed my hands, I stared at my reflection. This is it, I told myself. When I go back out there, he’s gonna drop to one knee. Practically shaking, I walked back out to our table.

But all he did was pay our check and tip our waiter. Stunned, I followed him out to the parking lot. I’d been so sure. He’d been acting so weird all night. It was our five-year anniversary.

I exhaled and let it go. At least now I could stop being nervous and just enjoy the night.

We got into the car and headed toward the highway. As we drove into the dark night, we talked about things the way we usually did. Just content boyfriend/girlfriend chitchat. Nothing serious or heavy. We were on I-84 when he glanced over at me.

“So you wanna get married?” he asked. It was our inside joke, our thing. We’d talked about doing it eventually. We always said things like “I like you. I might marry you someday.” It was always casual, no pressure.

I responded automatically: “Of course.”

“Okay,” he said. “We have to go to Britt’s. She has the ring.”

I blinked into the night through the windshield. Slowly, I turned toward him in my seat. “Wait, for real?”

He’s always surprising me.

He once made these crazy good New York strip steaks. I hadn’t even known he could cook—not really, anyway. They were the best steaks I’d ever had, which says a lot because that particular cut isn’t the easiest to cook.

I could count a million things I love about him, but I mostly love his sense of humor, the way he cheers me on with my writing, and how good he is with kids. He doesn’t even blink when I get goofy, and sometimes he even joins in. Even when I burn dinner, he eats it without complaint. (Alien.) He’s been kind, patient, and supportive from the moment my arthritis set in, never making me feel bad and always taking care of me. Through years of setbacks and hardships, he’s never left my side and has always been there for me. I never even had to ask.

Like every real couple, we have our ups and downs. Sometimes I want to choke his beard (and do). Sometimes he needs a break from me and my intense personality. At the end of the day, though, we go to bed with kisses and “I love you”s.

He’s my alpha male hero, always taking the wheel when we have somewhere to go—even if his knee is acting up. We’re both stubborn and have that “my way or the highway” mentality, but he is rarely the one to budge. I’ve met my match.

And he’s still a devastatingly good kisser.

Three years ago today we said “I do,” and I’d do it again.

I love you, bearded man.


*He swears we met years before that at my first job, but I honestly don’t remember meeting him. Which he will never let me live down.

Authors Acting Like Assholes

Alliteration! 🙃 Okay, but seriously, I strongly feel that this needs to be addressed.

The publishing community—also known as the lit community—is like a small town. There are two major neighborhoods: the trad suburbs and the indie village. Everyone knows everyone, and you’re often as strong as your acquaintances. So I can understand why some townspeople might feel as if they’re better off not standing up to the bullying selectmen and mayors. But when those prominent figures start vandalizing buildings on Main Street, there are only so many times you can scrub the bricks clean.

I think we’ve seen enough episodes of Authors Behaving Badly. As public figures—yes, even those of us who are prawny and barely make coffee money off our writing—we ought to hold ourselves to certain standards. Siccing our Twitter followers on someone who had a differing opinion or belittling another author’s reading comprehension on a public message board falls miles short of that. As writers, you’d think we would understand the weight of our words and actions.

Yet it happens over and over.

Occasionally, it spawns a series of Twitter threads and blog posts calling out the bad behavior and attempting to correct it. Too often, though, it goes completely ignored—especially if there isn’t a group to support us and back us up. We continue our friendships and business arrangements with authors who repeatedly let their tongues go hurtling out of the yard.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to be associated with someone who purposely walks all over other people.

Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Sometimes our words get jumbled and what we thought sounded right and correctly conveyed our feelings was simply hurtful. We apologize and we move on. We are forgiven and we learn from our mistakes. But I’m not talking about those people.

I’m dismayed and nauseated when I see respectful authors buddying up with authors who have a history of attacking readers and bloggers. My reputation—my business’s brand—is much more valuable to me than thousands of dollars in royalties. I’d rather stay prawny than know I got to the NYT bestseller list because I turned the other cheek while friends were steamrolled. I’ve put my foot down and walked away from seemingly amazing opportunities because I couldn’t stomach the Napoleon-esque, demeaning behavior.

I want more of us to do these things.

What one of us does and says reflects on all of us. Even though it sometimes may seem like everyone out there is an author, we’re actually a very small community. While I’m not arrogant enough to think that we should have a blacklist along the lines of Writer Beware, I do believe more of us should have a little more pride and integrity in our little town.

This shouldn’t be a witch hunt; we’re no better if we start publicly outing people and burning them at the Twitter stake. But maybe if, while we’re strolling down Main Street, we see someone pull out that graffiti can, we can say,

“I see you, I disapprove of your actions, and I will not work with you.”

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

28 on the 28th

28 on the 28th

A photo posted by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on

I woke up at 6:30 this morning for no reason. I tried like hell to fall back asleep, but it just wouldn’t come. Mostly it was because I had to pee, but I also started thinking the second my eyes opened. I tried not to; I stuffed in earbuds and put on my favorite audiobook. Maybe I’ve listened to these books too many times, though, because instead of paying attention to the story, I drifted in this weird half-world of total wakefulness and slight panic.

Just slight.

This morning I feel… pensive. I think that’s the best word to describe it. Otherwise I was going to go with the completely lazy and meaningless “some type of way,” but it’s actually kind of accurate. Yesterday I turned 28 and, even though I realize that’s not that old, it still feels like a turning point.

Like, Holy shit I am a real adult now and I’ve been doing things but still have more things to do and maybe do I want a baby or two because if I wait much longer I’ll be a fossil by the time they’re my age. That kind of peak. All weekend all I’ve been able to think about is how I’ve basically done nothing with my life.

I’m not at all downplaying all nine books I’ve published, nor do I feel like any of my other accomplishments amount to nothing. And I don’t exactly hear the ol’ biological clock ticking. It’s more like the way you feel on the morning of the first day of school after summer has ended: excited, slightly nauseous, and very serious. Playtime is over, but what did I do all summer? And what will I do now? Did that summer even mean anything?

I have no idea what I’m getting at here. This morning I woke up at 6:30 for no reason and it felt like such an adult thing to do. Being childless, I don’t normally feel very adult. I pay my bills and I write books, which is responsibility enough for me. Yesterday I read all about stocks, not because I felt like I should but because I really wanted to. Most terrifyingly, I enjoyed it.

*whispers* What is happening?

The season is changing and so have I. I feel like these past couple years have been a cocoon. I recognize myself but my markings are a little different. Hell, even my bunny birthmark is fading. Last week I had a major epiphany, and I could almost feel the air swishing by from that door closing. This was something that had dragged me down for 12 and 11 years, respectively, and yet within an hour of sitting and thinking, I let it go. That saying about arrows is so true.

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.

-Unknown

None of this feels bad. Going back to that first day of school metaphor, it just feels like I’m walking down the hallway, blindfolded, in a place I’ve never been. It’s different and I have only a tiny idea of what it’s going to be like.

Definitely another nine books (and then nine more, and so on). Possibly tiny humans, as long as I’m reasonably sure I won’t ruin them. And… who knows?

Please tell me someone out there knows what I’m talking about.

Stop Using Rape As An Empty Plot Device

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

A couple years ago, I bought a highly praised NA book that caught me by surprise a little over halfway through. In the book, the main character was dealing with trauma after a horrific accident that took her parents’ and boyfriend’s lives. She takes her little sister and runs away from their uncle’s creepy advances, and settles down out of state. On the surface, her handsome neighbor appears to be the man of her dreams—until she finds out that he was in the passenger seat of the car that killed her loved ones, and he stalked her across the country because he wanted to get to know her in an attempt to make up for the loss. When the twist is revealed, she continues to pursue a relationship with this man instead of being horrified.

Never mind his sick guilt and the coercive relationship and sex. That is No Big Deal. She’s in love and everything is happily ever after, thank you very much.

In another beloved series, the main character is almost raped at every turn when she first arrives in a strange place. Later on her beau is raped in exchange for her safety. Every book in the series continues to use rape as a plot device—even later when their daughter is raped. The only time the trauma is addressed is when her lover is tortured by the demons of the act and she must rescue him.

Today I started reading another popular book. There was no mention of the heroine being sexually assaulted in the blurb, nor a warning in the front matter, yet in the prologue she discovers in detail that she has been date raped.

I would’ve slammed the book shut if it weren’t on my iPad.

I’ve also read countless books where the heroine is almost raped by some guy and the hero rescues her, the event bringing them closer together and serving as a warm and fuzzy catalyst for their relationship. It happens so often, I should be desensitized to it. Instead, I’m pissed.

There are so many other ways to advance plot, kick off a romance, or highlight human evil. Yet so many storytellers rely on sexual assault as a crutch. I guess it’s no big deal if you’ve never been raped or attacked, but when it comes out of nowhere, with no warning, it can be extremely triggering for the 1 in 4 women who have been sexually assaulted (not to mention the countless women and men who never report).

When used cheaply and disposed of, it contributes directly to rape culture.

If it absolutely must happen in your book, give victims a one-line heads up somewhere in your blurb:

Still recovering from date rape on her prom night, years later Bettie is determined not to let anyone in.

Or stick a bold or highlighted trigger warning in your foreword or in the product description:

Please note that this story contains graphic depictions of sexual assault. Read at your own discretion.

Some people get really nasty about trigger warnings, griping that they shouldn’t have to be “PC” and “cater to everyone.”

Look, there are just some things that are universally triggering. Rape is one of them. I wish I’d known that the rape scene in I Spit On Your Grave was extremely violent, detailed, and lasted about 20 minutes. Since it’s a revenge thriller, I was willing to deal with a short scene knowing that the main character was going to make those motherfuckers pay. But I had no idea it was going to be so excruciating and intense.

Nor did I realize that the Outlander series had so much damn rape stuffed into it. Plenty of people I know read that book before I did. Some of them even knew about my history. But not a single person said to me, “Hey, just so you’re aware…”

People who have lost loved ones to murder can choose to avoid murder mysteries, horror, and thriller entertainment because those are genres widely understood to contain at least a mention of violence. Exactly nothing about romance implies “Hey, this probably has rape in it because it’s a love story.”

If sexual assault is essential to your story—like the #ownvoices standalone I’ve been working on—have a fucking heart. At least mention it somewhere in your blurb so that every 1 in 4 of your readers isn’t taken by surprise and sent into a downward spiral of flashbacks. If it’s a small part of the story—such as a brief mention—a short trigger warning at the beginning is plenty.

When in doubt, stick to the do no harm rule.