On Becoming Me (An Intro)

“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 52

I already know I’ll regret setting all down in writing, attached to my face and name. But I’m doing it anyway because I’m sick and tired of folding myself back up into the box I was born into, of swallowing my heart and mind just because what I feel and think isn’t palatable. This is my “barbaric yawp.”

August 2020: I’d just spent two long months revamping my entire website in anticipation of the publication of the first chapter of my novel, Death Rattle. This would be my third professional creative publication, and I was hoping to impress the agents I was querying at the time. Possibility was vibrating in my veins, and I was so damn proud of my shiny new site that I decided to show it off. Like the goody-two-shoes firstborn ever in need of validation, I showed my mother. I pulled my site up on my iPad and handed it to my mom. She sat and stared in silence for a long time at my header (below).

Screenshot of the home page, featuring a typewriter and the text, “Kristen Roedel: Author of queer contemporary fiction”

The only thing she said was, “Did you have to write ‘Author of queer contemporary fiction’ for the world to see?”

Let’s take a moment of silence for the pride and joy I’d taken in my gorgeous new site. And then another for what I thought was slowly becoming an open and understanding relationship between me and my mother following her cancer diagnosis in 2017.

As I write this, I’ve got the same heaviness in my chest, the same shame in my heart that I had at that moment. This was another of the many instances she made her discomfort with my queerness known, which I’ve written about at length. I suspect she would’ve had less of a problem with the “advertisement” of my queerness had the descriptor not followed my legal name–a direct connection back to her.

“Yes,” I told her. “Because I am a queer writer of queer contemporary fiction.”

Her disapproving sigh awkwardly ended the conversation.

That night, I went home and added “QUEER” and rainbows to all my social media bios. Her desire for silence made me want to scream it louder. It was an echo back to the time she discovered through a family member that I’d come out on Facebook for National Coming Out Day and scolded me–first for telling others before I told her and then for telling the world that I was “gay” (she still hates “lesbian” to this day). She begged me to take the post down. She’d taken my euphoric moment of metamorphosis and squashed it.

She’s not the only family member who’s taken issue with my very out-and-proud stance on social media. I’ve heard through the grapevine that “being gay is [my] only personality trait.” More on that another day.

Since the incident, I’ve thought of eliminating “queer” from my site header. I know there’s a diversity “trend” in publishing that’s just waiting to eat me up and spit me out. But I literally write queer contemporary fiction. Why would I drop that from my tagline other than to appease my mother? No, fuck that, I thought. I’m keeping “queer.”

It’s become increasingly important to me, as an almost 30-year-old individual, to assert my individuality as though I am still a defiant teenager. It’s not that I want to throw my identity in their faces or make them uncomfortable (though their discomfort is a big part of the problem). I just want to be seen, heard, understood. Not thrust back into the closet because my parents are uncomfortable telling people that I married a woman–that they refuse to even utter the word “wife.” It’s not a matter of demanding that they come out on my behalf to everyone they meet. Rather, it’s a matter of not being silenced, of not being botched and spliced in such a way so as to omit my queer details.

As I sit here and write, I think about how they’ll one day talk about the children my wife and I wish to have–to strangers, to our own estranged families–whether we’ll ever be spoken of at all, whether they’ll even tell their family we’re having children together, whether I’ll just disappear into the ether like I never existed. These thoughts make me want to scream even louder.

I label myself because I run the risk of disappearing, of passing for straight. (Well, maybe not anymore now that I’ve got my gay wings…IYKYK). I label myself because my identity shapes the way I walk through and perceive the world. I label myself because I refuse to be erased, forgotten. I label myself because I walked through life for so long without others like me. I want to be easily identified so others like me can find me, talk to me, stay visible with me.

This blog series, which I’m calling “On Becoming,” is selfish. I needed a place to set down all these horrible feelings swirling inside me–the anger, the jealousy, the feeling of being shortchanged. But it’s my hope that someone reads these and feels seen, heard, validated for feeling the way they feel. It’s also my hope that if you are unlike me that you learn something about what it means to be queer, at least how I experience it.

I am woman. Hear my bleeding, barbaric queer YAWP.

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