Happy New Year! (and a poem)

I always feel quiet and thoughtful this time of year. Right now it’s so cold here that even my snow-tunneling puppy doesn’t want to go outside. I just want as much time as possible sharing hot chocolate with my wife and hiding under the covers. It’s been a hard year, but also one I’m proud of. This is a poem I wrote for New Year’s five years ago, when my wife and I were in a long-distance relationship and I was just realizing that my migraines weren’t going to go away. 


I am a superstitious woman.
It’s what happens to some of us
when all we can say is,
I hope nothing crashes today
what happens when we are tired
and I am so tired.

(You back out through doors
you build up every cairn you pass
when you wake up at night you whisper prayers
you know you’re not making the rules
you try to show good intent.)

Living is like any other hobby:
you get out of it as much as you put in,
enrollment fees are killer,
and sometimes,
even if you do everything just right,
you break your back and can’t walk
for six months
if you’re lucky.

(I don’t look too long at things I want,
I don’t draw attention to beauty.
I have standards and they are all
keep your mouth shut.
I don’t say this girl is precious to me
like fresh eggs in the dead of winter,
that seeing her I might not starve.)

There are rules to these games,
not because anyone cares if you’re kind
smart lovely intoxicating. It’s just that
like a collision, like collusion
fate’s looking to happen to someone
and if you play along sometimes
maybe it won’t be you.

(But I still hope this year will be better
if I just greet it with strength and deference.
I believe that, though I heard no promises,
she will be there when I reach out.
When I am scared I still say look,
there is this girl who is precious to me
and my love for her is true as a dozen eggs.)

Movie Night: All About E (2015)

Welcome to Movie Night, where we rate movies entirely on how great the lesbian sex scenes are (so great) and whether the dog survives the movie (yes!!!).


It would be really easy to write a smug, cynical review of this movie. It has five out of ten stars on IMDB right now; much of the story is told in the form of awkward, dreamy flashbacks that seemed ripped from either an episode of The L Word or your last argument with your girlfriend; and while LGBTQ movies are almost always low-budget indie affairs, All About E is also an action flick, and suffers more from the technical limitations than other genres might.

That review would be easy and would miss out on the most important thing about this movie, which is that I loved it. Unrepentantly, with a full understanding of all of its flaws. It was a blast, it was sexy and romantic, the overarching drama was genuinely scary but not upsetting, and it contained one of the only lesbian sex scenes I have ever seen in a movie that made visual sense.

We chose All About E, an Australian road trip movie about a magnetic ne’er-do-well DJ, E (Mandahla Rose), her gay best friend, Matt (Brett Rogers), and her sweet, practical ex, Trish (Julie Billington), on a movie night when we didn’t want anything too depressing. Or thought-provoking. Honestly, the one-sentence Netflix summary made it sound like an absolute trainwreck, and that was great for us.

Then the movie started.

We enter a huge, loud, extremely gay Australian nightclub. People are dancing and shouting for E, an extremely successful DJ who will be coming on to perform any minute now. “Where is she?” the owner asks.

Cut to the bathroom. “Oh my God,” I said. “They’re starting with a make-out scene.”

“Uh-huh,” my beautiful wife, B, said.

It’s not a make-out scene. After enough smooching to satisfy but certainly not as much as I would have happily watched, E sits down on the gay club toilet and bangs this girl, and then she runs back out and performs.

It’s impossible to talk about All About E without talking about the incredible sexual presence Mandahla Rose puts into the main character. She’s beautiful, of course, but it’s a cop-out to say so. E is reckless and physical in a way that we only occasionally get to see with female characters. She bounces around the stage, jumps out of a car to go beat somebod(ies) up, and carries the momentum of the story with a very convincing energy. Much of the love story in All About E hinges on the idea that Trish is a practical, capable woman who doesn’t want to be jerked around but can’t help herself because she’d rather smooch this girl than live a quiet, drama-free existence.

That’s a really bold statement. It’s a really bold plot point. We all have our own levels of risk tolerance, but the list of people for whom I would cheerfully put myself and my dog in the path of some kind of angry organized crime killer dude (it’s never really specified) for sex is short. You need a really convincing person to play a character like that, and Rose does a good job. When they got back together, I felt a little bit worried for Trish… but also definitely jealous.

The plot can be spotty, and if you’re more worried about the logistics of how and why a story is happening than you are about LESBIANS and SMOOCHING and AUSTRALIA, that may be a problem for you. This definitely seems to be one of the things that is divided along sexual orientation lines. B and I didn’t care; it’s certainly no messier than DEBS. And I’m hesitant to criticize anyone who’s making gay indie movies on their plots. People need to come up through the ranks somehow, and as a viewer, I’d rather they do it making imperfect gay movies on a shoestring budget than sitting in a room with half a dozen other pros writing about straight people. If one of my friends came to me with this script, I think I would have said that she needed to trust herself more, spend a little less time trying to explain what happened between E and Trish before the movie started. But I can’t really complain, because I didn’t mind.

In looking over other people’s discussion of this movie, I saw some people who said that they felt like E was spoiled, selfish, and manipulative – one person went as far as to say “emotionally abusive” – and that they didn’t understand why the other characters in the movie put up with her. I want to address this specifically, because this is the sort of complaint which would keep me from watching a film I was considering.

Frankly, I don’t see it. There’s an incredible balancing act here between the pressures of E’s life in the closet, and the pressures created by her making bad choices, and it rang very true to me. E is often cruel to the other people in her life, and when she fights with her friends, her family, and Trish about her decision not to tell her parents, it gets nasty quickly. (“You’re a coward for not telling your family about me” – yikes. I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that conversation.)

I can’t help but wonder how much of the tendency to write E off as having used up all her chances is related to her race, her sexual orientation, and her gender presentation. Frankly, I have a have a hard time imagining that anyone would have this reaction if E had been played by Erika Linder. Or Cate Blanchett. Or Robert Pattinson. (And even Gugu Mbatha-raw, who plays in my opinion a similar but very femme’d up role in the San Junipero episode from Black Mirror, seems to have evaded such criticism.) The Strong, Silent Bad Boy Who Secretly Just Wants You To Love Him is such a cultural trope – regardless of what our opinions on that trope may be – that I’m shocked to see people missing it when they see E.

Unless, of course, we just refuse to believe that a butch-y Lebanese lesbian can ever redeem herself after breaking a quiet white girl’s heart.



Bechdel pass: We have reached the moment that lesbians once imagined in The Rule: I’m not even sure that there is a single conversation between two men which is not about a woman.

Body count: Eh, nobody we care about, nobody gay, nobody on-screen. And the dog lives!

Was it a phase? Nope!

Most redeeming feature: Great canoodling, JULIE BILLINGTON ON A TRACTOR

Recommended for: Netflix and chill? Ice cream and chill?

Where have you been?

Heyyyy internet, it’s been a while! I had to set down my writing career for a while in order to be a real life person, and I am so excited to be back. It’s a beautiful, thunderstormy summer here in the charming middle of nowhere, New York, and I’ve got a lot planned.

What in the world was I up to?

  • I stepped back from my day job, so I am now writing (and taking classes) full-time. My boss ordered me to spend at least two weeks relaxing, so I immediately ignored that.
  • I got married! I’m a wife! I have it on very good authority that I was the most beautiful bride in the entire history of the world, that I had the best ceremony, and that everyone present was enchanted by the timeless love that my wife and I have for each other. My wife wrote me a love letter and made vegetarian s’mores with her bridal party; I made sure our desserts would be peanut allergy-friendly and then fell dead asleep to the sounds of my bridal party playing board games.
  • We went on a honeymoon to Iceland, where we did not eat any endangered animals but we did see a lot of tiny museums and drink a lot of good hot chocolate. We skipped all of the traditional tourist destinations, which has been a great disappointment to nearly everyone since we’ve returned. (“Oh, my sister went to the Blue Lagoon!” “That’s great! We had a wonderful time at the nonsense museum!”)
  • I got stitches for the first time in my adult life… when I cut my hand opening the beautiful chef’s knife a dear friend gave us for our wedding. It’s very sharp. It cuts beautifully. The emergency room staff were all amused. My wife says a prayer every time I take it out of its case.
  • I remembered, occasionally, that it would be a good idea for me to write, and then I 100% didn’t.

So what’s next?

  • I’m finishing up another novel, tentatively titled Reckless Entanglement, a lesbian coming of age story set in rural Wisconsin just after the end of the world. DJ is a pragmatic n’ere-do-well from Las Vegas (no, not that one) whose bad girl past and ability to fix practically anything have served her well in the shifting landscape of her adulthood. Adrian is sweet and shy, a hard-working, bookish girl who will be anyone to survive. This one is tense and sexy and very gay, and it’s such a joy to write. Sign up here to get sneak peeks and a chance to win a free copy before it’s released!
  • I have a few short stories I’ve got finished and am hoping to make available to you shortly. By which I mean that I am hanging out and partying in the submissions process. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a big-shot editor, this is a great chance to offer me cash money in exchange for the best disabled lesbian vampire story you’ve never read.
  • Once Reckless Entanglement is complete, I’ll be ready to start the sequel to Eelgrass. (Working title: And Then Things Got Worse.) This one takes place on dry land, and let me tell you, if you ever have the choice between writing a novel in which all the characters are FLOATING IN THE OPEN OCEAN and one in which they’re not, pick “not.”
  • Writing as a day job gives me more time to devote myself to the business, which I need and appreciate! Expect more process and decision-making posts.

Extra Credit: If you were a character in Eelgrass, what would you be?

If you were a character in my lesbian selkie novel, Eelgrass, would you be a shape-shifting selkie, a ferocious fishwife, a heroic half-selkie, or a humanitarian human?

Take this quiz to find out!

It's your first date with a cute seaperson. What's for dinner?

Your timeless lesbian accessory is...

Your dorky high school hobby was...

If you were a superhero, your weapon of choice would be...

Some day, you'd love to...

Nothing is worse than...

Your go-to pick-up line is...

Gay and Happy: Lesbian Engagement Photos

We picked our wedding photographer, the unsinkable Danielle Norris-Gardner of Salty Raven Photography, almost entirely for her flexibility. We met her at a friend’s wedding, a sweet, intimate affair to be held in a beautiful rock garden in a beautiful Massachusetts state park.

Then, our friends’ scheduled photographer had to drop out days before the wedding. It rained, the nasty cold drizzle kind of rain that isn’t ever going away. And the park announced, I am sure very apologetically, that they had accidentally double-booked our friends’ rain location, and would a partially enclosed porch suffice?

Fortunately, it was a lovely partially enclosed porch, and a lovely wedding. And we were very impressed by the way that Danielle stepped up to the role of pinch hit photographer with multiple location changes in the rain. She was one of the most low-pressure people we’d ever met; I imagined that probably my wedding dress could catch fire and she would find a way to convince us all that it was romantic serendipity.

We knew that photography was important to us before we got engaged. My dad has always been into photography, and we’ve known enough newlyweds with photographer horror stories to put us off the idea of skimping there. “Decent pictures” would probably have been somewhere between “not getting jilted at the altar” and “not giving all of the guests food poisoning” in our list of priorities, even if we’d been a straight couple.

B: Our love is like a weed, you can try to kill it, but it’ll just keep coming back.
T: At least it’s not like weed, anymore: legal in five states!

But, of course, we’re not. And somehow, by the time we got engaged, we’d been together six years, almost all of it out to almost everyone in our lives, with almost no photographic evidence. There were a few blurry pictures from Second Chance Prom, made uncomfortable by the memory of very quickly changing our facebook privacy settings because we weren’t out yet, and hadn’t noticed the pictures being taken. A few bad selfies, but neither of us are selfie people. Plenty of group photos. And a framed portrait on our kitchen counter from a cruise my grandparents took us on a few years back – I’m in a flowing repurposed bridesmaid dress, and B’s in a vest that doesn’t quite fit, and we look a little bit like we’re at Prom and my parents are watching where she puts her hands.

So taking engagement photos meant a lot, perhaps especially because it seemed so frivolous. People like to accuse weddings of being the ultimate extravagances, but a lot of the expenses really can’t be avoided. If you believe in elaborate ceremonies committing you to the person you love for the rest of your life in front of your families, God, and community – which, being lesbians from Irish Catholic families, maybe it’s no surprise we do – well, you need a place to have it. And you’d shame yourself if anyone went hungry. And once everyone’s had dinner and three or four drinks, they’re gonna want to either dance or fight, so you have to set up a dance floor to guide them into the right choice.

Engagement photos were something that we did for us, because we wanted to.

I had assumed that we were long past any sort of insecurities about the validity of our relationship (after all, I had named her the beneficiary of my death benefits) but being engayged made everything we did feel political in a way that we hadn’t experienced in a long time. Most people had known what I meant when I talked about my girlfriend, but as the straight-passing one, I realized that I could spend a really long time talking about my engagement and wedding planning before people realized my fiancée was a woman. And life had been hard, in that stark romantic way where you’re blissfully in love and spend your days eating cheese and looking dreamily into each other’s eyes in between navigating illness, unemployment, and all of the relationship travails that take place when you somehow convince your beautiful fiancée to move halfway across the country to live with your entire family in a village the size of a thumb tack.

We wanted to set some time aside to have fun, to be excited about wedding planning instead of overwhelmed. And I believe in the power of a narrative. I wanted to be able to look at our photos and say: look, we love each other so much, and everything else will come with time.

And it worked. (My favorite moment was when I took out my purse to pay for our ice cream, and Danielle was like, oh, no, it’s on me. If your photographer doesn’t love you enough to buy you lavender-blueberry ice cream, maybe you should hire mine.) We goofed off and had fun in Scenic New England, and we couldn’t stop smiling even later that night when we were… changing a flat tire in the dark outside a cemetery in Scenic New England. Getting pulled over because B was driving so carefully down the dark windy unfamiliar Scenic New England roads with a spare tire at one A.M. that the police officer thought she might be drunk (no) or lost (no comment) was only a slight buzzkill. One that inspired me to buy a GPS.

And when I look at the pictures, I don’t worry about whether my nose is (objectively) huge. I think: wow, we’re so happy.

Danielle didn’t ask me to write this post, but I did get permission to use her pictures, and I have to recommend her without reservations. I don’t know if it’s possible for her to love you as much as she loves us, but she’s unbelievably sweet and professional, so I’m sure she’ll fake it. You can find her blog post about this engagement session here. (It has more pictures!)

I’d also like to thank B, my fiancée, who selected and arranged the images in this post. I asked her to choose four or five; she picked me up for lunch and said, “Well, I was able to whittle them down to twenty-nine.” 

Sharon Omi and George Takei sit on a bench in the 2014 movie "Eat With Me."

Movie Night: Eat With Me (2014)

Welcome to movie night, where we scour the menus and order up entrees we think you might like. This week, we’re stopping over by Netflix for some takeout…

The cover art for the movie "Eat With Me."

Eat With Me is a low-key movie of the sort you’ve seen a lot of if you watch indie flicks often, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Elliot is an emotionally distant, unsuccessful restaurateur reaching the point in his life where he doesn’t have a lot of excuses left for his inability to commit, his inability to keep his business going, and his tendency to disappoint everyone in his life. His estranged mother, Emma, has done everything right by her own standards and is still deeply unsatisfied with her life. One of the movie’s opening scenes has her discarding her wedding ring like scratching at a rash. When is she going back? She doesn’t know, she doesn’t want to talk about it, and Elliot’s confusion at her reappearance in his life overshadows any excitement he might feel about rekindling their relationship. 

This was part of our slow-but-steady effort to watch all of Netflix’s gay movies, made slower and less steady by my burning desire to watch Eating Out: Band Camp and B’s desire to not. We were looking for something relatively light, and Eat With Me seemed both cute and, B noted, “Maybe kind of like Saving Face?” (It’s impossible not to compare the two movies: there aren’t many options in the gay Chinese kids and their moms having feelings genre.) 

Our feelings: I enjoyed this movie while we were watching it, but it didn’t make an incredibly strong impression over the long term. It’s often hard to tell how a low-profile gay movie is going to turn out – is it a romance? Is it a thoughtful meditation on the human experience? Is it going to be sweet or cathartic, or are you going to end up sitting there thinking, “Well, that’s a kind and meaningful prediction of how my life is going to turn out”?

Eat With Me isn’t a romance, but it has a sweet romantic subplot, and graphic enough sex scenes to either be awkward or satisfying, depending on your feelings about dudes doin’ it on your screen. It’s really about Elliot and his mother working things out between them, which is sometimes reassuring and sometimes painful. B held her breath during the scenes where they talk about his orientation, made perhaps especially poignant by their mutual sense that they aren’t trying to hurt each other and this shouldn’t be so hard. And in the scene that stuck out to me most, Elliot cooks dinner specifically for his mother, only for us to learn why his restaurant is failing miserably: the food is not very good. As happy as I was to see Elliot come to terms with his mom and start smooching cute boys, I was at least as excited when he started cooking food that people actually wanted to eat.


Bechdel pass: With enthusiasm! For a movie that is nominally about a gay man and his mom, Eat With Me allows a lot of time for Emma to process and get into trouble with bad-girl-next-door Maureen.

Body count: Zero! Well, possibly a few relationships we didn’t care about anyway.

Was it a phase? Definitively no!

Most redeeming feature: George Takei’s cameo as… himself, fairy godmother.

Recommended for: Low-key Netflix and chill with your favorite indie food snob.

Reader Request: Terrible Trunk Tales?

Hey Tori,
You claim that Eelgrass is your first novel, but I don’t believe you. Do you have any stories about your embarrassing trunk novels?

Well, ignoring how cruel it is to drag my past out into the light… you’re kind of right.

Eelgrass is only my second (third?) completed novel. I’ve been writing forever, and when I was unbelievably tiny, I was determined to be first the Youngest Published Novelist, then the Youngest Bestseller, and so on. There was a period of my life marked by starting a new notebook, writing a beautiful cover page, and then going immediately to the back for a self-portrait and an About the Author. “Tori was inspired to write Sapphire’s Story, a tale about the hopes, dreams, and heartbreaks of a 9-year-old girl growing up in New York City, by the lack of books written for and by 9-year-olds.”

“Oh, yes,” my endlessly supportive fiancée, B, says. “That extremely valuable nine-year-old #ownvoices fiction.”

There were, in retrospect, a lot of fun ideas and a lot of terrifying ones. The diary of a girl much like Eliza Thornberry, who travels with her family all the time and is homeschooled and falls desperately in love, I think, with some pretty Parisian high school girl. A portal fantasy, shamelessly stealing every idea I could from Young Wizards and Heralds of Valdemar, in which a sad bullied fifth grader switches places with a princess. A horrifying epistolary sci fi in which, at the end of the world, rational adults make the inexplicable decision to send twenty children under the age of thirteen, by themselves, to go colonize a distant planet and repopulate the human race. (I can only imagine my earnest ten-year-old face, “It’s biologically possible to start having children at thirteen, you know,” while all of the adults around me sobbed into their pillows and, I don’t know, considered running away to the Yukon to spend the rest of their lives in blessed solitude.)

At about twelve, I developed a modicum of self-awareness, by which I mean that I realized that I was no longer young enough to be notable on those grounds alone, but still so young that, ultimately, I wrote like a kid and would probably be embarrassed by any success I managed to achieve.

So while I never stopped writing, I stopped worrying as much about trying to Complete A Novel. I participated in NaNoWriMo every year, and started winning but not generally finishing. (A score of princesses at finishing school get bored, sneak out the castle gates using a combination of bedsheets and Rapunzelry, and go on adventures and/or fall in lesbians. A freshman at a highly competitive high school for investigative journalism is initiated into a brilliant and glamorous clique whose members commit blood sacrifices in exchange for the ability to read minds. A ne’er-do-well discovers that the beautiful young woman he’s been hooking up with on his uncle’s yacht has the ability to alter reality… and really wants to watch some people die.)

And then I turned 17 and (slowly, agonizingly, over the course of about two years) wrote my first novel.

It was, to put it simply, horrible, and it was mostly because I listened to my insecurities instead of my instincts. I started with a character I had only been writing for a while, but wanted to know more about: a sullen, reserved, brilliant doctor who specializes in treating people who aren’t human. (This is, I still think, a fascinating and under-explored direction for SFF.)

She came out of a lot of messy feelings I had about my life, as many novels do. I had just dropped out of college as a failed Biochemistry major, and was trying to come to terms with the reality that not only wasn’t I going to be a doctor, but I probably would have been miserable if I’d succeeded. It was nice to write about a doctor who was, in fact, deeply unhappy, but I also loved the speculative elements. What aspects of patient care would change if your patients were not, strictly speaking, human? In a world where people of other species are marginalized, what types of people would choose this specialty? How frustrating would it be to be interested in nonhuman care for the variety and challenge, when many of your colleagues were more interested in the low expectations and competition?

Then I told myself, “Even fantasy readers do not want to read a novel about a doctor navigating the medical needs of twelve different species. It’s cliché. It’s juvenile. They’ll be able to tell you came up with half of this mythology when you were eleven. Stop looking at that True Blood gifset on tumblr and go write the kind of novel that people might actually want to read.”

The resulting novel was a mess. I excised the speculative elements entirely, and stretched the remaining aspects of my main character across a narrative structure in basically the same way that you might pin a dissected animal. You couldn’t tell that it was set in present-day Virginia, much less what that might be like. I learned a lot from that novel about the way that a story feels, and how a novel comes together. But Eelgrass was the novel where I remembered to be brave, and that you’re supposed to have fun.


Hi all! I’m experimenting with notes at the end of my blog posts; let’s see how this goes! I received a wonderful review for Eelgrass from A.M. Leibowitz on their blog here. Go check it out!

Reader Request: What do you like to read?

This month’s Reader Request comes from my extremely helpful and supportive fiancee, B. If you’d like your question answered in a future edition of Reader Request, hit me up!

What kind of books do you like to read?

I was lucky enough that I grew up with shelves and shelves full of books in the house, a family who was enthusiastic about reading, and a lot of variety. I never really encountered the disdain for genre fiction that a lot of people talk about overcoming. My mom reads serial killer murder mysteries to feel better about her life; my dad went through so many category romances that I remember an extra bookshelf of headstrong Texans and aloof doctors and lovers on the run had to be squeezed into the bedroom I shared with my brother. And everyone read science fiction and fantasy.

So I grew up on a lot of Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Laurie Halse Anderson, Patricia C. Wrede, and Orson Scott Card (which, yes, was an abrupt and unpleasant awakening). I am probably singlehandedly responsible for holding back cover design twenty years, because in my heart there is nothing more exciting than a mid-90s DAW paperback cover with, like, a lovingly embossed illustration of a woman in plate armor atop a rearing, bloodied horse.

My comfort food, and in my opinion the best narrative possible, is “[Ideally a lesbian] goes on a harrowing adventure and along the way finds life-changing true love.” When I first developed intractable migraines and spent about two years bedridden with the attention span of a gnat, I checked out Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters books two at a time from the library.

(This was also the time in my life when I got my hands on a copy of Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword and, with the enthusiasm of every small gay teenager who spends the first 100 pages of a book saying “Don’t get your hopes up, they’re definitely straight” and then finds out she’s wrong, typed up at least a 10,000 word passage by hand so that I could force my then-girlfriend now-fiancée to read it immediately and have feelings with me.)

My favorite book, the one I read the way that my brother used to read The Art of War every day, is Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. My copy assures us that it is “as fine a novel as the subcontinent has produced in recent years,” which is unbelievably faint praise, and “an expression of liberation not to be missed,” which got B to read it because Alice Walker said so. It’s a brilliant work of feminism and anti-colonialism, a fascinating study of the women in a family and their contrasting strategies for surviving oppression, and a great litmus test for a stranger’s skill at literary analysis. If anyone ever tells you that Nervous Conditions is a heartwarming, inspirational tale of a girl who succeeds despite the odds, you can safely assume that anything else they say is equally misbegotten.

I grew up very much in the world of fanfiction, and it took me a while (and a lot of really good books) to start to feel like I could write anything I wanted, no matter how silly or gay or self-indulgent, and have it still be “real.” There was a huge difference in my head between the Real fiction I was trying to write (character-driven, contemplative pieces with demographics as close to Real Life as possible and only respectable speculative elements, whatever that means) and the type of storyline that, honestly, I preferred to read – you know, “A decade after finalizing their divorce, Kirk and Spock are forced to work together on a diplomatic mission to save their old crew – but when an administrative mistake forces them to live as man and husband, will the power of their emotions compromise the rescue?”

I don’t think I realized I could do both until I was reading a certain book, which had come highly recommended and which nobody had warned me had so much sex. I looked up from a particular passage, which was full of claws and shadows and a lot of canoodling, and read it aloud to B. “Could I do that?” I asked.

She frowned. I think she was still getting over the claws. “Uh, yeah, if you really wanted.”

Extra Credit: Choosing a coming out narrative in Eelgrass

When I started writing Eelgrass, my first novel, I planned that the main lesbian romance would be a surprise to no one, least of all the main character, Efa.

“She’s never really been in a relationship before,” I remember telling my mom, feeling very smug, “but it’s not going to be a huge surprise when she ends up with another woman.”

My mom says that she never mistook me for straight, but certainly it was clear after my kindergarten teacher made me cry by telling me I couldn’t grow up to marry a girl. It took me a few years longer. By the time I was ten, I had fallen in love with yet another female best friend, written the requisite six weeks of embarrassing poetry, and come out to my entire school. After a few more years of low-key self-doubt every time I had a new crush, I concluded that “bisexual” was good enough and stopped worrying. I think I was thirteen.

I’ve always known that, thanks to a confluence of factors ranging from “a very cool family” to “the Upper West Side of Manhattan circa ’04,” I figured myself out fairly quickly and easily. But it always seemed like the fictional characters I knew – in such classic works as Magic’s Pawn and But I’m A Cheerleader – took a really long time to think it over and panic. Or they were a character in RENT, in which case being gay was an important backstory for horrible tragedy.

So I was really excited to write a story where it was no big deal. Mermaids! Selkies! Emotionally healthy lesbians!

And then I realized that I was writing a story about a woman whose best friend was kidnapped and forced into marriage to a stranger. A woman who couldn’t find anyone to agree with her that this was a problem. “Oh,” I said. “This is a story about rape culture.”

When Eelgrass starts, Efa has bought into her society’s gender roles her entire life. Being a good friend, daughter, and sister suits her. Even when she experiences conflicts between who she is and what other people want from her, she tends not to want to (bad joke alert) make waves. We all know these people. If she didn’t need to save her best friend, she would have ended up in her eighties, teaching a great-grandchild to dig up clams and saying things like, “Well, of course I loved your grandfather, but I don’t know that I was ever really in love with him.”

I wasn’t writing about the sort of woman who would fall in love with a beautiful she-beast from the depths and immediately start reading Alison Bechdel, like, uh, I did. Efa’s more likely to panic over what her mother will think, and is it worse that this monster thinks it’s morally right (probably) to cut open someone’s belly and guzzle their innards, or that she’s a girl?

It didn’t quite turn into the forty pages of beleaguered angst that I was afraid of writing, but Efa’s story of glamorous lesbian self-discovery changed a lot to fit the rest of the book. And I’m still not (totally) sure how to tread the line between magical, bedazzling coming out stories and characters who have been sure of themselves for what seems like ever.

But hey, at least nowadays we can have fun figuring out who we are.

Gay & Happy: Reflecting on 2016

The Monday after the Orlando Pulse shooting, my fiancée and I went to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City because we didn’t know what else to do. I left work early, my coworkers confused (“Was someone you know there?”) but sympathetic. We drove four and a half hours to the Lincoln tunnel, had at least two sobbing fights about the horror that is city driving, and wondered if we were being selfish or silly for going to all that trouble.

I don’t think we could have done anything else. Sometimes things happen that are so horrible, you can’t do anything but put on a clean shirt and go to the funeral.

As it started to seem like the whole world had agreed that 2016 was the worst! year on record, it was hard to disagree. I was tired. I remembered walking up the sidewalk to the vigil, arm in arm with my fiancée, looking for the friend we were meeting. Thinking: OK, she’ll be the short white femme looking serious. Her hair’s probably still spiky and bleached. Hopefully she’ll see us first and wave.

We found each other and hugged – what do you say? When your grandmother dies, you tell your cousins, “It’s so good to see you again – if only there were better circumstances.” But ‘circumstances’ felt like one hell of a euphemism. I think I remember saying, “I’m so glad you’re safe” over and over again.

We were an angry crowd that night, hard to impress. We hissed when pedestrians crossed over the chalk memorial in the center of the park. We chanted over everyone who tried to talk. It was the kind of anger that can’t be placated, the way that smoke stays in the walls of a house ages after a fire, and on warm days the smell seems to billow out.

In a lot of ways, the whole year felt like that. There would be news of something else awful, and then the rush – now routine – to reach out and check in with each other. I remember saying “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” and having friends and relatives, people who aren’t out to anyone yet and married couples with children, message me to ask, “How are you doing?”

It sucked. We must have loved each other so much to do it.