Carolyn is a writer from the Jersey Shore currently living her best East-Coast-transplant life in Denver. She’s had a number of short fiction works published by small press publications and podcasts, including Mad Scientist Journal and the NoSleep Podcast. You can read/listen to some of her work online at http://CarolynADrake.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Carolyn_A_Drake.
SuckMy***7: A Ghost Story:
All Dexter-the-dead-guy wants is to watch his favorite TV show; all Sam-the-living-guy wants is Dexter.
“I identify as queer.” That’s how I present myself in query letters when qualifying why my novel with a demisexual-bisexual protagonist is an #OwnVoices work. “Queer” is most commonly defined as being an “umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgendered.” That’s pretty broad, right? And yet, when comparing my queer-identifying self to a fictional character with a narrow, definitive LGBTQA+ label, I feel…disingenuous. Here’s how I got there.
In the third grade, a boy named Billy announced that he “like-liked” someone, but was too bashful to say who. My classmates tried to solve this mystery by badgering him with questions like, “Are they a fast runner?” “What’s their favorite color?” “Are they really tall?” You know. The important stuff. Billy said: “She likes Power Rangers,” or something similar. In response, I exclaimed: “Aha!”—Yeah, I read a lot of Nancy Drew as a kid. — “Aha! You said ‘she,’ so now we know they’re a girl!” All the kids screamed with laughter. Billy suddenly cringed and looked embarrassed. Someone high-fived me and said, “Good one!” I forced a smile and a laugh, not understanding why my observance of a clue to the identity of the crush was making everyone jeer at Billy until the poor kid ran away to hide under the jungle gym. I got the message that day: 1) Not everyone likes both boys and girls, and 2) Liking the same gender as you marks you for ridicule. There were other incidents over the years that reinforced this message, and each incident drove me further and further into denial that I was attracted to women the same way that I was attracted to men. By the time I befriended an openly bisexual woman and accepted the fact that, yeah, that’s probably what I am too, I was in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man. When he proposed and I accepted, I shrugged and figured that was the end of it. Who needed to know that I liked girls as well as boys? My sexuality wasn’t relevant. It was no one’s business but my own. So in the closet I stayed, all the way up until I drunkenly outed myself at – you want to fucking know where? – my own bachelorette party! Yup, that’s right. While tipsily tripping down South Street in a Bride-to-Be sash, I spotted a lovely woman in a very short skirt, and I blurted out this exquisite sonnet: “Not gonna lie, I’m kinda bi.” My childhood best friend was directly beside me and, to my staggering surprise, ecstatically yelled: “Me too!” We bonded that night over how growing up in a small conservative town made us both repress our sexuality until we were safely outside of it. Oh, and we had this heart-to-heart while she held my hair back in a bar bathroom so I could puke between gems such as, “Better out than in!” while doing my best Shrek impression. I’m an artist.
“He’s hot,” a friend said. I turned to look where he was pointing and spotted a Michael Phelps-esq dude – tall with muscular limbs, broad shoulders, and a square jaw – standing in a speedo on the other side of the High School swimming pool. “Don’t you want to just jump him?” “Eh…” I shrugged. “He has impressive abs.” My friend stared at me. “Are you a lesbian?” He asked, seeming to genuinely wonder if I’d been a fellow secret gay our entire friendship. “What?” I was seventeen and still very much in denial of my bisexuality. “No!” “That guy is Adonis. Look at his ass!” I looked again, uncomfortable. I’d never met the Greek swimming god on the other side of the room. I didn’t even know his name. “Yeah, I mean…” I shrugged again. “He’s pretty.” I wilted under my friend’s incredulous gaze. “And,” I added with a forced grin, “he has a pretty nice ass.” High School and College felt like everyone else had an instructional pamphlet that I lacked. They knew how to find a stranger sexually attractive, or realize when they were being flirted with, or make-out with someone they had no deep feelings for. I found myself going on dates with people I felt no attraction towards, convinced that if I tried to emulate what everyone else felt, I’d eventually feel that desire for real. But it didn’t work. I felt no physical arousal when making out with a guy I’d only hung out with twice. I knew I could feel sexual attraction – I was unrequitedly hung up on one of my closest friends at the time and did indeed want to have sex with them – but with a person I hardly knew, I felt like I was going through the motions. Developing a deeper understanding of my sexuality didn’t occur until I began re-writing the protagonist of my novel “Do Not Resurrect,” a work for which I’m currently seeking representation from literary agents (two manuscript requests so far and oh-so-much anxiety!). My first attempt at writing the sexuality for this character (Jake) failed miserably. I tried to write him as a Stereotypical Jerky But Funny TV-Sitcom Straight Guy. My beta-readers hated him and wanted to punch him in his raunchy 90’s humor face. Next, I tried to write Jake as Realistically Nice But Shy Straight Guy, someone I’d actually enjoy hanging out with. He was less punchable now, but he was also awkward and sexually vanilla. Desperation set in and I tried to write him as a Not-Self-Aware Snobby Bisexual-Guy, thinking if I just queer’d him up a bit and gave him a funny nonsexual flaw…. But no. Now he was “sexually confused,” stuck-up, and still half-vanilla. I was at my wit’s end. The novel had been “done” (ha) for months, but while my readers liked and connected with my protagonist, none of them bought his clumsy attempts at hooking up with…anyone. I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t working. I could write the romantic interests of my other characters just fine – including those of previously published short stories – but this one character I just couldn’t get right. And suddenly, I realized what was wrong: Giving Jake a canned, conventional sexuality wasn’t working because he was too much like me. I have anxiety. Jake has anxiety. I’ve had a near death experience that rocked my worldview. Jake actually died and, yeah, his world is rocked. We both struggle with self-esteem and seeing ourselves as worthy of love. We both have a small circle of close friends we hold dear, but have trouble making connections outside of that circle. We both have parents we’re terrified of disappointing. We both have people we’ve let down. We both have people we’ve lost. When I realized just how much of myself I’d poured into this character, the answer became obvious. I started from scratch and rewrote every interaction he had with both men and women. I put myself in his shoes and wrote how I would feel in his place.
•Is this female character pretty but he’s just met her? He’ll be able to recognize her as aesthetically pleasing, but he’s not going to feel sexual attraction yet.
•Is he close to his childhood best friend who’s practically a brother to him? Yeah, but he’s not going to feel anything sexual or romantic for that guy – he loves him the same way he loves his sister.
•Is Jake beginning to feel an emotional connection with this guy that he met just a few months ago? Yeah, he’s probably going to start falling for this guy, but veeeery slowly – like, it’s going to take weeks to months (maybe years) for him to finally want to have sex with this guy. It was that last one – the weeks to months to years until feeling sexual attraction – that made me realize just how unconventional my sexuality was. I had never addressed that aspect of it to myself or anyone else. Stunned, I sat down and counted how many people I had ever really wanted to have sex with. I only needed one hand. Two minutes of Googling gave me the term: Demisexual. “Demisexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by only experiencing sexual attraction after making a strong emotional connection with a specific person.” – http://Dictionary.com Reading that definition for the first time filled my heart with both unexplainable excitement and intense relief. All those years of feeling lost in the dating world made sense at last. It was so simple. What I’d struggled with my entire life not only could be defined in a single sentence, but it had a name. Now, I had a sexuality, and my protagonist did as well: Demisexual-bisexual.
My husband and I met when we were fifteen and became close friends. We developed feelings for one another and started dating when we were nineteen. We got married when we were twenty-five. I am now thirty years old. I’ve been in a monogamous heterosexual relationship for the last eleven years. As such, herein lies a question: Can I still be considered bisexual if my only sexual experiences have been with a man? More questions: Since I can easily hide my sexuality – and, I’m ashamed to say, have hid it in certain situations – am I really a member of the LGBTQA+ community? Do I count? Am I demisexual, or demiromantic? Both? Neither? Am I bisexual, or am I actually pansexual? What if I’m not even bisexual? What if I just think women are, like, really, really pretty, but I’d never be able to do anything with one? Lately, I feel like an imposter. I’ve agonized over my sexuality for ages, and I’m exhausted. I’ve arrived at a point where the labels I’ve found and identified with strongest are comforting, but they’re also restricting. And frankly? Right now, to me, they do not matter. I’m married to my best friend. I am so stupidly happy with him. I have no desire to be with anyone besides him for the rest of my life. But there is one thing I do know for sure: I am queer. So even though I’m not sure what sexuality label(s) I fall perfectly into, I embrace being “queer.” I don’t know whether I truly belong in the LGBTQA+ community, but I know the community needs more representation in media, and I want to represent us all in my writing. Everyone, from the people who are confident and know exactly who they are to the people like me, who have more questions than answers. A lot of my work is speculative fiction and tends towards the supernatural, but I’m dedicated to including queer characters and interweaving both the daily and lifelong struggles they face into my fantastical plots. I’ve even written a new subplot in my novel in which the undead Jake not only fights ghosts, but also struggles to understand and define his sexuality. My dearest hope is that one day, someone who might be a little lost like I was will pick up the book, and they’ll read about Jake’s struggling journey towards uncovering and accepting his queerness, and in the end, it will help them to do the same. And hey, maybe they’ll also learn how to fight a ghost or two.
Instagram & Twitter: @Carolyn_A_Drake
Note: I have two more short stories pending publication with LGBTQA+ characters, so people can follow me on Twitter or Instagram to keep up to date on new stuff!