Where I’ve Been …
I really wish I could blame novel writing for this last hiatus. I really do. I wish I could us all of my reasons for not stepping up and stepping out after Pride. I had all these goals for writing three times a week, for talking about what it’s like to be a bi writer in Salt Lake.
And then, I came face to face with what it means to be a bi writer in Salt Lake.
I was lucky enough to participate in a project with Art Access of Utah. Intersections sought to tell the stories of the Queer community in Salt Lake with the eventual goal of taking the stories that were worked on in the workshops to the stage level. I jumped at the chance, excited to work with other queer writers. I walked away feeling empty and confused about where and why I was bothering to participate.
For the record, none of it is the fault of Art Access. They gave us all a fantastic opportunity, they advertised it well, and the moderator for the workshop is a leader in the Gay Community in Salt Lake. It is not even the fault of the workshop leader who had his hands full with a group of people who perhaps, instead of needing a writing workshop, needed group therapy to reach a place where they were ready to share stories and work on actively improving their writing. Everyone was too raw, too defensive of the story, that they weren’t willing to listen to ways to improve.
I walked into the room full of my own piss and vinegar but also so full of excitement. I was going to share my story! I wasn’t sure the whole point of the workshop until the first night, but I was excited to be in a room full of queer people. I was looking forward to connecting to the rainbow that is our own rainbow here in Salt Lake. What I found though made me uncomfortable. The majority of people in the room were male, white, gay, and dominant. Yes, there were women, but they were few and far between. Some were allies. All of us were white. And there were no lesbians or trans-identified people around the table. It was actually strange to see more bisexuals in the room than lesbians as a queer themed event, but even still we were well matched by the straight allied women. There were no faces of color at the table. And only four of us were under the age of forty.
I think the entire workshop can be summed up in an exchange that happened one night – the concept of feminism, especially in the Mormon Church, came up in conversation. And around the table, man after man talked about the need for women’s voices to be heard. Not just in the church but in every aspect of life. In that conversation, not one of us who identified as female had the chance to speak.
Having grown up in the hyper religious culture of Salt Lake, I know how hard it is for me to drop my defenses when talking to people about my queerness. Until this workshop, I could only imagine how painful it was for the generation before me. And I watched these men around me tell their stories of secrets shared and family lives ripped apart and I watched them weep over long dead partners and lost time from their youth.
But under that pain, there was no overarching desire to listen, actively listen, to stories that were not their own. There was no desire to challenge, no desire to question, no desire to make the work better. Remember, this was a writing workshop. It was not a group therapy session. Sadly, that meant the group moderator had to manage both the pain of shared stories and the anger that came from those stories. It meant feelings were hurt on all sides. It meant I left every week unsure if I wanted to return, but I did because I refused to allow my own voice to be diminished even while participants in the group were looking into my eyes and erasing my existence with their comments. That being said, I still barely made the deadline to turn in my piece and I’ll be honest, I only did it because the group moderator wanted my piece to be included. I was ready to walk away completely.
But I want to say this – for all of the pain I felt in that workshop, I also learned so much. I was reminded of the story that is not told enough, the story of the generations before. If I worry about erasure, they worried about death. They came out in a world where marriage was nothing more than a pipe dream. Now, it’s legal. And that’s why their stories are so damned important. Problem is, so is mine.
This is a blog post I’ve started more than once over the past few months and, as the idleness of this blog has shown, I’ve not done anything with it. Because some else’s voice silenced me. And I’ve found it hard to write at all over the past few months. I’ve had fits and starts and revamped my novel of bisexual characters. I helped to plan what turned out to be one of the best Bi Awareness Months in history with the Utah Pride Center. And I’ve watched the very people who erased me in the workshop continue to erase my community.
Sometimes, it gets exhausting.
But I’m here. And I’m back and I’m going to keep writing no matter how hard it is some days. Because I started this blog not just because all writers need blogs but because I thought it was important to be one of the voices of life as a bi writer – not just in Salt Lake but everywhere. And as this past summer proved, it’s not always roses and kittens and fucking rainbows. A lot of the time, being a bi writer means erasure and self-doubt, and wondering if any of it matters in the end.