Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Write It

Just write it, she said.

I knew she was right. Why can't I just hammer on the keyboard and get this thing out? I can crank out an article like a machine. Why does this stupid non-fiction piece seem so hard?

The class had just ended and I drudged back to my car. The effects of the rain were evident on the soaked bottoms of my jeans. Lovely, I thought to myself. Once in my car, I dropped my forehead on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and breathed. That went... okay, I told myself. I expected something else. Walking to the podium, I had prepared myself for a just-don't-go-there response. Instead, I got a lets-see-how-this-goes response. I drove home and fixated on it all night.

Last week, I thought up a great blog entry. I wrote it out and gleefully relived the experience. As I re-read it proudly, those damn words caught me again.

So what?

The more I thought about the blog post, the more I fixated on my "so what." Maybe I didn't handle that very well. Maybe he resented my "so what."

I talked to Susan Goldberg. I needed approval, and I refused to move forward without it. I anxiously approached her podium and laid it out. I told her I didn’t know how to write about a person who is gay without risking being offensive; without becoming a villain for my “so what.”

“Just write it,” she said. "Sometimes it's better to make take these risks." She suggested I write about this—the struggle to write this post. I deleted my old draft and started new, but the puzzle was missing something. Still, I couldn’t let myself write.

Some people don't like talking about sexuality. I think people fear confronting it because they don’t know how to respond. To talk about who people sleep with and love is to risk saying something intrinsically offensive. People think it’s safer to “not go there.” I know what it's like to hate these thoughts, and sympathize with them at the same time.

Despite this, I know my experiences are my own. I am a straight white woman given almost all the privilege in the world. I don’t understand how it feels to be gay. I am just me. I can only be honest with my own feelings.

Eighteen year old versions of Matt and I sat in his red Jeep outside of the Fat Cats on Red River that night. The yellow light from the signage flooded his car, dying both of our faces like the Simpsons. He was looking away from me, holding back. I could tell he was concealing something. I didn't want to pry. I guess he'd tell me if he felt like it.

"Stace, I need to talk to you about something.”

Finally, I think to myself. “What is it?”

He locks his eyes on the ground and murmured. “I'm... that thing."

"What thing?"

"You know, uhh… that thing," he mumbled and shifted his feet a little. “Ummm, I, uh, play for the other team…”

To this day, Matt still won't say the word "gay." In fact, he won't say penis, vagina, or anything sexual unless in a medical context. I tease him for this constantly, and he readily admits to his own prudishness.

I look up at him. I say the first thing that comes to mind.

“So what?”

Oh. My. God! Did I honestly say that?! My inner voice shrieks at me. My chest swelled with anxiety and my throat closed. Instantly, I moved onto the defensive.

“I didn’t meant that. Well, I did, but not the way you think…” Verbal diarrhea poured out as I scrambled to explain myself.

“You really don’t care?” he questioningly responded.

I didn’t know the right thing to say. I tried to determine what he expected. Did he want me to jump up and cheer? Be shocked? Appalled? Confused? I didn’t know. All I could give him was honesty.

“No, I don’t care. It’s great, but you’re still Matt. You’re my best friend, this doesn’t change anything”

When we drove home that night, the pink elephant was gone. We talked about how he felt about it and what his fears were. I liked letting him talk. It opened the door to greater honesty; to an unspoken bond between the two of us that still keeps us strong.

Still, the “so what” haunted me. I will likely never know what Matt felt like, as it’s simply assumed that I’m straight. The term for this is heteronormativity- the idea that the "norm" is straight. This didn’t bother me as much as the idea that I may never know how it would feel to hear “so what.”

This post choked my creative mind. I let the document sit open for days. A few days ago, I got a call from Matt.

"Hey Matalina!" I sing into the phone.

"Stacey, my love, how are you?" he said, as his cool baritone voice flooded my Blackberry.

This was my chance. I let some small talk pass and eventually I dove in: "Matt, were you happy with how I responded when you came out?" I held my breath until he replied.

"Pleasantly surprised," he said flatly. "You were definitely one of the good ones."

Phew!! I breathed in and out. "Really? You weren't off put by my 'so what?'" I prepare to explain myself, but Matt cut me off.

"No, I knew what you meant,” I hear him smiling through the phone “You know, I’m not the person I was a year ago,” he tells me. “I know who I am and I love it. If people don’t like that, then screw them.”

I hung up the phone and went to my lap top. My fingers moved faster and my heart beat slower. I stole his confidence to write this. Just write it, I said to myself.


  1. I liked reading that. You're right - sexuality isn't something that people like to talk about, and so I think that was why I liked reading it.
    I'm still not sure whether or not I like the lead in, the part about creative non-fiction class, and whether or not you feel comfortable writing this. Part of it feels unnecessary, like its your own thoughts that you had to get out before wiritng, but part also feels like it belongs in the story, because its something that you needed to consider before writing it. However, I do like how you transitioned into the scene with you and Matt, "Eighteen year old versions of Matt and I sat in his red Jeep outside of the Fat Cats on Red River that night." That automatically set the scene and I pictured it as something I've done before too, sitting inside a car because I don't want to go back home but we don't have anywhere else to go.
    I remember or discussion about ethics in the class, and whether you should write about other people so openly or not - so I hope Matt is ok with you writing about his coming out!
    I liked the "so what" part, in both the writing process and in Matt's coming out.
    Good job!

  2. Hey Whitney, thanks for the feedback. I guess I should clarify. "Matt's" name was changed for the purpose of this short story. I ommitted it from the story, but he did give me permission to write this, as it is just as much his story as mine.

    Thanks :)

  3. Stacey,

    I like that you didn't give up on this idea for your post. I also like how you let the reader into your head and through processes and the struggle/conflict that writing this post caused you. I was relieved to find that other people have trouble writing sometimes to!
    Even though your blog treated a couple different subjects, you kept them related and you kept it flowing in a way that made sense. I also like how you began with a struggle in the writing process and then came back to it in the end, which made the whole piece seem thought out and organized.

    You also do a good job of showing not telling how you are feeling: ex. Once in my car, I dropped my forehead on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and breathed.

    Good Job :)

  4. Great Stacey, its good to hear that not only did you change his name, but you also asked permission. I don't feel so guilty now having read about something so personal!
    Having said that, I like that its really personal. Every time a famous person publises an autobiography, people always hope that the juciest, most personal details will be included. That's why I liked reading this.

  5. Stacy,Hey how s it goin? Great job. You gave this topic all the respect it deserves. If you wonder if you said the right thing or not consider this; When i was coming to terms with my own sexuality, there was and even to an extent still is, a enormous fear. A fear of persecution and alienation from everybody. Its overwhelming. I remember the first time i came out to my friend. She basically told me ,"Who Cares? nobody cares about that stuff anymore. " and that was a huge relief. It completely put that fear in its place.

  6. Hey. This was definatly a different piece and I enjoyed reading it. I think the beginning was a bit of your pre-talk to the story and it would have been more effective if you just dove right in because once you started talking about you and Matt it became quite interesting. The dialogue was excellent and you used very good descriptive words to describe the situation. My fav. was the line "Verbal diarrhea poured out as I scrambled to explain myself." Good job :)

  7. I really enjoyed this. How you chose to write it really underlined that this is something close to you, and is hard to talk about. I really got a sense of the conflict involved.
    I also really feel like you are definitely answering that ‘so what’ question we talked about in class (which meant something different and personal to you, which I found really interesting) when you make a statement about “heteronormativity” and privilege by telling a story about your personal experience. Those are big concepts that are all rolled into sexual identity, which I think is really important to talk about, to define in ourselves. So good on you!

    One thing – you switch part of the way through from past tense to present tense. This is likely a product of the fact that it was sort of a flashback to your 18-year-old self, but it never goes back to present tense afterwards. It’s a bit distracting.

  8. Hello Stacey!

    Good post and a great, interesting story. You dealt with sensitive subject matter and pulled it off very well. However, the prelude to the story could be cut completely. I think the story would be better served if you started out with “eighteen year old versions…” allowing the subject of coming out to flow out naturally through your conversation with Matt. It would allow the reader to find out the subject as you do in the story.

    When you get into the true heart of the story your writing really shines. I particularly liked the discussion of hetereonormativity. It adds weight to what you are speaking about, but does not sound like a dry fact pulled from a dictionary. Great work!