Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why I Write: Freedom Of Love

"We know that we're young
And no shit, we're confused
But will you watch us drown?
What are you so afraid to lose?"
-Arcade Fire, "We Exist"

"What's your problem with religion?"
..."It's not religion itself, it's what people use it for - against other people."
-J.L. Pawley, Generation Icarus: First Flight

When piecing together the histories and personalities of my Red Rain characters Alex and Gabe, it's pretty much an open secret that they're other, better versions of me - and especially other, better versions of Teen Me. Sure, I can look back on some moments of my teenage years fondly, but looking back on myself as a person, perhaps not. I still have trouble looking on myself in a positive light in the present day, and I'd like to think the major reason is this: 

I don't feel free to love.

Why, you might ask? Well, let's get personal here (about myself, I mean.)

Flash back a couple of years to early 2014, when I took my first creative writing class and began finally, in earnest, writing my first complete story, the very earliest drafts of Red Rain. When I thought up Alex and Gabe, almost right from the get-go I knew these twins would be opposites in a lot of key ways. For example, Alex would be dark-haired (and, in more recent drafts not yet available for public consumption, dark-skinned to better reflect his and Gabe's part-Mediterranean blood), and Gabe would be blond. Alex would be introspective and moody, while Gabe would be funny and extroverted. And, perhaps most importantly of all (because I've built so much of the story around it that to change it, as I'm sure my parents would insist I do if they were to become beta readers of mine, would require massive overhauls that I just can't take on), Alex is straight and Gabe is gay.

These, everyone who's read Red Rain knows. Now I'll tell you some of the secret history behind these particular characterization decisions.

Alex and Gabe's opposite orientations were born out of more than just me wanting to emulate the examples of Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, Zac Brewer, Andrew Smith, and Michael Grant (and, more recently, Adam Silvera), among others, by including quality LGBTQ representation in my writing. Another, more personal reason was my own adolescent confusion about my sexuality. For about four or five years, starting around...junior year of high school, I think? I was the Q in LGBTQ. For a wide variety of reasons, I was constantly questioning my sexuality. I'd like to think I have a better idea of where I am on the spectrum by now, but back then, I angsted way too much about it. The culmination of said angst came, incidentally, while I was still writing the first draft of Red Rain. In an attempt to finally settle the issue once and for all, I tried coming out as bi, because that was where I saw myself at the time. My parents, of course, were having none of that, not only because of their being Catholic, but also because, in their reasoning, how could I possibly be so sure of such a thing when I'd had zero romantic and/or sexual experience?

Yeah, I know, that's a very stupid thing to say. After all, nobody asks straight people if they've slept with someone of the opposite sex to confirm their sexuality, right? But, unbelievably, it had an actual impact on me, prompting me to do a little soul-searching over the next little while and eventually figuring that any same-sex attraction I had was little more than curiosity, and not the desire to form a committed relationship. I could truly only see myself getting together long-term with a woman. So, as far as the question of what my sexuality is, I consider myself straight, though not exclusively so. That did not, however, stop my experiences from informing a few future story details which I later wrote into Blue Monday, most notably Kyle's explanation of what it was like to come out as bi to his parents:

"Funny thing is, they were like, if I were completely not into girls, they wouldn't like it, but they'd accept it anyway 'cause I was their son and all. But they couldn't wrap their minds around the idea of me going both ways...Hell, I think they were scared of the idea. To think their own son could freely decide which gender he'd sleep with."

Sometimes, parents just don't understand. And what my own parents don't understand is that we humans really need to have the chance to figure out their love lives for themselves, especially when we're teenagers and (like me) young adults.

This is something I've struggled with for a long time - how to get into a loving relationship while retaining parental approval. For the most part, however, I have the feeling this is going to be extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. And this is where religion plays a major role - because while my parents still take their religion pretty seriously (not as much as most, thank God), I no longer do. At this point, I don't go to church willingly anymore - my parents, literally, force me to come with them, even when I've told them countless times that I don't belong there anymore. I go through the motions, and my heart isn't in it anymore. I don't feel that I'm a good Catholic - maybe I never really was. And the main reason why I don't count myself as a religious person anymore is because I've come to associate religion with repression, and especially sexual repression - not only for the LGBTQ community, but for humanity in general. I'm no atheist, however. I still believe in God. But I don't believe that some of the rules people insist on following in His name are really what He intended for our species. Waiting till marriage? I don't think that should be a requirement to get into Heaven. But my parents believe differently, and would probably think so much less of me if I were to take any future relationship of mine sexual. (Never mind that my dad's long since given me "The Talk," I still believe he would judge me just as much as my mom would.) Though it's far from the only factor in my lack of any committed relationships to date, it's one of the most prominent ones. I just don't want to get together with a woman who seems so right for me, only for my neurotic Catholic guilt to rear its ugly head and prevent us from getting intimate if that's the course nature feels is the best one to take.

What this all boils down to is that the gay rights movement focuses on the right to love whomever you love. This, I believe, is a fundamental right for all human beings. This is why I not only write LGBTQ characters, but also write characters who don't feel pressure from their peers and/or their families to not explore their sexuality. This is the wish-fulfillment aspect of my writing (well, that and the fact that everyone in my writing speaks fluent pop-culture references.)

Please, don't take this blog post as a condemnation of all religion. For many of my fellow humans, it's such an essential part of their lives. But it's just not for me. My parents are convinced that it's just a phase because I'm young, and that I might find myself seeking God again when I'm older. But me? I think I've already found God through my writing, and He's not exactly the same one in which I was brought up to believe. He's just...better. More accepting. And perhaps, as God Mode Castiel says on Supernatural...

One little scene, so much impact.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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