One day a couple years ago, while living in Billings, Montana, and struggling to write a new novel called Openly Straight, I went to play some racquetball.
I went to the Billings Athletic Club, the almost-always empty gym where I sometimes attempted to work out. Around lunch time, a group of middle-aged men would get together and play. I’d seen it, and thought it might be fun to showcase my barely adequate skills.
So I played with these guys, and between games, there would be conversation. Now, I wear a wedding ring. It’s the ring I got from my partner, Chuck, back in 2006 when we had our Civil Union.
“So you’re married?” one of the guys asked me.
“Uh huh.” I was. I am. I mean, semantics and laws aside, I am married.
“What’s your wife’s name?”
Now this question I was not entirely ready to answer. I mean, I don’t have a problem being open about being gay; I’ve been gay in a predominantly straight world for many years, and I’ve come out to people thousands of times. It’s what we do, we openly gay folks. We constantly have to come out. Straight people can’t possibly understand what that’s like. But sometimes, you just want to play racquetball. Why do I have to explain myself to this near stranger, I thought. Why do I need to expose something to this person that is beyond what he probably wants to know, and beyond what I feel necessary to share?
“Rachel,” I said.
After, in my car, I thought: What the hell just happened? Did I just lie about my sexuality?
And then I realized that this was exactly what my novel was about, and I didn’t know it yet. I was focused on it being a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, with a gay boy going off to a magical land (an all-boys school) and in the end coming back because even though there were problems with his life at home, there’s “No place like home.”
This incident opened up my novel completely. Suddenly I understood what I was really writing about. I was writing about being tired of always having to be labeled. Which is, actually, a universal issue.
So I allowed a part of me to become part of Seamus Rafael Goldberg. And the novel came pouring out of me.
And now, you’ll be able to read that novel in just a few months!
I hope you’ll love it as much as I loved writing it.