Publish under a pseudonym, or not? Seems like an easy question, but it’s not necessarily so simple. Like Jazz is a lesbian romance. While that doesn’t mean the author is gay, in my case it’s true. There are considerations. I’m in a conservative profession. There are members of my extended family I’m not even out to (although in this age of social media, I guess I am now). But most importantly, by putting my name on this book, I feel I’m somehow bringing my mother into the equation.
After I came out to my parents in the early 90’s, we struggled with it for years. I grew up Catholic in a very politically conservative home. (I talked a little about this a few weeks ago on the Bold Strokes Books Authors’ blog, “Voluptuous Catholic Paramours.” Read that HERE.) Especially for my mom, having a lesbian for a daughter was a terribly cruel thing, disappointing and shameful. Part of it was that she worried about my physical safety (think Matthew Shepard); part of it was that she was embarrassed by, and angry with me for (what she felt was) making her seem like a bad mother in front of her family and friends—as if I was gay by some failing on her part; part of it was wrong in her religious view. She told me never to say anything to certain family members because they would disown me.
We fell into a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” routine for years. It worked more or less, but not without consequences. How sad to say I didn’t even tell my parents when I got married in 2003—one of the most important days of my life.
My mom died unexpectedly in 2004. We never got a chance to fully heal together, to forgive and let go.
But we’d made progress. Took baby steps. She knew about my “roommate” though we never acknowledged the obvious. Mom even invited her over for Thanksgiving. My parents made a trip to visit us after we purchased our first home together, about seven months before Mom died.
Funny thing. At Mom’s celebration of life, one of my cousins—Mom’s niece—told me to come visit and to bring Shelly. My cousin was telling me she knew very well that Shelly wasn’t just my roommate, and she was welcoming me—us—with open arms. That same afternoon, her father (Mom’s brother) told me the same thing: come visit, bring Shelly. I get tearful remembering how wonderful it felt to have these family members—Mom’s family—love and embrace me unconditionally, mere days after Mom would never be able to see or hear it.
None of my family has disowned me. They’ve accepted and loved me. Even if they don’t all get it, they’ve met Shelly and know what a great person I’ve married.
In an interesting parallel, my wife’s experience has been similar to mine. She grew up in a conservative Catholic home, and her relationship with her mother survived via “don’t ask, don’t tell” for years. Over time, the fact that Shelly and I are together has become of less and less consequence. Our siblings and their spouses have helped reduce the friction with our parents, since it’s just not a big deal to them. The majority of U.S. society has come to receive same-sex relationships. Shelly’s mother, who has always treated me with kindness, has come to accept me. She invites me to family gatherings and goes out of her way to make me feel welcome. I do.
Since our mothers were on a similar path, I like to think that my mom would have gotten to the same place as my wife’s mother. Dad would have probably helped. A few months ago during a phone call, he asked, “And how is your beloved?” Thanks, Dad.
I’m proud of Like Jazz. I don’t know what Mom would think of it or my decision to publish under my real name, but I’m taking cues from my father and mother-in-law. Both want to read the book, and my dad pre-ordered it in support of me.
Mom would be upset with me for this blog, telling private things to a bunch of strangers. I get that. But the point of saying where we started from is to show how far we’ve come—or would have come, if given a little more time. It’s actually a perfect theme for a Romance: “Love conquers all.” It does, or in our case, it would have. I’m certain of it.
Mothers are amazing creatures. My mother-in-law’s love for her children is an astounding, powerful, resilient thing. Ditto for my mom. Mom loved me. Somehow, from somewhere, she still does…
Even if she might have preferred that Like Jazz be written under the nom de plume of, say, Heather Whiteless.