I had the chance to interview Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin several years ago. Tales began as a weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1974 and went on to become a hugely successful series of novels, as well as, more recently, a Netflix series. The novels were some of the first to deal openly with gay and lesbian characters. Remember, these stories were first published before Will and Grace and Ellen and the legalization of gay marriage, and only a few years after the Stonewall Riots. Public opinion about homosexuality in America was still decidedly unfriendly.
So unfriendly that most gays and lesbians preferred to keep their sexuality a secret. Maupin, however, was one of the first public figures to come out, doing so in ’74. It was not an easy choice for him. He came from a conservative, North Carolina family (he had once admired Jesse Helms), and he knew this choice might mean the end of some relationships. He came out anyway, and has, of course, never regretted it.
Hearing him describe this time in his life, it occurred to me that everyone comes out in some way or another. I, for instance, had recently begun to realize that I might be done writing fiction. It wasn’t easy for me to admit this, but I saw that I preferred personal narratives with a decidedly spiritual trajectory. I was still interested in writing to discover, just as I had once discovered characters and plots, only now the vehicle for that discovery was my own experience.
I kept this a secret for many years. I did so partly because I couldn’t quite believe I wasn’t a fiction writer anymore, having spent twenty years telling myself and anyone who would listen that I was, and having gone to bed every night dreaming that those novels would one day be published and I would finally be free from a life of dull labor. But I had also put Fiction Writer at the top of some writing pyramid, and I assumed all my artist friends had as well and would think less of me once they learned the truth.
The first time I went to a writers conference without a novel to pitch, I noticed how much lighter I felt. This is easier, I thought. I’m not pretending anymore. It’s hard to pretend you’re someone you’re not, especially when you don’t realize you’re pretending. Hard is just how life is. Hard is just what a day feels like. It’s why I refuse to say that I’m a hard worker. My only goal now is to work easily, now that I have come out from under the burden of trying to live someone else’s life.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com