Blush Guest Post: A Gender Exploration

Lust and Lemonade can be purchased through Renaissance Press

A Gender Exploration
by Jamieson Wolf

Lust and Lemonade can be purchased through Renaissance Press
Lust and Lemonade can be purchased through Renaissance Press

When I started to write Lust and Lemonade, I didn’t intend to write a book that dealt with gender.

Before writing Lust and Lemonade, I was primarily a romance and erotica writer. I delved into the lives of men and the ones that loved them, set in mythical worlds with otherworldly beings.  The men fought for each other with every fibre of their being, using their magic to save the day and save the man they loved.

When I started writing Lust and Lemonade, I only intended to write about what I knew. I knew gay men being one myself. But as I continued to write, other characters wanted to come onto the page, too. One of them was a woman named Poppy and she was pregnant. She was also a lesbian.

I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and what women went through with having a child. I relied on my beta reader for info on the female gender and about what is involved with having a lesbian relationship. I was in uncharted waters and Google would only take me so far. I had written women characters before, but the focus was always on the men and the relationships they were having. The women were only secondary and hadn’t taken centre stage. Lust and Lemonade was the first of my novels to feature strong women in lesbian relationships.

As I kept writing, I began to realise something. Two of my characters were transgender. One of them is a transgender woman and the other is a transgender man. If I had no concept of lesbian relationships, I had absolutely zero idea about the transgender population.

This uncharted territory was rather frightening for me as a writer, but it was also freeing in a way. I have never researched a novel before Lust and Lemonade. I delved into the lives of transgender people and what they went through to become who they always were, who they were meant to be.

I also wrote about straight characters finding love. It seemed right that if I was going to write about all kinds of other genders, that I included them too. The characters demanded it, really. It was only fair, they said, that if I was going to have gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in my novel, that the straight people get fair representation, too.

So, when I started writing Lust and Lemonade, I didn’t intend to write a book about gender. The book let me know where it wanted to go and the characters that peopled its pages. I also knew that, even though I’ve written many romances, that there would be no sex on the page. It would all take place off stage.

A friend of mine asked me how I could have lust in the title and not include sex scenes? It’s simple. The lust that is in the title is about the lust of getting to know someone, of becoming enraptured and enthralled with them. Much as I became enthralled with all the people in Lust and Lemonade.

I may not have set out to write about gender, but I’m so glad I did. I learned something about others that I didn’t know before, learned about their battles to be who they were and who they were meant to be. Writing Lust and Lemonade made me a better writer and, quite possibly, a better person.

Find  out what happens to Blaine, Nancy, Mike, Chuck, and company in Lust and Lemonade, available now from Renaissance Press! You can get your copy here:

https://renaissancebookpress.com/product/lust-and-lemonade/


Jamieson Wolf is an award winning, Number One Best Selling Author. He is a poet, a blogger and, above all, a story teller.

He currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada with his cat, Tula, who is fearless, and his husband Michael, who is magic.

You can find Jamieson at home at www.jamiesonwolf.com

You can also read his blog at www.jamiesonwolfauthor.wordpress.com

 

Fandom Guest Post: UK Road Trip Part 2

Karin playing her fiddle on the moors. Picture by Jasmine.

Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!


Read Part 1 here!

April 21st, 2016. The 200th birthday of one of Haworth’s most famous residents. The eldest of her siblings who survived into adulthood, Charlotte Brontë lived at the Haworth parsonage with her family. She and her sisters Emily and Anne first published their poetry under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, but they are best known for their novels Jane Eyre (by Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (by Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (by Anne). As a family of three girls, my sisters and I always felt a connection with the Brontës, so to be in Haworth for Charlotte’s birthday party made Karin and I absolutely giddy.

The walk into the village in the bright morning light was amazing. They had gone all out, with bunting strung across the street and people streaming up the main cobbled road to the parsonage where the festivities would take place. We were interviewed by the BBC (and the Ilkley Gazette) on our way in which added an extra level of excitement to the day – to be from a family of three girls as well as to have come all the way from Canada for this party made us rather interesting to the locals!

There was so much to see and do that day. There were performers reading poetry, a young class from the local school performed scenes from Jane Eyre, songs honouring the Brontës were performed, stories were read. The current local curate said a prayer, and Tracy Chevalier (novelist, co-curator of the events, and editor of Reader, I Married Him, a collection of stories inspired by Jane Eyre) laid a wreath at the front door of the house.

As things wound down, Karin and I went for a walk out over the moors behind the parsonage. As we took our first steps out onto the land, it made instant sense. We were breathing the inspiration for the books. It was in the wind, in the land, in the sky, in the rocks. We were walking with Jane and Catherine and Agnes Grey and Mr. Lockwood. The stubbled grass, cropped short by sheep, formed a patchwork of changing colour over the hills and crags.

We walked for miles, over the stone bridge crossing the stream, up to a quiet spot with stunning views down into a steep valley. Further west, silhouetted against the sinking sun, sat Top Withins. Dark and ominous even in ruin, the house that inspired Wuthering Heights was a sombre sight. I sat down on a nearby rock as Karin pulled out her fiddle to play. Her quick notes were carried on the wind back towards the village. Even after she lifted her bow, the wind carried on, being strong enough to vibrate the strings of the fiddle and make its own eerie song.

Karin playing her fiddle on the moors. Picture by Jasmine.
Karin playing her fiddle on the moors. Picture by Jasmine.

We walked back to the village in the gathering dark to find a pub for supper. As we waited for our food, Karin proposed something that John Keats had done with his friends: a poetry race. I felt somewhat out of my element, as I never write poetry while Karin writes some of the most wonderful poems I’ve ever read, but there was something about those moors that made me feel up for the challenge. Karin suggested the theme of Top Withins and with our drinks at our elbows, we set about writing.

The result surprised me in that we were both happy with our poems. I finished first, but I think Karin won for quality, hands down. After the trip, Karin submitted both our poems to the Brontë Society Gazette and they were accepted for publication, which is both exciting and confidence-inducing. I never considered myself much of a writer, but this trip spurred both my imagination and my faith in myself.

The next day got us to Sevenoaks, the hometown of our aunt, uncle, and cousins. Our aunt and one of said cousins accompanied us into London the next morning where our first goal was Keats House. It is a truly lovely museum in Hampstead. I thought I knew a fair amount about Keats through conversations with Karin, but I still learned a lot. The museum is very well designed, still looking as it did when Keats lived there, and leads you through his life from the time he moved in until his departure for Italy in an unsuccessful attempt to salvage his health and his untimely death at age 25.

Leaving Keats House and heading back into central London, we took a walk along the Thames past the Globe Theatre. Here’s the thing about me: I’m a geek about a good many things, and one of my biggest loves is Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare for fun. I read about Shakespeare. I watch movies of his plays and in which he is a character. I attended Shakespeare camp for years, performing in the plays, making my sisters and cousins put on the plays with me, and as an adult designing costumes for the plays. I’m a little obsessed, to say the least. So to be there during a week of Shakespeare celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of his death was an awe-inspiring experience. The gates of the Globe were entwined with roses and all along the embankment were a series of screens playing scenes from film adaptations of his plays.

Jasmine outside the Globe Theatre with the gate full of roses. Picture from Jasmine.
Jasmine outside the Globe Theatre with the gate full of roses. Picture from Jasmine.

We ended our London day with supper at the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The pub was built in 1667, replacing the pub that was built in 1538 but destroyed in the fire of 1666. A winding warren of stone stairwells going deep underground, with low ceilings and gloomy corners, the place is simply dripping with atmosphere. It’s not surprise that so many authors frequented it. P. G. Wodehouse, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens were all regulars – Dickens even references it in A Tale of Two Cities. The food was delicious, the setting was fantastic, and the ghosts made for excellent company.

It was in London that Karin and I parted ways as she had to get back to school for exams, so I carried on west alone to Tintagel. Legendary site of King Arthur’s conception, Tintagel is a tiny village on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall. Craggy, windswept, wild, and stunningly gorgeous, I think I took more pictures there than anywhere else. I know I’m sounding repetitive but the whole place pulses with legend and folklore. The ruined castle on the headland, the caves beneath, the blending of history and myth, and the ever shifting weather create a level of mystique that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. If you ever can, you must go. Stand on the peak looking over the ocean. Let the wind sing in your ears and whip your hair. Let the voices of the past rise up from the sea and tell you their stories. There is no feeling like it.

I had one final stop on my literary tour of the UK – Stratford-Upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s birthplace. I arrived late at my bed and breakfast, but they directed me to The King’s Head, the inn where Shakespeare’s parents had their wedding supper.

The next morning, I woke up to the early morning sun filtering through crawling vines. The birds were singing boldly, a soft breeze was whispering through the leaves of the old oak tree outside, and the rooster out back was crowing in annoyance that people weren’t up and doing things yet. All the elements combined in such a way that I wrote a few more lines of poetry over breakfast, sending me off to Shakespeare’s birthplace museum with a spring in my step.

I thought my heart was going to explode when I saw the house itself. It felt like a homecoming. I felt like I knew Will Shakespeare, and he was welcoming me to his house. It was wonderful, and more emotional than it should’ve been. I spent a long time exploring the museum and grounds as well as the town itself. Walking in his footsteps gave me such a thrill.

I travelled home a few days later, but have thought about that trip every day since. Jen handling all the travel bookings took off so much stress so I could really enjoy myself. Travelling with my sister was so much fun it should be illegal. I was overseas for two and a half weeks and I feel as though I barely scratched the surface, but I came home so inspired, energized, and creatively renewed by everything I experienced, and I am forever grateful that I had such an incredible opportunity.


If you are interested in booking a trip like this, you can contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

Éric Desmarais

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At Can-Con over the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, we had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. Éric Desmarais (FacebookTwitter, website) is one of those. He is a young adult urban fantasy/mystery author published by Renaissance Press (Twitter, website), and incredibly amazing to talk to! You can meet him at the Mega-Multi-Author Launch happening Oct 29, 2016.

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Jen Desmarais

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At Can-Con over the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, we had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. Jen Desmarais (website) is…well, me. (This is incredibly weird to write.) I am a card game designer for the sexual education/communication game Blush, published by Renaissance Press (Twitter, website)! You can meet me at the Mega-Multi-Author Launch happening Oct 29, 2016.

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Fandom Guest Post: Canadian Lit Goes South!

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Kevin T. Johns (website, Twitter) is an author, podcaster, writing coach, and ghostwriter residing in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and three daughters.

Kevin grew up reading comic books, watching horror movies, and playing guitar in punk rock bands.

He attended Carleton University where he attained a double-major undergraduate degree in English Literature and Film studies and Master’s Degree in English Literature.

He has published five books, ghostwritten several more, and helped hundreds of writers from around the world get their ideas out of their heads, onto the page, and into readers hands.


On October 29th, I’ll be releasing my latest novel, a young adult action thriller titled M School.

M School is about Lilith Delaney, a 17-year-old girl who is recruited into a secret training facility for teenage assassins. (You can check out the book trailer here.)

As I created the novel, I wanted the M School facility to feel like truly exotic environment for the reader. It couldn’t just be a regular school building or a skyscraper in some urban center. It needed to be something different, something strange, and possibly threatening…

Ultimately, I decided to make M school an underwater facility, hidden beneath an oil rig, somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean.

While much of the story in M School takes place within the underwater facility, I also wanted there to also be several sequences set in a tropical jungle environment. As such, I created an island fairly close to the rig. In addition, I knew that later in the story, Lilith was going to leave the facility, arrive on a beach, and then make her way to a nearby city where she would catch a bus home.

Now, as a Canadian writer, a tropical environment just ain’t going to happen in my country, so the demands of the narrative meant it was time to take my story south!

I pulled up the ol’ Google map and started looking for a very specific real world setting: a beach/resort community in the South Eastern United States, with a city big enough for a bus station nearby.

After some searching, I found my perfect location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

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Pone Vedra Beach, Florida. Image from www.destination360.com

Ponte Vedra is a high income tourist community with long sand beaches, orange roofed resorts, and lots of golf courses. It’s positioned about 30 kilometres from the city of Jacksonville.

In other words, perfect for my novel!

As someone who has written his fair share of Canadian stories with chilly winds and falling snow, it was exciting to get to set a portion of my book in Florida.

The more I imagined the bright sun, warm sand, and flowing ocean waves, the more I wanted to not just write about it, but actually hop on a plane and live it!

If you are considering a Florida vacation, I suggest working with Jen to check out Ponte Vedra!

And if you are looking for a great book to bring along with you for some beach reading, make sure you grab a copy of M School later this month! If you get on the early notification list now, I’ll send you an email and let you know as soon as it goes on sale.


If you are interested in booking a trip south, you can contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

Cait Gordon

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At Can-Con over the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, we had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. Cait (pronounced Cat) Gordon (FacebookTwitter, website) is one of those. She is a science fiction/fantasy author published by Renaissance Press (Twitter, website), and she seriously loves desserts! She’s a fantastic person to talk to, and has a great Irish accent that gets more pronounced when she’s excited. You can meet her at the Mega-Multi-Author Launch happening Oct 29, 2016.

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Madona Skaff-Koren

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At Can-Con over the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, we had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. Madona Skaff-Koren (Twitter, website) is one of those. She is a mystery author published by Renaissance Press (Twitter, website), and incredibly amazing to talk to! You can meet her at the Mega-Multi-Author Launch happening Oct 29, 2016.

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Fandom Guest Post: UK Road Trip Part 1

The sign at the Elephant cafe with a "birthplace of Harry Potter" pamphlet. Picture by Jasmine.

Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!


My sisters and I have always been big dreamers. I wouldn’t say any of our dreams are too big, but as we have more dreams than are possible to fulfil in one lifetime, some of our childhood plans and ambitions got shelved indefinitely at a young age.

That changed this spring. When my sister Karin was invited to present a paper she wrote at an academic conference in Kirkwall, Orkney, we jumped at the chance to make one of those long lost ideas a reality. As voracious readers and lovers of a good road trip, we decided that after the conference we would rent a car and tour around England, making pilgrimages to the homes of some of our most beloved authors. With the expert help of Jen, before I knew it, everything was booked and we were ready to go.

Even after talking about doing a trip like this for years, the reality far surpassed anything I’d ever imagined.

I arrived in Edinburgh on a cool, rainy, April morning. With 13 hours to kill before Karin arrived (and three days before my luggage arrived, but that’s a different story!), I went exploring. My destination was a place that is truly somewhat of a holy site for me. A place that would be the perfect spot to start the Author Tour. A place where a young single mother unknowingly created the foundation of my childhood, changing my life forever.

The Elephant House is an unassuming place tucked neatly into a historic street front in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Many authors have frequented the cafe over the years including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, but it’s best known for being the place where J. K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter. I got goosebumps as I walked in, although that could’ve been the chill of the Scottish fog sinking through to my bones. With a pot of Earl Grey tea and an elephant shaped shortbread cookie, I settled into an empty seat by the front window. The cafe was crowded with people trying to find relief from the rain and wind. The hubbub of conversation, the clinking of teacups in saucers, the tinkle of the bell above the door as people came and went, all the sounds, smells, and sights wound their way into my consciousness, and it was a few minutes before I was even aware that I was writing.

The sign at the Elephant cafe with a "birthplace of Harry Potter" pamphlet. Picture by Jasmine.
The sign at the Elephant House with a “birthplace of Harry Potter” pamphlet. Picture by Jasmine.

I sat for a minute, staring down at my notebook and the paragraphs I’d just written, and suddenly I understood why Edinburgh is known for being a city for writers and artists. It immediately gets inside you, filling you with inspiration. It forces you to create. There is magic lurking under every cobblestone, stories whispering at you from every doorway. It doesn’t just give you the desire to write, it gives you the need.

The next morning Karin and I started our journey north by train. The next few days were very focused on the conference, although we did find a couple of author moments amidst all the learning. In Inverness, we found a plaque commemorating William Topaz McGonagall. If you haven’t read the poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”…well, just go read it, and it will become very clear why McGonagall is known as the worst poet ever. Luckily for him he was rich, and able to pay people to put up with his readings. When we reached beautiful, mystical, magical Orkney, we discovered the world of George Mackay Brown. A famed poet, novelist, and dramatist, he also wrote many short stories and essays. His work is everywhere, especially in Stromness, his hometown.

From Orkney, we took the train back south to Glasgow, where we picked up the car and hit the open road. Karin was a fantastic co-pilot (her Chewbacca impression is second to none) and navigated us perfectly out of Edinburgh and along the winding country roads to the small western Scottish town of Ayr. That was where we stayed that night, but our goal in Ayrshire was the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of poet, lyricist, whiskey advocate, and great seducer – the Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns.

If you ever have the chance, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is so very much worth the visit. It’s fantastically laid out and a veritable wealth of information on the life and times of Burns and his family. Interactive and educational, there was so much to do and so many ways to immerse yourself in the times and ways of late 1800s Scotland. The panels are all peppered with Scots words (the language Burns wrote in and fought to keep alive), which is a really fun way of learning the language along with the details of Burns’ life.

Karin with the mouse statue on the path at the Burns Museum
Karin with the mouse statue on the path at the Burns Museum. Picture by Jasmine.

Outside the museum there is a path that winds through a field marked by metal artwork depicting the story of Tam O’Shanter, one of Burns’ most famous poems, as well as a giant mouse (a nod to Burns’ To A Mouse). The path takes you to the small cottage where Burns was born, kept as it was when he was a child there. As you walk back to the museum, if you take the road instead of the path, you pass by the Alloway kirk (church), which is where poor unfortunate Tam sees all manner of horrible supernatural creatures whooping it up as he tries to get home from the pub one night. Even it broad daylight, our skin prickled imaging the witches, goblins, and tortured ghosts as we peeked into the ruins.

We spent far, far too much time there, but it was so wonderful. From Ayr we turned south, driving down the ruggedly stunning west coast of Scotland, before turning east and working out way into the Lakes District. This stunning region was the inspiration for one of my father’s favourite books from childhood, “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. My dad read it to my sisters and I when I was probably 8 or so and we immediately fell in love with it. Written and set in the 30s, it’s the story of the four Walker children who spend their summers sailing their borrowed boat the Swallow around an unnamed lake in the Lakes District, where they meet the two Blackett children, who have a boat of their own – the Amazon – and are pirates. We used to sail all around the lake where my grandparents live when we were kids, so both the sailing and the imaginations of the kids utterly captivated us.

While the lake in the books is never explicitly named, people believe that it’s based on Coniston Water, so that was where we went after a beautiful night in the nearby town of Grasmere (where we took a quick wander around the grounds of Dove Cottage, where the Wordsworths lived and wrote). Coniston Water is the third largest lake in England, at five miles long but only a half mile wide. A kiosk down by the shore rents out all manner of boats, and soon we were zipping down the lake in our very own Swallow. The feeling was glorious. The boat hummed as we skipped along under the watchful eye of the Old Man of Coniston, the mountain that looms large over the water. The energy of the experience and the powerful beauty of our surroundings soon put us in a creative mood again, and we sailed for miles while developing a very complex story (which I’m very grateful to Karin for writing down the details of in the car as we drove after). In theory we had the boat for two hours, in reality, we ended up staying out there for more like three and a half. The thing about a skinny lake is as easy as it is to sail down, when you have to tack short tacks back and forth all the way back, it takes a hell of a lot longer!

The common theme we had through the trip was getting so caught up in what we were doing that we took too long at our stops, meaning we arrived later at our final destinations. Especially on our way out of Cumbria, we had to stop to see Hill Top, which is where Beatrix Potter lived and wrote. But despite the detours and the late hour, driving through Yorkshire at sunset was nothing short of breathtaking. It was like driving through a James Herriot story: the farmers in their tweed caps, the sheep wandering unsupervised beside the country road, the moon hanging low in the purple twilight as the lights of the village in the valley come on, it was too perfect for words.

That night, we arrived in Haworth. I could feel my heart rate quickening as soon as we arrived. Our hostel was a Gothic mansion on a hill outside the village and it was the perfect setting to get us in the mood for the part of the trip that we were possibly the most excited for.


Stay tuned for Part 2 on November 9th!

If you are interested in booking a trip to like this, you can contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

Melissa Yi

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At Can-Con over the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, we had to opportunity the meet some incredible people. Melissa Yi (Twitter, website) is one of those. She is an M.D. and author, and incredibly amazing to talk to! You can meet her at the Mega-Multi-Author Launch happening Oct 29, 2016.

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Blush Guest Post: Vicariously Male

Genderfluid symbol courtesy of redbubble.

For the next few weeks, both Blush posts and Fandom Travel posts will be guest posts. Thank you to the contributors! If anyone else is interesting in writing for either of these topics (and it can easily be kept anonymous!) please send me an email to jenericdesigns@gmail.com and we can discuss which topic you’d like to write about.

This week’s Blush guest post is written by Caroline Frechette, and you can follow them on Facebook here. Caroline is originally from Montreal, but has been living in the Ottawa/Gatineau region since 2004. They are a sequential artist and author. They have published several short stories, both sequential and traditional, as well as two graphic novels and six books. They were the editor and director for the French Canadian literary magazine Histoires à boire debout, and works at the Ottawa Public Library. They now are the editor and director for Renaissance Press. They have been teaching creative writing since 2005, and GMing various table-top RPGs for the past 19 years.


Genderfluid symbol courtesy of redbubble.
Genderfluid symbol courtesy of Reidtastic on redbubble.

I’ve always known I was different. Not just a little different, but completely apart from others, something else entirely. When I was a child, I used to think I must be an alien. Another species. Because there was no one like me.

Sure, I wore my hair short, I wore trunks to swim, and I sometimes pretended to be a boy when I was with kids I just met. I identified with men as the heroes of my stories. Often, I wished with all my heart that I was a boy.

Except I didn’t not want to be a girl. Not all the time, anyway.

Some of the days, I hated the body I was born into. Pudgy, awkward, too tall and too short at the same time, and female. Especially female. But sometimes, very few times, but still sometimes, I did enjoy being a woman. I tried growing my hair long and braided it in fancy ways, and I hated it as often as I loved it but most of the time it was OK.

I’m thankful there was such a thing as tabletop role-playing games. They allowed me something I never had the courage to do in real life: go by a male name, be referred to as “he”, and all in the comfortable illusion of fantasy, which was just pretend and could be over at any time, and didn’t commit me to any revelation about myself. The happiness of being able to explore the male aspect of my personality, which is the dominating side, made me quickly addicted to these games. I started playing them with my cousins when I was only twelve, and by the age of 17, I was spending all my time – and I mean, all of it, outside of work and school, I spent 2 hours sleeping every night and every other waking moment I was doing this – on a chat software called MIRC, role-playing with a group of people from all over the world, as several characters (all male, of course). Sure, I got teased a lot for playing almost only male characters, but that didn’t matter to me (beyond reinforcing the idea that I could never tell anyone what was going through my head, of course).

I got a little bit more daring with chat groups; even during the times where we were, as we call it, OOC, or Out Of Character, I still pretended I was a boy – because doing it as a character in a fantasy game wasn’t enough anymore. I quickly got outed as “a girl” and I had a really hard time explaining to my friends why it was important to me that they see me as male, at least some of the time. In fact, I had a hard time explaining to anyone – even people in the queer support groups I visited as a teen – what was going on in my head, what I was going through with my gender identity. Non-binary identities weren’t that well-known in the early 90s, back when very few people even knew about the internet, let alone used it.

It was in high school that I first learned what transgender was and I kind of felt like it applied to me, because I did want to be a boy, but hesitated to use it to label myself, because I didn’t want to stop being a girl. Thinking about it, exploring it, I realized that I didn’t think I’d ever want surgery, because I wasn’t ready to lose my body, no matter how I felt about it. So even that didn’t fit me. I felt even more alone, because I thought I’d found something that defined who I was but it didn’t, really. Because I’d never fully transition. That much was always clear to me: I’d always have one foot left in womanhood. Being pregnant and having children made me even surer of this than I was before: no matter how triggering my period got, being a woman was wonderful at times.

My first inkling of my true gender identity came through a book, a science-fiction novel, actually (which seems very fitting, after thinking I must be a secret alien for so long). It was Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a novel about a planet on which the inhabitants are not male or female, but rather exist as both and neither, in a state of neutrality most of the time except for a few days a month when they become fertile, and gain the physical attributes which most people associate with male or female, so they can reproduce. Not everyone gets the same sex every time; it can vary depending on the month, so that most people who have children are father to some, mother to others.

That book was a revelation. The concept of being one gender AND the other, depending on the day, was exactly what I had felt my whole life but couldn’t put words on. I still wasn’t able to put a word on it, and the irony that the characters were aliens was not lost on me, but still, it made me feel a little better, like there was someone else in the world that was thinking these things, since she was writing about them. I still felt like a freak, not one thing and not the other, but there was at least one other person in the world who had had these ideas.

I put it aside at the back of my head, and tried to move on with my life. I started writing more seriously, and as I started to examine what I was writing, I came to realize that most of my characters were male, so much so that some of my stories didn’t even pass the low bar of the Bechdel test. As a feminist, this bothered me a great deal, and I tried writing in more women, but I never felt as whole as I did when I wrote about male characters. They permitted me to express my stifled masculinity, to live through them the identity I wanted for myself.

It wasn’t until a good decade after that, when I started a relationship with my wife, that the last of the pieces of the puzzle that was my gender identity fell into place. Since she was a transgender woman just coming to terms with her identity and starting to transition, I started doing some research, and getting involved in online communities so I could support her to the best of my abilities. And this is how I found out about non-binary gender identities, and most important of all, the term “genderfluid.”

There are no words to describe the feeling of finding a word that fits exactly who you are, how you feel. At long last, you aren’t just a lonely freak, an alien, different from everyone else in the world; there are others like you, lots of others, enough of them that there is a widely-used word to define it. It’s suddenly belonging, finding your people, being understood. It’s your entire existence being validated; it’s such an emotional rush that defies description. There are those who sustain that “all these labels are divisive” or that they are “unnecessary”; but really, labels can be life-saving. They have the ability to unite you, make you feel part of a community; to make you feel like what you are going through is not only normal to some degree, but also that you are not alone.

I still write about men. Gay men, actually, a lot of the time, because this allows me to express my queerness (I’m also pansexual, which is a whole other thing to explain) as well as my masculinity, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with that; it’s a healthy way of exploring my masculine side in the safety of my own head, and it makes me feel balanced.

For now.