Everyone was talking about it. That’s why I snuck upstairs and watched Ellen’s coming out episode on the TV in my parents’ bedroom. No other reason.
In 1997, I was 14 and years away from realizing. Sure, I had a poster of Gillian Anderson on my wall and gazed at it daily. I’d filled a stack of notebooks with angsty poems because my church friend didn’t pay enough attention to me. But that didn’t mean anything.
I kept the remote in my hand, poised to flip channels if I heard footsteps. My parents weren’t even homophobic. Uncomfortable with the topic, sure, but they were Democrats. They wouldn’t be mad that I watched Ellen. Yet, for some strange reason, I didn’t want anyone to know I was interested.
“The Puppy Episode” was the first and last episode of Ellen that I watched. I was too cool to like sitcoms — and besides, I wasn’t gay. I preferred to watch lofty dramas like the X-Files, in particular, the pilot episode when Gillian Anderson strips down to her — anyway, I was straight. Somehow, I continued to believe this earnestly for 4 more years.
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My first lesbian romance novel (The Love Factor) takes place in 1997, and it opens with Ellen’s coming out scene. One character reacts with joy, while the other feels bitter because she can’t imagine coming out to her own friends and family.
I set the book in the 90s for a lot of reasons. I’ve always been fascinated by the dramatic shift in US public opinion on gay rights, and I wanted to explore how it happened from a social science perspective. (The pitch every romance publisher wants to hear, right?)
Plus, I’ve always been obsessed with 90s politics — in particular, the tragedy of the Clinton administration. I’ll never get sick of reading about it.
But most of all, I wanted to go backwards in time. These days, many queer authors avoid writing about homophobia and the “coming out story.” Which makes total sense, because in many ways, we’re past that.
However, I figured I wouldn’t be motivated unless I wrote what I wanted. So I made a conscious choice that my first book would be about gay rights, being gay, coming out, homophobia, gay gay gay gay gay.
I’m not sure why I wanted to write that story — some historical shit to work out, probably. But I wrote it, and some people liked it. My next two books are set in the present day, and no one is homophobic. I guess I got it out of my system.
Anyway, happy coming out day to all.