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A.J. Walkley Headshot

Refusing to Hide My Identity in Writing

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These days, it seems like I am getting weekly emails from my mother regarding various posts on my Twitter and Facebook pages; she's extremely concerned I am wearing my bisexuality on my sleeve in these public forums, and that doing so will come back to bite me negatively very soon.

"Well, Mom, you do know I'm in the middle of publicizing my book, Queer Greer, right?"

Regardless of the fact that my novel is about a teenager coming to terms with her sexuality in high school, my mother cannot help but voice her concerns. While I continue to assuage those fears of hers, I can't help but wonder if in some ways she is right -- maybe not about this book, specifically, but regarding my entire persona as a writer.

To be sure, most of us think of certain authors or writers in a certain way, depending on what topics they generally write about. With J.K. Rowling you get fantasy. Anne Rice equals vampires. John Grisham equates to courtroom dramas. You get the idea. Stephen King, however, is always pegged a horror writer, regardless of the fact that he has written on other topics as well -- just look at The Body, which became Stand by Me. In fact, King has written many books under pseudonyms, perhaps to get out from under that very peg. Many writers tend to get pigeonholed for the topics they write about, if they stick to a certain theme for more than a few projects. When you've published a book with a very specific focus, though, you cannot help but cater to it and the audience it is intended for -- at least to a certain extent.

It just so happens that I am extremely proud of my identity within the LGBTQ community, and publicizing Queer Greer is currently one of my favorite joys. I readily characterize myself as a "queer" writer, irrespective of the topics I am writing on at any given time. Does my novel Choice, about the decisions a teen makes when faced with a pregnancy, make me any less queer? Not at all. Does my forthcoming novel Vuto, about traditional differences witnessed by a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, make me any less a part of LGBTQ culture? Not in the least.

I think my mother is concerned that the strength of my queer identity could dissuade some readers from picking up my books at all, whatever the given topic. This is an argument I've heard before when it's been suggested that I leave off certain gay-themed aspects in my résumé when applying for jobs, for instance (like my speaking engagement at the True Colors Conference last year, or the César Chávez Social Justice Award I helped achieve for my college's gay-straight alliance, Spectrum). I don't blame my mom for making such suggestions, because I know they come from a place of love and protection; she simply doesn't want me to be discriminated against wrongfully, if I can help it. Nevertheless, I always have the same response and always will: if anyone, reader or potential employer alike, wants to judge me based on my sexual identity, they are not the right reader or employer for me. Simple as that.

I hope that when I move on to my next publication, the followers, fans, and readers who have come to love Queer Greer will continue to read, regardless of the topic of the book not being about sexuality in any way. At the same time, I hope my audience will grow as the subject matter I write about expands, and my sexuality won't dissuade more readers from picking up my books.

But if it does, maybe they just aren't meant to be reading my words. As long as I continue to keep my view as a writer broad, why shouldn't my readers, as well?