I started to carve my identity as a social activist as soon as I landed on the limestone steps of my college in rural Pennsylvania back in August 2003. The first two clubs I signed up for were the Dickinson College Democrats and Spectrum, the gay-straight alliance on campus. I never ended up being very active with the Dems, but I took activism to a whole new level with Spectrum.
As I was coming to terms with my own sexuality as a freshman and sophomore, I took on more and more leadership responsibilities in the club. That first year, I helped with our drive to raise money for AIDS research on World AIDS Day. The second year, I took a position on the Spectrum leadership board. By junior year I was one of the faces of Spectrum and took up the banner for the Fight to Give Life, a movement I helped form to get the Food and Drug Administration to change their policy banning gay men from donating blood. Over that spring break I and fellow board member Shawn Werner took to the roads, driving from Pennsylvania to Kansas and back to spread the word at gay bars and college campuses; on 04/05/06 we mobilized college students across the nation to go to their local blood banks with a petition pledging their support for the overturning of this antiquated and discriminatory rule. We ended up getting enough attention that all the blood banks in the U.S. (The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, etc.) stood behind us, and in May 2006 we were invited to speak on the issue to members of Congress in D.C. While the rule remains, the conversation continues, and I felt like my voice was being heard on a national level for the first time. I felt like I could make a difference with my beliefs and words.
Now that I am out of the college bubble, it is words I personally turn to as an outlet for my activism.
As a teenager who was confronted with the confusion of being attracted to both men and women, I had trouble finding any words that properly helped explain my feelings. I wanted literature that spoke to me and others dealing with similar issues. Once I graduated from college, I finally had the time to write the very book I had wanted to read.
In the fall of 2007, I started writing what would become my first full-length novel, Queer Greer. In the protagonist, Greer MacManus, I put all my own thoughts and qualms when I was attracted to a female for the first time in my life. Knowing how many teens were grappling with the same fears and confusions I had, I made her a junior in high school who found herself in the middle of a love triangle when she became attracted to both a boy and a girl upon moving to a new school.
The past year has revealed the extent to which young members of the LGBT community -- some who have come out of the proverbial closet and some who have not -- are being bullied in schools across the country, some to the extent that suicide has become their only means of escape. I have written this book for them, and for everyone who has ever felt like they don't have a voice or anyone to turn to in the face of blatant discrimination.
In many ways, I know that this book is my first step toward becoming not just a professional writer but an "activist writer." When there are so few books available featuring truly bisexual characters, not just straight girls making out with each other for the amusement of boys in college, or gay characters going through an experimental phase, writing a book about bisexuality and all the tribulations that come with it is a form of activism in and of itself.
I was asked to speak at the True Colors Conference at the University of Connecticut in March 2011 about Queer Greer and the topic "Being Bisexual in a Gay/Straight World." It was the first time I saw just how powerful my own words could be. The small room I was assigned to quickly filled to capacity, and soon students of middle-school, high-school, and college age were sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls to hear what I had to say and join in the discussion.
I vividly recall a young boy, no older than 14, standing toward the end of the program and, amidst tears, coming out as bisexual and announcing timidly how alone he felt. Within seconds everyone in the vicinity had stood to hug him. It was beyond moving, and I felt tears spring to my own eyes as I watched his honesty and bravery transform the room. In that moment I knew I had done something right: I had reached someone with my words.
I hope to continue to do the same.
I wrote Queer Greer as a form of LGBT activism, and my second book, Choice, to speak out about the issues surrounding abortion and the freedom of choice.
Once an activist, always an activist, no matter what form that activism takes.
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