Coming out in Character
For Coming Out Day, 2009
Peter was “born” sometime in the second half of 1999, likely toward winter. I remember that first scene very vividly. I saw him wrapped in a brown cloak, his hands wrapped around a staff, a tuft of his sandy hair protruding from the hood. He was standing by enormous bronze gates, cast in the torchlight, keeping watch: yes, my first original protagonist of my first original (non-collaborative) novel, then titled, The Gatekeeper. He started out as the savior of the world and ended up its doombringer.
Yes, much about Peter has changed in ten years, and since then his world has become home to The Aldersgate and The Ward of the Rose (albeit a Great Collision and 400 years later). But as of last April, though I’d finished a (fourth… fifth?) draft of his book, Peter of Windbourne, I was not happy with it. Something was bubbling somewhere under the surface that I couldn’t root out, couldn’t figure out. And so, instead of flogging a dead horse of the manuscript, I abandoned his story for a while and moved forward in the timeline, beginning The Aldersgate.
I had honestly given up on Peter, thinking his story to be that dusty tome of a novel never meant to see the light of day. Except, as I started work on The Ward of the Rose, his story started once again to surface… in my dreams, in my writing. I realized there were questions I had left unanswered that directly related to the story of The Ward of the Rose and, to finish that book off, I had to revisit Peter again. Which meant another ground-up rewrite; which I’d done countless times already.
I won’t pretend that Peter’s story is particularly unusual. It’s heroic fantasy, though without Elves and Dwarves and “easy” magic. There are swords and prophecies, alliances and sworn enemies. It’s about family and friendship, belief and blasphemy, outside and inside. But, all that aside, the relationships in the book, the characters, are always what made the story move for me. And yet for all my writing and rewriting, there was a note off in the chord that took me years to decipher.
And then I realized part of the problem. Peter didn’t like girls at all.
I remember mulling about the house after I realized this. No, it wasn’t the first time a queer character made their way into my writing. But it was the first time that the sole-POV did. It made for some challenges but…
What struck me most clearly was how unimportant it seemed in relationship to everything else, and yet (paradoxically) how much of an impact it had on Peter as a character. As I rewrote again, the story arc didn’t change; Peter was still working in the same capacity as before. Except his motivations changed. His reasoning behind things changed. The intensity of his emotions had to change, the way he viewed other people. Once I had figured out his sexuality, a great deal more about him became more obvious to me, much of which I had abandoned in earlier drafts for a stock lead character.
The result is that the last draft of Peter of Windbourne has a very different leading man. Seeds of the same character exist, but Peter and I have a connection that even ten years of working through couldn’t account for. I finally have his entire motivation boiled down into one sentence: Peter wants love and knowledge. The shades of those two desires change throughout the course of the book, and at times, writing it has been far more emotionally draining than anything else to date. But it’s far better for it.
No, writing a gay character doesn’t give me any kind of real-world cred. It doesn’t mean I know what it’s like. But it gives me a window into a soul, however contrived, and I think it brings me closer to knowing, to imagining what it would be like. That’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? Exploring what cannot be explored in this world. The story is more complete now that I have a full view of my character. Whether I wasn’t brave enough before to go with what was clearly there from the beginning, I don’t know. It’s a journey and, technically speaking, the longest writing journey I’ve ever been on (the island on which the story’s set technically appeared in ’92).
But I’m glad for it. It’s the story as it should be, as it was meant to be.