Saturday, February 7, 2009

Coming Out

by Jean Roberta

(We're delighted to welcome our first guest author at the re-invented Oh Get A Grip, the erudite and eloquent Jean Roberta. See the end of her post for her links.)

Doing anything for the first time tends to inspire nostalgia later on (oh, how innocent I was/we were then), but at the time, it’s usually embarrassing.

I “came out” as a lesbian in the winter of 1982 by going to the local gay bar (in a town of under 200,000 on the Canadian prairie) after thinking about this for years. I went alone. I had ascertained the existence and location of this dark and smoky place by calling a telephone number I had discovered, trying to lower my voice to a mutter so I would sound like a Real Dyke, newly arrived from a more worldly city.

At the bar, I was delighted to meet friendly strangers, both men and women. At one point, I was sitting at a table where everyone was telling their “coming out” stories. “Gay” life at that time and place was parallel to the life of a debutante in a narrow circle of “good families” circa 1870 or so – everyone in the lady’s community could guess her age, social status and availability from when, where and how she had “come out” into “society.”

That night in 1982, I would rather have died than admit that I was “coming out” at that moment. I had no juicy stories of sweet or tragic love affairs with other women to tell, no stories of conservative parents throwing me out of the family home. I could imagine myself in a debutante’s white gown, exposed as a blank slate to the knowing eyes around me. I pretended to be too buttoned-up to discuss my private past. The woman sitting next to me asked: “Are you straight?”

There it was, the question I dreaded. I hadn’t been able to answer it conclusively for myself.

I gulped and said, “No.” That answer seemed good enough to gain me entrée into the bar crowd. Within weeks, I had enough lesbian experience to realize that you can only enter a small, gossipy community once – after that, you have a role in it, for better or worse.

There are many ways to “come out,” and most people do this several times during their lives. Each time you start a new job, you are taking on a new role in a new milieu.

“Coming out” as a writer is parallel to other debuts. I was thrilled at age ten when a teacher showed me my poem in the teachers’ magazine to which she had submitted it. I was published! But the world didn’t care for long, and I was never asked to join a secret club. Since then, I’ve learned that the secret writers’ club (publication guaranteed) is largely a myth.

It’s true enough that writers, editors and publishers of a certain genre tend to know each other, and it’s true enough that being known in the biz can be helpful. But being known and being accepted without reservation are two different things.

After a year of submitting my erotic stories to editors who didn’t reply, I began getting thrilling messages telling me that my work was accepted and would be published somewhere. I still can’t predict reliably whether a certain story submission will appeal to a certain editor. I’ve been amazed to get glowing praise for writing of mine that I no longer like very much, and (rarely) to get wildly contemptuous rants from editors about stories of mine that I still secretly love. As they say, there is no explaining taste.

Stories posted to writers loops such as the Erotic Readers and Writers Association by writers who confess to being unpublished amateurs are sometimes so polished that I doubt whether the authors will stay unpublished for long, except possibly by choice. I’m tempted to point out that if you don’t want others to know that you have no publication history, you don’t have to tell them; readers (and ethical editors) will judge you by what they read.

Writers who want to satisfy themselves as well as others are always trying to grow and change, and this means always beginning again, always “coming out.” I no longer think that a blank page or screen is less intimidating to a much-publisher author than to a novice. Every new work-in-progress is another first-chance to make an impression, for better or worse.

Obsession - Erotic short stories by Jean Roberta

Jean's links:


  1. Hi Jean,
    I love your website - Green is my favorite color! Obession sounds like a great book and I'd love to read it.

    God Bless,

  2. Hey Jean,

    Thanks for the great post. It's very nice to learn more about the names we hear in this business, and I'm always interested in 'alternative lifestyle' writers!

    Hope Obsession sells great guns for you.


  3. Hello Jean,

    Just enjoyed a tour around your website and am looking forward to reading Obsession. Thanks for the insightful "initiation" post.

  4. Hi Jean,

    A lovely post and it's wonderful finding out a little more about you. It sounds like you've led an extremely interesting life, from call girl to educator...there's a story there, don't you think? LOL

    Thanks so much for helping us with our grand opening week and I hope to see more of you.


  5. What you say here is all too true - each story is a new beginning, a new coming out. I'm amazed that I don't curl up in a fetal position and cry every time I face a blank screen. But once you get that story out, it's a great feeling of relief.

    Thank you so much for the first post of our re-opening!

  6. Jean, let me add my thanks for your contribution to our first week! I hope that we can convince you to come back.


  7. Great post Jean. I loved your coming out story. It's never easy being the new girl or guy, is it?