When I was in high school, I started writing my own happy endings.
I was fifteen, in love with another girl, drowning in homework, developing schizophrenia, and generally more confused than ever.
Then came yet another English project, which included doing research on a chosen subject and then writing about it in ten different genres/formats. A Multi Genre Research Portfolio of Fun, if you will. Or, the MGRPOF. There were multiple all nighters and trips to craft stores involved in this Portfolio of Fun for most of us, and it was due immediately after an annual, weekend long field trip for my major that was basically a sacred tradition, making many of us in the program, including me, miss it.
Still. Not yet out, I dared to push the envelope a little and selected my topic: mental health and LGBTQ+ young adults.
I researched. I discovered the Butterfly Project, years before I needed it. I read Raising My Rainbow by Lori Duron (and keep up on that family to this day). I read countless articles.
For one of my genres, I selected the short story, but instead of the one or two pages required, I ended up writing sixty, and split it into sections. Each section ended in a piece that fit into that same story—though the project didn’t have to all go together—in another format option offered: a love letter, a diary entry, a speech, a poem, a news article.
And through this portfolio, I created a future I could see myself fitting into. Here are two young women in college, one struggling with depression and being openly queer despite her dubious and religious upbringing, the other closeted and questioning, too anxious to commit and come out, still thinking of the straight girl in high school who got away. Here is how they fall in love: the close friendship typical among young women that goes further and further. Here is them dancing together when their male dates vanish, here is them taking on stigma hand in hand, here is the kiss they share at a pride rally when everything feels okay.
Here is a world for me beyond a husband, two point five kids, and a dog.
My final submission was all arranged together in a scrapbook. I still have that scrapbook. It is not an archive of my past, but an archive of the first future I saw for myself filled with that kind of love, after I started having so many questions.
I don’t have a husband, or two point five kids, or a dog. (Well, there’s always the imaginary one.) I have a wife, and two cats (and I’m petitioning for number three), and a house on the end of a cul de sac with a metaphorical white picket fence, and a white SUV, and a conglomeration of things I do, that I love, and that aren’t such shocking choices; yet there was a time I couldn’t see this future coming.
And still, sometimes, I seek out my past. I seek it out in the young adult section of the library that is, both slowly and all at once, catching up.
Here are stories about hopeless crushes on queer Internet friends that you’ve never gotten to meet, but rush home to talk to, text under the table in class. Here are stories with teenagers running to therapy appointments after school, doing homework in waiting rooms, or running to synagogue, doing public school homework under the table with Hebrew papers on top, and asking the Rabbi the hard questions; is it okay to be gay? What if you don’t believe? Here are stories with girls falling asleep on each other on the bus, holding hands while they walk home from the bus stop and wondering if it means what they think it means. Here are stories with practice kissing and stolen glances at your best friend while doing homework together. Here are stories about Googling words you discovered in fan fiction erotica, that sound a whole lot like you.
Here are stories that make me feel like any of it ever made any sense, enough sense that maybe someone else could’ve gone through it, too. Here are the stories I put in my read in color Little Free Library, so that everyone else can read them, too.
Here are the stories I write, for the people who need them most. Readers tell me over and over how they cling to my characters that resemble them, because they’re not cis or straight or vanilla or monogamous or abled or neurotypical or White or Christian or male. How it feels to be seen, to see themselves, past, present, and future, to be represented.
And that’s why we need diverse stories.
But sometimes even I wonder if we still need them. Are there enough now? Look at the Internet. Look at the world. We’ve come so far. So many things are more visible. Yet we’ve slipped back so much, too. And are stories worthy? Or should all that time go to other activism?
But then my mind provides me a memory: sitting at a pancake brunch with an elderly family member, glowing, radiant, as she tells me she is so glad to have lived into her eighties to finally get to watch a few characters who are like her on primetime television.
And then I stop asking silly questions, pick up my pen, and get back to work.