Renae Kaye on her connections to the LGBT Community
I was asked to do a guest blog Rainbow Gold Reviews, and yay – I’m happy to meet new people and (potentially) new readers all the time. I chatted with Marc, and I begged him to give me a blog topic. If you give me a topic, I can blather on for ages (I’m a writer – words are my forte). But coming up with something interesting is always hard. So Marc sent me a challenge – what connects me to the LGBT Community?
I stopped and thought – was I even connected with the LGBT community? It’s a strange “beast” to harness. So I began thinking about the people that I know who would fit into the “LGBT” label. Some of them I’ve come across since writing gay romance, but the huge majority are “before” that. Since I’m still 80% in the closet about my writing (we’ll get to that), I haven’t had a huge amount of people approach me regarding it.
So I started cataloguing those who I have “picked up” along the way during my life that are L, G, B or T. And do you know what? They come from everywhere.
In high school, there were three groups of people when it came to hanging out. In my mind I call them The Cool Kids, The Smokers and The Misfits. This was the 90’s and bullying was rampant. I copped my share – mostly because I was socially inept (from being raised in an adult-only household so other children were a total mystery to me) and also because I didn’t give a fuck what other people thought of me. I was the square-bear of the class, the teacher’s pet and that-girl-who-is-a-really-good-singer-and-actor. Yes – I hung firmly with The Misfits.
The Cool Kids were the sporty jocks and the girls who knew how to act/dress/do makeup. That was way too much effort for me. The Smokers were the kids who – umm, smoked. They snuck cigarettes to school, wore a lot of black, got in trouble a lot in class, and were the first to experiment with drugs. And The Misfits were everyone else.
Our group was mostly ethnic people, or those whose bodyshapes didn’t fit the norm. We had the computer geeks, since this was before computer geekery was cool, and the religious nuts. They weren’t nuts, but if you needed to fill in thirty minutes of conversation, you would just need to ask Rod or Tom about evolution and you would be in a fierce debate. **cringes to remember she often did this, because getting Rod worked up about the bible was fun** Since most of the kids in our group were born overseas, they preferred soccer to Aussie Rules football, had lunches that consisted of rice, sushi and other “weird” items, spoke in accents that were hard to understand and had rules to their households that often baffled me. (And now that I know about child-marriage it also horrifies me).
And we also welcomed and sheltered the LGBT kids in our group.
I don’t think we had a name or label for these kids then. I never thought about sexual orientation at high school. We just all didn’t fit in with the others, and the reason for that was never discussed. In fact, it was only after high school that I found out about my friends.
Being academically inclined, and also participating in a lot of the school musicals, I sometimes had to work closely with the people from the other groups. At first they would be stand-offish. But then they would warm to me, and they would often say that I was “normal” or that they didn’t realise that they could like someone from The Misfits group.
I think this is key to understanding why I’m open to LGBT and often others aren’t. The Cool Kids group and The Smokers group were congregated because of their sameness. The Misfits dealt with our differences, yet still formed a cohesive collection. We were more open to difference. I learned from high school not to judge people who are different.
After high school, Michael came out, and I remember feeling a little sad that he couldn’t tell us before graduation. He was a part of my inner group and I truthfully have to say that he being gay never crossed my mind. He was just Michael.
Several years later two of the girls came out as lesbians, and one as bisexual. But it was an email I received about 9 months ago that touched me to my core.
“D” was a guy I went to both primary school and high school with. We were friends, although perhaps not super close. I remember dancing with him at several school discos and cheering him on at soccer. If we sat near each other in class we would chat, we caught the same bus home so always talked then, but never sought each other’s company outside of school. After high school he disappeared into the ether. I often wondered where he’d gone.
So when a strange woman friended me on Facebook, I frowned. The first name was unfamiliar and the only person I knew with that surname was… OMG! LOOK AT HER! She looks FABULOUS. I immediately began FB chatting with D and it was lovely to catch up. The following week I met her and her wife for coffee. At one stage she smiled at me shyly and said, “I knew I could contact you and there be no problem.”
I think that is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had. It gave me courage to reveal my secret to her – that I wrote gay romance.
So this brings me to the point about my 80% in the closet. You see – my family don’t know. At first I didn’t wish to tell them because I didn’t know if I was going to succeed or fail as a writer. And hey – no one likes to look silly in front of their siblings. At that stage, writing was just a hobby. But then I got my first publishing contract, and it became real. When my first book released, I thought it was a fluke. But with each successive release, my pride and confidence grows.
But how to tell them about the gay bit? That one is hard. I mean I’m not ashamed of it, but how do you explain to your 73-year-old mother that her youngest child is straight, happily married, has two small children – and after those kids go to bed, she writes about men having sex?
And the HORROR – what if she wants to read it? **dying of mortification here**
I mean, I started lying to my mother about sex when I was in my teens and I smiled and told her that my new boyfriend hadn’t gone “that far”. I think that was the last time we ever discussed the matter. How will my mother react to my casual-sex-with-a-stranger-in-the-camping-ground-bathroom scene that I wrote? Or that one…? Oh, crap!
I would possibly tell my sisters quite easily, but I don’t want my mother to find out “by accident” like events in our family often come to the surface – because yes, shit floats. And my sisters, who like to smile at me and secretly tell their friends that the youngest of the family “never amounted to much,” would get really shitty about the fact that I can boast of book sales in dozens of countries. So I kinda wanted to tell Mum first. I’ve waited for an opening since September last year…
So far, the only people who know about my career are a number of parents and teachers at the school that my 5yo and 7yo attend. And how they reacted was a mixed bag. At first I told a couple of close friends, who were very excited for me, and while “the gay bit” got a few jaw drops, they wanted to know more. I’ve also told a couple of teachers, who immediately demanded to read the book. They were positive about the LGBT bit, but a little hesitant about descriptions in the book that happen behind those closed doors.
But recently I told a father of one of the students at school. I was expecting a better reaction, since he seemed to be an open man and works in a hospital. He didn’t believe me and had to get verification of the truth from a nearby friend. A good description for him would be “flabbergasted.” For a start, he never even considered that such a genre existed – let alone that it could be written by the mother of primary school aged children. I’m happy to report, that after the news sunk in, he hasn’t treated me any differently.
For the huge majority of people I meet every day, I simply say I’m a writer. Those who want to know more, I tell them I write romance. People will quite happily go on their way then. And really – that’s how I view my writing. I write romance. It’s not about hiding, or being honest. I’ve had the suggestion before that I’m hiding what I write – but I’m not. I’m simply not being specific. Why do we need to specify past “romance”? My mother-in-law reads autobiographies, but truthfully I’m not interested in who. I assume it is sport stars and movie stars, but what does it matter apart from the fact it is nothing that I would ever want to borrow from her?
“What do you tell your children?” is another one I get. The answer – nothing. At this moment in their lives, I tell them that “Mummy is working on the computer.” They accept that. Soon I will tell them that I write books, but they’re not suitable for children. They understand there are movies that are not suitable for children – why not books?
“What do you do about homophobic slurs?” is another one I get – but do you know what? I really don’t hear them at all. If I do, I’m sure I will correct the person rapidly. I’m also very aware of letting my children know that gay is okay – without putting a label on it. At this stage we practice a lot of positive reinforcements such as, “It’s okay for boys to wear a fairy costume if they want,” and “boys can love boys if they want.” A few parents have confided their anxieties to me about the fact that their sons are not really masculine. I smile and listen, but I think what they want most to hear is that it’s okay and that people are not going to judge them because their son dressed up as Snow White on Book Character Day.
However last year I had the UTMOST pleasure in promoting LGBT issues at my kids’ school. Without going into too much detail, there was a LGBT issue that popped up regarding one of the teachers at the school. The information was leaked to the media before the school could get the information out to the parents about the matter. So when we turned up to drop off the kids, a journalist and her camera crew were waiting to ambush the parents.
Now, I have to say that I had an inkling about the matter in the months previous to this day, so I wasn’t completely surprised. And I also had my acting background to fall back on. So when the journalist targeted me – a rather mummy-looking, plain, woman – and shoved a microphone in my face while asking a rather offensive question about what I thought, BOY DID THEY PICK THE WRONG MUMMY. With a question designed to send parents into hysterics upon hearing the truth about this teacher, they were obviously looking for disgust or revolt, or perhaps a religious high-horse. After all, that makes good viewing. Instead they got a rather articulate woman, who showed no surprise, and pleasantly spoke to the camera saying that it didn’t matter one iota to her about this teacher’s private life, and yes she would happily discuss the matter with her children, and no she had no problems with the teacher’s sexuality.
If I could’ve filmed the journalist’s disappointment at my non-reaction…
With a polite nod at the cameraman, I walked away. The journalist, without a good interview left without stirring up trouble.
So after all these words in this rather long blog, did I answer the question? How do I connect with the LGBT community? Truthfully, I don’t do anything special apart from try to be polite, non-judgemental and accepting to everyone I meet. And somehow, I end up with a large percentage of friends and acquaintances who don’t fit into the straight and narrow box. It’s high school all over again – I collect The Misfits.
Does this influence my writing at all? HELL, YES. To me, gay men are not just people who are strippers or firemen or flamboyant drag queens. Gay men are my neighbours and people I meet in my community. My characters are always regular, everyday people who you could possibly meet down the pub or at the shops. My characters embody normality. I try to be realistic, and therefore they have professions such as an accountant, an economics teacher or even unemployed. They have disabilities, money problems, temper problems and even body issues. They sometimes do dumb things. They sometimes muck up. But they are always just looking for someone to love them – and often they need to learn to compromise in order to have a relationship.
I write with comedic flair, because I have no idea how to do otherwise. I write based in Australia, because I have no idea how to do otherwise. I write with heart and I always create a happy ending for my guys, because I have no idea how to do otherwise. If you pick up one of my books, I hope you enjoy.
How to contact Renae:
By Renae Kaye
Published by Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: 6th March 2015
Shawn is single, twenty-nine, the full-time carer of his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and a frequent victim of Murphy’s Law—although his family call it Shawn’s Law. Other than caring for mum, his day consists of painting nude men and spying on the guy who walks his dogs along the street every day at four o’clock. When he takes a spectacular fall on his front steps, who is there to witness it other than the man of his dreams?
Harley doesn’t believe in Shawn’s Law – but he soon changes his mind.
The two men make it through a memorable first date and Shawn’s sexual insecurities to begin a relationship stumbling toward love. But when Shawn’s Law causes Harley to be injured, Shawn is determined to save Harley’s life the only way he knows how—by breaking up with him. Not once, but twice. Throw in a serial killer ex-boyfriend, several deadly Australian animals, two dogs called Bennie, a mother who forgets to wear clothes, an unforgiving Town Council, and a strawberry-flavored condom dolly, and Shawn’s Law is one for the books.
RENAE KAYE BIO
Renae Kaye is a lover and hoarder of books who thinks libraries are devilish places because they make you give the books back. She consumed her first adult romance book at the tender age of thirteen and hasn’t stopped since. After years – and thousands of stories! – of not having book characters do what she wants, she decided she would write her own novel and found the characters still didn’t do what she wanted. It hasn’t stopped her though. She believes that maybe one day the world will create a perfect couple – and it will be the most boring story ever. So until then she is stuck with quirky, snarky and imperfect characters who just want their story told.
Renae lives in Perth, Western Australia and writes in five minute snatches between the demands of two kids, a forbearing husband, too many pets, too much housework and her beloved veggie garden. She is a survivor of being the youngest in a large family and believes that laughter (and a good book) can cure anything.