I remember one of the first stories I wrote, it was borne out of this story I heard from a family reunion that summer, about one of my aunt’s high school batchmates leaving her husband for another high school batchmate — also a girl.
That story I wrote starts with a flashback: The two of them at 15, riding bicycles under the rain in their hometown. It follows the two girls through graduation, and, much later on, a high school reunion, and everything afterwards, which is when things get interesting.
Of course, they have an affair; at the time, I was big on that Girl loves a Girl who loves a Boy-trope because I was in love with a straight girl once. (Who wasn’t?)
That story is now 10 years old. Looking at it now, a decade hence — well, the thing is decidedly unreadable: it sounds so young and raw, which was admittedly my thing in 2007. That was a year for a lot of raw, young things that I just churned out after a couple of sleepless nights, and then carelessly shared unedited.
And now here we are.
But yeah, truth be told it may not have been the best written thing, but at least it was written, and even read; at least it exists somewhere on the cloud in such a manner that, many many years later I could still look it up and reference it in a blog post like this one*.
In the end I suppose that’s what matters: That I did my part in adding to what little we had of our stories out there. Out here.
Do you remember the first story that truly touched you? Mine was Jeanette Winterson’s “Written on the Body.” I found it in the middle of A Bad Year; in fact, I called it a break-up book, which meant that I read it on train rides to and from Quezon City to distract myself from that period when I felt I was so single it chafed.
But more than the story itself (it chronicles the relationship of a genderless narrator with a complicated, confusing married woman) and the beautiful prose (if her turns of phrase had a sport, it would be gymnastics), that book filled me with possibility — there are words for the way I feel — and it wasn’t even that I was under the illusion I could even write like her; it was enough for me to know that somewhere out there, those words existed: that at some point those words found each other on the same sentence, the same paragraph, the same page.
Since then, it has been something like a treasure hunt — where were the other words? How did the other stories go?
A story I like returning to, time and again, is from Ali Smith’s short story collection Free Love and Other Stories. My favorite scene from the titular piece “Free Love” features two girls on vacation in Amsterdam:
“Then she put her arms round me and kissed my mouth and my neck and shoulders, we were kissing in the middle of Amsterdam and nobody even noticing. Even after the Heineken wore off the afternoon didn’t, it lasted for the rest of the holiday, me with my arm through hers on the street, at nights in the youth hostel dormitory Jackie reaching up from her bunk below mine to press her hand into my back, us holding hands between bunks in the dark in a room full of sleeping people. Very romantic. Amsterdam was very romantic.”
I was quite out of breath just typing all of that down — I love this about Smith, because sometimes she just types everything out, sans punctuation marks, and it feels like she’s running red lights, and how apt, right? That reckless, teenage love — and in Amsterdam, at that!
I wonder if I’ll ever be in Amsterdam, or if I ever will be able to join a Heineken tour, but here’s a (sad) certain thing: I’ll never be able to bike around in Amsterdam in my twenties. Ever. In fact, when I entered my thirties, this was one of the very first things that crossed my mind: Oh. There goes the myriad of things I’ll never get to do as a twentysomething.
But here’s the other (happier) certain thing: That Smith story about those girls biking drunk through a Heineken tour in Amsterdam left such an unforgettable mark that it’s in my brain as if I’d been the one whose heart got filled to bursting (and, later on, broken) in Amsterdam that one summer.
Damn. So that’s how you write That One Summer Fling story.
Stories mirror. Stories validate. Stories transport. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have stories out there that we could consume, enjoy and identify with. This isn’t limited to books and print, of course; these days, a lot of queer storylines have been making their way to TV and movies, as well, reaching more audiences — the most important among them being a generation of young LGBTQ-identifying persons growing up with more material to interact with.
They’re there when you look for them, but then again you have to know where to look. In this corner of the map, we have had a couple of local LGBTQ-centered shows that ran on primetime, and comedy flicks powered by members of the community. We’ve had noontime shows that hosted pageants and talent segments that specifically catered to community members. We’ve had a handful of LGBTQ-themed films too, most of them helmed by independent moviemakers. (While we’re at this, an interruption: I’m looking for recs re: locally produced lesbian-centric anthologies. Thanks in advance.)
A couple of weeks ago, ahead of pre-Valentine’s weekend, a popular fast food chain launched a series of love-themed commercials that went viral. Needless to say, none of them were LGBTQ-themed — which, while expected, was a bit disappointing anyway. (Surprisingly, the LGBTQ-themed V-Day commercial this year came from, of all things, a cooking oil brand. Kudos, Minola!)
Though I’m happy the community’s getting a bit of traction (I remember Smart’s “Welcome Change” ad from a handful of months back, actually), in the end “G” is part of a continuously lengthening acronym, and as a duly invested member of the “L” community, I am asking: “What gives?”
So yeah, maybe there won’t be commercials about you and me and this love, and maybe we’re not really “there” yet — I get it.
I suppose, after all this time this still rings true: If you want it done, you gotta do it yourself.
This means, for the purpose of this entry: One has to write the story one wants to read.
Truth be told, I think I’m simply writing and re-writing the same story. I used to think this was a bad thing; after all, wasn’t this essentially plagiarism? Anyway, I was thinking about that when I unearthed an old series of stories I wrote from close to a decade ago, the words all unpolished and wrong. I remember with just a tad bit of embarrassment what a fool I’d made of myself when I tried pitching that for actual publication — it got rejected, and rightly so, and years later I’m still wondering, What the fuck was I thinking?
You know when you’re talking to someone and they’re so brokenhearted they feel as if they’ve just been run-over? The feelings are fresh and the wounds still sting and they’re talking like all the words coming out of their mouth are caps locked. But then, you meet that person again, several years hence, and when you ask them about it, they are far more sober yet the core of the experience remains the same, but with much better words around them, old and muted, though no less true.
So what if it’s the same story? That first kiss. That first heartbreak. That best friend that got away. That person you took the long route with but ended up with, eventually. That person you will love till the afterlife. These are all the same stories, all told differently.
Ask again, then: So what if it’s the same story?
Tell it anyway.
*This post first appeared on The Last Girl @ Medium