[Content note: mentions of physical and emotional violence.]
You’ve had a long day.
Work was rough, you’re tired, you didn’t have a chance to eat lunch, and you’re feeling emotionally fragile. Right now, all you want is to relax at home, drink some hot tea, and recuperate. No, that’s not all.
What you want, what you need, is a story. You want to read/watch/listen to a story spun from words and images that will make you feel better, that will linger, that will boost you up and remind you there are good things in the world after a shitty day.
There’s a knock at the door. An Author stands on your doorstep and extends a hand. “Hello,” the author says. “I’ve heard you are in need of a story.”
“Why yes,” you reply, grateful, and invite the author inside. When you are both comfortably seated and sipping tea, you ask, “Will this story have someone like me in it?”
“Of course!” Author says.
You lean forward as the author begins to spin a wondrous story, full of adventure and drama and romance. And it has two main characters who are queer! This is so exciting!
Author is nearing the end, and you are breathless with anticipation. Will they defeat the antagonist? Will they get to go home? Will they–
The author suddenly punches you in the face. “And then they died!” the author yells, triumphant.
You sit there, your face throbbing, your brain confused. But why is that the end? It was going so well. Those queer protagonists, the ones like you, the ones you were rooting for and invested in…why are they dead? Why are they in pain? (Why are you in pain?)
“See you next time,” the author says, without the faintest trace of regret, and walks out the door.
You get some ice to put on your face.
Another day, another long slog through work and socialization and endless microagressions and exhuastion. You get home, sore, and you’ve noticed that the bruise where that author punched you has never really gone away. Still, it’s less noticeable.
What you want today is a story…and so you hear a knock at the door. There is a second author standing there.
“Hello,” says Second Author. “I hear you want a story.”
A little wary, you invite the author in. You don’t want to be rude, so you avoid asking outright how this story ends. But you can ask, “Does it have characters–people–like me in it?”
“Naturally,” Second Author says, and launches into a gripping narrative that is both funny and poignant, and best of all, it has a trans character who’s also queer! This is exciting!
You are careful, though, not to sit too close in case the second author’s wild hand gesticulations catch you off guard.
As Second Author nears the end, you sit forward in your chair, gripping the armrests, so invested in what is going on you can’t wait to hear how this resolves. Surely it must be better–
Second Author punches you in the stomach. “And then they died! The end!”
You say, “That hurt.”
The author looks confused. “But it’s just a story, it’s not like I did it on purpose to hurt you.”
“But why did they have to die?” you whisper, because your breath is still knocked out from that punch. It seems like an easier question than asking why the author felt the need to hit you.
“Because it suits the narrative,” Second Author says with an exaggerated shrug. “Come on, it’s just a story.”
You show Second Author out and shut the door.
After that, you reach out to your friends. You wonder if maybe the authors who visited you, who told you stories, were just careless. Maybe they hadn’t intended to punch you in the face.
“Same thing happened to me,” your friends tell you, admitting that, at some point, they also thought maybe it was just them. Different blows, different places. Sometimes an Author would apologize after a punch, but it didn’t make the pain disappear.
“Do you believe the authors?” you ask your best friend one day. “That it’s just a story?”
Your friend, who is like you (who has also been punched), tells you: “Maybe, but it feels very real to me.”
A third author knocks on your door. You unlock the door but don’t undo the chain.
“Hi,” Third Author says, and behind this author, you see a whole line of others waiting to knock, waiting to ask to be invited in, waiting to tell you a story. You don’t know how many of them will try to punch you. “I heard you needed a story?”
“Maybe,” you say, but you don’t let the author in. “First, tell me if the queer characters die or are miserable or–”
“Spoilers, jeez,” the third author says, and flounces off in a huff.
So you interrogate the others who come to your door. Sometimes, in an excited flail of words and gestures, they punch the door. But you’re behind the door. Usually, you just slam it shut before the author finishes.
Maybe, you wonder, sitting alone with your tea, sore (because even blows through the door still hurt), maybe you don’t get happy stories. Maybe you’re not allowed to live. Maybe what you hear or read or see…maybe that’s how it always ends.
And you don’t know why that should be. But you’re angry, and sad, and hurt, and you want to yell at the world to stop fucking around and to those authors all lined up to stop fucking punching you in the face.
There’s a knock at the door. You fling it open, angry, and see another author. This one looks a little nervous, shuffling their feet, holding a stack of manuscript pages in one hand.
“Um, hi,” This Author says. “I have a story I think you might like?”
You fold your arms. “Let me guess,” you say, bitter, “it’s another queer tragedy. Because our suffering sells. Because that’s all you can see for us is coffins and mourning and broken hearts.”
“Well, no,” This Author says, tentatively holding out the pages. “See, when I was smaller, I got punched by other authors, too, so I refuse to do that. I wrote a story that has hope. It has life. It’s about queer characters who live, who are allowed to be happy, who go on to great things. It’s not a beginning and ending based in pain. I’d like to share it with you, if you’re okay with that.”
Cautiously, you let This Author in. You keep your chair well away from theirs. You pull up a pillow shield to deflect any ambushes or thrown attacks that might fly from the story.
This Author clears their throat, still so nervous, and begins to read.
This story has queer characters doing awesome things. It has adventure and drama and humor and excitement and peril and love. And as it nears the end, you brace yourself.
“And they lived, and they were happy,” This Author says quietly. “The end.”
And you sit there, stunned, and realize you’re crying. And so is This Author.
“You weren’t lying,” you whisper.
“No,” This Author says, and hands you the story. “You can keep this, if you like. I made lots of copies to share.”
You nod, trying to wrap your brain around this idea that the author wants you to be happy, wants you to live, wants you to have hope again.
“Will you…will you tell me more like that?”
“Yes,” This Authors says, beaming. “I would like to tell you all the stories that are like this.”
So you pull your chair closer and This Author asks if you’d like to tell them a story in return.
“We can share,” they say, and you think you’d like that. Someone to hear your stories as well as let you hear theirs.
And maybe this is real life, but that story that was hopeful and happy? It doesn’t make the bruises go away all at once. But it helps. It heals.