Often when I’m asked the question what made you want to write I would like to give a unique answer, but mine is quite similar to what many authors say—it’s because I grew up needing stories that didn’t exist for me, stories that showed me I mattered. Because not so long ago I was a closeted teen cutting out pictures of girls from my mother’s clothing catalogs and hiding them.
As far back as I can remember I spent my time imagining fantasy worlds where I could be who I was without fear, without judgment. I inhabited mythical worlds in my mind, where I could fall in love and have crushes on girls. A world where it was safe to be me.
Growing up I had often witnessed discrimination against lgbtq+ people from afar. Saw the stereotypes in media, heard words laced with disgust in certain churches, even said amongst relatives. My family wondered why I was so distant, depressed, and seeming to be bitter at everyone and everything, when they couldn’t begin to comprehend what I experienced since the moment I heard someone refer to “queer” as an abomination.
For years those words had haunted me in ways I never knew, damaging my own psyche, because I was in fact gay, but didn’t admit it to myself until much later. But more than that—hearing such things instilled a deep seeded fear and self-hate inside myself, which kept the closeted-me from having the power sooner to be the not-closeted-me. Keeping this part of myself hidden from those who loved me the most.
It made me bitter long before I ever truly knew what I was bitter about.
My life became rife with secrets and fear for the sheer fact of existing, and when I did finally come out, I experienced that homophobia up close and personal on many occasions. But there were two specific moments that will forever remain in my memory. Like the moment my parents were offended that I would be so bold as to hold my girlfriend’s hand in front of them.
They said, “It makes us uncomfortable. Out of respect you shouldn’t do that around us.” It was a hard moment coming from my own parents. The people who are supposed to know you, and understand you. To think I was supposed to respect their ignorance because they wouldn’t respect my love. That I was somehow wrong in my love, because of the warped ideas they had been taught.
Not long after that I experienced the violent side of homophobia. It was two years after Matthew Shepard had been murdered. The day I was accosted by a total stranger. A man on the street of NYC thought it was his right to confront me and my girlfriend, calling us dykes, and stalking us for several blocks until fear dripped from our pours. It was the first time I truly realized that another person’s hate and ignorance could actually get me killed.
Though, those were but a few moments, I still remember how hopeless I felt, how wrong people made me feel, how unseen and terribly angry it made me. And as much it had scarred a part of me, those scars eventually healed, shaping me into who I am now. Overtime like many writers, those things birthed the spark behind a thought—an idea—a story that needed to be told. Because I was visible, and I wanted to perpetuate those positive stories that I had clung to, showing others that we mattered.
Now, years later I can say that my parents who were once ignorant in their thinking came to an understanding, their hearts and minds were opened, they unlearned what they had been taught because of an open conversation—because of knowledge. And now they are some of my proudest supporters.
Which is why knowledge and stories matter.They are powerful tools in combating hate and discrimination, and in making our voices known we can let lgbtq+ people see the world of support out here for them. Because somewhere across the country there is a frightened youth who needs to hear that it’s ok to love the way they love, who will be saved because of a single story or show.
And though everyday we still fight for equality amongst our own government, to be who we are without fear, to marry whom we love and have a future and a family of our own—I believe with knowledge and stories we can create a reality where there are only defenders and supporters. A world where it is safe to be you.
J.C. Welker is a YA author who’s been, among other things, a fashion designer, a filmmaker and a kickboxer (seriously). Her short documentaries, which focused on homeless Iraq veterans and lgbtq+ issues in the military have been featured on CURRENT TV, and her debut novel won first place in the paranormal category of the 2016 YARWA Rosemary Awards. She continues to work towards giving a voice to stories that are needed, while facing magic and monsters along the way.
With a book in her bag and a switchblade in her pocket, Rebel’s been thieving her way through life while hoping for a cure to fix her ailing heart.
But when the bejeweled vase she just tried to hawk turns out to be a jinni’s vessel, Rebel gets lost to her world and dragged within another. Now every magical being in the city wants the vase for himself.
Thrust into a game of cat and mouse in a world she never knew existed, Rebel must use her uncanny skills to find a way to free Anjeline the Wishmaker.
But wishes have consequences. And contracts. Anjeline’s freedom could unravel a love like Rebel has never known, or it could come at the cost of Rebel’s heart…