On June 22, I flew to LA for the 2015 Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. Lambda Literary is a nonprofit organization that promotes queer literature (by queer writers) through many programs. In 2013, I was accepted into the YA workshop led by author Malinda Lo. This year, I returned to work with author Sara Ryan.
As the title of this blog suggests, I did not write much of anything while there.
Many of us queer writers live in a heteronormative, relatively non-queer world. When I attend writing workshops and meetings, I’m usually the token queer writer. Or maybe there are a few of us there, but we’re not visibly queer, or we’re not all writing queer material. We don’t always find each other. When I’ve had my work critiqued by other writers (nearly always non-queer), I often come away with this sense that every queer element in my work has to be explained and packaged neatly into mainstream’s understanding of queerness in order to be deemed “believable” or “realistic.” On the flip side, I’ve also had people read around the queerness, accepting everything as being relevant and accurate, because they just don’t know how to critique what they don’t understand, what they have no experience with. I’ve found myself experiencing both of these on occasion, when I’ve read works that report experiences of “otherness” that I’m not familiar with.
In 2013, my world was changed by the Lambda retreat. Upon returning, I started reading up intensively on queer and gender studies. I realized I’d been a feminist all along and that it was badass to own that identity. Along the way, I really figured out what I was trying to say with the YA novel I was working on, which led to a drastic revision. I met some writing friends I kept in contact with—some who still read my work today, and some who simply add a bit of queer insight to my social media news feeds.
This year, I returned as a more confident writer, a more enlightened person. I wasn’t looking to get a lot of writing done. I was looking to spend the week with people who get it, with people whose work I’d want to pick up in a bookstore, with people who make me feel like I blend in rather than stick out. It was about being part of a community, a culture. It was about taking feelings home with me, to have them shape me as a person and as a writer long after the retreat was over.
At the Lambda retreat, I was one of 60-something queer writers. Of course we’re many things as people, but “writer” and “queer” were the two identities we all shared for that week. The freedom that comes with being in that kind of space is indescribable. It’s life-changing. For some, it’s really difficult to let go of, once the week is over. It’s about so much more than just going away for a week and coming home with words written down.
We, at the Lambda retreat, are the people we write about, we are the people we hope to reach with our work, we are the people who can hold each other accountable, who can enlighten each other, who can push each other to produce better work. Lambda Literary gives us the space to come together in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
So no, I didn’t get much writing done on my retreat. Lambda Literary must’ve purposely named its retreat a “writers retreat” as opposed to a “writing retreat” because they knew what kind of experience they’d be offering. What I got are the tools, the inspiration, the friends, and the fire to keep me going while I navigate my regular life, when some days it feels like what I’m saying is too complicated, too big, too queer to say—when it feels like someone else could say it better than me. It’s now that I’m back from my writing-less retreat that I’m ready to sit down and write.
M-E Girard is a writer of YA fiction about teen girls who kick ass in a variety of ways. Some facts about M-E: She’s Canadian, speaks French, was a fellow of the YA workshop of the 2013 & 2015 Lambda retreat, spends hours playing video games, has 2 chihuahuas, buys too many books, and still plays with dolls. Her debut novel, GIRL MANS UP, will be released in the fall of 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books/ HarperCollins. You can find her online at megirard.com