“Smart Geek Girls” and Gay Comic Book Fanfic Lead Queer Author To Write Authentically

by J. Marshall Freeman

My name is J. Marshall Freeman and I’m from Toronto, Canada.

When I was 13 years old, I was a pretty normal kid reading my X-Men comics and living a pretty happy life. I come from a… from a very loving family, but I was aware early that it was a family with expectations, which was a problem at 13 as I started to realize that something was different about me. And even though that would have been 1976, when awareness of gay people was not fore – in the forefront, I knew that there was something different than something going on in that neighborhood.

And it was scary ‘cause my father, in addition to having all these expectations, he was a psychiatrist. And I had the very clear idea that if I made one slip, he would be using super psychiatric x-ray vision to spot what was going on with me.

I remember there was one time that maybe he did suspect because he’s suddenly out of the blue said, you know, “Men and women, their parts just fit better together.” Which of course was terrifying because Do you see me? Do you know? But nothing more was said. So I developed the habit of hiding.

At the same time, everything for me was about the arts, about creating stories, drawing comics, doing all this stuff. And I recognized that to be kind of the best part of me, the most integral, deepest, most consequential thing I had. And that got hidden as well in the habit of hiding.

So fast forward till I’m in university. And I applied for a creative writing workshop. One day, it’s my turn to bring in my story. So I’ve written a story and the secret is that I know the main character is queer, but it’s not on the page. Nervously, I watch everyone reacting to it, giving me feedback. And the feedback is great! People love my story. But with that comes a strange terror because that means you’re seeing inside me. That means I’m letting stuff out and letting stuff out is dangerous.

And so when it comes my turn to react, I tear my story to pieces. I explain in careful, intelligent detail why it’s no good, why I’m a bad writer, et cetera. And then I don’t write for 20 more years.

In the meantime, I do finally come out at age 25, and it goes okay in the way of coming out. It’s hard and scary and gets better. I meet the man who… who will later become my husband. I make gay friends. I develop a sense of queer politics and queer history. But during that time, I’m still not going back to writing. I’m still not writing the stories that integrate everything that is me.

I’m making music and I’m producing music for other people at the time, and kind of becoming a relentless champion for other people to express themselves in their art, while I’m a dabbler during that time.

So fast forward to the late 90s, early 2000s, and the social media platform LiveJournal. And on LiveJournal, I meet an amazing group of smart geek girls. And many of them are queer, and what they’re into in addition to comic books, in addition to finding a whole new political side to comic books that I never saw before, they’re into fanfic. And I start reading fanfic and I discovered the world of slashfic. And slashfic is where you take two characters from some popular comic or TV show or movic, two supposedly straight characters, and you say, Uh, uh, uh, they’re a queer couple. And then you write their stories.

For me, of course, it’s the X-Men and the X-Men movies, particularly with Iceman and Pyro. And I start reading Iceman and Pyro fic, and suddenly a light goes on in my head and says, I can write this. So I start writing. I write short stories first, and then I embark on a 400,000-word X-Men movieverse fanfic novel.

And people are reading it and people are enjoying it. And I have this feedback. And best of all, it’s anonymous, so I’m not risking anything yet. I’m not J. Marshall Freeman. I’m “Talktooloose”. And Talktooloose’s story takes four years for me to write and it’s like my master’s thesis in writing. That’s how I learn.

So I finished writing this massive fanfic novel, this anonymous work, and I realized at that point that there’s nothing stopping me from writing as J. Marshall Freeman. From – I’m now ready to put myself out in the world as a queer artist, as a queer writer and write my truth. And I start slowly and… writing short stories, working away on a first novel, which, you know, learning all the difficulty of that. Learning why it’s harder to write original fic than it is to write fanfic.

But then it starts happening. I start getting more positive feedback and then I win two awards for short stories, for queer-themed short stories, and it almost feels like I’ve let myself out into the world finally. And the world is saying, Yeah, do it. And I think that’s a common experience of coming out for so many people one way or another. It’s when you take off those chains that you are the best version of yourself.

And I keep writing and in December 2020, Bold Strokes books puts out The Dubious Gift of Dragon Blood. I’m writing a queer youth, a 16 year old main character, and to some extent he’s living in the adolescence that I didn’t get to live as an open gay boy.

It’s not the end of a saga, but it’s the culmination of 30 years. It’s me being out, not only as a gay man, but now as a queer artist. I’ve been making art for a long time now and I benefit from other people doing that. And I benefit myself as an artist by taking that step of bravery and say, Oh, All it is is the truth. The truth isn’t dangerous. It’s just power.

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