One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that none of us are alone. No person’s experience is the same as that of any other, of course, but as I’ve grown into myself, I’ve found joy in realizing that perhaps the way we’re all connected — or maybe all the same — is that very few of us have a deep-seated, unshakeable knowledge of exactly who we are and how we should or want to go about expressing that. I know I don’t, and I’m finally OK with that.
I used to look for people whose experiences mirrored my own as sources of comfort. I’d look for the late bloomers who had found happiness, the people who didn’t know what they wanted from life in their 20s who had eventually stumbled onto something magical, the fellow ex-Mormons who had finally been able to move on, as if everything I’d dreamed of or thought maybe I wanted was just around the corner, waiting for me to find it.
What I know now, and what sounds painfully obvious in retrospect, is that I can’t hold myself accountable to someone else’s path through life. Everything that’s ever happened to me and everything I’ve ever caused to happen is what has led me to where I am today and I can’t change that. Nor would I want to, for the most part. For as frustrating and challenging as it’s sometimes been to question myself at every turn — especially as I’ve tried to figure out who I am besides “Mormon” and then “ex-Mormon” — all of that mind-changing and experimentation has led to incredible experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Those are some of the lessons reflected in Katie Heaney’s “Would You Rather?” — a memoir about Heaney coming into her own as a gay woman. I picked up the book at Powell’s City of Books in Portland (of course) and walked a few blocks to Momo’s, a friendly bar with a Secret Garden-like patio, to read it. I stayed until dark and sat outside my hostel’s cafe the next morning until I finished it.
This was one of those books I immediately wished I could experience for the first time again upon finishing it. The long, tortured years of questioning your sexuality. The timid hints dropped to friends to gauge their reactions and your own. The experimentation with queer fashion as if maybe if you just looked more queer, you ‘d finally feel like you belong.
I hesitate to put the weight of my own experiences on any author’s shoulders; their lives are theirs and theirs alone. But Heaney so perfectly captured my own evolution from awkward, confused straight girl to awkward, confused queer girl to sometimes-awkward, often confident queer girl that it felt as though I were reading a book written just for me.
The author writes in the book about not wanting to disappoint her readers if they can no longer relate to her; I found the overall lessons of the book to be far more universally relatable than the queer angle alone, although I obviously relate to that. Queer or straight, most of us can relate to having felt confused or alone and unable to figure out who we are or what we’re meant to do on this planet. “Would You Rather?” so perfectly captures that feeling and the trial and error of working through it that I can’t imagine Heaney’s straight readers wouldn’t be able to find a way to relate to her, as well.