Last May, I sold a book, a memoir titled The Reappearing Act.
The story focuses on two years of my life—my junior and senior seasons playing basketball at the University of Colorado—when I was trying so hard to reconcile my sexuality with the rock-solid beliefs of my Christian teammates, as well as my own exploration of religious faith. (You can read an excerpt of the book here: Chapter 11.)
I wrote the book over the summer, much of it while sitting on the balcony of the Brooklyn apartment I share with my partner. Occasionally, I would pause and stare off in the distance, at One World Trade Center rising above lower Manhattan. The writing itself was easy, surprisingly. I was like a wind-up toy that just needed some space, and off I’d go. I would write 2,500 words in five hours, sometimes less—and then I would crash.
Because living in the past is exhausting.
Sometime in late August, about a month before the book was due, I decided to watch the documentary “Stories We Tell” by filmmaker and actress Sarah Polley. The movie “explores the elusive nature of truth and memory”—a theme that seemed to dovetail perfectly with my own immersion in the murky details of my coming of age, my attempt to resurrect The Truth, always such a slippery thing.
As the opening credits of the film flashed upon the screen, I was checking Twitter, or maybe texting, or possibly petting my French bulldog, Jaxie. (In other words, a typical night in Park Slope.) But then the craggy voice of the narrator, and his English accent, caught my attention. I did not know at the time, but he was reading a quote from the novel Alias Grace, written by Margaret Atwood. The words were perfect. They conveyed a truth about stories and storytelling—not fiction, but the kind you live through and share—that I had never before thought to define.
“When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”
I quickly hit "rewind" and listened again. Then I wrote down the quote. Then I found its author. A wreckage of shattered glass … Yes! A dark roaring, a blindness … That is exactly how my life had felt back then!
As summer flew by, as the writing flew by, those long-ago emotions—a combination of fear, shame, confusion, hopelessness—would hit me, vibrations from the past. I actually welcomed everything that the writing churned to the surface, because I had never processed certain interactions, instead choosing to pretend they had never happened. Of course, you can’t lie to your heart. Everything costs something, even if you decide to defer payment.
Now, the book is finished. And I feel so much better. Not because the writing is done—although that does feel good—but because I’ve taken the house in a whirlwind and set it down, so it's no longer crashing around my insides. I started thinking, too, about how helpful it is to tell the story, to write it or say it aloud, to give other people the chance to understand some intrinsic part of me.
At first, early in the process, I was going to call the book The Disappearing Act, although that never felt quite right. When I shared some preliminary sections with my partner, Sue, she took one look at the title, shook her head, and then—not two seconds later—suggested The Reappearing Act. That felt more accurate, more meaningful.
In writing the story, I realized just how dependent I had been on the examples set by others in my life. I had told myself, during that tumultuous time in college, that living authentically wasn't an option, largely because the world of women's college basketball was, and still is, so closeted. My solution was to split my life in two, keeping one foot in the closet. Being true to yourself is scary, nearly impossible, if you don’t see others doing the same.
Even after I became a sportswriter, I worried that being out could hurt my career, so I continued to keep walls around myself for several years. Then one day I found out that a high-profile female journalist was gay, and it felt like I’d been handed a blank check. A few months later, I met a prominent openly gay editor, then after that another writer I admired. It was a snowball effect, in a wonderful way. The strength of these people became mine, too. Simply by being themselves, they allowed me to believe that the life I wanted was possible.
So now I'm making a space to share some of those stories, to share other people’s reappearing acts—to show when and how and why they decided to step fully out of the closet and live authentically.
And I’ll post some of those stories here: Your Reappearing Act.
--If you want to share your story, email me at kfagan3 at gmail dot com.