For the next few weeks, as we approach the April 8th release of A Family by Any Other Name, I’d like to introduce you to some of the book’s contributors.
Jean Copeland is a high school English teacher and writer from southern Connecticut. Her essay is called “The Gay Divorcée: How Marriage Equality Couldn’t Save My Marriage.”
How did you find out about this project?
I don’t recall exactly how I found about this project, but it was most likely by trolling the internet for calls for submissions on LGBT subject matter, as I often do.
Why did you decide to contribute? How did you decide what to write about?
I decided to contribute to A Family by Any Other Name because this collection is the venue in which my story was waiting to be told. Four years out of a civil union and wonderfully healed, I wanted to revisit the breakup with someone I’d spent most of my adult life with and view it for what it was, not how I’d interpreted it while living through the anguished, drawn-out denouement and the subsequent grieving process. And besides, I simply couldn’t resist sharing the delicious irony of a nearly 16-year lesbian relationship imploding just as the fight for marriage equality was getting into full swing.
Tell us a bit about yourself, both your life and your writing experience.
I’ve been writing and publishing short fiction and personal essays for over 10 years since returning to college as an adult to get my B.S. and M.S. in English Education. By day, I teach English at an alternative high school program in Connecticut and absolutely love watching all my young writers grow and develop while taking my creative writing classes throughout the year.
Did writing about your own experiences prove challenging in any way?
It was challenging in a positive way. With fiction I take the story wherever I want, but with essays, there’s a responsibility to remember facts and avoid the revisionist history that can sometimes appear when writing emotional pieces. Whatever I write about on a personal level always brings a sense of closure after it’s complete. I like when things are nice and tidy, wrapped up and stored away neatly. The biggest challenge was trying to be as objective as I can on such a sensitive subject and tell the truth without portraying my ex as an awful person. She wasn’t—just confused and trying to make sense of things like anyone else.
What did you get out of writing an essay for this collection?
Whenever an essay I’ve written about a painful, bewildering time in my life gets accepted into a collection, it’s a validation, a reminder that everyone’s story matters. If another LGBT person reads my story and feels less like a “big gay failure” as I once did because his or her relationship is ending while, state by state, our country inches toward full marriage equality, I will feel immensely satisfied sharing my experience.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like readers to know about?
I’m in the process of trying to get my novel manuscript, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby, published. It’s a lesbian coming of age story set in the 1950s and ’60s that is seasoned with my own reflections on when I was coming of age in the 1980s. I also hope to one day edit a poetry collection comprised of poems my former students wrote throughout the years in my workshops.