Why I Write Using a Pen Name
The desire to review and make sense of my life through memoir writing arose when my partner and I were downsizing.
Coming across my old journals from the seventies, I sat down to read. As the fire crackled in the wood stove, I became so absorbed that I forgot to put on another log. I read late into the evening and all the next day. Tears occasionally blurred my vision. When I’d finished, I announced to my partner I was going to write a book.
“About life, love, and medicine in the sixties and seventies,” I explained. “Coming out as a lesbian and training to be a doctor when it was a nearly all-male profession with an exclusive macho culture. The difficulty of finding a stable relationship with a woman. I’d like to make sense of it--perhaps help others struggling with similar issues of identity, gender discrimination, and trust.”
She looked thoughtful. “I would feel weird reading about your previous relationships or you sharing those stories with our friends. I like the end result; I don’t need to know the recipe.”
I understand that. She is a very private person. She might no longer feel special. Although it was because of all my previous experiences that she might know how special she really is, how trust allowed our love to flourish and grow.
My partner’s desire for privacy is but one of the reasons I chose to write under a pen name. As I contacted old lovers from that time and shared with them drafts of what I’d written, I realized I needed to protect their privacy too. Like Cass who subsequently married a man and never told him she once had a lesbian lover. Or Gillian who resisted any possibility that she might be attracted to a woman. And Dani who tested my limits for free-wheeling non-monogamy. Their names are changed too.
I have written about an era of personal growth that does not show me in the best light. I was a flawed and complicated young woman. The pen name allowed me to be very honest about what I felt and experienced coming of age in the seventies when life was very difficult for ambitious lesbians. I felt freer to write about my former self, including one chapter I found cringe-worthy. Decades later, I still carried a shame that wasn’t mine. Writing frankly about my journey helped me to let it go.
Who I was then will be fixed in a reader’s mind though now, decades later, I am a very different person. My pen name is not a cop-out. It is all there in my memoir. It simply allows me to tell my truth without hurting those I love.