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When I was a kid, my parents used to record over the racy bits of the movies we watched with television commercials.
Not wanting my brother and me to miss out on the films we wanted to see (Flashdance, National Lampoon's European Vacation), they somehow figured out how to time the ad recordings so that they would run over just the right amount of nudity.
So there we'd be, watching Jennifer Beals head on over to the Zanzibar strip club to stop her friend Jeanie from dancing, when we'd be confronted with a Wendy's "Where's the Beef" commercial.
I love my parents for this. They didn't want us to miss out even though they weren't sure we were ready to see the whole thing.
This thought came to me a couple of weeks ago as I was printing up an advance copy of my book. My debut novel, The Geography of Pluto, comes out this week. It tells the story of Will, a 28-year-old gay man who struggles to have an open and honest relationship with his mother while also searching for a lasting connection with another man.
I asked my parents if they wanted to read the book before it was available, and they said yes. So I printed up a copy and gave it to them, but not before placing a bunch of Post-it notes over the more racy sections.
I'd leave it to them to decide what they were ready to read.
Pluto is a universal story – everyone can relate to falling in love and having their heart broken – but it does have some sex in it. Some gay sex. There's not a lot of it (I think I used about 20 Post-it notes in all), but it's probably more than my mom and dad have ever been exposed to.
Even at 40, it feels strange to acknowledge to my parents that I know about sex. My parents aren't prudes. We've watched Sex and the City together. We laugh about Samantha's sexual antics. But there is something very different about writing frankly about sex between men and then giving that book to your parents. I think we're all a bit nervous.
I can imagine their apprehension. Though the book is not autobiographical, I know they will see me in its main character. They'll recognize apartments, wonder if certain characters are based on certain friends, question which elements are based on lived experience. I tried not to think about that too much while writing the book, but at times I did find myself struggling between telling the truth of the story and not wanting to change how my family saw me.
Maybe this is a leftover from my coming out almost 20 years ago. As a gay man, I have often struggled with society's expectations of me, knowing that my life will not always sync up with what my parents dreamed for me. And even though my family has been nothing but supportive, there was still this moment when I felt like an outsider again, as if I had another secret to tell them:
"Mom and Dad, I have something to tell you – it's something that I'm proud of and that makes me who I am – but you might not understand it, and you might not completely like it. … I'm a novelist."
To get me through this dilemma, I kept another Post-it note on the wall above my desk. This one had a quote from one of my university professors, Thom Waugh, saying: "If a writer is not offending his friends, family, and country, he is not doing his job."
These words kept me sane. They kept me from cutting the scenes or sentences I thought might be too much, might upset my parents, might stop people with delicate sensibilities from liking me or the book.
If there is one thing I have learned from writing, it is this: Tell the truth. Nothing else matters.
Now that the book is available, I would be lying if I said I don't care about the reviews. But it's my parents' reviews that scare me the most.
So far only my dad has read the lazily redacted manuscript (my dad, who only reads mysteries and thrillers). My fears were assuaged when I was over for dinner the last time.
"I really like it, Christopher," he told me while doing the dishes. "It's deep. You really get into the mind of your character."
I love him for this. How simple and easy he made it.
As for my mom, she decided to wait and read the bound copy. So, at my launch I presented it to her again – with the 20 strategically placed Post-it notes. I can't wait to find out what she thinks.
Christopher DiRaddo lives in Montreal.