In a thoughtful personal essay, writer SG Gardner shares how writing Wattpad LGBTQ+ fiction stories helped them accept their identity.
As my mouse hovered over the button, my hands shook and my heart raced. It was day one of NaNoWriMo 2019 (National Novel Writing Month, to the uninitiated), and I was about to do something I had never done before. I had just written the first chapter of a book and was about to publish it on the Wattpad website.
I found Wattpad earlier that day after a Google search for the best websites for writers. Many other sites were on the results list, such as popular blogging platforms like WordPress and Medium, but Wattpad stood out. Specifically tailored for the sharing of long-form fiction and open to anyone, the venue was exactly what I was looking for.
On closer inspection, it turned out I already had an account. I had made it two years earlier but never worked up the courage to publish a story. That was about to change. In fact, a lot was about to change. Writing fiction online was about to help me accept my own identity.
Taking the Leap
Shortly after graduating college, I developed severe anxiety. For reasons still not entirely clear to me, writing was one of the things that triggered it. As soon as I sat down and opened my mind to an imaginary world, the incipient tingles of panic tickled my nerves. I often abandoned the effort. Despite my love of storytelling, this fear continued for years; at last, I was tired of letting my anxiety stop me from doing what I loved. I decided this would be the year I wrote a novel. More importantly, I would share what I wrote publicly.
The goal of NaNoWriMo — an annual event geared towards both aspiring and seasoned novelists — is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in a month. I sat down on Nov. 1 with my laptop and an idea. I didn’t have an outline or a plan beyond my initial inspiration; I didn’t know how my story ended. I set my fingers on the keyboard and began typing.
It was a story set in a small coastal city inspired by present-day Santa Cruz, California, where I had attended college. My main character was an aspiring Ph.D. candidate in archeology. He lived in an old, Victorian-era house full of cursed and haunted objects. His name was Ari Lorenfield, and he was asexual, like me.
Beyond this and a few personality quirks (such as social anxiety and an appreciation for good food), the similarities between me and Ari ended. His world was full of magic spells, evil cultists, cheeky poltergeists, and handsome vampires. Mine was a bit more mundane. Our shared orientation, however, became the backbone of the story.
Visibility and Representation
When I began writing, no one knew I was asexual, aromantic, and non-binary. I wore gender-neutral fashions and kept my hair short, but I hadn’t made it clear that this was the outward expression of my identity. Posting that first chapter and the many that would follow was a coming out for me in two senses: as a writer and as part of the LGBTQIA community.
I grew up aware of my differences but didn’t know the terms “aromantic” or “asexual” when I was young. When I told myself stories about girls who don’t feel like girls, want nothing to do with romance, and run away to become warriors and adventurers, I didn’t realize I was telling LGBTQIA tales.
Eventually, I found an online community in AVEN — the Asexual Visibility and Education Network — and it was life-changing. I cried with relief when I realized I was not some freakish anomaly, that other people like me were out there, and that we had a common language to describe our shared experiences.
Still, in a world where everyone shares everything online, I’m shy and private. I’ve never been active on social media. Fiction gave me the perfect medium for expression. As an author, I could shift the attention to my characters.
I knew very little about Wattpad when I finally found the courage to click “publish.” Vitriol and hate thrived in the comment sections of other sites, and I didn’t know what to expect of the Wattpad community, so I braced myself for the worst.
It didn’t come. Almost nothing happened at all — at first.
As I posted more chapters, I watched the view count on my story slowly climb into the double and then triple digits. Then I got my first comments. I discovered what makes Wattpad different from other publishing avenues: writers speak directly to readers, and the readers talk back.
A Different Kind of Publishing
Usually, when one writes a book, one produces a finished product before presenting it to the world, to readers who consume the story mainly in private. On Wattpad, direct reader-writer interaction is part of the creative process. Readers often speak directly to the characters, laughing and crying along with them, sharing personal experiences, and reacting with sometimes surprising — and often entertaining — vehemence.
Discovering that my stories had an engaged and eager audience is the primary motivation that has kept me writing chapter after chapter and clicking that “publish” button again and again. With around 8,000 followers, 16 completed books featuring LGBTQIA characters, and over 3 million combined reads across my stories, I can confidently call myself a writer.
That first chapter grew into my first book, Bound by Blood, and then into its sequels and spinoffs. In the spring of the following year, Wattpad invited me to join its “Paid Stories” paywalled monetization program. That fall, almost one year after I finished it, my first story won a Watty award (Wattpad’s annual writing contest).
The Power of Collective Creativity
The support readers have shown my asexual and non-binary characters also gave me the confidence to come out more fully in my personal and professional life.
I’ve been truly fortunate to discover I had no reason to fear coming out to my family, friends, and coworkers. But sadly, this isn’t the case for everyone. Wattpad authors can see demographic data about their readers on the site’s desktop version. Typically, 30 to 40 percent of my readers are in the United States, while the rest live around the globe.
Some live in places where LGBTQIA+ identities are criminalized or less accepted. The internet, and specifically sites like Wattpad, may be the only place where some readers can find stories that reflect and celebrate who they are.
Thinking back to how nervous I was when I shared that first chapter — how uncertain of what kind of reaction, if any, I would receive — I’m incredibly grateful to the readers who showed me my stories were both welcome and wanted. Thanks to this community of readers and fellow writers, my journey as a writer has been healing, growth, learning, and joy. Now, clicking that ‘publish’ button is often the highlight of my day.