Most of you probably know that “Cooper West” is a pseudonym. Back in 2010 when I was first contemplating, then submitting, my first M/M story to Dreamspinner Press (the short story Connections), I had just started graduate school. While my field is a little more progressive than, say, most university history departments, it still seemed unwise to tie my new professional career to M/M romances. I’ve read some horror stories about people who have “come out” as romance writers (much less M/M romance writers) only to be ostracized on the job, or have their academic careers completely destroyed.
Given that I was not sure what the arc of my future would be at the time, I decided that hiding my M/M romance career was the best decision. It gave me flexibility to promote that career under the name Cooper West while not worrying about how my RL professional colleagues would think of (judge) me.
I’m not doing away with my pseud, as it has traction now and it would be foolish to throw that away. Nor am I going on my personal RL facebook profile and proudly announce that I am Cooper West. I’m still keeping the veil in place.
But I’m finding that I’m worrying about it less. For one thing, I decided NOT to pursue a PhD, and that took a huge weight off. I’m also less concerned about my professional career overall because honestly I’d rather invest that energy in being an author. For some people, that’s not an either/or choice and I respect that, but I had to choose between using my limited free time towards progressing one or the other. I chose my career as an author.
Ironically, as I’ve become looser about revealing what I do to people, I’m being outed by my colleagues. They are actually proud of my writing as Cooper West. It’s very eye opening to be this honest with people whom I initially suspected would be critical and find them so supportive.
But then, “coming out” has always been thus. Even in the early days of the “come out proud” movement for gays and lesbians, which I would put as starting in the late 80s/early 90s, people experienced both joy and pain when they came out. Some got fired and disowned; others discovered unexpected wells of positive support. It’s a risk we take any time we come out against the mainstream status quo. It’s not something everyone can do without risking catastrophe, but the more of us who step forward proudly, the more we reduce the social pressures to stay hidden.
Right now I’m kind of straddling that fence. Some people in both my work and professional lives know that I am also Cooper West, while a lot of people don’t. I’m not taking out a billboard.
But I also expect that in about five years or less, I won’t care anymore.