Kathryn Burns is a bipolar twenty-two year old cashier who spends most of her time trying to run interference between her five cats and the keyboard of her laptop.
Fem: Why is validating identities in writing personal for you?
Kathryn Burns: I believe that validating identities should be a priority for every writer of any type of media, but the reasons why it is such a significant goal for me are definitely personal. Until the age of nineteen, I considered myself straight. I was attracted to guys, and I could relate to heterosexual storylines in every platform of literature I consumed, from books and movies to music. Having never even heard of the concept of heteronormativity, I had no idea how much I was limiting myself. But then after a drunken kiss with a female friend of mine, I started to feel confused. Looking back on my memories from puberty, I realized that the “girl crush” I had on Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago wasn’t quite what I thought it was. I didn’t watch that movie on a daily basis because I wanted to be her… It was because her deep, throaty singing and intriguing dark lipstick were a huge factor of my sexual awakening. It was during this period of memory analysis that I watched a video describing pansexuality. I had never heard the term before, but suddenly I felt warm all over, as if it had wrapped around me like an afghan. I was safe. I was understood. I wasn’t confused
after all, I had just been trying to fit myself into boxes that were suffocatingly restrictive. In the end, that’s why I write. I want people who have never seen themselves in the characters of their favorite book to experience that same feeling. Validated.
F: Are you ever hesitant to write about identities that you haven’t experienced? If so, how do you overcome this?
KB: Representing identities in a way that is harmful or destructive to a community that I am not a part of is one of my greatest fears as a writer. It is a risk every time I include a character who is not like me, because I can never truly understand the full scope of their perspective. As a cisgendered white woman, cowering to this fear would mean writing stories without any racial or gender diversity. And quite frankly, there are enough stories like that out in the world already. I get past my hesitancy by checking my privilege, and then checking it again. And then another time or two, just for funsies. Shoe-horning in a character just for the sake of diversity and then writing that character poorly is counter-productive to my goals. I write my books intending to capture genuine experiences with complex characters, and if anything feels too one-note or stereotypical during editing, it gets fixed immediately. Diversity is a huge part of validating identities and experiences, and it is one of the main focuses of my work.
F: What benefits do you see in producing e-books as opposed to the more traditional route of book publishing?
KB: The benefit of releasing literature as e-books instead of traditional publishing is convenience. That’s really the long and short of it. I can finish a manuscript, upload it to Amazon, and it’ll be available for purchase within 24 hours. I want to be able to reach as wide of an audience as possible, and it is definitely harder to advertise without an agent or publishing house. But if I wait until my manuscript catches the eye of an agent, my words may never see the light of day. Whereas through self-publishing, I have had people reach out and tell me that my books made them feel heard for the first time in their lives. I would rather one person stumble across my novel and have it affect them in some way, than wait ten years to maybe get published. Plus, e-books are convenient themselves. There are plenty of people who have abandoned purchasing physical copies of books altogether. I’m obsessed with my kindle, and I try not to lean against technological advances.
F: How do you expand LGBT narratives so that they are more than coming out stories? Why do you suppose the coming out narrative is the one that is most often focused on?
KB: The genre is fully saturated with coming out narratives. If I had to theorize as to why, my guess is that people assume coming out is the key defining moment in the lives of LGBT people. And it can be a source of emotional turmoil, and even sometimes abuse from their families and/or peers. I would never discount that. The process of figuring out one’s romantic and sexual identities beforehand can be really confusing as well. So I am glad that these stories are told, but I think too often, they’re the only LGBT stories told. For me, that wasn’t my story. I was comfortable identifying as pansexual and immediately started telling people almost casually. Gay people weren’t bullied in my school, and my parents were delighted to meet my first girlfriend. None of my friends went through any real drama either. We all loved and accepted ourselves and our identities, but being LGBT was far from the most interesting thing about any of us. Gay people aren’t just gay. They’re human. They have adventures and get into all kinds of shenanigans, often completely outside of their sexuality. You could take the characters of any heterosexual plot line and swap them with gay characters, and the plot will likely still function perfectly. Gay people lead full lives just like straight people, with endless stories to tell.
F: Who are your inclusive literary influences?
KB: Honestly? My current influences for inclusive literature are basically all television. The writers behind Broad City, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn 99, Orphan Black, and Sirens, to name a few. They all include complex, unique female characters and are unabashedly feminist in a way that the fictional novels I’ve read has been missing. I couldn’t be more passionate about the We Need Diverse Books Movement. That said, Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Plath have always been major influences of mine. Nina Lacour is delightful. I also adore slam poet Kait Rokowski, among others.