@askqueerabby Replying to @james62w Thank you for everyone’s kind support. Heres the followup from the school about how I’m allowed to show up at the Great American Teach In this year. #queerauthor #queerbooks #tampabay #dontsaygay #florida #queerparent #twomomssquad #perfectlyqueer #jillianabby ♬ original sound - Jillian Abby
This is the speech I shared with my son’s fifth-grade class in Florida. I was told that due to the current laws of Florida, I would not be able to mention the title of my book Perfectly Queer. As you’ll see from the speech, my content had nothing to do with what was actually in my book, but even just saying the title in the context of “this is what I wrote” was not allowed. I had to mask my queer identity. Here’s what I said...
Hi! My name is Jillian Abby
Once upon a time, I was a 5th grader and I really really wanted to be an author when I grew up. In fact, I wrote this book when I was a 5th grader and it’s typed on a typewriter. But before I tell you more about my dream of becoming an author, I want to know what you dream of being when you grow up?
So when I shared my dream of being a writer some people told me I couldn’t do it. They told me it wasn’t a real job. That you couldn’t make any money as a writer. And that it was really, really hard to become a published author. And some people even told me—nobody wants to hear your story.
And so, when I finished high school and graduated college, do you know what I became? (shout it out)
NO! An accountant, an auditor actually. I became an auditor because I was also good with numbers and figuring out patterns. And I had a teacher who told me I was really good at accounting. And it was a job I could make decent money at. And it was cool. I got to fly on private jets and eat at expensive steakhouses. I even audited Major League Baseball which means I got to go to the Rays games for free and had a pass that let me anywhere I wanted to go in the ballpark. But something inside of me didn’t feel right. I didn’t have any joy in the work I was doing. So, then I became a... (shout it out)
NO! A massage therapist. Because I also had a dream of helping people to heal. When I was an auditor, nobody was happy to see me. When I became a massage therapist, everybody was happy to see me. And I got to do cool things like work on the women’s Olympic softball team and the US ambassador to the Dominican Republic. I loved it but some days I would work so hard that I had to ice my hands. It was hard on my body and I wanted to use my brain more, so I became a….
NO! Bar owner. It was mostly a beer bar that supported only Florida-made brews. But I actually don’t drink beer (do you?) and so I made sure to have other things on tap that weren’t alcohol, like kombucha and coffee. But even more fun, owning my own business mean that I could do my own advertising. And so I would create these wild and funny videos because I was the boss and could be as creative as I wanted. And one day, a women named Sheryl Sandberg who is one of the top executives at Facebook saw my videos and thought they were pretty cool. She mentioned my bar on national television AND I got to be a speaker with Facebook to teach other small business owners how to be more creative. But then my life changed and I no longer wanted to be connected to the bar so I became a…
Yes, Finally a Writer!
My path to being a writer may seem really silly but you know what all my jobs taught me? How to connect with lots of different people- some who are like me and many who are very different from me. I learned to communicate with high-powered business people, indigenous healers, neighborhood community members, kids, adults, and sloths. (Okay, maybe not sloths… yet!)
And whenever I wrote for anyone, I had two rules: 1) it had to be honest and 2) it had to come from the heart.
And while I was writing for different businesses to make money, I never gave up on my dream of becoming an author. Every morning I would wake up early, long before Sophie and Oliver were awake, and I would open my computer on my bed and write whatever memory of my life came to my head. And before long I had several chapters of my own life story written.
I decided to share what I wrote with a few friends who said, “This is great, keep writing!” So that brings me to...
RULE NUMBER 1 OF FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS: Find people who believe in you and want you to succeed.
My friends gave me very good and honest feedback on my writing and shared with me a contest that Hay House Publishing was having. Now, Hay House is the world’s largest publisher of self-help books. The type of book I was writing was called a memoir. Or if we want to be fancy people, we can say memooooir… try it with me, it’s fun. So, I wrote my memoir but I almost didn’t submit it to the contest. Do you know why? Because those old voices from when I was in 5th grade came back like ghosts and told me “nobody wants to hear your story.”
RULE NUMBER 2 OF FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS: Sometimes you’ll feel like an imposter. Do it anyway.
Every great person once started as someone new. Every great person was once an inexperienced person. Your favorite football player once had to play their first-ever game. Your favorite YouTube star had to make their first-ever video. I didn’t know if I could be an author because I had never been an author before. Heck, I didn’t even have a degree in English or writing… I was an accountant!
I wasn’t great at grammar and knowing when to use a semicolon. But you know what I learned, there are writers and then there are editors. And I surrounded myself with incredible editors who helped polish my work.
Okay, so back to my story. I almost didn’t submit my book because I felt like an imposter who didn’t deserve to give it a try. But I have a very good life coach who told me, “Jillian Abby, if you don’t submit your book to this contest, it will be the biggest mistake of your life!” And so, I did, and guess what…
I WON! And when the CEO of Hay House called me on my cell phone to tell me I won I said, “But you don’t have any books that are like mine!” and he said, “we are starting a new era of sharing stories like yours and YOU are going to be our first book!”
Which brings me to...
RULE NUMBER 3 OF FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS: Sometimes you have to dream your dream into existence.
Maybe what you want to be or what you want to do or the art you want to make, maybe it doesn’t exist yet. And maybe people won’t understand what you’re trying to do because it’s new. Just because it doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean it won’t exist ever. You may just have to be the first.
So now my book is available all over the world. I had a lady in England tell me that she read it and that she’s sharing it with her mom so that they can heal their relationship. I had a person in Australia tell me they found it at their public library and they shared it with their grown-up son. We also have it at our library here. I’ve had people on every single continent buy my book… except 1 continent. Can you guess which one?
My book was picked by Good Morning America as one of their recommended spring reads, it hit #1 in my memoir category on Amazon, and it has made many other very cool lists. I even got to record my own audiobook at a local sound studio. It’s been an absolute dream come true.
RULE NUMBER 4 OF FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS: Some dreams take time.
I am 42 years old and now I am a published author. I had to live and learn an extra 32 years from my 5th-grade self to get all of the life experience and perspective I needed to tell my story 1) honestly and 2) from the heart.
Author Lessons Learned
Here are some surprising things I learned about being an author:
- Many authors don’t make a living off of their books, especially their first book. For me, I got paid an advance on my book of $10k. Sounds like a lot, right? But I worked on this book for a year and a half! And now, I make a few dollars for every book sold… but I will keep making that money for as long as they keep printing and selling my book. And I hope to keep writing more and more books. Where I make other money is in public speaking and telling my story to companies and organizations. I also write all the time—for some of the largest companies in the world and some really small but really cool companies too.
- There are a lot of ways you can publish a book. You can go through a traditional publisher like I did, you can go through a hybrid publisher, or you can self-publish. Some authors even set up their own publishing companies so that they can help other authors self-publish.
- Great writers are great readers. Great writers write a lot but also read a lot. And they read all different types of books. And they love words and they love being creative.
- A lot of people have similar stories or similar ideas for books. What makes some writers successful is that they have a unique voice. They’re wildly creative. They’re a bit weird. And they need to be. Would you want to read a story that is like every other story you have read? No. Just like people—if we were all the same that would be so boring. You have to find out what is different about you and celebrate that! THAT is what makes your story magic.
The moral of my story is:
- When you meet someone different than you, ask questions. What we need now is more listening and learning and less judgment for people who are different than us.
- If you meet someone weird, befriend them because someday they’ll accomplish something great for their creative way of thinking.
- And if you have a dream, prepare to work really hard and be really patient. Prepare for it to happen in ways that you didn’t expect it to happen. But don’t give up on it.
A Fifth Grade Class's Reaction
At this point the class asked the obvious question, “What is the name of your book?” and when I shared with them that I was not allowed to tell them, they went bonkers. They wanted to know why. The school suggested I tell them the book was “about inclusion” but that was not true. And so, I shared something like this…
While I am not allowed to share the title of my book with you, know that it is a title I am very proud of. At the end of the day, though, I didn’t come here looking to sell you books. The book actually isn’t for you. It’s for an older audience. It talks about things that you would probably have no interest in like divorce, therapy, and birthing babies. But it’s a book that is helping other people feel proud about who they are and lets them know they’re not alone in this world, and I’m really happy about that.
And then I got this question from a small, soft-spoken girl in the back of the class…
Will you be my friend?
My heart melted and I said, “Of course.” I also asked if anyone else in the class wanted to be my friend. I made them take an oath by raising their right hand, then raising their left hand, and then we all flapped our arms like chickens. (Because if we can’t be weird together, are we really friends?)
It made me think back to the first blog I ever wrote a few years ago called Your First Gay Friend. And I realized that whether they could see my book or not, whether they knew at that moment or not that I was part of the LGBTQ+, they learned to see and love me as a person first. And I was happy to know that for many of them, I most likely was their first gay friend.