I am a Sucker for Romantic Comedies

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Opening Scene

[shea walks through a midwestern public park at dusk. They are wearing headphones and blasting music. Janelle Monáe’s “I Like That” shuffles on. They forget they are in public and begin to dance whimsically around trees and glide gracefully across the grass. The birds stop flying to chip with the beat. The squirrels put down their nuts to harmonize with the background vocals.]

[Voice Over]
I am a sucker for romantic comedies. On my toughest days, I curl up with my pup on our cozy IKEA sectional and watch old romantic comedies in which the (usually white) guy gets the (usually white girl). Sometimes there is a dog which makes it even better (F-O-X, anyone?). The best romantic comedies, though, are the ones with surprising twists and turns that keep us guessing about what might happen and forever hoping for a happy ending. I have never tried to write a romantic comedy – I prefer to get lost in them instead but I think in getting lost I may have weaseled my way into living in one of the best romantic-ish comedies. Like most great romantic comedies, this one has a happy ending (and a dog). Unlike most great romantic comedies, the story isn’t over yet. Unlike most great romantic comedies – this one involves you.

The Beginning

I fell in love twice in 2010. A chubby nerd taking classes at community college, I spent my days working at an overpriced furniture store that filled the wet dreams of yuppies who gentrified my hometown. On the nights I didn’t have class, I spent time with my girlfriend at the moment, an older white lady, Despite living in a metropolis full of hot overachieving queers, I’d met this old white lady online because I wasn’t quite out or sure I wanted to be out – ever.

“I don’t want to be like Ellen,” I say to my girlfriend one night at Chipotle. “I don’t want to be known as gay anything. I just want to be me, a person who just happened to be gay.” Ellen was my worst nightmare – she was funny and had that cute little show on TV but she was gay and everyone knew it and talked about it. In my religious family, we didn’t necessarily talk about it but we talked around it. My cousin wasn’t allowed to see Finding Nemo because Ellen voiced Dory, a blue fish who forgets things. No one ever forgot Ellen was gay. I didn’t want to be like that, I said but I told my girlfriend a lot of lies that I didn’t know were lies when I spoke them.

I love you, I lied not knowing what love was.
I am not gay like the super gays, I lied afraid of who I might be.
I am a femme, I lied and combed my relaxed hair behind my ears. (lol we all have our journeys).

I didn’t know what love could be until that spring when I met and fell in love twice. “I got you a CD,” my mom said one day when we were sitting in the kitchen. I looked inside the Tower Records bag and found Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid. “This is that girl who dances and wears the tuxedos, right?” my mom asked, smiling. My mom and I always bonded through music – she taught me jazz, and I taught her about the dapper voice behind “Tightrope”. I played the album out and imagined the worlds Janelle sang about.

A couple of months into my love affair with Janelle Monáe’s album, I found a post about The ArchAndroid in Crystal’s Record Club series on a website called Autostraddle.

“Wait is Janelle gay? Is this a gay site? It’s a gay site! So many articles! So many people!” I thought aloud. For the rest of the evening, I let Janelle’s album take over my Itunes and I read all of the Autostraddle posts I could digest – this was (is) a place for the “me” I wanted to be, this was a place where my people were waiting for me.

When my eyes got tired from reading, I turned off the dusty desktop and sat nervously in my parent’s cold basement. My stomach lept – I needed a snack, but this wasn’t “I wonder if there are cookies left?” excitement. These were butterflies.

On the 13th track of The ArchAndroid, “Neon Valley Street,” Janelle sings “May the sound of my voice be your guide / Bring you closer to me.” And guide me it did. The dapper Black girl that danced and sang about the future had led me to a new corner of the universe and I was smitten.

This is what love could look like – loving myself and finding a community that would love me back.

Who doesn’t love a good mid-romcom montage?

[Music: “Wondaland” by Janelle Monáe]
Over the next decade, a lot of stuff happens – I dump that old woman (and my femme label). I finish college. I have tons of jobs. I move a lot of times. Janelle puts out two more albums – The Electric Lady and Dirty Computer. I get married. I start to teach. I start to write. My pronouns change. Janelle comes out as queer. I memorize every sound, word, and beat on Dirty Computer and recite them to myself when I feel like giving up. My goals change. Dogs, there are dogs of course. A pandemic comes and takes a lot of folks away from us. Through it all, I begin to love myself fiercely in public (just like Janelle).

The Middle

Twelve years later – just a few months ago in the spring of this year, I sit nervously at my computer with my stomach in knots, reading essays on Autostraddle. A few hours later, the zoom meeting starts. I wipe my damp hands on my joggers and greet Carmen from my office. I still didn’t consider myself a writer but I submitted the staff writer application anyway. “I submitted it and even if nothing happens, at least I did it – if I apply to be a writer that means maybe I might be one,” I told my wife. I am still non-committal about this label. Carmen asks if she can record the interview for Kayla who couldn’t make it and I just imagine having an archive of my nervousness for the ages. I agree though because this community and I go way back – me and this website I found back in 2010 that helped me learn to love myself. I know I am safe here.

I do not remember the questions Carmen asks me. I do not remember my answers.

“Any questions?” Carmen asks at the end of our interview.

“Yes,” I quickly respond. Forever, my mama’s child – a music buff at all times, I look up at the screen and say, “If you had to describe the Autostraddle team’s vibe using an album or song, what would you choose?”

Carmen thought for a few minutes and then said “I think it might be Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer.”

I smile and maybe say “such a good choice.” Minutes later, I thank her for her time and log off. I send a standard “thanks for chatting, this is why I’m dope” email to follow up. It’s not just formality though. I am grateful and Autostraddle (and Janelle Monáe) has taught me to own that I am, in fact, a dope m*therf*cker.

Less than a month later, I sit in a lake house my wife booked for my birthday weekend. My friends are en route to celebrate with me. “No work this weekend,” she reminds me. Mabel the Pig, our mostly-toothless pitbull kisses my leg as if to say, “yeah – no work means more play time!” I smile and nod while I check my email.

Subject Line: Autostraddle Writer Position

I got the gig! “I guess I have to consider myself a writer now,” I tell my wife.

“You’ve been a writer, babe,” she reminds me.

Twelve years after our first meeting, Autostraddle continues to remind me of what has always been true. This community continues to hold me close while I lean in and learn to stand (or even write) in that truth.

These days, I’m still no Ellen (thank goodness) but I am shea – a queer, Black, nonbinary staff writer at Autostraddle, a community/website that helped guide me to myself. For many folks like me, this place is home, a place that teaches how to love and be loved as queer folks in an ever-changing, increasingly hostile world. Now more than ever, all of us (young and old queers alike) need a soft place to land. Autostraddle is ours.

Growing old(er) has taught me that nothing in this world is guaranteed – not people, places, jobs, or my favorite shoes that my dog ate back in 2015. I know Autostraddle might not last forever but I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it lasts as long as it’s needed in this world. This fall, we’re running a member drive to help us keep running in 2023. This is the part of the romantic comedy where you come in. The person (me) is running across the city to catch the love of their life. I can not run (and neither will Autostraddle) without your help. Each new member sign-up or upgrade from you is the fuel we need to get us closer to our happy ending.

And we all deserve the happiest of endings, friends.

Closing Scene

[shea runs very, very, very slowly through a city. As usual, they are wearing headphones and blasting music. They get tired and start to give up, but then Janelle Monáe’s “Django Jane” comes on.]
“What do you need?” a passerby asks.
Monthly A+ Members,” shea huffs out and disconnects their headphones to let Janelle’s last lines of the track ring out loud: “Do anybody got it? / Do anybody got it? / I say anybody got it?

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shea wesley martin

shea martin (they/them/theirs) is a brilliant, queer, gender-expansive writer raised at the intersection of gospel and go-go (shout out to the DMV). With southern roots and Black queer magic, shea writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry that smells like your grandmama’s kitchen and sounds like a deep blues moan. Find them dreaming on Twitter.

shea has written 20 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. I love rom coms… maybe because I was a teen in the 90s and it was the golden age of the genre. Now I write and publish queer rom coms. There’s something satisfiying and comforting about them. Writing rom coms also helped me tremendously during the several lockdowns we had in France.

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