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The stories that kept us going by Julie Cohen

I only came out as bisexual quite recently. One of the most incredible parts of coming out was being welcomed as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And because writers and readers are my people anyway, finding my place in the LGBTQ+ writing community has been absolutely amazing. I’ve made so many new friends, been introduced to so many great books, and I’ve even found a girlfriend.

The pandemic happened in the middle of this big shift in my life. I came out in print in 2019, though I’d been out privately and writing books with LGBTQ+ characters before that. It felt like an exciting time. I wanted to embrace this part of myself that I had ignored for too long. I’d signed up for several LGBTQ+ book events, and I’d taken a part-time job as a lecturer, mostly to meet new people and colleagues. I wanted to meet people who challenged and inspired me, who supported the arts and reading and human rights, who taught me their ways of being creative and being queer.

And then the lockdowns happened. Our worlds shrank to the space of our homes—while it seemed like everything that happened in the world was more connected to our lives than ever.

During this time, like most of us I suppose, I turned to writing and books to help make sense of what was happening—and also to escape it. I’ve always known that fiction is precious, and that it can change lives, but I think it took all those months stuck inside to truly appreciate how important stories can be. Stories were the things that connected us when we were apart; stories were how we travelled and imagined something beyond our four walls. They gave us happy endings that were hard to see anywhere else. Online author events were fabulous, but for those of us who write and read, it was the stories that kept us going.

Since then, every in-person event has been a landmark. The first time I saw my parents again. The first time I went to a cinema. The first time I went to a bookshop. The first time I taught a room full of students. The first time I could hug a stranger. I don’t take these things for granted any more. They are all part of my story now.

Events like Queer The Shelves are exactly what I was looking for when I came out: a community celebrating LGBTQ+ authors and books. I’m so glad we can meet in person this year.

Julie Cohen will be at the Queer the Shelves LGBTQ Book Festival in Nottingham. Come along!

book events, east midlands, Julie Cohen, lesbian writers, lgbtq, lgbtq book festival, literary festival, nottingham, queer the shelves, waterstones

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