In her poem “North American Time,” Adrienne Rich riffs on the fact that our words, once published, no longer belong to the writer who wrote them, but to the readers who read them. That’s a harmless enough situation — until and unless you encounter readers with an agenda, and especially when those readers have an agenda that is diametrically opposed to your own values.
I am writing this in a time
when anything we write
can be used against those we love
where the context is never given
though we try to explain, over and over
Bear with me for what may appear to be a tangent: I happen to believe that I chose to be gay. The reasons for this belief are complicated — too nuanced for a blog post. I have written about this belief, though, in one short story that has been available online since 1998, where I compared not being attracted to women with not liking to eat collard greens. (Again, long story, you gotta read it in context).
A young friend of mine, from a fundamentalist family, who went through one of those Christian ex-gay re-education camps when he was younger, reports to me that the counselors there assigned this story to be read. It appears that the only following my old literary writing has, anywhere, is in these camps, where it is used to guilt innocent gay teenagers into believing that their choices are evil, and that they are sick.
What am I supposed to do with this knowledge? Censor myself? Reach out and try to explain further? Ignore it?