One of the highlights of being a writer is doing the research. When I was younger, and I’d spoken to my dad about wanting to write, he voiced the time honoured adage: Write what you know. While that’s good advice, if I’d done that, I’m not so sure anything I wrote would be terribly interesting or exciting. You don’t write to pen autobiographies. Certainly not if you write fiction. And certainly not if your autobiography is yawn-inducing. So I write fiction; I make shit up. And to make that shit believable, I do research.

I’ve met some hugely interesting people in this way. I’ve learned so much. About small things, and major things. It’s amazing what people will tell you, what they’ll share with you, when you tell them you’re a writer doing research. They want to ensure you get the facts right. And since I want to get the facts right, I pay close attention. I ask pertinent questions, and often learn far more than what I will use in my stories.

Earlier this year, one of the malls here saw the opening of an Apple store. Now, I’m fairly certain that anything I wanted to know about Apple computers I could have learned online. And sometimes I do refer to the internet for the information I need. But I had wandered into the mall, saw the new store, thought of what I needed to know…and so I ventured in.

I meandered about the store, looking at what was displayed, and the various other individuals who were present doing the same thing, though not for the same reasons as my own. Eventually, an older fellow came toward me and asked if he could help me. I explained to him what I needed, what my purpose was. When he realized I wasn’t in the market to buy, but was instead researching for a novel, he brightened, and asked what information I needed.

He spent an hour with me, going over all the details I’d explained needed clarification, including such mundane things as accessories, like carrying cases, AC adaptors, battery life, and untold other details. When we’d reached the limit of what I’d so far managed to decide I needed in terms of info he suggested I look him up again if I had anymore more questions. I thanked him and left.

Two weeks later I was back, having realized I needed more information. He was again working, and I sought him out (I always remain true to a source, if they’ve proven helpful).When he’d answered my questions, he had one of his own.

“So you write lesbian fiction?”

I answered in the affirmative.

“So you’re not homophobic then?” He peered at me closely, as if to detect whether I would evade the question.

“No, of course not,” I answered, with an expression and tone that conveyed such a thought was utterly ludicrous.

He nodded, raised his head briefly to look around, and then pulled his iphone out of his pocket. Paying close attention to it, he touched the screen a couple of times, and then held it out to me.

“I wanted to show you something,” he said.

I looked down at the screen and saw a picture of an attractive older woman, seated at what looked like a bar.

“Oh, hey, who’s that?” I asked.

“That’s me,” he answered quietly.

I raised my eyes sharply to his, he met my gaze calmly; I looked at the picture again and then, once more meeting his eyes, I said, with an appreciative grin, “Wow. Very nice.”

His face lit up, and he almost smiled. “You think?”

“Yes,” I said with soft enthusiasm. “You do well.”

He smiled and put the phone away. “Thank you,” he said, and then leaned in closer without really seeming to move at all. “I just thought you were someone I could trust with that. Since you trusted me.”

I realized that perhaps he thought my trusting someone with my sexuality was something I was not accustomed to doing. And that he didn’t know that it wasn’t about trust for me. And that his own revelation was all about trust.

“Hey, I came out over 20 years ago,” I told him. “I do this all the time, it’s no big deal. I’m guessing it’s not so cut and dried for you, though.”

He admitted it was so. “Not many people know this about me,” he confided.

“Well, I’m cool with it,” I reassured him. “No worries.”

He seemed hugely relieved, and we then went on to talk about books (he was an avid reader), and writing, until it became clear he really had to get back to work. I took my leave, telling him I’d see him soon.

I saw him again two weeks ago; I had a few more questions, and hoped he’d be around when I visited the store once again. He was nowhere to be seen, so I contented myself with playing with an iTouch. A few minutes later I felt a presence at my left and looked up.

“Hi!” he said, so obviously happy to see me I blushed.

“Hey, there you are!” I greeted him. “How are you?”

“Hey, I’m great!” he said, and his enthusiasm was so obviously fabricated, and not reflected in his voice or expression, that I touched his arm.

“Nice try,” I told him.

“Ah, you caught that.” He suddenly looked very sad.

“Hard not to.” I cocked my head. “What’s up?”

He looked pained, pulled out his iphone, fiddled with it, then met my eyes. “My wife has given me an ultimatum.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Yeah. She says I have to get rid of all my outfits, all my bad habits, and be a man.”

“Oh.” I paused, then said, “But you’re the father of three daughters (he’d shared this information with me previously), so how can she throw that in your face?”

His face fell. “She’s so insecure, and so vindictive. She says if I don’t stop, she’ll tell everyone and I’ll be a pariah. She’ll leave me.”

“But you’ve been married for 34 years (he’d shared that with me, as well). If she gives you an ultimatum, isn’t that maybe what should happen?”

“I don’t want that. And she couldn’t live a proper life without me.” He stated this with quiet emphasis.

Keeping in mind we were in the middle of a computer store, discussing hugely private things, I said, “You and I should go for a drink sometime and just talk.”

His face lit up briefly, and then fell. “No. She’d never allow it.”

I actually laughed out loud. “What?” I looked closely at him. “Allow what?”

He looked pained again. “You. You’re a woman. She’d never allow it.”

I laughed again, though softer. “But I’m gay. I’m a lesbian. It’s just drinks.”

He smiled sadly. “That wouldn’t matter to her.”

“Well, it matters to me. I’m considering you a friend.” I felt myself getting impassioned. “It’s up to you obviously, but she’s given you an ultimatum, you have your own life to lead, and I’m not a threat, and you’ve told me all this for a reason.”

He stood solidly where he was for a moment, and then looked at me. And smiled. “Yes,” he said, “I would like to go for a drink with you. I like you. And I consider you a friend as well. Let me deal with this. Give me your email address. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

I did as he asked. I gave him my email address. We’ve kept in touch. He still won’t meet me socially. And I guess I understand that.

I think why I wanted to write about this is because I feel for people who have to pretend to be other than they are. Who they are. Intrinsically. Inately. I was never closeted. When I knew who and what I was, I just put it out there and that’s all there was to it. But not everyone is like me. And my patience with the section of society that refuses to allow others to express themselves, whether they are gay, transgendered, or cross-dressers, or what have you, is so limited.

I look forward to the time when this man lets me know we can meet for drinks. Because at least then I will know he has taken a step for himself, away from what restricts him, and he will be that much freer.

Freedom of self is everything.