A Guest Post by Tamsen Parker
I used to be a hugger.
I used to be a snuggle bunny.
I used to be a cuddle slut.
I went to an all-girls boarding school and we would link arms when we walked across campus, pile up like kittens when watching TV in the common room and sleep in each other’s narrow twin beds without a second thought. Looking back, the amount of physical affection I enjoyed was downright decadent, snuggle hedonism run amok. But then it seemed ordinary, an undercurrent of friendly physical contact that flirted with romantic, serving as a backdrop for adolescent life’s more major events: that guy from the dance who was so cute, that French exam I totally bombed, and dear god, please let me get into college. Any college.
When I got to said college, that all changed. Every affectionate gesture meant something. Like, sex things. I blame it on a few factors:
First on the hormone-addled heads of teenagers who are out from under adult supervision for the first time and so desperate to use that freedom to get laid that a “thank-you-for-killing-that-spider-in-my-shitty-dorm-room-who-would’ve-otherwise-eaten-me-in-my-sleep” hug turns into an awkward “oh-god-my-boobs-just-squished-against-his-chest-and-oh-my-god-is-that-his-oh-god-he-totally-just-squeezed-my-ass” awkward grope fest.
Second, on having boys at my school. The horror I initially felt at this and the freaked out phone calls with my father that ensued are the stuff of family legend, to be covered in another post.
And third, on being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I didn’t want to be that girl who went around campus linking arms with her friends: weird. And a lesbian. Although that I could live with. So, mostly weird.
And that stuck. Through my first craptacular post-college job, through graduate school, through my second far more fulfilling job and now through my life as a stay-at-home mom.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m affectionate with my husband and my daughter in the safety and expectedness of hugs and kisses within a family unit, but outside of that… the friends I met as a new mom think of me as Not A Hugger. And that makes me sad. I miss the human contact, I miss another way of saying I value you, I see you and I love you. Why would you not want to tell the people you care about these things?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to fly to Chicago (because what says getaway more than going to the only place colder than Boston in the middle of January?) to visit with some of my smut writer friends, two of whom I was meeting for the very first time. And guess what? I hugged the shit out of them, oh yes I did. I leaned my head on their shoulders when I was laughing so hard I almost cried at the bar and I shared a blanket on the couch as we talked about orgies. As you do. And it wasn’t because I wanted to get in their pants, although come on—sexy romance writers? How you doin’? Ahem. Anyway.
As many of us do, I write under a pen name. When I go to writerly functions, like my RWA chapter meetings, meals with my local smut writer pals and weekends like this, that’s how I introduce myself. Hi, I’m Tamsen. I hadn’t thought much about it until someone who genuinely wanted to know asked me why.
It’s partially a privacy thing, although I have no illusions about the power of the internet. If/when I get published, it won’t be hard for anyone who really wants to know to figure out my secret identity (to make it easy on anyone who cared enough to read this far down this post in hopes that I’d spill the beans, I’m Lois Lane.).
But in the meantime and more so, I wanted the opportunity to establish myself as a writer without the thoughts and impressions of a lifetime bearing down on me. Without the weight of my family and friends and former colleagues’ expectations of who I am. Without fear of the funny/disgusted/disappointed/perplexed looks I will no doubt be on the receiving end of when I fess up to the people outside of my wonderful little smut-writer bubble about what I really do while my kid is napping, because it’s clearly not cleaning my house. Without, in short, my story.
No one I meet as Tamsen is shocked that I write kinky erotic romance. Or that I can down six drinks over the course of an evening (or afternoon as the case may be). Or that I swear a lot and talk about things like zombie apocalypse ménage, pervertables and stick-figure-four-ways with a totally straight face. Because as far as they’re concerned, that’s who I’ve always been and they like me precisely the way I am.
My yoga teacher frequently asks at the end of class, “Who would you be without your story?” That particular rhetorical has always struck an uncomfortably twangy chord with me, but never more since I’ve come into this lovely little world. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and here’s what I’ve come up with:
I would be a joyful writer of books that mean something to me and that I hope mean something to other people.
I would be an exuberant introvert.
I would be as generous and supportive with others as the romance/erotica community, and the wonkoverse in particular, has been with me.
I would reclaim things I miss from my former life and take up the banner of things I never knew I wanted because I don’t have the box of IRL me containing my thoughts and actions.
I would be Tamsen Parker.
And, psst, you guys, Tamsen’s a hugger. So when we meet, be prepared.
Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by nap time, with a fondness for subway maps and monograms. You can find her on Twitter at @TamsenParker.