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January 10, 2018 | Nonfiction

Everything After

Chloe Caldwell

Everything After photo

When you go to lunch with Eileen Myles and she asks you if you’re dating a man or a woman, you want to say woman.

Let me rephrase. When I went to lunch with Eileen Myles and she asked if I was dating a man or a woman, I wanted to say, a woman, but I was dating a man. I’d just left his apartment where he was vacuuming his car. I'd been in the bathroom making sure I looked okay. He was excited I was going to lunch with Eileen Myles. Afterwards, we were picking his daughter up from school.  I wondered if I was letting people down with my hetero-ness. It wasn't the first time I'd had this thought.

After my novella Women was released, and my next book came out two years later, the more press I saw about myself, the more confused my self-identity became. In a Barnes & Noble in Union Square, I picked up the issue of OUT Magazine I was in. I wasn’t “out” but here was my black and white photo in OUT magazine, taking up two pages. Meet The Queen of TMI, it said. I felt like a fraud featured in (for the second time) OUT Magazine. I’d never come out to anyone, didn’t feel “out” or if I even needed/wanted to be. I let my books speak for me.

Eileen Myles asked me whether I was dating a man or a woman. I stabbed my fork into my beet salad (we were both eating beet salads, she paid for them because her publisher paid for them. Thanks, Grove! It is the best salad in town, it comes with edible flowers and blue cheese crumbles).

I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. A couple years earlier I probably would have dressed up, put on a dress or a shirt I perceived as sexy. But that day, my boyfriend and his daughter and I had been at the park flying kites, so I was in jeans and red T-shirt and high-top black Converse. Eileen wore navy and white high-top Converse. I took a photograph of our respective Converse. That’s hilarious, she said.

Man, I answered.

There was a time I used my book(s), instead of Tinder, as dating tools. Who needs Tinder when there’s Twitter? My book was basically a want ad, Stephen Elliott says of his memoir, The Adderall Diaries.

If you’d asked me at the time, I would have denied I was using my book to meet people. Sometimes I considered myself opportunistic, but I justified it by reminding myself that weird shit happens when you have a book out in the world. People will ask to meet you for coffee or for a drink. People can publically flatter you on social media. People can DM you anything they want. It’s an exercise in boundaries.

About a month before I met my partner, I was featured in Elle Magazine, in an article titled, "41 Hottest Singles." I felt much more comfortable and emboldened around my identity as a single woman than I did around my sexual identity. My sexual identity felt fluid, always changing, surprising myself every day. Shameful is too strong of a word, but it felt the opposite of courageous, to put a book out and then dodge questions about my sexual identity. I never felt comfortable claiming a label (was I even allowed one?).

But my identity as a single woman was grounding, reliable, strong. My mother had gotten married too early, then divorced. She had not lived alone until the age of forty-five. I was proud of the way I was carving out my life. Some of my single female friends looked at it as a problem, something to fix; but I did not feel ashamed of my single life as I did my sexuality.  I remember a girlfriend who was engaged explaining to me how when you're in a partnership you can show up at anything because you have someone to go with. She was referencing bars, weddings, gallery openings, house parties. I bit my tongue at the time, and woke up angry the next day.  I texted her that what she'd said had hurt my feelings. Do you ever think, I wrote, that I thrive being single? That I have no problem showing up at those things by myself?

Book reviewers seemed justified in analyzing or challenging my sexuality. One reviewer verbatim said: I question Chloe’s love for women.

This line, I don’t know where I heard it, or is it just a thought I’ve had?

I Google myself every day to find out if I’m gay or not.


Reviews of my writing, I could take. If someone thought I was a shitty writer, I didn’t mind. It was the reviews of my sexuality that clammed me up, made me self-conscious in owning it. I admired women who owned their queerness, put the word “bisexual” in their Instagram bios.

Most people don’t have the experience of having their sexuality scrutinized, publicized, or questioned in a public fashion.

After the release of Women, if I was asked who I was dating, I felt I should answer: “a woman.” I felt like my audience was invested in my being gay now. Usually I answered, “no one.” Dating no one was a safe way to not be judged.

The truth is, after Women was published, I didn’t date for three years. I was twenty-eight when the book released, and now at thirty-one I have a partner. During those single years I had a couple of flings, a handful of Tinder dates, but was most interested in solitude and my female friends. Tinder dates were helpful in helping me realize who and what kinds of energies I was attracted to, but aside from a few dates with a chef, who I realized was only courting me to sleep with me and then lost interest, I went years being alone. After sleeping with the chef, I texted my friend, “just realized it has been two years since I slept with a man.”


Katie Heaney published a book called Never Have I Ever in 2014. The book chronicled her life at twenty-five and never having had a boyfriend or a kiss. In her newest book, Would You Rather? Katie explores the notion that she’d always been gay—it wasn’t that she was undateable, it’s that she was trying to date men when she was attracted to women. Katie wrote a blog post when she began dating a woman:

“I wrote a decently popular book about wanting (and failing) to date boys and now I am dating a girl, and will maybe only ever date girls. Singular or plural, who knows. If I have learned anything from the various epiphanies that have occurred to me in the nearly two years since my book came out — my book, in which I claim to know myself very well — it is that I am able to be certain of much less than I thought when I was a little younger than I am now.”

Is it my sexual identity or single identity I miss? As a single woman, my audience was free to project onto my sexuality. If they were straight, I was straight, if they were gay I was gay, even though I don’t think I was ever gay enough. I was "a tourist", according to some reviews.

“Probably my biggest fear is that girls who felt less alone because of my book will now feel it seeping back, even though that was never really in my power to prevent. My second biggest fear is that people will look from my book to me now and back again and go, “Oh, well that’s why.” I don’t think it’s that simple. I told the truth as best I could and now the truth is a little bigger.”
—Katie Heaney

I get it. I used to love, still love, immersing myself in what I believed were the personal lives of authors. If I read a book about a woman who was addicted to drugs, I’d look up if  she was now sober. If a woman struggled with her weight, I wanted to know what she currently looked like. But mostly, if a woman wrote about dating both men and women, I had to know which gender she’d ended up with.

I read Bluets in 2012, assuming Maggie was writing about a man. A few years later, in the throes of my tumultuous relationship with a woman, I learned some hearsay that it was actually about a woman and my perspective shook. I recognized her as queer, with a closer look. Oh, this feminine looking woman with shoulder length blonde hair suddenly looks queerer to me. Did I look queer to people? Or did I look queer to them only after they read my book? If I hadn’t published a queer love story, would I still feel queer? Or was the book the only reason I did?

Here is an example of something that frequently occurred after I published Women

I would be on a Tinder date with a woman who seemed only mildly interested in me and then the subject of me being a writer would come up and she’d go home and Google me and within an hour of our parting would be enthusiastically texting me. Being an author and having books published is often interesting to people, but having a book specifically about your sexuality can be even more intriguing or surprising to people, especially women.

Life moves into new forms. —Neal Cassady.

Two months into dating my partner Tony, I received an email from GO Magazine in which they told me they wanted to list me as one of 100 influential gay women.

I wrote to the editor of the feature: I don't identify as a lesbian and I’m in a hetero relationship, but am 100% queer!

Except I had a typo, and instead of writing 100% queer, I wrote 10% queer.

Tony was out of town. I called him to tell him the news and about the typo, unsure of how he’d react about me being in a feature about being queer. I’d dated one other male four years back and his reactions to my writing and public persona were harsh and mean, making me a little gun-shy. This was the first time my past was meeting my present in such clear terms with Tony.

He laughed so hard.

I meant to say 100%.

They published my photograph in the magazine. The editor responded: That doesn't affect anything! This features women who identify as lesbian or queer.

I understand now I can hold both - my queer self and my hetero self. Being in a hetero-partnership doesn’t make me less queer. Well, maybe 10%.

It is easy to glamorize being single, and at times I long for the freedom of it. When you're single you don't have to get totally familiar with your trust issues and what triggers you.

I took the train nine hours to give a reading in Montreal last fall, for my latest book. It’d been two years since Women was published, two years since I’d last read in Montreal. The room was filled with queer women, queer totebags, queer haircuts. You have a very specific demographic, one of the booksellers said to me. My audience had changed, or to be more exact, I had an audience now, one you could recognize or point to or generalize about. Before, audiences for my readings had always been random, but at this reading there was something more obvious going on.

I had anticipated meeting someone that night. A member of the audience. Maybe they’d invite me to dinner or a drink or a party afterwards. After I finished the reading followed by a Q&A, I waited a couple minutes, browsing books, until I left the bookstore - alone. All the women who’d watched me, who were so supportive to me, and so attractive, were huddled in a group. They were friends, they were a community.

It was bitter, epically cold. My phone wasn’t set up to work in Canada. I could only use it on Wifi. I went to a Starbucks, ate a chocolate covered graham cracker, a little drunk on the wine they’d provided me during the reading. I looked at my Instagram, the photo someone had posted of me reading, and I probably posted a photo of myself. I walked back to my cousin’s friend’s place. I couldn’t afford a hotel. It was freezing. Someone had told me everyone’s apartment in Montreal is freezing. Somehow the cold made my loneliness more pronounced.

I slept in all my clothes: my tights and socks, and put a colored heavy sweater over a long-sleeved shirt. My grandmother had knitted me the sweater and by sleeping in it, I ruined it by stretching it out; when I woke up it had absolutely lost its shape.