In university, J. Marshall Freeman was a great writer, but wasn’t exactly an authentic one. Afraid of exposing his sexuality through his characters, he stopped writing for decades. But after discovering an online group of “smart geek girls” and some slash fiction – which turns platonic friendships in sci fi shows into romantic ones – he threw himself back into writing, this time as a queer artist writing stories featuring young, openly gay protagonists living out the youth he had always wanted.
Transcript provided by YouTube:
My name is J. Marshall Freeman and I’m from Toronto, Canada.
When I was 13 years old, I was a pretty normal kid reading my X-Men comics and living a pretty
happy life. I come from a… from a very loving family, but I was aware early that it was
a family with expectations, which was a problem at 13 as I started to realize that something
was different about me. And even though that would have been 1976, when awareness of gay
people was not fore – in the forefront, I knew that there was something different than
something going on in that neighborhood.
And it was scary ‘cause my father, in addition to having all these expectations, he was a
psychiatrist. And I had the very clear idea that if I made one slip, he would be using
super psychiatric x-ray vision to spot what was going on with me.
I remember there was one time that maybe he did suspect because he’s suddenly out of the
blue said, you know, “Men and women, their parts just fit better together.” Which of
course was terrifying because Do you see me? Do you know? But nothing more was said. So
I developed the habit of hiding.
At the same time, everything for me was about the arts, about creating stories, drawing
comics, doing all this stuff. And I recognized that to be kind of the best part of me, the
most integral, deepest, most consequential thing I had. And that got hidden as well in
So fast forward till I’m in university. And I applied for a creative writing workshop.
One day, it’s my turn to bring in my story. So I’ve written a story and the secret is
that I know the main character is queer, but it’s not on the page. Nervously, I watch everyone
reacting to it, giving me feedback. And the feedback is great! People love my story. But
with that comes a strange terror because that means you’re seeing inside me. That means
I’m letting stuff out and letting stuff out is dangerous.
And so when it comes my turn to react, I tear my story to pieces. I explain in careful,
intelligent detail why it’s no good, why I’m a bad writer, et cetera. And then I don’t
In the meantime, I do finally come out at age 25, and it goes okay in the way of coming
out. It’s hard and scary and gets better. I meet the man who… who will later become
my husband. I make gay friends. I develop a sense of queer politics and queer history.
But during that time, I’m still not going back to writing. I’m still not writing the
stories that integrate everything that is me.
I’m making music and I’m producing music for other people at the time, and kind of becoming
a relentless champion for other people to express themselves in their art, while I’m
a dabbler during that time.
So fast forward to the late 90s, early 2000s, and the social media platform LiveJournal.
And on LiveJournal, I meet an amazing group of smart geek girls. And many of them are
queer, and what they’re into in addition to comic books, in addition to finding a whole
new political side to comic books that I never saw before, they’re into fanfic. And I start
reading fanfic and I discovered the world of slashfic. And slashfic is where you take
two characters from some popular comic or TV show or movic, two supposedly straight
characters, and you say, Uh, uh, uh, they’re a queer couple. And then you write their stories.
For me, of course, it’s the X-Men and the X-Men movies, particularly with Iceman and
Pyro. And I start reading Iceman and Pyro fic, and suddenly a light goes on in my head
and says, I can write this. So I start writing. I write short stories first, and then I embark
on a 400,000-word X-Men movieverse fanfic novel.
And people are reading it and people are enjoying it. And I have this feedback. And best of
all, it’s anonymous, so I’m not risking anything yet. I’m not J. Marshall Freeman. I’m “Talktooloose”.
And Talktooloose’s story takes four years for me to write and it’s like my master’s
thesis in writing. That’s how I learn.
So I finished writing this massive fanfic novel, this anonymous work, and I realized
at that point that there’s nothing stopping me from writing as J. Marshall Freeman. From
– I’m now ready to put myself out in the world as a queer artist, as a queer writer and write
my truth. And I start slowly and… writing short stories, working away on a first novel,
which, you know, learning all the difficulty of that. Learning why it’s harder to write
original fic than it is to write fanfic.
But then it starts happening. I start getting more positive feedback and then I win two
awards for short stories, for queer-themed short stories, and it almost feels like I’ve
let myself out into the world finally. And the world is saying, Yeah, do it. And I think
that’s a common experience of coming out for so many people one way or another. It’s when
you take off those chains that you are the best version of yourself.
And I keep writing and in December 2020, Bold Strokes books puts out The Dubious Gift of
Dragon Blood. I’m writing a queer youth, a 16 year old main character, and to some extent
he’s living in the adolescence that I didn’t get to live as an open gay boy.
It’s not the end of a saga, but it’s the culmination of 30 years. It’s me being out,
not only as a gay man, but now as a queer artist. I’ve been making art for a long time
now and I benefit from other people doing that. And I benefit myself as an artist by
taking that step of bravery and say, Oh, All it is is the truth. The truth isn’t dangerous.
This post was previously published on YouTube.
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