A Guy Named Greg

This week, on a very special Geekin’ Out…

Normally around this time, I would be coming to you with half-formed thoughts about whichever video game I’d just finished blitzing my way through.  But this past weekend, this entire past week, even, I’ve been distracted.  On Sunday, this distraction came to a head in such a manner that the lovely Geekin’ Out trio suggested I put aside my toys for this article and instead, write from the heart.  So hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, ’cause shit’s about to get real.

I’m a lesbian.  Though I’ve not always been able to admit that as frankly and openly as I do now.  Like anyone will tell you, the LGBT road can be a tough one to travel, certainly at the beginning.  High school in particular was a problem for me.  Teenagers are self-conscious and troubled enough without throwing the confusion of sexual identity into the mix.  I met it with denial.  I saw the girls on the arms (and in the laps) of the boys and tried to convince myself that was what I wanted too.  I surrounded myself with boys, hoping I could convince my hormones otherwise.  But all my attempts failed, and high school politics did nothing to help matters.  Delicate information always seems to wind up in the wrong hands, doesn’t it?  I don’t need to tell you that when a group of girls demands that I wait outside the locker rooms until they’re finished changing lest I try to jump them, it hurts.  Scared my parents would find out, confused by the way my heart skipped whenever a friend from Anime Club would come over to the couch and rest her head in my lap, and angry at myself for feeling like that and at the world for making it so damn difficult, I drifted through my senior years wondering and doubting whether it was going to get better.

Around this same time, I was rediscovering comics.  Before my wonderfully supportive English teacher alerted me to the fact that there were comics not about superheroes, my on-again off-again relationship with comics comprised mostly of titles kids already know, when they’re too hesitant to dive into anything new; Sonic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men.  Maybe I would pick up an issue of Batgirl, hoping it would be something akin to the adventure of my beloved Batgirl of the 1960s Batman TV show, but in the end I would just find myself confused.  It wasn’t long before X-Men became too confusing to follow as well, and after TMNT stopped being published and I grew out of Sonic, comics kind of drifted out of my life.  Getting a job at a local comic shop changed all that rather quickly.

My comic knowledge at that time was still vastly inferior to that of my co-workers, but when I declared my favorite comic to be The Sandman, I passed some sort of unspoken test and became a sort of comic-reading padawan.  I read everything both co-workers and customers recommended, and my mind was sufficiently blown.  But that’s not really the point.  The point is that one day, someone handed me the first volume of Gotham Central.

This was back in 2005, and so the series was already at it’s 25th issue.  But I loved it.  I loved it from the first issue.  It was Homicide: Life on the Streets of Gotham City.  Determined to catch up, I bought the second volume as fast as humanly possible.  This was where a man named Greg Rucka introduced me, really introduced me, to a woman named Renee Montoya.

Renee was a lesbian.  She was outed in the worst way possible.  She faced hostility from her coworkers and her family.  But she was so strong.  Yeah, things bounced around from hard to cruel, but through all of that her confidence in her sexuality never faltered.  She never denied who she was, and never tried to change it.

She was just in love with a woman, and for me, this was huge.  It was inspirational.  Renee was like a rock through the rest of high school.  She was there when I needed her, and my love for the character only increased as I watched her develop through the rest of the series and beyond.  But Half a Life was always special to me.  I kept it close, reading and rereading the volume for years.  Eventually, I felt OK.  Eventually, I told my sisters.  Eventually, I had a girlfriend.

Flash forward 6 years and I’m at my first comic convention, Geek Girl Con.  I’m there because Greg Rucka, the man who really brought Renee to life, is there too.  Now, I’m very bad at meeting my favorite writers.  I freaking interrupted Neil Gaiman.  So naturally, I was as terrified of meeting Greg Rucka as I was excited.  At least my panicked apprehension every time I caught sight of him wound up a source of entertainment for my Geekin’ Out team/travel mates, and I spent the entire first day either stalling or flat out avoiding him.  I even managed to stall and flit past his table on the second day and final day.  But Brendon, convention veteran that he his, informed me that I was going up to that table one way or another, before pushing me into the line.

I put Half a Life down on the table in front of its writer, and completely forgot what I was supposed to do.  Thankfully, he helped me along, asking who he should make it out to.  I told him my name, and after a series of ‘ums’ blurted an advanced apology for all the stupid things I was likely to say and/or do.  After Gaiman, I felt it best that I keep my bases covered.  I floundered around in the ‘ums’ for a bit more, and then my mouth reconnected to my brain, and I said ‘thank you’.

I thanked him for Renee, for writing her.  By that point, I was on autopilot.  I told him about high school, about the difficulty I’d had accepting my own sexuality.  About how much of a difference Renee had made, how inspirational she was, how much she meant to me.  And for all that, I just wanted to say thank-you.  There was a pause after I finished, and then he smiled and said I didn’t need to apologize for anything; that that was the nicest thing I could have said to him.

He signed Half a Life with a quote from Bob Dylan, “It is impossible to be both wise and in love at the same time”.  While he admitted he signs all copies of Gotham Central with that quote, he made sure I knew he meant it double for me.  I’m trying so hard not to start crying as he closes the book and hands it back.  I’m thanking him profusely and my legs feel numb and weird and without a word Greg Rucka stands up and leans across the table and hugs me, and I hug him back.  We’re hugging like we’ve know each other for a while, and in a weird sort of way, I guess we kinda have.  Before I go, he tells me he’s happy that Renee was there for me when I needed her, and that’s when I lost it.  That’s when I smiled and finally started crying.

It’s so rare to have the opportunity to meet the writer of a work so important to you, and it’s rarer still to find them not only so approachable and open, but so genuinely passionate and a believer in what they wrote.  A few days before going down to the con, I reread Half a Life.  I’d never realized nor read the introduction by Greg Rucka before, and paranoid there might be a pop quiz on it or something, finally did so.  I wish I had sooner.  He says that he didn’t ‘make’ Renee gay; that was always who she was.  As opposed to so many gay characters who are created simply for the sake of having a gay character to point to and say ‘look! equality!’, Renee was created to stand on her own, to grow and evolve and propel an amazing story.  Renee is a character, as opposed to a statistic, a topical issue.  After meeting Greg, I know without a doubt this was always his intention; to tell a strong story about a strong woman.

I can look up to Renee.  I can be inspired by her.  Renee who taught me that lying next to a girl is okay, that you can’t help who you love, that it’s going to be hard, that it’s going to get better.  But the best part about all of this is knowing her creation was honest.  Knowing it was from the heart.  And knowing that her creator was as honored to hear what a difference his character had made as I was to be able to tell him.

So thank you, Greg.  Thank you for introducing me to Renee Montoya.


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  1. Lizz
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Renee Monotoya is the reason I am a comicbook fan. I bought the novelization of the crossover event “52” mainly because i was shocked that novelizations of comic books even existed. I fell in love with Renee (i’m straight,but she’s just that awesome a character) as soon she appeared. I found myself jumping ahead in the novel to read all of Renee’s chapters. soon after I found Gotham Central. i’m not a fan of cop drama tv shows but I was hooked from the 1st panel and before i knew it Renee had become on of my personal heroines. I love how she struggles and really grows as a person. Rucka made her great(your so lucky you got to meet him!) and she’s the character I tell non comic book fans about to get them interested in the medium.
    I really hope she makes a comeback in the New DCU because it would be a crime to lose her.

    • Shannon
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

      Oh I hear that completely. I’m a little worried after seeing her picture on what looks ominously like a memorial wall in Batwoman #1. As much as I like Maggie Sawyer (once again a detective), I will be crushed if she ends up filling Renee’s role.

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