Once upon a time, Fletcher DeLancey had a thriving career in an Oregon marine biology lab, a beachfront home she adored, friends, family, and enough vacation time for fabulous wilderness hikes. Then she met a woman from Portugal and fell in love. So she did what any rational, science-minded person would do: she gave up her career, house, friends, and beloved home state, sold almost everything she owned, and moved across a continent and an ocean to a tiny foreign nation.

Most of her friends, who were also rational, science-minded people, said, “I wish you luck, but you’re insane.”

Fletcher said, “Possibly. But either I go, or I spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been.” And she boarded a plane.

Today, Fletcher lives in the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal with her wife and son, a gifted young man who does not share her DNA, but for whom she takes credit anyway. (Nature vs. nurture is a common discussion in the household.) She no longer wonders what could have been. She has taught Pilates to other expatriates for a decade, eaten a thousand regional delicacies, learned the Portuguese birds, plants, and seasonal changes, and fallen in love with her new home.

The Portuguese word saudades is one she has come to understand for its evocative meaning of “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” Saudades is the never-ending, sweet pain of loving two places but only being able to live in one, loving many people but having to choose which ones you can be with, missing people or places you may never see again. It is the fate of many expatriates, and sometimes the price of love.

In her award-winning series Chronicles of Alsea, Fletcher channels her rational, science-oriented mind plus her intimate knowledge of saudades into a world where a culture of empaths break their most ancient stricture to protect their home. On Alsea, humans are the aliens—but aliens can also choose their homes, or make irrational decisions based on what they believe is right. The Chronicles of Alsea is an exploration of what happens when good people make bad decisions, when politicians have lofty ideals but must compromise to achieve them, and when love—as it so often does—both impairs and enables the course of history.

To learn more about saudades and hear the music it inspired, check out this NPR radio segment.

The rest of the story...

The question of public vs. private is a big one for any of us with an online presence, which means approximately 99.9% of us. I’ve chosen to put this part of my bio in the public sphere because honestly, the online community saved my butt. It’s only fair that I give back what I can.

If anyone reading this is questioning their sexuality/identity, wondering about coming out of the closet, or just feeling alone, perhaps my story can be a piece to your puzzle.

Past Imperfect (the first novel in my Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction series) was written in my old life, when I was still a heterosexual. A married one, in fact, and my husband beta-read that novel. Talk about nobody getting a clue! Present Tension was written a year later, when my ability to deny the truth was waning. By the time I was writing Future Perfect, I knew I was in trouble. There’s nothing quite so awful as knowing you’ve made a huge mistake, and that correcting it is going to hurt, confuse, and worry just about everyone in your life, including people you love and don’t want to hurt. The worst part was that I had already come out once, 17 years earlier. But I was only 21 at the time, scared and unsupported and having not a single clue as to where I could find help. Today’s online community would have been a godsend, but it didn’t exist in the late 1980s. My first coming out was scary and alienating. I gave up the whole thing as a bad job, went back into the closet, and managed to repress all of it so well that I truly thought I could live happily ever after with the man I married.

Here’s the problem with repression: there’s only so long your brain will allow it. Eventually, the truth starts to leak out. In my case, it leaked out in the form of fiction, where I wrote about the kind of relationships I wished were possible. Past Imperfect was my safety valve, my dream world, and a way of putting a tiny little sign on the internet: “Hello? Is anyone out there?”

Turns out there are a lot of people out there. I met people all over the world, heard all kinds of personal stories, and realized that my situation was by no means uncommon. And I finally found the support network that I needed all those years ago. These people gave me the strength to do what had to be done, and I am forever grateful to them.

One of them was a woman in Portugal named Maria, whose life experience was remarkably similar to mine. We struck up a close online friendship based partly on that shared experience and partly on the fact that we were both science geeks and literature lovers. The friendship turned into a physical attraction, then into “Holy shit, what am I going to do now?!” and eventually into a face-to-face meeting in the Lisbon airport. By the time I flew home 16 days later, I had finally put a name to the conflicting and confusing emotions I was experiencing. At 38 years of age, I was in love for the first time.

I was so sorry that it wasn’t with my husband.

Then came the hard part. I told my husband the day after coming home. He wasn’t surprised. I had already told him about my attraction to Maria, because I couldn’t stand lying to him. (Also, I’m a very bad liar—except to myself—so there’s little point in trying.) His response was that I should go to Portugal and find out what I needed to know. I did. We agreed to divorce.

The next day, I told my parents. The day after, my best friend. And then a few people at work, and some other good friends. One thing nobody ever told me (and this really should be in the Gay Manual) is that coming out is not a one-time deal. You do it over and over again. Some people choose to do it over a period of years. But I had already been in the closet far too long, so I came out to just about everyone in a period of two weeks. Every time I told someone new, I cringed, waiting for the judgment. I won’t say it never happened, but in truth, I was very happily surprised. By far, the majority reaction was either some form of “That doesn’t surprise me” or “You should follow your heart.”

I moved into an apartment and spent a year in limbo, sorting out my personal and professional life while preparing for my relocation. Maria has a son and shared custody; she was not free to make a choice. I was. She did, however, come to Oregon and live with me for a wondrous ten weeks. By the end of that time, we were certain of our partnership and had convinced my friends and most of my family as well.

Fifteen months after that first trip, I flew back to Portugal for good. It was the most emotionally wrenching and difficult year of my life. My single regret is that I didn’t do it earlier.

It has been more than a decade since then. Maria and I married in Canada, then had our marriage recognized by Portugal when it became legal two years later. My father, who chose not to attend our wedding, now thinks Maria hung the moon. She is still one of the only out lesbians at her university, where she is a professor of archaeology, but has never felt a whiff of prejudice. Neither have I. Portugal has a reputation for being conservative, but I have found its people to be accepting and more concerned with living well than with policing how others live.

We have raised our son together, from kindergarten to the point of worrying about university choices. He has two sets of parents, but we are the ones who have modeled a long-term, successful, loving relationship. I’m proud of that, and proud of the fact that he is growing up to be a marvelous human being.

I miss Oregon all the time. I miss my family and friends, mountains so high their snow never fully melts, raging winter storms on the coast, and quiet trails winding through 300-foot trees (91.4 meters, for non-US readers). But these saudades are “a pleasure I suffer, an ailment I enjoy.” They are the price I pay for living out loud.

Unsolicited advice

There are a few bits of advice I’d like to offer for any readers who are now questioning their sexuality/identity or thinking about coming out. There’s no manual for this (though heaven knows I tried to find one), but if anything in my experience can help, then I am glad to give it.

First: nobody can tell you what the right choices are for you. You’re the only one who knows. But nothing compares to the exhilaration of being free. I lived a lie for 17 years, buried so deeply in the closet that I didn’t even know it was a closet. But some part of me did, and that was the part that always wondered, “Isn’t there more than this?”

There is. If you think you lack passion, or simply don’t love as deeply as others, think again. You’re not broken. You might find yourself capable of astonishing amounts of love and passion if you follow your dream.

If you feel alone, you’re not. There are many, many of us out here.

If you’re worried that coming out will be hard — you’re right. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I gave up financial security, a future I had planned with my husband and thought would last a lifetime, and a home I had worked on and painted and gardened in and loved. And mine was easy. I have one friend who gave up 20 years of marriage, and another who permanently lost close family members as a result of coming out. They would both tell you it was worth it.

If you fear that admitting your sexuality/identity will make family or friends feel hurt, angry or betrayed — it probably will. But one of the best pieces of advice I received in my own journey was: there is no right way to do this. You will not get out of this without hurting someone. For women, this is often a particularly daunting prospect. We’re socialized not to hurt others, or make scenes, or face anger and conflict. Most of us don’t have any practice at it and we don’t know how to do it. Just tell the truth, as long as it’s physically safe for you to do so. Your truth is your strength.

People can question your truth, they can argue it, they can give you ninety different explanations for what you’re feeling other than your truth, and they probably will. Most of them will do this because they love you, and they have no idea how hard it is for you to face down all of these questions and arguments and explanations. They don’t know that you’ve already asked yourself and told yourself all the same things. They want you to be safe and secure, and not live a life where you will be discriminated against. And some of them will come to you later (though this may take a while) and say, “I’ve never seen you so happy.” In the end, the people who love you want you to be happy. It’s that simple.

When you do figure out your truth, and come out at last, you will probably feel like the sun rose for the first time and the whole world should be laughing with you. Unfortunately, your family and friends will likely be several steps behind you in their acceptance. Even those who support you and say, “That really doesn’t surprise me; I think I always suspected” may still need time to adapt. You’ve had years to get to this point, but they just had it sprung on them. This part is hard, because there’s nothing you can do but wait.

Sometimes you may have to wait for someone you love to stop being edgy and jumpy around you, and that’s painful as hell. Even the most open-minded people sometimes discover deeply-held prejudices within them. If they love you, they’ll work past them. Give them time. What they need to know is that you haven’t changed. It sounds self-explanatory, but it’s not. Their view of you has just taken a huge left turn; to them it looks like you’ve changed a hell of a lot, and they’re busy questioning everything they ever thought about you. They’ll need time to realize that it’s not you who has changed, but their perceptions of you.

Living a lie gradually shuts a person down. When I found my truth, I felt like the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas — my heart grew three sizes larger. And there is nothing, simply nothing, to compare with the exhilaration of being free. I carried a huge, debilitating, shameful (I thought) secret for nearly half my life. Pushing that burden off my shoulders was the biggest high I’ve ever experienced.

The road to this point was not easy by any definition, and I never want to do anything like that again. But it was absolutely worth it.

If you’re anywhere along this path, I salute your courage and wish you the best. May you find the happiness you seek — or may it find you.

~ Fletcher DeLancey