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Finding Authenticity in the Uncomfortable

An Interview with Katherine May

Generally, are high schools different in 2022 than the one featured in your story which seems fairly tolerant?

Since I graduated from high school twenty years ago, it’s hard for me to know exactly if/how things have changed. As for my high school experience, because I spent two years at the local high school and then two years away at a public residential magnet school, I really got two totally different experiences. Things that could only be whispered about at my local school (like two girls kissing, for example) barely registered on anyone’s radar at boarding school. That being said, I was very fortunate in those first two years of high school to have found my way to that group of drama nerds. We shared not only a lot of the same tastes, but also a lot of the same beliefs, and we were very loyal to each other. Those connections made me feel very insulated from the rest of the student population.

Your young protagonist never seemed to doubt her sexuality. What gave her that confidence?

This particular piece starts at the moment when the protagonist (me) no longer could doubt her/my queer identity. But that didn’t exactly translate to confidence right away. If anything, it added a certain amount of pressure and anxiety because I knew this was something that wasn’t just a phase or a passing inclination. It wasn’t something that was going to go away. I don’t consider this piece a “coming out” story, because it sort of glosses over that whole process in favor of focusing on my relationship with one specific person over time. The “confidence” that I developed over the period of time covered in this piece had more to do with the value I put on myself in relationships. I reached a point by the end of the story where I no longer was romanticizing this idea of being a secret, and I cared about myself enough to believe I deserved something real.

Among other things, Cut Here is about exploring sexuality and unrequited love. Do these themes appear frequently in your work?

I can’t think of anything I’ve written that doesn’t have queer characters in it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every story is about coming out or being queer. The other theme that seems to come up very often isn’t unrequited love, but rather connections that resist labels/definition.

Did you struggle for many years to write this story, or did it emerge without excessive pain?

I jotted down a very rough draft of this piece not long after the events depicted in the last section (which would have been about thirteen years ago). After that, it sat saved on various computers/laptops I’ve had over the years. It wasn’t until last year, when I started to think about writing more seriously and possible publication, that I immediately thought of this piece and started revising it. The process was relatively painless compared with the struggles I’ve experienced revising other stories/essays I’ve written. It was all a matter of adding as many details as I could recall, figuring out the through line, and then cutting away what was superfluous. Going back and recalling some of those specific high school memories was actually a sweet process. I feel like there’s been enough time and distance for me to look back on everyone and everything depicted in this piece with a lot of love.

Are you working on a memoir or any other kinds of material? What do you do to put bread on the table?

I’m currently working on revising some short fiction pieces, but I also have some longer fiction and creative nonfiction ideas that are in the planning/outlining phases. My process tends to be pretty slow because I work as a lawyer, and so much of my time and energy goes into reading and writing for my job.

I understand you live in New Orleans with a collection of “increasingly outdated media.” Tell us more. From what or where do you draw inspiration?

I get so much inspiration from people I’ve known, friends I’ve had, strange conversations, and awkward interactions with people. I love digging into the weird/uncomfortable spaces between people. There is an authenticity in those uncomfortable moments, when people are moving and speaking without artifice, that I love exploring in my writing. As for my outdated media collection, I have a soft spot for hyper-specific pop culture references. For example, the title “Cut Here” was taken from a song by The Cure, and both The Cure and R.E.M. are referenced in the piece, as are the movies Gattaca and Clue, and specific Monty Python scenes/sketches (to cite just a few of the references in the piece). All of these references (hopefully) not only help to place the piece in a specific era, but also add dimension to the characters by revealing the kinds of music and movies they’re drawn to and how these points of reference draw them together.

What are you reading?

I recently finished Wolf in White Van, which I found fascinating. Next up on my list is The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. I’m very excited to get into it because it is a retelling of one of my favorites (The Great Gatsby) through a queer/magical realism lens. I do so much reading for work that sometimes it takes me a while to work up the attention span to start a new novel. In the meantime, I often find myself drawn to longform true crime articles.

By Lenore Weiss

Lenore Weiss is associate creative nonfiction editor at Mud Season Review. Her work has been widely published in print and on the web. She lives in Oakland, California with Zebra the Brave and Granola the Shy. Her environmental novel Pulp into Paper is forthcoming from Atmosphere Press, as is her newest poetry collection from WordTech Communications, Video Game Pointers. Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com.