Dawn Elizabeth Waters may not have brought her Xanax (we offered her one; she declined), but she did bring her wife Yvette for a quick sit down about her frank and, honestly, refreshing memoir Switching Teams. Publicizing her life is not really her bag, but she really wanted to present a clear, often poignant, recount of what it is to find that you are living a life that isn’t yours – that having a husband and three children, holding a real-estate license for the purpose of appearances and squelching your own reality, these are not necessarily the seeds of authenticity.
Growing past the 40-year-old line, Waters wanted to make a statement that is too often unheard, buried in the noise of normalcy or explicit overstatement. Waters is a lesbian. She’s also an ex-wife and mother of three who used to consider herself background noise in the suburban dream. She climbed out, found Yvette (who is also present for our interview), and decided to document the realities – minus the histrionics – of coming into her own and out of society’s shadows. A shock of blond hair kicked to the side and some palpable nervousness in tow, Waters knocks it out of the park with her candor and kindness.
“To me, it’s a once in a lifetime chance,” she says. “I want it to be me.”
Waters will be presenting her debut book Switching Teams at Orlando’s The Venue on Jan. 20, assisted by improvisational dancing from Michelina Wingerter (a Venue regular) to decorate the scene; 20 percent of book proceeds will go to the Barber Fund benefiting those living with cancer. Waters seems happy. And she has every reason to be. It all starts on a pitcher’s mound.
Watermark: The baseball intro, what inspired that?
Dawn Elizabeth Waters: Well, honestly, I write about what I know, and I’ve been a sports geek my entire life. I have a way to compare the two things, and I’ve been through sports, and it’s very much the same thing. Mental stuff, emotional stuff, physical stuff, it’s all encompassing. It’s pretty much my personality.
So, you’re competitive?
I am. I am competitive. My 18-year-old competitive self is not friends with my 43-year-old self. My body is not cooperative all the time anymore.
Ergo, you’re doing real estate now and living in DeBary with your lovely wife Yvette. As a writer myself, I can see how you do a lot of narration of your process of coming out and writing a book, beyond the standard memoir. Was there any hesitation in writing a book about your story?
I’m not sure. I didn’t have a plan when I started this, so it kind of morphed into what it was. When I came out – I’m an information gatherer, so I like to know what I’m in for – I knew that I was analytical, maybe a little over-analytical sometimes, and there wasn’t anything out there that I could find that made sense of what it was I could expect, what was going to happen, what it was going to be like. It was a very lonely place with so much going on. So the focus was more on the chaos that was going on all around more than it was on the lonely place. We’d go to the bookstore, and there would be collections of two-page essays from women. It was like, “Yeah, I get it. You came out after you got married and had children.” And it didn’t help. I thought it was kind of chicken. I wanted to do know what it was like. I wanted that voyeuristic sense.
It seems like there are so many more male coming out books than female.
Absolutely, and that’s exactly what I found. The ones that I’ve looked at and read are written completely differently. They have a different tone to them. For mine, I was frustrated because there was no information. I was also frustrated because, in the beginning, everybody focused on the kids and the husband. And I felt like, this is hard for me, too, and nobody seemed to get that. I didn’t want to have a tantrum and foot-stomp, “What about me?” but I was holding everything together and going through a divorce and coming out. Everybody else was being showered with concern and care, which made me angry sometimes. I was feeling like the villain. My aunt and I had a lapse in our relationship; I wrote about her in the book. And, I asked her, “Is there anything in there that surprised you? Is there anything that you didn’t know?” And she said, “The one thing I didn’t realize is that I never knew how hard this was for you.” There’s still not a lot of sympathy for this, when you’re this person in this situation, because you’re ground zero, you caused this. Me being me, I couldn’t not do it. That was my story and I stuck to it. It wasn’t going to happen any other way. I have women contacting me all the time – they’re married – they go on for a page and a half, and talk about how there’s no passion in their marriage and they’re so afraid. And my response is that, “You have to be you, and find what works for you. I want to tell them that they’re crazy, get out!”
What I found particularly interesting was the guilt aspect and your bringing religion into it, finding your own place with faith.
If I look back on the course of my life, where I was in my life kind of determined where I was with religion. And I found, just me personally, when I was a mess, I was looking to the church for gratitude and it was really feeding my self loathing. I don’t have self-loathing anymore, not anymore than anyone else. For me, all I see is that religion is an obstacle to love. That’s all I see anywhere. I know some God-fearing, very religious and loving people, so it’s not a blanket statement. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t trashing people. I could have written a whole other book about trashing the Catholic Church and all the women who run around like chickens for the men. The misogyny, I just can’t. I don’t want to be a part of that. This started before I knew I was gay. I was struggling with that in raising my kids; that “because we said so” type of thing didn’t work. I believe now that I’m more agnostic than believing in any particular faith. I believe in God. To me it’s God, it’s something out there that I’m not sure what it is. I’ve been reading a lot about these secular humanists, and I’m kind of down with them. … For me, when people pray for strength, they’re finding the strength within themselves.
Did that spark you to pursue finding a publisher and getting this book released?
I decided about four years ago, I was going to write a book. I had started the blog, and it was kind of therapeutic. It was very difficult at times, proofing, re-reading after the edits, because there are many chapters that I don’t like reading. It’s almost like I’m detached from it now. It’s got a life of its own. I know what’s in it, believe me. I was scared to death, because I’m a very private person, and this is not something a private person would put out into the world. I’m kind of balancing on that teeter-totter a bit, but I wanted people to understand. That was my intent in doing this. It wasn’t to be famous or make a million dollars. It was, “You really want to know what this is like? This is my experience of it.” It was kind of a support tool.
Personally, when I’ve been autobiographical in my writing about difficult situations, people assume that there’s a catharsis involved. To me, catharsis doesn’t carry much value.
No. I don’t feel any better. I feel the same way I did. Did I go through some emotion? Of course. It’s an emotional thing. I have the draft at home that is not fit for people to read. I wanted there to be some value in it. Aside from the gay thing, that’s the biggest thing that I thought about when I wrote the book: This is what happened when I came out. I wanted there to be a point to it and a kind of takeaway. To me, it’s about being kind, being loving, and if something doesn’t work for you, don’t tell somebody else that it won’t work for them. Maybe I’m turning into a hippie? I have anxiety, so this is challenging me to be out there. It’s one thing to sit and type and another thing to talk about it. I think I realized after writing this that there was some degree of trauma that this brought on; that writing it didn’t help fix it, it made me realize that it was. You’re just really one foot in front of the other and do what you have to do to make it through to the end of the day.
There’s a theme throughout the book, the binary code of responsibility and happiness. Nobody ever achieves either absolutely.
I feel more comfortable as time has gone on, and there are still difficulties, and it’s not so much because I’m gay. It’s just time. I’m raising three kids. Things happen. They go through their stuff. I’m married. I have a really screwed up family, as does my wife. We are all having the same experience. I feel happy that people are getting book. One, this was hard for me, too. So all of you people that thought I was just having a midlife crisis, this was hard for me, too. You can do this. It’s hard, but, suck it up, you can do this. It’s important. You have to be who you are. If you are on your deathbed and having one regret … When I told her how I felt about her, that’s the only reason she told me the truth. She said, “I don’t want to be on my deathbed and have one regret.” And to help people have something that I didn’t get.
It’s not salacious in heavy details, though.
I did that on purpose. I didn’t put anyone’s name in it. I didn’t put our relationship in it. I have stories that are so fucking hilarious that you would not even believe. That’s private. The best blog I wrote was a how-to manual on coming out. I didn’t want it to be a gay book. Everybody was like, “Well, this is going to be your primary audience, women coming out later in life.” I understand that. It wasn’t written for them. It was written for you, for straight guy, for transgender, because it’s about change: the emotion of change, time changing and what you do about it. You learn. Life is hard; that’s my pitch. I didn’t want it to be just a gay book.
The most painful part for me was the job discrimination chapter, which is a big issue coming into the Florida legislative session.
They don’t announce it. I know there are a lot of straight people that have no idea. It was an awful place. I’m not an overly dramatic person, but there was no question that that was going to come. Shortly after that, I became a Realtor. I have my license. Why not use it? [When I was married], I was just telling people so that they didn’t think I was a stay-at-home mom. I never sold a house with it.
You should have sold houses on the sly.
I should. I should have stolen money!
What’s your relationship with your ex-husband now?
It’s civil. Frequent and civil, mostly regarding the kids. We disagree on everything. Our relationship is exactly the same as it was when we were married. My kids suffer, because I mitigated a lot. I’m upset that he sounds so good in the book, because I had to make him sound good. If I had written it now, it would not sound like that. I had to be true to that timeframe.
You were already unloading a huge concrete truck on everybody around you.
It was absolutely that. You tend to feel so awful but not care. You have moments where it’s just anger, anger, anger and then excitement. It’s tough, even five years later, we’re still evolving. We both have our journeys that we have separately to do, and that’s while we’re together. It’s been challenging. When I came out, I did this for me. I didn’t leave my husband for you. For me grief is being sad. For her, grief is missing what you had. It was about life changing, and she really had a hard time with that. Fear is the most dangerous thing of all of it. Hate isn’t even the most dangerous, because it’s all brought about by fear. Even ten years ago, I wasn’t here. Fear is the worst thing for me. As I said, I have anxiety. What’s freaking me out is you’re going to write this and I don’t know what’s going to happen.