Tell us about yourself! What do you do for a living? What are your interests? What are your pronouns?
My name is Emily Juniper, and I use she/her pronouns. I am a published author of four poetry collections (including Coming Home to Her and A Strangely Wrapped Gift) and one YA novel (Rafa and the Real Boy). For about six years I was teaching 7/8 ELA full time and writing on the side. Two years ago I made the decision to leave my full time teaching job so I could pursue writing full time. I still sub at my old school because I love teaching, and it allows me the time I need to focus on my writing career full time. I’m a dog person, so I love going on adventures with my rescue and partner. Other than writing, I enjoy cooking, video games, and generally anything outdoors if it’s nice out.
About how old were you when you came out? How was the climate you grew up in?
I did not come out until I was 29, and it was messy. I was previously married to someone who was my best friend, and I really hurt him at the expense of coming out and exploring/coming into my sexuality. It was incredibly difficult, and though I know I did the right thing for both of us, I think I will always carry some guilt and sadness over it. It took me a long time to work out my sexuality, and it’s something I’ve always struggled with. Truth be told, before I came out I always thought there was something “wrong with me,” because I always struggled with attraction. I did feel attracted to girls/women from the age of about 13, but I always “pushed it down,” for lack of a better term. For a while I thought I just wasn’t a sexual person, but once I began dating a woman that proved to be very untrue. I was raised in a very loving family, and my parents have been nothing but accepting and full of love for me since I came out. I was, however, also raised Catholic and in a small, conservative town, which I believe led me to internalize some homophobia in my teens and early twenties (I started worrying that I might be a lesbian as a teenager and it caused me a lot of internal turmoil when I was young, which at the time it was a terrifying thought. There’s that internalized homophobia I was talking about). After I came out, I fell in love with the most wonderful, beautiful woman who I am proud to call my partner and my wife, and being out feels so incredibly good and right.
Did you make career choices that allowed you to feel comfortable being open about your sexuality? (Are you out or feel comfortable being out at your workplace?)
I am out and very comfortable being out at the school I work at, and in fact, I am one of quite a few gay/lesbian teachers in the district, which is really cool. As far as the writing side of things goes, the writing community is VERY accepting of the LGBTQ community and I have never felt any hate or lack of acceptance. I consider myself very lucky because I know even today many people have to hide their sexuality at their workplace, and I am grateful I’ve never had to worry about that.
If you could tell your younger self something about yourself that you are proud of today, what would it be?
I am very proud of my writing career. I’m proud to have a public platform where I can hopefully reach teens and young adults who struggled with things that I did (mental health, coming out, etc.), and I hope that I can be a safe space for them, and that my words can be a place that can help people figure themselves out.
Have you tried to surround yourself with like-minded peers/colleagues? If so, how?
I do surround myself with like-minded peers and colleagues! Luckily, as a teacher, most of my co-workers’ social/political beliefs align with mine. My partner and I are lucky to have a close-knit group of strong women (and some men!) and we are all incredibly supportive of one another. I find it increasingly difficult to remain close with people who have drastically different political and social beliefs than I do, though I am always up for a good conversation and I try to be a good listener even if I don’t agree, so long as it isn’t at the expense of my or anyone else’s rights.
Who were your role models growing up? What tv shows/movies allowed you to feel seen?
Other than my parents, most of my role models were fictional characters. This might sound kind of silly, but as a teenager I nearly idolized characters like Rory Gilmore and Hermione Granger; heroines that were strong, smart, soft, and witty. A show that was pretty influential to me was South of Nowhere (which I know very few people have heard of-it was a Canadian show that didn’t run for many seasons) but it was the first time I ever saw lesbians represented on tv, and in addition to that, they looked like me (long hair, feminine). Lesbians were only every portrayed with certain stereotypical qualities that I didn’t really embody, so growing up I always thought, “okay, I can’t be a lesbian because I don’t look like that, or act like this.” I don’t think people really understand the influence shows and the media have on teenagers, but “South of Nowhere” was a show I watched around the time I started daydreaming about girls, and looking back, the joy I got out of watching the lesbian relationship on that show was a pretty early indicator that I was/am gay. When I was in my twenties, I started watching The L Word on repeat, and looking back, that show definitely gave me an outlet I wasn’t getting in real life.
Complete the sentence, if I knew that I was gay back when I was first figuring myself out, I would tell my younger self that you shouldn’t force things because of societal expectations. If something feels off, it probably is. Don’t put yourself in a box, don’t feel like you have to figure everything out RIGHT NOW. Give yourself time and space to figure everything out. And most importantly of all, be careful with other peoples’ hearts while you’re finding your way.