The Bakersfield College Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) Club held the tenth session of their weekly My Rainbow Road: Stories of the LGBTQ+ Success from Our Community Zoom speaker series on April 7. The guest speaker for the event was Donnée Patrese Harris, an erotic romance novelist and the Vice President of Writers of Kern, which is a branch of the California Writers Club.
The event opened with a short introduction of Harris, given by the event host and Bakersfield College Communication Department Chair Helen Acosta, who had met Harris at the first Bakersfield Pride march in 2017. “Donnée is a person who always inspires me because she is passionate and driven,” said Acosta before giving the platform to Harris.
“I find that I can’t talk about my journey without talking about my writing journey,” opened Harris. “Most writers know that authenticity is the key to writing a book… In order for that to happen, you have to be authentic with yourself.”
She proceeded to explain the five-year process of writing her first and most successful novel, “Prohibited.” Harris had spent the first two to three years of the five-year writing process creating the first draft, after which she had a close friend and her husband beta read it. Much to her dismay, they both hated it because of its lack of authenticity. “I realized later on that of course my characters were fake,” said Harris. “Of course my story wasn’t real. Because I wasn’t being real with myself.”
Harris then proceeded to explain how she was considered the black sheep of her family because she was considered smart, obedient, and sensitive. This lead to her yearning for acceptance and letting other people decide who she was. “I let other people define me, which of course made me miserable.”
Once Harris was able to accept herself for who she was, she was able to rewrite and complete her novel. Though to the surprise of herself and eventually her family, it became an erotic romance novel. At the same time, Harris had also accepted herself as a bisexual woman. “First I came out to my family as an erotic romance writer and they freaked out,” said Harris before talking about her family’s negative reaction. “After that, it made it so much easier to come out as bisexual.”
That isn’t to say that the reaction to her bisexuality wasn’t negative as well. “I had some blowback for both. For the book and for being bisexual. It was tough, but I persevered.”
Harris ended her speech with advice for success. “The key was authenticity. In my writing and in my life,” she said. “Be authentic. Be who you truly are. Brush all that fake stuff off you and you can be successful.”
The next My Rainbow Road event will be held on April 13 and will feature guest speakers Brit Melson and Olivia Garrison, the founders of the Oleander Pride festival. Information about this event can be found on the Bakersfield College SAGA Club Facebook group page.