My dreams were crushed by the time I entered high school.
All my life, I wanted to be a writer. I told fantasy stories to my grandparents in their backyard when I was about seven. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was writing my first novel in a Pirates of the Caribbean journal. (I never did finish that one.) I was brainstorming tons of novel ideas by the time I was in middle school. I finished my first novel my sophomore year of high school.
But the world came crashing down after that.
When I was a junior in high school, I was sitting at the restaurant with my friend Lily and her family. As usual, I stuffed the appetizer, French bread, into my mouth before the meal was ordered.
Lily’s dad turned to me with a grin. “It’s great that you write books.” His hands spread out wide when he spoke. “Are you going to publish soon?”
I nodded. “I want to publish before I graduate college.”
“Awesome!” He seemed more excited about this than me. The idea of publishing was still a star-in-the-lights dream at the time. I wanted it, but I didn’t know if it could be real. “What are you going to change your name to when you publish?”
I don’t remember what I did exactly, but I must have paused. I didn’t take another bite of my bread. I glared up at him with curious eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Well, no one buys books from female writers. Are you going to go by R. Burton? Or R. L. Burton?”
Lily, who had possibly read more books than me, nodded along with him. “Her first name should work. Robin can be a male or female name. She can go by Robin Burton.”
“But I don’t like my last name,” I blurted out. Everyone except Lily turned to me as if I was crazy. Lily knew the truth though. She had seen how much personal stress my last name brought me over the years. “Can’t I go by just Robin? Or maybe Robin LeeAnn?”
Her dad huffed. “Guys won’t buy your books then.”
I never thought it could be a problem. A name. A name of all things! Why would people hate me enough to never consider my books because of my gender? Do readers think that low of female writers?
Of course, I researched it when I got home. It was true. Many blog posts from female writers mentioned them being turned down by literary agents and publishing companies, because of their gender. Some of them never got published no matter how much they tried. They wrote their lives away online instead.
Most female writers have changed their names. Louisa May Alcott became A. M. Barnard. Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot. Nelle Harper Lee became Harper Lee. Nora Roberts became J. D. Robb and several other pen names. Joanne Rowling became J. K. Rowling.
The thought bewildered me. I never thought low of someone because of their gender before. I would never ‘not buy’ good food from a cook because he was a male. I would never ‘not accept’ help from a nurse because he was a male. Why would it matter if I wrote a book and was a female writer?
Needless to say, the idea confused me for years. It wasn’t until college that I decided I wasn’t going to let sexism control me.
If we kept feeding sexist people what they want by changing our names to bend to their rules, nothing would change. We would still have male names on the bookshelves. Little girls would still pass by another male author and could get discouraged from writing herself.
No. I won’t let them control me anymore.
So here I am, Robin LeeAnn. Yes, I am a female writer. Yes, I can be successful no matter what. Critique me on my writing ability. Not my gender.