Health & Fit In'Honey Girl,' Morgan Rogers Mines Queer Love and Mental Burnout
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When author Morgan Rogers began writing what became her debut novel, the Baltimore native believed she was writing a romance based on one of her favorite fan fiction tropes: The classic“married in Vegas” storyline. But soon, Rogers found herself more drawn to the complicated inner workings of her main character than the love story itself.
That realization culminated in her first book Honey Girl, a stunning portrayal of a Black 20-something go-getter named Grace Porter who, after finishing her astronomy PhD and still finding herself unemployed, spontaneously — and drunkenly — marries an enigmatic radio show host named Yuki Yamamoto in Las Vegas. It’s an opposites attract situation: Grace is the forever Type A pragmatist from the west coast, while Yuki spends her days reading about mythology and chasing down tales of modern folklore in New York City.
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Author Anne Helen Petersen on why millennials have internalized the worst parts of their condition.That’s how Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, describes the plight of most millennials in America. We’re a generation that has never quite been able to find any stability, economic or otherwise. And it’s not just because we’ve endured two financial crises (the Great Recession and now the coronavirus), though that’s obviously part of it. It’s because the world we’ve inherited set us up for burnout.
While Honey Girl has a romance in it, the book itself is more about Grace’s tumultuous personal life: The steady drumbeat of her worsening mental illness, the ongoing tensions with her friend group as they all figure out what they want in their lives, the strained relationships she has with her divorced parents, and the career that she believes is over before it even got going. It’s a powerful story of burnout and the bonds that keep us together, all told through a queer lens.
Rogers talked to Shondaland about Honey Girl’s fan fiction origins, the mundanity of many mental health crises, and writing two characters who were so different from one another.
LILY HERMAN: Honey Girl covers a lot of ground. You talk about burnout, queer love, racism’s intersections with every aspect of life, mental health, the list goes on and on. How did you first conceive of the book?
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MORGAN ROGERS: So I came up with it in January 2019. I have a big fandom background and love a lot of fan fiction tropes and things like that.“Married in Vegas” is one of my favorite tropes, so originally it was just going to be a romance-focused“married in Vegas” novel.
But as I was writing it, all of these different characters kept popping up, and Grace kept having more and more internal drama happening to her, so I thought,“Maybe this is going to be something more.” Once I finished writing it, I [realized] it was something very different than the original story I intended to write, but I liked getting to explore being a Black woman in this situation [where she married a stranger] and what would make [Grace] do all of these things. What would get her in this situation in the first place?
LH: Honey Girl centers queerness from page one, but it’s not a book where queerness is the central conflict or where the main characters are grappling with their sexuality or coming out. Why was it important for you to write a story where we get to see queer characters contend with so many different facets of their lives?
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MR: The queer experience is really varied; there’s no one way to be queer, and there’s no one way to live your life as a queer person. We have a lot of coming out stories, and those are really important; that’s such a big experience for so many people with being queer.
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But for a lot of other people, once you get past that, you’re just a queer person now, and you have to continue living your life. You have to work, you have to go to school, you have to deal with mental illness and racism and all of these other intersections. Your queerness is a part of you, but it’s not the whole of you. So I wasn’t interested in making Grace’s queerness the center of her dread or the center of her crisis, because she has so many other things that are going wrong in her life. But her queerness is not that one thing; that’s just her. She’s been able to find friends who’ve also reached that point in their where they’re just queer and doing mundane, everyday things, like living and surviving. Queer people do very boring things, like wake up every day.
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“South Asian immigrant communities tend to get stuck in the phase that we immigrated in. We carry with us our beliefs and knowledge about everything—including LGBTQ+ identities."Dressed in a black tank top and with her long, curly hair partly tied in a bun, Kaur said she was aware of an entirely different future just steps away if she ended up with a man. “This just led to chaos in my brain,” she said. “It messed me up for a little bit.
LH: Grace is center stage in this book, while Yuki comes more and more into focus as the book goes on. Between the two of them, was there a character who was easier to write or came to you more quickly?
MR: Yuki was very easy to write. I made her an Aquarius, and I’m an Aquarius, so I understood her vibe already. She’s very much a person who romanticizes many things but also has that balance of being very grounded in reality. With her radio show, she’s thinking,“How can I bring these things together and show that there’s humanity in these scary stories or lonely stories that we tell people?”
But with Grace, she’s so Type A and she’s such a perfectionist, which I’ve never been except for with my writing. It was very difficult. Even as I was writing her [character], I wanted to be like,“Grace, it’s not that serious! You don’t have to break your back or run yourself into the ground!” But I could understand why she felt that she had to. I didn’t really [understand] Grace’s story and what she wanted to do and what motivated her until maybe the fourth or fifth version of this book. She was much more difficult.
LH: Honey Girl also has what I saw as a very realistic look at what a mental health crisis looks like for many people. It’s a slow descent, and it takes Grace a long time to realize that it’s not just an issue of“things just aren’t working out for me,” but actual mental illness. What were you thinking about as you were putting together that part of that story?
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MR: That was about taking a lot of personal experience but also thinking through the premise. What would make a person like Grace go to Las Vegas and marry a stranger? The basis of that is loneliness but also a feeling of a loss of control in other parts of her life. So in the book, I talk about how this has been building in Grace for a long time, and I feel like that’s the experience with mental health for a lot of people.
Even if you know you’re mentally ill or that something might not be right, it’s not always that you have a one-time issue and then you get meds and then you’re fixed. It can be a years-long process of ups and downs. You’re often in the midst of a depressive episode before you even realize you’re there, so I wanted to do that for Grace. It takes her a long time to get to that place of [getting] help, but I think that’s the reality for a lot of people who grapple with mental illness.
You can really keep doing a lot of things in the midst of having a mental health crisis. That’s not always depicted in media, that you can be mentally ill and“functioning,” for all intents and purposes, and still be doing very, very badly.
LH: This book is your debut. What are you hoping people take away from Honey Girl?
MR: I hope people take away that there’s not one way to do anything. People have dream jobs, but I want people to realize that not everyone dreams of labor. There are lots of people who like their jobs, but one thing shouldn’t be your main thing.
For Grace, that’s something she has to learn. She has to repair relationships with her parents, she has to figure out her friendships, she has to figure out her relationship with Yuki. Life is just so much more than one goal. It’s so much more than just reaching the next milestone. It’s just living and digging into the muck every day and figuring out how to be your best self without causing harm. That’s a big theme for Grace. It’s a journey.
Lily Herman serves as a contributing editor at Refinery29 and an Election 2020 columnist at Teen Vogue. Follow her on Twitter at.
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The Pandemic Is Making it Even Harder for Queer Youth to Get Health Care .
“Everything LGTBQ youth deal with on a good day, they’re also dealing with now.”Like Geo, many young queer people across the country say they are struggling to access healthcare, and not just care related to their gender or sexual identity. Even general care and emergency services can be massive hurdles, despite the global pandemic making access to healthcare more critical than ever.