Jillian Abby, PERFECTLY QUEER: Facing Big Fears, Living Hard Truths, and Loving Myself Fully Out of the Closet

Jillian Abby, PERFECTLY QUEER: Facing Big Fears, Living Hard Truths, and Loving Myself Fully Out of the Closet

Zibby is joined by author, craft beer bar owner, and LGBTQ+ advocate Jillian Abby to discuss her humorous and heartwarming new memoir Perfectly Queer: Facing Big Fears, Living Hard Truths, and Loving Myself Fully Out of the Closet. Jillian reveals what it was like to come out as a lesbian at 38 years old after building a life with her husband and two children. Then, she talks about her “twisty turny career” (from CPA to massage therapist to executive storyteller), her perfectionism (and how she manages it), her popular TikTok page, and the surprising book she wants to write next!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jillian. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your memoir, Perfectly Queer, and all the other amazing things you’re doing.

Jillian Abby: Thanks so much for having me today. I’m so excited to hang out with my new friend Zibby.

Zibby: I’m excited too. Huge life change, tell everybody about what happened, how you decided to change your life completely, and as a mom. Give us the whole story.

Jillian: Very high level, the story is about me coming out as a lesbian at thirty-eight years old in a craniosacral therapy session. Really, there’s so much more to the book than that. The reason why it’s called Perfectly Queer is because I’m also a recovering perfectionist, people-pleaser, trying to do everything that I was supposed to do in life. The story follows my journey of that, always searching and seeking for the thing that was missing in my life. It’s interesting because I’ve read your memoir, Bookends, and there are so many similarities, not necessarily so much in our lives. Obviously, there’s the big gay/straight difference. You had a line in your book where you said, “I knew I should be happy.” That hit me to my core because I think that’s a key message in my book too. We can feel like we’re doing everything right. We can feel like everything seems so aligned in our life and still feel empty or still be looking for, where is that fire? Where is that excitement? What am I supposed to be doing here? My story, there’s a lot of different reasons behind it. It is a love note to the queer community and everything they’ve gone through in so many ways that I never realized until I came out. It’s also just a hug to anyone out there where life isn’t feeling as full as it should.

Zibby: I love that. Thank you for quoting my own book to me. That was lovely and quite unexpected. Thank you.

Jillian: There are so many highlights. I was like, wait, she used to use Splenda on her cucumbers. I used that in my coffee. We’re losing our hair. There’s strange similarities through the book.

Zibby: I’m so embarrassed. I can’t believe I put that in my book, but it’s true. Back in my Weight Watchers days, I was like, this will save points and keep me full for 2.4 hours. Then I can get to my next meal and have another five calories. Oh, my gosh, embarrassing, very embarrassing.

Jillian: Relatable point, though.

Zibby: Relatable point. Even the same age. I was thirty-eight, I feel like. Wasn’t I thirty-eight? I feel like it’s a point in your life where you’re like, okay, I see where my life is. This is it, but wait.

Jillian: I have so many more years. Now what do I do? Everyone talks about their life purpose and their goal here on earth. I felt like for so much of my life, I was desperately seeking that purpose. Why don’t I have a purpose? Why don’t I have a passion? I should know this by now. My book talks about my twisty-turny career path from a certified public accountant auditing a coal mine to then a licensed massage therapist, to then a homeschooling mom, to a craft beer bar owner. Now I’m an executive storyteller for corporate executives. In some ways, I was kind of ashamed of my path because I thought I could never commit to anything. I was always looking for my thing. Then I realize how all of those breadcrumbs now have led me to such a freaking awesome life. That’s all I can say. I’m so content in where I am, but I realized that I couldn’t force it. I had to just let it happen and not always know where it was going or why it was happening.

Zibby: I know. That’s what I always say is my big advice. This will all make sense later. It certainly wasn’t making sense at the time. I don’t have a clear story. My résumé, I see why it all connects. You can go through your own experiences. By the way, having all those incredible experiences, anytime I read someone’s résumé or bio or whatever, I’m like, oh, my gosh, that is an interesting person. Wow, I can’t wait to talk to that person. So cool, all these different things. That’s what makes life interesting. That’s what makes people interesting people.

Jillian: I love that you used the adjective interesting. Usually, I get, well, that’s weird. Weird is not a bad word in our household either. It’s just different. It’s what works for me.

Zibby: Coming to this realization yourself with kids, I feel like that’s the other thing. We’re not doing this in a vacuum anymore when you have children and these big life changes. Talk a little bit more about your decisions and your kids and how people should handle that. I know you, by the way, have this amazing podcast and your TikTok account where you’re answering all questions just like this, which is amazing. Kids, talk about it.

Jillian: Kids were obviously one of my biggest concerns. I have two kiddos. At the time that I came out, they were six and nine years old. A lot of people have thoughts around the LGBTQ community and identity and experience and how it’s not appropriate for kids. It’s something too complicated to talk to them about. Really, from in utero, babies understand love. That’s really what it comes down to. It’s not a sexual thing. It’s who I love. It’s who I want to spend my life with. When it came to my kids, though, in making this decision, it was really challenging. Especially as mothers, we are told to put our families first and others first. Coming out felt like an incredibly selfish decision on my part. What really flipped things for me, and I talk about it in the book, is that I spoke with a therapist. She said, “Fast-forward a few years. If your daughter were going through the same thing right now and she came to you and asked for advice, what would you tell her?” I was like, “Of course, I would tell her to be honest and truthful and do what she needed to do. I wouldn’t want her to continue falling into this mental and physical health crisis. I just want her to be happy.” Then I had to sit there and marinate in the juices of my self-realization and say, oh, okay, maybe I need to do the same. If I’m setting the example for them, then I need to lead by example and not just say, this works for you, but not for me. That was a big thing for me to realize, that it would be okay. It would be hard. Divorce, even in the most easy circumstances, is hard because it’s change. Change is hard. We navigated through that. I’m in such a better place now. It’s made me such a better mom because I’m so much more available to them. I have so much more love to give them.

Zibby: I totally understand that.

Jillian: They had no qualms about me being a lesbian. When I told my children, my son was like, “What’s a Lego bin?” I had to explain a little bit more about the people that we are attracted to and want to marry. “For me, that’s a woman and not a man. I still love your dad very much. He’s a wonderful person, but I love him in a different way. That doesn’t mean that we should be married to each other.” They got it. Here we are.

Zibby: Kids are pretty bright. They’re pretty bright.

Jillian: They sure are.

Zibby: They pick up on all this stuff. How do you manage perfectionism?

Jillian: Oh, goodness. I do have a fabulous life coach, Jeanna Giraldi, that I go to. She is always helping me reframe anytime I start to fall into those perfectionist traps of, I’m not doing enough. It’s not perfect. Then I end up not doing at all. This book almost didn’t come to be because as I was writing my book proposal, it wasn’t perfect. I gave up on it. She beautifully reframed things for me and said, “Do you have time to write an A book proposal?” I said no. She said, “If you don’t submit, you get an F.” To a perfectionist, that is the button you needed to hit to motivate me to keep going. It’s something I still work on. It’s not an easy fix. Every time I have an example of not being perfect and still just doing it and it working out, it’s the reminder and the lesson that it doesn’t have to be okay. You just have to do. There are so many messages that I’ve sent that I’ll notice a typo later. It makes me lose my mind because I’m like, I’m a writer. This should be perfect. I put the commas in the wrong place. Then it’s like, yeah, but that communication wouldn’t have even gone out the door if you overthought it so many times.

Zibby: Yes, I relate to this. I need to do some reframing. I do catch myself, the same thing as you, though. This newsletter, or something, it’s just like, I can make this better. I could make that better. It could be better. Then finally, I’m like, okay, it could be better, but it’s not going to be. It’s going to be good enough or it’s not going to be.

Jillian: It’s not going to be. Exactly. That’s kind of why I’ve loved exploring TikTok as a platform. TikTok is the anti-perfect. The more raw and real your video is, the more people seem to connect with it. Then I was like, you know what, this is kind of nice. The more honest I am, it doesn’t matter what my hair looks like. It doesn’t matter if I have makeup on or not. It’s about the story and the connection. I just need to keep showing up for that instead of creating the most polished videos.

Zibby: How often are you posting to TikTok?

Jillian: I go in waves. I feel like I need to hibernate and retreat sometimes. Now I try and post once a day to TikTok. For a while, I was doing three times a day. It feels good until it doesn’t feel good. Depending on what side of TikTok you land on, it can become a very toxic space. I’ve also had to give myself permission to step away when it didn’t feel good and know that I could come back to it. We don’t always have the ability to do that in life, but recognizing when it’s starting to really impact us and our health or our hearts or how we’re approaching the world. Did I lose some engagement on my platform? Absolutely. Was it worth it for my mental sanity? A thousand percent.

Zibby: Wow. It’s really great in the way you’ve built the platform up and the honest answers and all of it. It’s like you’ve taken inspiration to the next level by putting it in all these different formats. I love your — what’s it called? “Love and Life in the Q” or something?

Jillian: “Life and Love in the Q.”

Zibby: “Life and Love in the Q,” which is so awesome. Even your music is awesome, and your cohost who said she felt like Nostradamus getting an early copy of your book, which I love. I feel like somebody should claim @nostradamus or something. You were like, and this little thing I do on TikTok. I’m like, what does she do on TikTok?

Jillian: I make weirdness. It’s so funny now too. I am an everyday mom here in the suburbs of Tampa Bay launching my first-ever book. I have no idea what I’m doing here and trying to figure it out. I just got my books, the paperback, in the mail yesterday. I was so excited and crying my face off and starting to make videos for TikTok. Let’s capture these magical moments. Of course, my kids want in on it. They’ve taken over as my PR team. Their videos are hilarious. I don’t know that they’ll sell books, but they sure are entertaining. Those will be coming down the pipeline soon.

Zibby: There’s as good a chance as any for those to sell — who knows how to sell books? This my whole — .

Jillian: I think there’s no formula anymore. Even the bookstore that you opened, it’s an unconventional approach and a different approach, even how you categorize the books and how the space is used. It’s like, yes, we don’t always have to keep doing the same thing that we’ve always done. Why not create a new way? Now I’m exploring the new way of, give a thirteen-year-old your camera and see what magic happens.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I love it. Do you have any fears launching your book into the world? Do you ever lie awake at night and be like, “Oh, my gosh, the train is out of the station. Now what?”

Jillian: Oh, yeah. The really cool thing is that we have just passed the two-year anniversary of where I made a YouTube video and I said, “I wrote a book, and here’s the first chapter.” That was actually kind of my public coming out because also, I had only told a few people in my life at that point. I received such beautiful and wonderful feedback that that said to me, okay, your story has value. There’s people beyond just the seven women who have come out as gay later in life. There’s more people out there who may be interested in this story, and so I kept writing. With writing a memoir, there’s a lot of fear about how to tell your story when you also have to bring other characters up on stage. I can’t tell my story without my mom. For me, I can’t tell my story without my ex-husband, without my children, without my friends, without ex-girlfriends, oh, my gosh. There is fear around that. I wanted to do them justice. I wanted to make sure that I was telling the story from the view of an observer and not from the emotional places, my hurts that I felt in the moment. The book is out April 25th. I’m amazed at all of the emotions I feel. I feel like I’m at the top of the roller coaster where you just start to drop. It’s that mix of excitement and also, what the heck is happening here? What am I in for? I’m just holding space for all of it and trying to be really gentle with myself and soak up the fact that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Hopefully, more in a lifetime. For now, I know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Just really experiencing each moment as it comes, but it’s a lot.

Zibby: It sounds like you’re in the right headspace on the whole thing.

Jillian: I’m trying.

Zibby: Do you want to write more?

Jillian: Oh, yeah, oh, my gosh.

Zibby: What do you want to write about? The same stuff? Different? Do you ever think about fiction? Tell me your whole thing.

Jillian: I don’t know about fiction. Interestingly enough, the book that keeps popping up in my brain is, I want to write a book about sex and women and comfort with sex. The funny part of that is I am so wildly uncomfortable with talking about sex. That’s why every time this idea pops up, I’m like, no. Why? Why do you want to be birthed from my computer and not somebody else’s? I also feel like through my own learning and exploration and speaking to other people and hearing their stories and experiences, it’ll help me become more comfortable with it in the same way that Perfectly Queer helped me become more comfortable with my queerness. I didn’t realize the biases that I still held and the learning I still had to do. I use writing personally as my own tool of self-growth and self-reflection. I do see, possibly, books more about perfectionism. My podcast cohost, she has her PhD in family identities. We talk about resilient families and what that looks like when families have to go through difficult things or hard changes and how we can navigate those hard times in the most loving, graceful way possible. There’s all these little sprouts popping up. I don’t know what will be next, but I’m totally hooked now. I enjoyed the writing process so much that I’m almost a little sad that it’s over with this book. I’m like, we need to do this again. How do I do this again?

Zibby: Perfectionism alone, there are so many people who can relate to that. I read a book recently on perfectionism by Katherine J — something Schaeffer. I’m getting her name wrong. Anyway, I almost started crying in the introduction. I was like, oh, that’s me. I’ll find it and send you a copy after this. There was also a woman I interviewed years ago towards the beginning of the podcast. She had a whole concept for time management, which is applicable to perfectionism, about mod/max/min. For every task, it’s like, do I want to put the maximum effort into this, a moderate amount of effort, or the minimum amount of effort? You get to decide. Do I want custom invitations for this birthday party, or can I have the trampoline place send an email? Something like that. You always have the choice. For me, that really helped me. It’s such a simple concept that I remember. I’m like, do I want to spend my maximum effort on — I don’t even know.

Jillian: That makes total sense. In perfectionism, we forget that we have options. We’re so laser-focused on, this is the right way to do it. It’s like, well, actually, there are other choices we have. I love that. That’s great.

Zibby: In coming out at thirty-eight, did you find a community of others who have come out sort of at the same life stage? I know you joked that there were only seven people. How did you get in touch with more people, or did you get in touch with more people who had a similar sort of timeline?

Jillian: I did, but not until a little bit later in my coming-out process. At the beginning — don’t ask me why this is where my brain went and why I didn’t think to make use of the internet. When I first came out, the only person I could think of who was in a heterosexual marriage and then was so comfortable in their queerness was Elton John. My mantra was, it’s me and Sir Elton against the world. That is the person I feel like I relate to most in this moment, which I know is absolutely absurd, but that’s where my head was at. Through time as I came out, I realized, aside from the TikTok lesbian community, there are so many supportive Facebook groups. There are so many podcasts out there. Then even our local community, I joined our LGBT chamber of commerce here in Tampa Bay. We have different community centers that are so supportive. I read as many queer stories and history books as possible to feel less lonely in the process. Sometimes when we go through things, we can feel like we’re the only one.

That’s why I was wondering, too, even with your book, when you met Kyle, did you have a frame of — I’m sorry, I know we’re not supposed to turn this around on your book. Sometimes when you go through those things, you can feel like, this is not what’s happening to everyone else. This is unique to me. It’s really not necessarily that unique of an experience once you start sharing it. I have found a wonderful community. It’s been absolutely amazing. Almost daily, I will get a message from someone somewhere around the world who says, I found you. I’m still in the closet. I’ve just come out, or wherever they are in their process. Thank you for being a support. Thank you for showing me that it’s okay or that it will be okay. Thank you for acknowledging that this is hard or this is confusing or that it’s okay to question ourselves if what we’re feeling is real or if what we’re doing is right. I think it’s beautiful that we can have these real, honest conversations. I’m really grateful for all the platforms we have now to connect with each other.

Zibby: It’s funny. Before this podcast, I was interviewing Brian Selznick. Do you know who he is? He wrote Big Tree. He’s a children’s book author, but also wrote Hugo Cabret, which was made into that movie. He was saying he came out in his late twenties, and that felt very old to him. He’s a little bit older now than you are. The rise in book banning and all this stuff going on now suggesting that this is something that you could pick up from a book, he’s like, if you’re of a certain age, this wasn’t exactly something really — they don’t make it enticing to — there was so much against it.

Jillian: Right. Honestly, that was part of the reason of writing my story. When I came out later in life, the first thing that so many people went to is midlife crisis. You’re bored in your marriage. The reality is that I struggled with trying to determine who I was, what I was feeling. I tried to locate myself in society. It wasn’t always easy, especially as a kid or as a teenager, to even know that that was an option. I hate to say that. I always knew that gay people existed, but I didn’t meet my first out lesbian until I was twenty-four years old because so many people felt like they had to hide for their own safety. Meeting that person, light bulb went off. I went, oh, my gosh. Oh, no. This is a thing. People do this, and they’re happy. That was not the story I had been told either. It is not as easy as opening the closet door. There’s a lot of layers to it. If nothing else, I’m not trying to change anyone’s belief, but maybe just a little bit more understanding that there’s so many layers to this. It is so complicated. It’s complicated. There’s a lot of complication.

Zibby: Your book will be a source of refuge and inspiration for so many different types of life change. It can be done, too. It can be done. You can admit what you feel. You can change your life. You can be accepted. You can be happy. You’re not stuck.

Jillian: You’re not stuck. Also, I encourage people to look at, and what happens if you don’t change? I think that’s one thing that we don’t talk about a lot, is when we are faced with a difficult decision and we do have the choice to change or not. What would my life be like if I didn’t come out? What if I had only come out to my now ex-husband but we made the decision to kind of keep that under wraps? What would our life be like in the next twenty, thirty years? There’s a lot more. I think the conversation is so much broader than sometimes we give it credit for. If nothing else, I hope it just sparks maybe a little bit of different perspective.

Zibby: I love it. On the writing process, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Jillian: Goodness, I loved it so much. I set a routine for myself. I would wake up an hour before the kids got up. That was my time. It was precious time to me. A lot of my writing, I did in a notebook because there was something about putting it on the computer that felt like it was more permanent. Writing in a notebook, for me, was free flow. I was allowed to write what I wanted to. I could cross out what I wanted to. It had the permission to change. I felt like ideas flowed a lot more fluidly. Also, my entire book was written asynchronously. As the memories came to me, as I felt inspired to write, I wrote it. Then I used the Scrivener program because it was really easy for me to drop all of my chapters and ideas in and then reorder them later. Then the last piece is, not everything needs to be shared. I had over fifty chapters, total. We whittled it down to about thirty or so. Don’t let that overwhelm you. It’s a page and a half or two pages each chapter. They’re tiny, little, snack-size bites. At first, I thought I had to include every single detail. Not everything needs to be known.

Zibby: That’s really good advice. Amazing. Are you reading anything great now?

Jillian: All the things. I just finished Big Magic by Liz Gilbert, the audiobook, because I needed some creative support there in this birthing of this book. I’m reading Hugh Ryan’s — I have The Women’s House of Detention here on my nightstand right now. What else? I read Asha Frost’s You Are the Medicine once every month because it’s broken down into monthly moon cycles. I don’t know if you’re like this too, but I have like eight books going at all times and just pick up what I need based on the mood.

Zibby: Yes.

Jillian: Moms don’t have time to read books, but they figure out how to read eight books at one time. I don’t know.

Zibby: A little goes a long way. Amazing. Jillian, thank you so much for the chat. It’s so nice to be new friends. I hope our paths cross in person soon.

Jillian: Awesome. Thank you so much, Zibby. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Thanks a lot. Buh-bye.

Jillian: Bye.

Jillian Abby, PERFECTLY QUEER: Facing Big Fears, Living Hard Truths, and Loving Myself Fully Out of the Closet

PERFECTLY QUEER: Facing Big Fears, Living Hard Truths, and Loving Myself Fully Out of the Closet by Jillian Abby

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