Fort Drum soldier writes about 'Unashamed' days of coming out
THERESA, N.Y. — Ever since Fort Drum soldier Sgt. Janell J. Emerson-Farina began writing short stories as a youngster, her tales have raised eyebrows.
“I wanted to push the tipping point,” she said.
In sixth grade, while growing up in Fremont, Ohio, she wrote about abortion.
“Children don’t do that and it makes people uncomfortable,” she said she now realizes.
In her junior year in high school, she wrote as a fictional victim of child abuse.
“That story about child abuse threw some people for a tizzy,” Mrs. Emerson-Farina said.
She was called to the high school administration offices.
“They wanted to know why I wrote that story,” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, I place myself in their shoes and go for it.’”
Now, as an adult, the soldier — a member of Fort Drum’s 10th Cavalry (Airborne) who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and has earned a combat action badge — is raising more eyebrows with her tales. She has written two books under the pen name Emma Janson. One is a memoir of her days as a stripper and when she came out of the closet. The other is a novel about a prostitute with a sleeping disorder and mob connections.
On her website, Sgt. Emerson-Farina says that while her “wild child days are over, sexual exploration is just budding for others so my hope is that readers find their own place in the world even if they have to hit rock bottom to find it.”
She describes her first book, “Unashamed: A Memoir of How the Closet Can Kiss My Ass,” as the “product of a vulgar and sincere autobiography that explores sexuality with an honest and refreshing twist to your typical ‘coming out’ story.” It documents her time in Las Vegas, where she worked as a stripper, was a part-time student at the University of Nevada and reported to National Guard duty one weekend a month.
In Las Vegas, she lived with her husband and girlfriend. The book’s synopsis says, “There is more sincerity and raw humor to this coming out story than the sum of its vulgar parts.”
The lady photographed on the provocative cover of “Unashamed,” by the way, is not Sgt. Emerson-Farina.
“It’s supposed to be a representative of me, but I looked way better than that,” she said, laughing.
Sgt. Emerson-Farina’s second book, “Narcoleptic Hooker,” released in May, contains intertwining gangster plots.
Both books were published by The Zharmae Publishing Press, Spokane, Wash.
Sgt. Emerson-Farina, according to her website, is now working on a second novel, about the trouble that ensues at the fictional Northern Lights Mental Health Facility “after the Mexican arrives.”
Sgt. Emerson-Farina said she began her first book, “Unashamed,” as an exercise in self-reflection.
“It began as a healing process for me; to kind of understand myself,” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said. “But about two chapters in, I thought: ‘You know, I bet other people could benefit from this.’ Sometimes, you need to tell people your tragedies.”
difficulties coming out
Sgt. Emerson-Farina lives in Theresa with her wife, Leigh Farina. Sgt. Emerson-Farina, who gave birth to twin boys in March, said that when she came out of the closet to her family in 2006 it wasn’t all “happy and welcoming” for her.
“It’s not like that,” she said. “Some family members do not agree with that lifestyle. They chose to keep themselves from you. Other people are not accepting.”
Sgt. Emerson-Farina can measure her sexual orientation on a before-and-after basis in the military. She first joined the Army in 1996 in its Delayed Entry program, a year after graduating from high school. She was based for most of that time at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
She left the Army in 2002. But she missed the service and joined the National Guard about a year later. She spent four years with the National Guard in Nevada. She rejoined the active duty Army in 2007 and was based at Fort Bragg, N.C., until her request to be based at Fort Drum was granted in late 2008. She selected Fort Drum after considering other bases around the country.
“I just thought the people would be a little more receptive in general,” she said.
Asked why she rejoined the Army, Sgt. Emerson-Farina said, “There’s just something about military life and the camaraderie. The two other occupations I know of that share that type of camaraderie are firefighters and police officers.”
On Sept. 20, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that had barred gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. “As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love,” the president said after signing the order.
Before the repeal, Sgt. Emerson-Farina said she didn’t try to hide who she was and “pretend I was somebody I wasn’t.”
“I just didn’t talk to people,” she said. “So there were a lot of people in the military, and civilians, who I worked with who thought I was anti-social. I couldn’t communicate with them about my relationships.”
She said she tried to explain this to a counselor at Fort Bragg.
“She stopped me,” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said. “I think I was in there for three minutes. She said, ‘I can’t talk to you. I know the nature of the relationship now.’”
“I said, ‘Let’s just pretend we’re talking about a relationship and I won’t refer to male or female or any of that stuff,” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said.
She was eventually told she had to look for referrals for a civilian counselor to help her on her own.
Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Supreme Court’s rejection last summer as part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Sgt. Emerson-Farina said the atmosphere in the Army has been different.
“It’s no issues at all,” she said. “I’m married and talk about marital issues, family issues and relationship stuff. Eyes don’t shift when I have a counseling session. They treat me like everybody else is supposed to be treated. It’s a display of concern that I have never seen before. It feels good to be treated like a person.”
Sgt. Emerson-Farina, who has had no formal training as a writer, said she wrote “Narcoleptic Hooker” for male readers, and she stressed it is not an erotic novel.
“Every time I asked a male soldier, ‘Do you read?’ they would say no,” she said. “I asked them why, and they’d say, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t.’ But I would read them excerpts from ‘Narcoleptic Hooker’ and they would laugh from ear-to-ear.”
Her new book may be fiction, she said, “But I did pull a lot of crazy stuff that happened in my life when I was in Las Vegas.”
“Some people assume it’s an erotic novel,” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said. “But when I tell them it’s a mob story and the main character happens to be a prostitute with narcolepsy, now they’re like, ‘That’s something I can see you writing’ — because I’ve always been kind of quirky. People who know me think that’s all right that I write stuff like that. My writing is kind of bold and to the point.”
That style of writing is what attracted Travis R. Grundy, CEO and publisher of The Zharmae Publishing Press. He is a former soldier who served with Mrs. Emerson-Farina in Afghanistan. She said that when Mr. Grundy first mentioned his dream of creating a publishing company to her in Afghanistan, she thought it was a pipe dream. She later told him about the memoir, “Unashamed,” she was writing. He told her that he would sign her when his publishing company (which took root while they were both in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011) began producing books.
“With a wink and a smile, I said, ‘Sure — whatever,’” Sgt. Emerson-Farina said. “The next thing I know, he’s doing it.”
Zharmae Publishing Press, an independent publisher, has now grown to a company with more than 50 editors, 46 artists and more than 100 authors on contract and it has several imprints under its name.
Mr. Grundy said he signed Sgt. Emerson-Farina because he looks for authors who push boundaries, are dedicated to their craft and who tell “incredible stories.”
“Emma embraces all of that in full,” Mr. Grundy said in an email. “(She) is a fantastic storyteller and works hard to craft an interesting and often outside-the-box concept that most people like to read about, but also like to think of as their little secret.”
He said that in “Unashamed,” which he said is selling very well on amazon.com, Sgt. Emerson-Farina was focused on “telling it like it was with all the ups and downs” of her life to that point.
And “Narcoleptic Hooker,’ Mr. Grundy said, shares the “gusto and determination” of Sgt. Emerson-Farina’s memoir. “She used a concept which pushes peoples’ notion of propriety and created an incredible story that takes the reader on a journey from the point of view of someone that you would not normally come into contact with,” Mr. Grundy said.