About a year ago today, I announced to my friends that I was going to be somewhat spur-of-the-moment and chop off my waist-length hair for charity.
I wasn’t expecting huge applause, or great concern, or really any kind of reaction that involved a lot of emotion. All I wanted was someone to come with me to get it cut, for moral support.
Instead I got: “Are you sure, Georgie? I mean – won’t you look a bit – lesbiany?”
At the time, of course, I rolled my eyes, believing it made absolutely no difference what these girls thought. I told myself they were just being immature, or jealous, or some other characteristic of groups of teenage girls. And I reminded myself that my parents would surely be more supportive, because they’re adults.
Well. What I got from them was: “I really think you’ll regret it, sweetie. People might make fun of you.”
Obviously, I didn’t need to ask for the grounds upon which they would do that.
I’m not about to delve into the dangers of stereotypes, since that’s a completely different story and I’m trying to keep my waffling to a minimum here. What I want to share with you is why it is such a horrific thing amongst today’s youth to look as though you are gay.
The real reason people have taunted me for the past year for apparently looking like a lesbian is because those people have got it into their heads somehow that being lesbian, or being gay, is a terrible fate that affects only the ugliest and loneliest of people and does not deserve nice treatment from “normal” teenagers.
This is a sad truth. Individuals, on the whole, no longer have this opinion – or certainly the individual teens in my school. When I talk to them one on one, and hair gets brought up, they tell me I’m brave, or would I like them to sponsor me, or whatever. But when you get them in groups, they’re homophobic, even if that’s not the label they would think appropriate to use for their behaviour. They might say they’re being “realistic” or using “tough love”. The problem is, it’s fine for straight people to talk like that, but for young people who are still “in the closet”, hearing these comments is detrimental and hurtful. And if they don’t conform to today’s stereotypes about gay youth – which, let’s be honest, most gay teenagers don’t – then the groups making spiteful comments will happily continue in front of them. And that isn’t fair.
Now, fifty years ago, say, the attitude that groups of teens have now was the same attitude that individuals had then. They would act as though gay people didn’t exist, or else they would taunt them. A lot has changed since then, but why? There have been civil rights movements and changes to the law, but I think the real way our opinions of LGBTQIA+ people have been changed is through the media. Yes, our friend the media. It can do so much damage and so much good; but in this case, I’m proud of it. I’m not just talking about newspapers; I’m talking about books, films, TV shows. I’m talking about the kind of media that young people have regular access to and enjoy using. It changed the minds of people who were young forty or fifty years ago and the results of that have been the legal acceptance of gay people in many countries and, I’m certain, many more to come.
But what about the moral acceptance of gay people? Put simply, it’s ridiculous that in this day and age, teenage girls get taunted for cutting their hair or playing sports, and teenage boys get taunted for writing poetry or getting involved in ballet. Whether they’re gay or not, nobody should be made to feel like an outsider for doing something that makes them happy. So we need a solution to that, pretty urgently.
I’m going to stop talking about gay people and give you a super-quick physics lesson now. Super-quick, I promise. Essentially, the outside layers of atoms are made up of electrons, and they orbit around the nucleus and they don’t really stop moving all that much. And in metals, when the atoms (and therefore the electrons) get heated up, they get even more energetic, and they move right away from the atom and start bumping into other atoms, so that those electrons start moving around, and eventually the whole metal is searing hot and can be manipulated as a result of all that energy.
I’d like us – the YA community, the blogging community, the gay community, whatever communities we as individual readers belong to – to ensure that we share great fiction, and let YA novels be these free, buzzing, energetic electrons. This, guys, is what makes gay YA so important. The best thing about it is that it tends to stay away from stereotypes that are usually false. Yes, I’ve read books about guys who love musical theatre and also love other guys, but there is so much more to them than their sexuality. Because all of us know, deep down, that there is just so much to a human being. We’re pretty amazing! We have interests, we have careers, we have families, we have ambitions, we have loves, we have hates, and yes, we have sexuality, but it’s just one piece of the jigsaw, and even though it’s essential it never defines the whole puzzle.
That’s why novels featuring gay relationships are so completely important: because without them, we have no way of “converting the haters”, as it were. When I was about twelve or thirteen and right in the middle of my Justin Bieber obsession, I
would go around in turn to each friend who claimed to hate him and make them listen to his best hits, or read them quotes from his autobiography. And no, it didn’t make them declare undying love for him, but the majority actually began to look at him with a teensy bit of respect. That’s all we can ask for, really: respect. Respect for gay characters, for gay writers, for gay people and for gay relationships. I hold out hope that, one day, everyone on earth will love each other, but that day is a long time away and for now all we can ask for is respect and equal treatment.
So let’s let YA novels be our free electrons. They are the advocates, the ambassadors. So many young people, some of whom are wonderful friends of mine, keep their sexuality hidden because they are scared of what the world has to say about it. We have a responsibility as writers and readers to use gay YA novels and other media to convert the world and show it how wonderful LGBTQIA+ people are. It’s like showing them the picture on the front of the puzzle box. Once they realise how detailed and beautiful it is, they’re one step closer to being able to put it together.
I guess it’s time to start spreading the word.
Georgie is a teen writer and bookworm from England. At the moment she’s working on a gay YA novel of her own and can be found procrastinating on Twitter (@missgeorgie) or else ranting on her blog (georgiepenney.weebly.com).
It wasn’t long ago that you’d be hard pressed to find a YA book with a gay character in it all. We’ve come a long way. Yet there’s still a long way to go.
While gay characters are represented in YA fiction, far too often they are stereotypes, there to provide an appearance of diversity without actually being fully realized characters. How often does a female YA protagonist have a quirky, funny, gay best friend? This is a great character because it’s a male presence, but one without any threat associated with him. Then there’s the sporty lesbian, another stereotype that is overused in YA fiction. The gay boy in musical theatre… The list goes on.
It’s important that we move away from casting gay characters into these roles. There are as many different gay characters as there are straight characters, and just like straight people, gay people don’t want to be defined solely by their sexuality.
Because YA literature deals with that messy, awkward, uncertain period of life where you’re discovering yourself and making choices about who you are and where you fit into the world, sexuality does play a big part. This is the time in life where you start having sexual feelings and experiences. It’s a time for experimenting and figuring out. So it’s no big surprise that the bulk of YA stories that deal with gay characters are coming out stories.
There is definitely room for more of these stories – my own book is one – but at the same time, I think it’s important that we see stories with gay characters where the focus is not on their sexuality exclusively. Stories where it’s incidental that our protagonist has a same-sex partner.
As we move into a time where homosexuality is more accepted and where gay people have the same legal and social rights as everyone else, I hope these books will start showing up on shelves. It would be nice to read a book with gay characters where their sexuality is not remarked on or their behavior judged by other characters.
YA books are so important because they provide a window through which young readers can see themselves and people like themselves. So let’s give these readers real, wholly realized characters who live their lives and face their problems without remarking on who they slept with last night.
An Unstill Life
Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie Quinn. Jules, her beloved older sister is sick again after being cancer free for almost ten years. Her mom becomes more frantic and unapproachable every day. School isn’t much better. Just when she needs them most, her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie – except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates.
Livvie seeks refuge in the art room and finds Bianca, the school ‘freak’. Free-spirited and confident, Bianca is everything Livvie isn’t. Shaken by her mom’s desperation, her sister’s deteriorating condition, and abandoned by her friends, Livvie finds comfort and an attraction she never felt before with Bianca.
When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of persecution and bullying. School authorities won’t help and even forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal as a couple. If Livvie defies them and goes, she risks expulsion and further ridicule from her classmates. At home, her mother’s behavior escalates to new levels of crazy and Jules is begging for help to end the pain once and for all.
While searching for the strength to make her life her own, Livvie must decide how far she’s willing to go for the people she loves.
About The Author
Her short stories have appeared in Halfway Down The Stairs, A Fly in Amber, Daily Flash Anthology, The Barrier Islands Review, Everyday Fiction, Death Rattle, Drastic Measures, Cutlass & Musket and Residential Aliens, among others.
She has written eight contemporary YA novels, five of which other people are allowed to see. She has also written one very bad historical romance. She is currently working on a new YA novel that is still looking for a title other than its Twitter hashtag, #juvvielesbian.
Author Links Website: http://katelarkindale.blogspot.com/
AUTHOR GUEST BLOG: J. Lee Graham
The coming out process, for people of all ages, always and forever will be, a transformational and sacred journey. It is not a one-time event. It is not always a giant party nor is it always a dramatic Act Three denouement. Often I see our society responding to splashy headlines of a celebrity who decides to come out and the tendency is to assume that that is all that ‘coming out’ means: a Public Relations moment that creates a five minute discussion at the supper table. By morning, all is forgotten.
I don’t believe that. Coming out is a lifelong exploration. It’s not a lifetime struggle or a lifetime millstone around one’s neck. It is a glorious unfolding that occurs again and again as we grow into our own authenticity. It empowers us. It unites us.
As a professional astrologer (www.mysticalisle.net), I have sessions with clients ages 16-82. Using the profound and beautiful metaphorical language of astrology and the archetypes they embrace, the client comes to uncover his own sense of authenticity. Gay or Straight, the ‘coming out’ and overcoming of one’s own limitations or perceived fears is a tremendously freeing experience. For my LGBT clients, the added benefits of discussing their own coming out stories, again, regardless of age, dovetails mystically with the new layers of authenticity they discover.
In my practice as a Reiki practitioner, the struggle for one’s authenticity can be found most strongly in the third Chakra. Using the parlance of Eastern Teachings, the different chakras have a different color associated with each and together they reflect the colors of the rainbow. The Third Chakra’s color is yellow and it is here, like the Vision Quest of the Native American, where we learn to become our own ‘warrior’. We define ourselves as separate from others and we step out into the world with a very healthy sense of security and confidence. Much research states that this third chakra is healthfully established during our teen years.
But what if it isn’t? What if, for reasons of fear and persecution or ridicule and shame, the chakra does not develop maturely? The coming out process does, in so many cases, strengthen our third chakra. We don’t have to be a teenager to do this. Often, we are older, but the illumination is the same. Somewhere, we stopped growing in this area. The coming out process, the journey to the light of authenticity is ongoing and glorious. We are given the chance to define our code of honor and our own integrity.
In my novel THE PROMISE OF LIVING, 16-year-old Ryan Colton lives in rural New Hampshire and has his own coming out experience and I wanted to create a dual path: having Ryan discover his own sexuality as well as his own authenticity. It is not an easy path, but the strengthening that occurs, like the strength he feels in his body when he works on a farm, is arduous yet life-giving. Ryan’s journey is our journey.
What code of honor do we choose to create? What, as LGBT youth and adults, is our definition of integrity and how do we express that in our day-to-day lives? I wanted Ryan’s journey to be ongoing, for the coming out process not only emboldens us, but allows us to find our gifts and bless them, and, like the warrior on his Vision Quest, ultimately, bring them back and share them for the benefit of our mystical, powerful tribe.
THE PROMISE OF LIVING by J. Lee Graham can be found on Amazon and on Smashwords. Follow his blog at ww.jleegraham.blogspot.com
I’m not a young adult librarian, but I’m a longtime reader of young adult fiction, particularly stories that feature lesbian characters. As a reader, I can confirm that we’ve come a long way since the days of having to (as recently described by Mary at Queer Books Please) scour mainstream books for some hint of queer content. My coming of age and coming out was largely done in pre-internet days, when often the best you could do was manufacture your own subtext. Although it’s still inconsistent and problematic, YA fiction is increasingly diverse. According to the book Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, five to six percent of American teens identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and eighty percent of teens know someone who does. For questioning teens, the public library should be a safe space in which they can to find stories and resources to help them articulate their identities.
Unfortunately, librarians have not always made it easy to find information. Censorship–in the form of simply not purchasing materials that might be considered “controversial”–has always been a problem. People often take it upon themselves to challenge books with any queer content in the name of protecting “the children,” which can bring negative publicity to a library. In addition, catalogers have the option to make items more or less discoverable in a library catalog, depending on the subject headings they choose to add to an item’s record. For teens, who are among the least likely to approach a librarian, being able to find books for themselves is extremely important. Items having to do with sex and sexuality are often among those that are used (not to mention stolen) anonymously at the library–read clandestinely and not necessarily checked out.
I don’t mean to sound as if the situation is dire and there are no LGBTQ resources to be found in most libraries. However, I do believe that there is more that librarians AND library patrons can do to improve the quantity and visibility of these materials in library collections.
Use your local library!
Request materials. Let your librarians know–through purchase requests, in-person recommendations, or even through the items that you are getting via interlibrary loan–that there is a demand for these materials.
Donate your old, unwanted, and duplicate copies of LGBTQ fiction and other materials.
Give someone a gift by donating a book to the library in their name. A friend of mine donated a copy of Leah Petersen’s book Fighting Gravity to my library to thank me for something I had helped her with. You can support both the library and worthy authors this way.
Participate in library events, such as the summer reading program.
Support your library if and when it becomes involved in a public book challenge. Write an editorial to your local newspaper, if you have to!
Order those materials! There are plenty of well-reviewed, award-winning books that you can purchase for the library. Purchase items to meet a variety of needs and interests, even if you haven’t seen any evidence of them. These teens may not speak up, but they exist in your community, and the materials should be there when they look for them.
Create displays that showcase the items in your collection, making it clear that the library is a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ teens. Actively solicit suggestions for purchases of new materials.
Read some of these books! If you don’t have the time to read, check out reviews here at Gay YA or at other sites like I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?, Queer YA, and Rainbow Books. Be prepared to offer recommendations.
Have your policies and your Request for Reconsideration form ready to meet any challenges. Train your staff on how to respond to complaints. Preparation and justification is the best defense in a challenge situation.
Public librarians have a professional responsibility to make these materials available to everyone, not just the at-risk teens who need them the most. Community members with an interest in having these materials available to teens have a responsibility to let the library know that they’re wanted and needed in the library. Together we can make it happen!
Anna Mickelsen is a public librarian and enthusiastic reader. You can find her on Twitter (@helgagrace) or at her blog, Title and Statement of Responsibility. She also reviews lesbian fiction at The Lesbrary.
Being a teen is painful. You’re no longer a kid, you’re not yet an adult, and no matter who you are, you’re not quite sure it’s okay to be yourself. In library school we learned about the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets for Teens, which tells us that an extra caring adult in the community, someone who is not a parent, can make a difference for teens by helping to bolster them during this difficult time. I thought back to my own teen years, which were painful, and I thought about those few teachers who were there when I needed someone. A kind word could go a long way, even if I was feeling miserable. I strive to be that person for the teens in my library. If they’re gay, if they’re an artist, if they want to go to college, if they don’t want to go to college, they can tell me, whatever it is, and I’ll listen. If something is really wrong, I will help them find help. Most days, it’s just regular teen stuff, for that I’ve got a smile, and I can always recommend a book.
I have empathy and compassion for a lot of different teens. I feel that way about some of the fictional teens I read about as well. I thought I’d share a few books featuring some of my favorite gay or questioning characters. These are characters I find interesting, inhabiting stories I find compelling. That they are gay or wondering if they might be, is a fact about them, not the main idea. These are books I keep in mind to recommend, to gay teens, who might see themselves in these characters, and to straight teens, who might see someone who’s not so hard to relate to after all.
Totally Joe by James Howe
We first meet Joe in Howe’s anti-bullying book ,The Misfits, but he comes to life more fully in this sequel told in journal entries as he writes his “alphabiography” from A-Z. Joe loves cooking, and he loves his friends and family. More than anything, Joe is young and goofy. His coming of age/coming out story is somewhat predictable, but the fact that he’s doing this in middle school makes this a great book for younger teens.
The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
While flamboyant, “freewheeling bisexual” warlock Magnus Bane is often the focus of gay commentary on this popular urban fantasy series, it is his love interest, the quiet, messily dressed, Alec Lightwood that I think of as the relatable one here. Alec is very mature in his role as the eldest sibling, and as a soldier in the world of the Shadowhunters, but he is still young emotionally. He is inexperienced in romantic relationships and often unsure of how to express himself. The duality of this makes him very human in the midst of the series’ high action supernatural events.
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Lo’s more recent book, Adaptation, has a great protagonist who is interested in both sexes, and some steamy scenes, but Huntress sticks in my mind because high fantasy is not a place you find many gay characters. The cross between Chinese mythology and British fair folk makes for an interesting and diverse setting. Kaede is the archetypal hero, the one you’ve read about before, the one you root for and kind of want to be. She falls for Taisin, who is in training as a sage, a sort of magical monk. The two are poised to save their world, but it may cost them their relationship to do it.
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Astrid Jones is the kind of cranky intellectual I hope walks into my library. She professes her love to strangers who will never know about it and talks to Socrates. Her stubborn insistence that she thoroughly work through issues that confuse her: her sexuality, her budding romance with her co-worker, and her feelings about her family, before she discusses them is as endearing as it is frustrating.
The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
Levithan’s lyrical writing is a draw for all of his books, The Realm of Possibility, a novel in verse, stands out because it shares different struggles in a variety of teen voices. The magical Jed, a boy who seems like someone we all used to know in high school, who appears, and gives gravitas to small moments, is the thread that weaves these stories together.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson
Ava is tired of being an ultra-liberal, black-clad, intellectual. She’s tired of her parents’ celebration of how edgy she is, and she is becoming tired of her girlfriend, Chloe. She thinks it might be time to try something new, so she dons a pink sweater and joins stage crew for the school musical. Stage Crew is populated by some strange and interesting people. Ava finds herself becoming a part of their group, but doesn’t necessarily figure out exactly who she wants to be. The ambiguity of the ending might be the best part of this book.
Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers
You don’t get a lot of books about teen cross-dressers. In fact, I can only think of this one. After the death of his father and a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse, Johnny tries to start over by moving in with his Uncle. He meets a girl, he listens to music, and he falls in love with both. He finds inspiration and comfort in Blondie, and finds himself wanting to emulate their tough, beautiful, lead singer Debbie Harry. With the support of his girlfriend he finds the courage to step out, in heels.
Erin Daly is a Youth Services Coordinator at Chicopee Public Library. Find her on Twitter: @ErinCerulean
One of my favorite ways to discuss diverse literature is with the concept of “mirrors and windows”- which is to say, some books will reflect one’s experience, while others will open the reader to a new perspective. Mitali Perkins describes it well here. A lot of times, I see people misusing it as a dichotomy; either this book will be a mirror of your own life, or a window into someone else’s. That ignores what I think are the best books, which- as Mitali mentions- are the ones that manage to do both. Seeing aspects of yourself in a character largely unlike you is maybe the best way to gain empathy you hadn’t ever realized you lacked.
I relate to characters for a wide variety of reasons. I’m not going to say that the gender of romantic interests, particularly in relationship to the gender of the protagonist, isn’t on that list of reasons at all, or that it shouldn’t be, but it strikes me as profoundly sad that there often seems to be an assumption that that’s all that’s necessary: if you’re a queer kid, you’ll relate to queer lit, and if you’re a straight kid, you’ll learn about a new life experience through it.
Well. No. Sorry, but no.
I connect with characters because of who they love and how they love and who they don’t love and why they don’t love them. I connect with characters because of how they approach romantic relationships and sexual relationships and familial relationships and platonic relationships. I connect with characters because of their interests and their talents and their skills and their flaws. I connect with characters because of choices they make and choices they don’t make, because I would make those same decisions or because I would make the opposite ones. If you remove any aspect of that, how can the characters seem real enough to be relatable?
I like stories about queer characters, and stories that deal with queerness, but I am over stories that reduce characters to nothing but sexuality. Those stories are neither windows nor mirrors. They’re black holes. And to say to any reader who falls outside prescriptive heteronormative standards that they should read queer lit for better self-understanding is missing the point.
I’d like to say this is a double standard- “You wouldn’t just shove any book with boys and girls kissing at a heterosexual kid and think they’d relate, would you?”- but the truth is, yes. Many people would do just that. Which is an issue in and of itself, but that’s an issue for another, equally long post.
The problem is that a lot of books with straight protagonists reduce their characters’ relationships to the interactions of non-matching genitalia, which assumes- well, many things, not the least of which being that biological sex and gender are the same thing. But that means that somehow people have books are queer-friendly when they reduce characters’ relationships to the non-heteronormativity of their sexual encounters.
In truth, those stories aren’t friendly. They’re antagonistic. They’re reducing human beings to secondary sexual characteristics. We say so often that we want queer kids to be treated the same as straight kids, but maybe the answer is that we need to treat ALL kids like people.
This is hard. I get that. Adults want nothing less than to treat teenagers and children like people, because people are complex organisms that have opinions we disagree with and do things we wouldn’t do and aren’t moldable. It’s so easy to say that their brains haven’t fully developed and their interests are nothing like ours and it’s our job to help show them the way. But in the process, I think we’re relying too much on the idea that there is a single way to be shown.
In my life as a full-fledged adult, I know a lot of grown-ups. Some are straight. Some are gay. Some are bi. Some are trans*. Some are aromantic. Some are asexual. Some are queer without any further detail, because they don’t want to share it with the world or none of the terms quite fits or they don’t feel comfortable with labels. And for many of these people, I have absolutely no idea which (or how many) of these categories they fall into, because it has nothing to do with my daily interactions with them.
But media teaches us that most teenagers are obsessed with sex (particularly if they self-identify as male) and romance (particularly if they self-identify as female). Even if they have other interests, their primary focus is on romantic or sexual relationships. In fact, characters who aren’t obsessed with the secondary-sex characteristics of their desired partners are often seen as immature. I just don’t believe that that’s true.
I thought about a lot of things in high school. I thought about the gossip circulating my classes, and how not to be the subject of it, and whether my best friend was intentionally avoiding me or if we just hadn’t crossed paths. I thought about homework that I didn’t want to do and why my teachers were so mean and what sadist came up with gym class. I thought about how exhausted I was and whether marching band practice would end early and whether I’d be home in time to set the VCR for new episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Frankly, with all of that, I didn’t have TIME to devote as much energy to thinking about sex as most fictional protagonists seem to do. And I wasn’t even working as a spy, never mind living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where every move could be my last.
Am I saying avoid these things in stories? Of course not. Romance can be important. Sex can be important. There’s both a need and a market for stories primarily about queer romantic and sexual relationships, and there always will be, the same way there will always be one for heterosexual ones. But that doesn’t mean that is the only choice when it comes to talking about queer characters. If interest in romance and sex doesn’t vary by character and by situation, something is wrong- no matter where on the gender or sexuality continuums anyone falls.
A lot of the queer stories submitted to me try to course-correct the default of straightness by doing exactly the same thing, but with same-sex couples. I understand and empathize with the urge; everyone wants their experience to be normalized. But this kind of normalizing excludes a different reader, while simultaneously making the story far, far less than it could be. It’s great to think about a gay Twilight or a gay Looking for Alaska or whatever. But what I look for when going through submissions is a story that’s wholly its own, about characters who feel like real people, not a clever re-characterization of something that already exists. Too often, it feels like rich straight white characters get the story first, and then everyone else has to follow.
When there are enough stories that don’t take into account the way you live your life, even if individually they may be great, collectively they are neither windows nor mirrors. They become a single, monolithic brick wall. But one of the things I love about YA literature is that we aren’t content to just let it stay that way. Authors are writing vivid, complex characters, many of whom don’t just fit the dominant paradigm but have their adventures anyway. It’s slow, but it’s happening, and it’s valuable every time.
When I was in grad school, I spent a lot of time thinking about how queerness was portrayed in children’s literature. It’s exciting for me to be in publishing now, and not just see the change sweeping the field, but be a part of it.
By the time this post goes up we will know who won the Lambda Literary Award in all twenty-three categories in which it is given, including the winner for Children’s/YA LGBT Fiction.
In announcing the finalists for this year’s award, the Lambda Literary Foundation explained that for the fourth year in a row there was a record number of books nominated and a record number of publishers represented in those nominations. For the first time this year, the judges were encouraged to choose more finalists in categories that drew a large number of submissions.
I am absolutely thrilled that Personal Effects is one of the ten finalists
in the Children’s/YA LGBT category. But I am ecstatic that there were so many outstanding YA and children’s books nominated that the judges could chose ten finalists.
We talk a lot about the need for strong YA novels with lgbtq characters, books for kids on every part of the spectrum of coming out and living out, and for allies, and would be allies. We talk about the need for lgbtq kids to see themselves and their worlds in books, and books with hope and heart and depth. We talk about moving on a continuum to a place where lgbtq characters in books are common and ever-present. And we often have these conversations from the perspective of looking at how far we still have to go, how much more we wish was out there.
And yet the Lambda Literary Award has ten finalists for the award for children’s and YA literature precisely because of the number and strength of the nominated books.
Lambda Literary’s mission reads, “The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers.” This year that includes ten nominated books for children and teens. Books that I have read and loved and discussed and re-read. Books I hope you will read and love and discuss and re-read for many years to come.
As I write this post on Sunday, June 2, 2013, we don’t know which book will win. And I am truly honored that Personal Effects is a finalist with so many amazing books. Books I respect and am happy to celebrate.
Whichever book receives the 2013 Lambda Literary Award, it represents a growing body of lgbtq work for adolescent readers that is worthy of hope and celebration, as is Lambda Literary and all it does to support that growing body of work and those who create it.
Congratulations to all of the finalists, to the winners, and to Lambda Literary Foundation for a job well done and truly appreciated.
** Personal Effects (Candlewick Press, 2012) is E. M. Kokie’s debut novel. As a lawyer, she loves a good story and a good debate. She likes to have the last word. She can be found online at www.emkokie.com , Twitter, Tumblrand Facebook.
I was absolutely thrilled when Gay YA asked me to write a guest blog for their fantastic site (though baffled as to why they asked me- I’m just a regular blogger), and then even more thrilled that they gave me a second chance after I completely spaced on the deadline. Sorry about that, guys!
So they asked me to talk about reviewing in general as well as spotlighting GLBT books on my blog. I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now; I started June 23, 2007 and have been going ever since, moving from Myspace (yes, remember that?!) to Blogspot in 2009. It’s been a wonderful journey and I hope to keep going for many years to come. I absolutely love being a part of the children’s book community and getting to talk books online and in person at book events with other book-obsessed people. It’s fantastic!
I love sharing my thoughts on all kinds of books with my readers through my blog. While I do mainly review Young Adult, I have also ventured into picture book, middle-grade, adult, and non-fiction territory. Luckily, my readers go along with me on those posts too.
Since the beginning, I’ve definitely kept my eye out for GLBT YA though I will admit I haven’t spotlighted it as much as some other blogs. I do the best I can, and I have run two GLBT-themed weeks over the years on my blog, featuring reviews and guest posts (One such week can be found here- http://bookchicclub.blogspot.com/search/label/GLBT%20Week; the other is on Myspace and therefore no link since I didn’t tag anything).
Spotlighting GLBT YA on my blog is something I love to do when I’m able to do it, and not only by just posting a review but also interviewing the author or have them writing a guest post. I’ll be reviewing Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg soon (absolutely loved his debut, Out of the Pocket), which I’m really enjoying so far. I also have Nora Olsen, whose new book Swans and Klons is out now, doing a guest post, which I just got in my inbox today, so cannot wait to post that.
As a young gay man, GLBT YA is very important to me. I was a happy teen for the most part and never really had the struggle that many teens do with their sexuality (though I was not out until college) and with being bullied, but I did feel the loneliness every so often. I wanted what so many of my friends had- a relationship, someone to really confide in and be with, even if it was fleeting as so many high school romances are- and still do to this day (I’ve been single for a few years now).
Reading the debut books from David Levithan, Brent Hartinger, and Alex Sanchez helped me feel less alone and were released during my high school years. I had to kind of sneakily check them out from the public library so my parents didn’t see. No joke, I didn’t know other gay people existed anywhere near me until I was a junior in high school and there was this gay boy in the summer theatre program I worked Stage Crew for (and then of course 4 high school friends came out to me after I graduated high school). I loved those books and cherished them so much. And while the world is getting better, it’s not totally perfect when it comes to GLBT people and their rights, so I feel there is still a need to push any new GLBT book into the hands of teenagers to help them get through these years. I feel good whenever I post a review of a GLBT book or let a GLBT author sound off on my blog because it feels like I’m doing something to help, even though it’s just something very minor. I have the hope that it’s helping someone somewhere, which is also what I want to do with my own writing someday.
Thanks again, Gay YA, for letting me take over your blog for a day and ramble on about random things. I will be constantly checking for comments so feel free to leave any questions for me!
Author Guest Blog: Catherine Ryan Hyde
I’m not sure how many people are aware of the fact that I just published an ebook sequel to my 2006 LGBT YA novel Becoming Chloe. It’s called Always Chloe and Other Stories. This time Jordy gets to have a boyfriend. Actually, a husband. Jordy reunites with his old flame Kevin, and they decide to marry.
While I was writing the first draft of the novel, the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Good timing! Well, it would have been good timing whenever they decided it, but it was a lovely opportunity for the book. So I happily wrote that in. Then came Prop 8, effectively reversing that decision. But I didn’t exactly write it back out again. I was so sure marriage equality would be the truth in California soon enough that I left it alone. If nothing else, it’s a snapshot of where things stood at the time.
Because of all that, I want to talk a little about marriage equality. I’m sure it goes without saying that I’m all for it. But marriage equality and full equality are not the same thing. I think it’s best if we look that fact right in the eye.
In championing marriage equality, we jumped over the fact that it’s still legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states. Also to discriminate against them in housing. For being transgender, make that 34 states. Those seems like some pretty important walls of discrimination to leave in place. And a lot of our transgender brothers and sisters feel they were thrown under the bus with the decision to ask them to “wait for their rights.” I don’t blame them.
An awful lot of people have been waiting an awfully long time already.
I still think marriage equality is a great idea. If nothing else, because we’ve seen a healthy pattern in states that now allow gay marriage: nothing happened. I mean, gay people got married. But nothing bad happened. Every time someone wants to block gay marriage, they claim terrible things will happen. I guess because it’s really hard to just stand up and say, “Don’t give that person their rights because I’m not ready to let them have them.” How would that sound as a reason? So they claim it will erode the very fabric of our society. But of course it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, people get used to the idea and stop being so afraid. And this can only be good.
But I still think we’re doing things in the wrong order.
I think the priorities should be ordered as follows: 1, no one should be beaten to death just for the way they choose to express themselves. 2, no one should lose a job or be kicked out of their home because of their sexuality or gender expression. 3, everyone should be able to get married.
First things first.
I’m not a fan of watching people barter and bargain over what voters or congressional representatives are “ready for.” As I’m fond of saying, “What part of liberty and justice for all don’t you understand?” When it comes to all people being equal in the eyes of the law, I feel it’s a ready-or-not situation.
The simple fact is that none of us is free until all of us are free. As long as anyone can be made to pay a price for being who and what they are, we are all oppressed.
I still cheer loudly when marriage equality earns big victories. So I’ve been doing a lot of cheering lately. I just hope we can all be honest with ourselves. Until we pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, until adoption is equally available, until we have to cancel Transgender Day of Remembrance in November because we have no names to read, we have more work to do. And when people are being murdered, being fired, being left homeless, that’s no time to tell them to wait for what’s rightly theirs. For what everybody should have had all along.