by Vee S.
Transgender people, like most marginalized groups, have continuously had their stories taken from them. Throughout the years, they’ve been told that the feelings of their oppressors are more valid and important than their own. Their stories have been repositioned to put cisgender people in the center of them.
This happens in real life– the opinions of cisgender people on trans issues are prioritized above those of transgender people—and in fiction. In this post, I focus on the fictional aspect, and how it relates to real life.
In fiction, a narrative has come forth that centers on a cisgender character “learning to accept” a transgender character. I call this the “acceptance” narrative– emphasis on the quotation marks. In the past decade or so, this narrative has emerged in YA literature. (Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, and Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde.)
An “acceptance” narrative (as I define it) is solely told from a cisgender character’s POV. The narrative follows this basic plot:
- Cisgender character encounters a trans character
- Cisgender character is transphobic and freaks out
- Cisgender character is thrown repetitively into situations with the trans character
- The cisgender character does terrible things to the trans character, feels slightly bad about it.
- The cisgender character thinks awful things about the trans character, feels slightly bad about it.
- Something horrible happens to the transgender character
- The cisgender character realizes the error of their ways and now understands that they shouldn’t be mean to trans people
- Bittersweet ending where the cis character comes to love the trans character, but the trans character has to leave.
- While leaving, the transgender character typically thanks or forgives the cis character
I talk about the YA books that include this “acceptance” narrative frequently, explaining why this narrative is problematic. Whenever I do, the main counterpoint I hear is that these books are realistic, and I probably just don’t want to accept how hard life is for a trans person, or I don’t want to see it represented.
My first question is, to the cis people who tell me this, do you really think that I don’t know this is realistic? Do you really think that I, as a trans person, do not understand that there are a lot of cisgender people who behave exactly like these characters, and think exactly the same way?
Secondly, do you really think I don’t want the experience of how hard life is as a trans person to be represented? I do, believe me. I have read many trans YA books and not a single one has even come close to truly depicting just how damn hard it is.
The “acceptance” narrative puts trans characters through some really hard experiences. But, it totally ignores the feelings and experiences of the trans character. For example, in Luna by Julie Anne Peters, we get to hear all about how hard it is on Reagan, Luna’s sister, to have a trans sibling. We get to hear all about Regan’s problems with Luna transitioning, how she’s afraid to make friends because they might find out, how she’s upset about “hiding” Luna’s secret from Luna’s best friend. We’re also privy to Regan’s wishy-washness on pronouns, and how she thinks of her sister as “he” but switches to using “she” whenever she feels that Luna has “appeared”.
What we don’t get to hear about is any of this from Luna’s perspective. We don’t get to hear what it was like for Luna to go to school in feminine clothing for the first time. We don’t get to hear how hard it is for her to keep this secret from her best friend. We don’t get to hear any of her opinions on what she’s going through, how she sees herself, where she sees herself going…
These books do depict a harsh reality for trans people, but not in a way that I can personally connect to. Unfortunately, I’m just not here for a narrative that says that cis peoples’ inner turmoil about how they’re treating trans people deserves more attention than how trans people feel about being treated that way.
But I’m pretty sure the “it’s realistic!” response isn’t an attempt to try to cis-splain the trans experience, although it comes off like that. What I think is actually being said is that the protagonist’s response to the trans character is relatable. In other words, the people who say this have thought the same things about trans people as the transphobic protagonist did.
I’m not going to shame people for that—I’ve felt a lot of those things about trans people, too. A lot of the beliefs we have about marginalized folks are programmed into us, and it is a process to work through them.
But the fact that these books depict accurate and relatable transphobic cis people does not make them infallible. Books always uphold messages through their narrative structure—whether or not the author intended to do so. [i] In the “acceptance” narrative, while the cis character is very real, the trans character often isn’t, and the narrative works to twist events to hold up a certain treatment of trans people as acceptable.
People often agree with me that trans teens shouldn’t read these books. But the second counterpoint I hear is that cis people need to read them. The idea is that if a transphobic cis person reads about a transphobic character who has to work through their transphobia, the transphobic cis person will work through their own transphobic beliefs, and become more accepting.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked that way. In fact, some people who’ve read these books have said far worse things about trans people than those that haven’t bothered to read anything about transgender people.
The problem is, the cis protagonists don’t actually work through their transphobia. While the “acceptance” narrative takes the cis character to task for being “mean,” it doesn’t challenge the transphobic beliefs or actions of the character. It doesn’t call out their judgement, fetishization, or objectification of the trans character. It doesn’t challenge the notion that trans men and women aren’t really men or women; that trans people are pretending, or putting on an act; that it’s ok to be wishy-washy on pronouns.
In some ways, the “acceptance” narrative is very similar to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality (though religion is typically not involved in the former). That mentality positions gay people as depraved lost souls who just can’t help being gay. It positions the straight people who “accept” them as holier-than-thou saviors. It allows homophobic people to continue to be homophobic and while also feeling good about themselves because they can forgive and love and accept gay people.
The “acceptance” narrative functions in the same way. It positions trans people as depraved, crazy, and pitiful. It says that all cis people who can find it in themselves to not be terrible to them deserve gold stars. It says they don’t need to challenge their transphobia, because of course trans men and women aren’t real men and women. Of course they’re kidding themselves. Of course it’s OK to judge and objectify them. The narrative never challenges this behavior. It actually—very subtly and insidiously—supports it. It lets cis people off the hook, placing all the blame for their beliefs and behavior on the trans person. It positions trans people as a stepstool for cis people to use to feel good about themselves.
Certainly, not all cis readers of these books will come out of the book thinking this way about trans people. I know dozens of wonderful cis allies who’ve read (and liked) a book that upholds the “acceptance” narrative. And in many cases this narrative is a stepping stone for many cis people into truly challenging their thoughts and behaviors. However, that’s not the case across the board, and I feel that what this narrative actually upholds gets swept under the rug.
This narrative needs to be challenged.
The three best-known trans YA books fit this “acceptance” narrative. That is changing—slowly—as trans YA that moves beyond this narrative gets more recognition. But by and large if you ask someone for a recommendation of a trans YA book, they’ll eagerly point you toward a trans YA book that has the “acceptance” narrative in it.
I think this praise comes from the fact that for so many people this is the only book they’ve read with a trans character in it. They’re unaware of anything else existing. As a result, these books get hyper-praised, and the narrative is (almost) never questioned.
I‘m sure that the community is trying to be supportive and inclusive by recommending these books.
Whenever someone does point out that one of these books is problematic, others chime in and treat it as an intellectual debate. People take “devil’s advocate” positions (“what if a trans person wrote a book like this?”) or say meaningless things like “you didn’t get the point of the book”—both of which completely derail the conversation.
I know that a lot of this is because people really don’t understand the narrative. (It’s typically not the narrative that is pointed out as problematic, but specific elements of the specific books. Those critiques are incomplete and very easy to refute with “but it’s realistic!”) And that’s why I’m writing this post. Because for me, as a trans person, this goes so far beyond an intellectual discussion. The “acceptance” narrative doesn’t just show up in these books—it also shows up in how trans people are treated in the world at large. And, specifically, it shows up in how we’re treated in the YA community.
When trans people speak about trans representation in YA, they are often told (sometimes by the author themselves) that we should be grateful for this representation, that authors are “allowed” to write about anyone, or that we’re stirring up an “interesting debate.” Many reviews of trans books misgender the characters, present them as people who are “pretending” to be a different gender, and include such phrases as “kudos to the [cisgender] author for writing about such a controversial issue.” In discussions about trans representation and transgender people, cisgender authors of trans YA are given authority to speak on trans issues, with very few people questioning when they say incredibly problematic things.
I’m sick and tired of how trans people are treated in the YA community. It is not a safe space for trans people, and I want to make it into one.
I think that most of the community wants this too. Unfortunately, many people have made a lot of inappropriate assumptions about how it is OK to talk about and treat trans people. So how do we challenge those assumptions and change the behavior?
Well, one way is to challenge this narrative. Because the “acceptance” narrative mirrors how trans people are treated in the YA community, and because the narrative and the behavior are both assumed to be OK, challenging the narrative is a very effective way to challenge the behavior of the community.
(The flipside of this, is that brushing it aside as “just a book” or “realistic” furthers the unquestioned acceptance of this behavior.)
So what can you do? When you see one of these books recommended, let the person know the narrative is problematic. Maybe point them towards this post. That, in my mind, is an important first step.
If you want to challenge more of the real-life communal behavior, start with these things:
- Do whatever you can to center discussions of trans representation on the voices of trans people. Seek out reviews of trans YA by transgender people. Follow trans people (particularly trans authors)[ii] on the social media you use.
- Question what cis people say about transgender issues. Don’t take it in as fact.
- Develop awareness around your own transphobic beliefs/misconceptions. Again, follow trans people on social media. Listen. Challenge your assumptions.
- Read books by trans authors. The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon, Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz, and George by Alex Gino are three of my favorites.
Hopefully, this post will help people look at this narrative in context, and people will stop excusing it. Understanding why a narrative is problematic can reveal so many things about the way we’ve been trained to perceive the world. I really hope that this post will be one of the stones in the river that will create ripples of change. We all need to understand what the “acceptance” narrative says, and look at the extreme acceptance of it in the YA community.
[i] I don’t believe that any of these authors set out to do damage—in fact, I think that set out with the very best intentions in mind. In an interview, Julie Anne Peters (author of Luna) said: “I’m not trans. I never will be. My authenticity bias couldn’t be compromised. To be authentic and honest, the narrator, the main character, would need to act in the role of observer. I decided to create a sister for Luna, Regan. Regan would be Luna’s confidante throughout life and in that way she could see, and relate to the reader, the childhood manifestations of being born transgender.” I can’t speak for the other authors, but I would bet that their reasons for writing their book the way they did would be very similar.
Also, specific to the case of Luna, I fully recognize how groundbreaking it was. Luna was the first YA book published with a transgender character, and it opened a lot of doors.
[ii] Some great trans authors/writers to follow: Casey Plett, Morgan M Page, Tom Leger, Cheryl Morgan, Alex Gino, Everett Maroon, Pat Schmatz, Kate Bornstein, Janet Mock, Charlie Jane Anders, Julia Serano
Vee S. lives in Minnesnowta. When they’re not weeping frozen tears over how cold it is, they spend their time writing, reading, keeping up with school, and snuggling their cats. Vee is the admin and co-founder of GayYA.Org. They have a lot of thoughts on LGBTQIA+ representation. Find them on Twitter, Goodreads, or Tumblr.
by Corinne Duyvis
Identification. Labels. Exploration.
These topics are often brought up in YA. Even more so in queer YA: after all, discovering your own identity and who you are or aren’t attracted to is a huge part of many queer kids’ lives. Something that often leads to even more confusion—on all sides—is when someone is attracted to more than one gender. Yes, the “confused bisexual” borders on stereotype, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur. I mean, I was super confused about my orientation as a young teenager (which I’ve written about at DiversifYA before) and I had a very easy time of it compared to many others.
There are a couple of reasons for this common confusion. One is that there’s still a stigma about bisexuality/biromanticism. Greedy, confused, fakers, insatiable, etc. If those are the main messages you hear, then no wonder you wouldn’t want to apply that label to yourself.
Another is that bi people are still comparatively underrepresented in the media. There’s a long history of erasing bi people and their orientation, both in real life (current celebrities, historical figures) and in fiction (in the work itself, in reviews and discussions). Sometimes these people are labeled straight or gay, or there’s a ton of debate about “straight vs. gay” without ever allowing for other options; sometimes their same-gender or other-gender relationships are dismissed or written off as platonic; on the rare occasion the person’s or character’s attraction to multiple genders is acknowledged, they’re often identified as experimenting, confused, fluid, liberated, straight-with-an-exception, gay-with-an-exception, or disliking labels.
The words “bisexual” or “biromantic” are rarely used, despite being very common ways for real-life people who are attracted to multiple genders to identify. Many still shy away from the word(s). Thus, when authors do explicitly label their characters as bi, it stands out. Author Tess Sharpe (of the fabulous Far From You) has often spoken of the amazing reactions she’s received from teenagers in regards to her identifying as bi, and writing a character who does, too.
This kind of representation matters. It’s important to use the word, to defy stereotypes, to explore what this identity means. I’m glad more and more people realize how much bi visibility matters.
At the same time, this advocacy for bi representation raises many questions. In fact, when Malinda Lo suggested I write about this topic on Twitter (thank you, Malinda!) several people immediately chimed in ditto-ing their interest.
After several years seeing these questions and rebuttals online, I thought I’d put together some of the questions I’ve most often seen.
(These are specifically about bi visibility/erasure/identification—if I were to include terminology and stereotypes, we’d be here all day.)
But isn’t it true that teenagers often are confused or experimenting? Isn’t that what YA is about? Shouldn’t those teenagers also be represented?
Sure, it’s true for a lot of people. It was true for me! Not everybody leaps—or has to leap—to the label. People should never feel pressured into identifying a certain way. Bi advocates like myself need to be careful not to shove the label on people who may not want it.
I think it’s possible, however, to acknowledge the trend of erasure and misrepresentation of bi people and characters and how this is often done by defaulting to other labels and descriptors, without in turn erasing the individual people who do use those labels and descriptors.
Bi advocates aren’t saying, All these characters should be bi, end of story. We’re saying, Realistically speaking, way more of these characters would identify as bi—why this persistent reluctance to call them that?
As someone who has been a confused teenager, and whose sexuality is fluid, I would never want to take stories about those experiences away. We need more queer representation of all kinds.
I just also want explicit bi representation.
We can have it all. (/bi slogan)
How would I even show my character is bi? I mean, what if they’re in a single relationship during the course of the book?
Bi people are still bi even when they’re single or in a relationship with a particular gender.
If I’m in a relationship with a man, I’m not straight; I’m still bi.
If I’m in a relationship with a woman, I’m not gay; I’m still bi.
If I’m in a relationship with a non-binary person, I’m (a) going to be extra pissed if you attempt to label me or said relationship as lesbian/gay/straight, and (b) still going to call myself bi.
And if I’m single, guess what? I’m still bi. Just … a lonely bi.
So the way to show they’re bi is simple: have them be attracted to more than one gender. Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t check out other people or refer to past/crushes relationships. Not to mention they can still be explicitly referred to as bi in dialogue or narration.
On that topic, why this insistence on using the word? What if it just doesn’t come up in my novel? Besides, it feels artificial. I don’t label my straight characters, either.
You’re right. Sometimes it doesn’t come up. In my second book On the Edge of Gone, there’s an important bi character who is never labeled as such. She was called bi in a line that was taken out in revisions, and I never found another good place to mention it. I still feel anxious about this, to be honest.
That said, the reason so many people are so keen on having authors use the word because it’s still so rare. I think it’s important for readers—and particularly questioning teenage readers—to have every road wide open to them. Part of that is seeing their options represented in books.
Straight people don’t suffer from erasure; in fact, they’re considered the “default setting.” On the other hand, if you don’t explicitly call a bi character bi, many people will interpret them differently.
Since bi erasure is so common, and so many authors have internalized biphobic ideas without realizing it, the best way to defy that is to be extra thoughtful about how we approach the topic. Decades of erasure don’t go away by accident or “the natural flow of things”—they go away by consciously countering that erasure.
That’s why it matters to at least try.
But isn’t sexuality fluid? Why bother with labels in books?
Labels aren’t always bad. Labels can connect you to a community, a history, peers. They can help you realize you’re not alone, help you make sense of yourself, help you realize that it’s normal and common and a real, existing thing.
I’ve always seen labels as descriptive (this is my behavior, and this term fits that behavior) rather than prescriptive (this term identifies me, thus I must behave in certain ways); I’ve never felt boxed in by them. If people want to assume parts of my identity based on a label, or see me as nothing but a label, the problem is with those people, and not with the label itself. I’m also not going to stop calling myself female just because that gives people incorrect ideas of what I am or should be.
For me, seeing more positive and explicit bi representation as a teenager would have made things far easier.
If a person doesn’t want to commit to a label, that’s their choice. The thing is, we do have to give them that choice. Part of that is having stories that represent all these identities, experiences, labels and lack thereof, and more.
By insisting on bi visibility, aren’t you erasing people who don’t want to be labeled?
I hope not. If I ever cross that line, I hope someone calls me on it.
As I said above, it’s possible to acknowledge and fight bi erasure without in turn erasing others; I don’t want less of one thing, I want more of another. That way there’s no pressure on any single character or person to identify one way or another and represent an entire group in the process.
But what if it’s a fantasy/SF world that doesn’t have the word? Or a historical setting?
In a historical setting, you of course have to be true to history. Easy as pie. (Note that even if the word or concept didn’t exist, the people sure did.) If you’re writing a fantasy roughly based on a historical era, you have more flexibility, in my opinion; why could dragons and magic exist, but a word to identify people attracted to multiple genders would be a step too far?
For speculative settings, it’s entirely up to you. If you want to use the word, you totally can. You’re the one building these settings, after all! It’s entirely possible that another world may have come up with their own terms for less common sexual/romantic orientations, or they could even straight-up use the same terms as we do. After all, plenty of other modern ideas are often used in fantasy worlds, and you are theoretically “translating” this fantasy language into English. It’s logical to use words that readers will be familiar with.
Or maybe the world really doesn’t have any words for it. That could make sense, too, given how recent the terms we use are. In your world, maybe queer people are so oppressed and erased that it’s not ever spoken of; maybe queer people are so accepted and integrated that it feels odd to single it out.
Me, I had that latter situation in Otherbound. My fantasy-world protagonist is in a relationship with a boy but harbors an attraction to a girl. It’s never labeled or remarked on by anyone. Sometimes I wish I’d taken another route and been more explicit about her bisexuality; other times, I’m happy with my choice, as I know many queer people are hungry for these kinds of settings.
You’re got lots of options, really.
If my character is attracted to multiple genders or is exploring that option, and I decide not to have them identify as bi … am I contributing to bi erasure?
I mean … it depends? Everyone’s opinions are different, and I can’t comment on your book without having read it. All I ask is that authors strongly explore their reasons for this choice. It’s easy to internalize biphobic ideas and to default to a “simpler” option without genuinely investigating why.
If you do decide to have your characters identify otherwise or deny labels, I would personally love to see more genuine exploration and research of that character choice, rather than an off-hand mention as an apparent get-out-of-jail free card. Put in the work, either way.
One thing I would like to see more of is the existence of bi identity within these narratives, even if the character doesn’t identify as bi. After all, bi erasure doesn’t only refer to the way people are rarely called bi, but also to the way the option isn’t even brought up in situations where, logically speaking, it really should be at least mentioned.
There are lots of ways to do this, particularly when exploration of identity is part of the character’s arc. For example, have your character wonder about being bi; have them stumble on the idea during research if they’re not already familiar with the term; have someone else bring it up as an option; have a different character identify as bi; have your character perhaps go from identifying one way to identifying another.
For a specific example of how egregious this oversight can be, see my friend Kalen O’Donnell’s post about the TV series Faking It.
OK, but I don’t have a bi character or anyone attracted to multiple genders in my book.
I like that you’re reading through this long-ass post regardless! Not every book is going to have bi characters, which is fine, but keep in mind that the term and concept most likely still exist in your world. It means a lot it you could acknowledge that in places where it might logically arise. For example, by not jumping to gay the moment a character is interested in someone of the same gender.
I’m feeling awfully pressured right now.
In the end, the book and character are your own. I’m genuinely just trying to answer questions I’ve seen over the past few years.
Some of the people who asked these questions may have simply been defensive or actively trying to find ways to avoid representing bi characters. Still, I like to think that many of them were genuinely well-intentioned.
Openly discussing these matters—for example, the way Tess Sharpe has spoken about how meaningful her explicitly bisexual protagonist has been to readers—can make a lot of authors consider issues they wouldn’t have normally and change their approach in future books.
I’m not telling you what you should do; I’m trying to show you what your options are in different circumstances, and informing you of the wider context.
In the end, be honest about your character. Be honest about their experiences. Be honest about the bi, the pan, the fluid, the confused, the unlabeled, and the others.
But be honest about the world, too.
A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, received four starred reviews—Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while the Bulletin praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.” Her next book, a YA sci-fi set in Amsterdam called On the Edge of Gone, will release in March 2016.
Bisexual Awareness Week Series: Day 6 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series – Bisexuality in YA – On Failing to Recognize Ourselves in Mirrors – The “B” Word – There Once Was a Girl – It’s Not Just a Phase
by Sarah Kettles
If you’re reading this, there’s no way you don’t know what a ridiculous and problematic and wonderful and frightening and enormously influential thing social media is, particularly in the lives of teenagers, and even more so in the lives of marginalized teenagers. Sites like Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and my once-beloved LiveJournal have been bringing kids together for years, and it’s now easier than ever to find people who share your interests or who love to snark about the same things you do or who society has shoved into the same tiny box as you.
Looking for female-presenting humans who love superheroes (or villains)? #PrettyHeros
Wanting to know who else is banging their heads against their desks after hours of sitting in front of a blank page? #amwriting
Trying to find someone else who feels the same way you do about boys and girls? #bisexual
Now, there’s no denying that the Internet as a whole is not always safe – even its tiny corners that masquerade as safe spaces can be invaded by trolls. Most if not all hashtags, even the ones that seem truly non-contentious, have been hit by them. But choosing to dwell on the jerks and ignoring everyone else means you may be missing out on something amazing, something into which a lot of teens are charging head-first.
As of the moment I wrote this sentence, there were 2,777,298 posts on Instagram using #bisexual. Just searching ‘bisexual’ on Twitter brings up dozens of accounts for organizations seeking in some way to support the bisexual community. Obviously you need to be careful – there are plenty of sleazy accounts and people using the hashtag for bigotry*. But there are also plenty of respectful and/or confused and/or proud and/or kind and compassionate people out there looking for solidarity and community and someone else to shout ‘ME TOO’.
That’s an amazing thing about social media: it’s so easy to find other people who feel the way you do, because so many of them are shouting about it! Social media can help teens to realize that they’re not alone, no matter how lonely they may be in the ‘real world’. It allows people to realize that there really are safe spaces out there for them, whether the Internet happens to be that safe space or not.
This kind of acceptance and recognition that you’re not the only one is important for all teenagers, for everyone, but especially for those who don’t get that acceptance and recognition from the people around them. It’s tough being a member of a marginalized group.** It’s especially tough when some members of that group refuse – just like some people outside the group – to accept that your identity is real, as can be the case when people who identify as bisexual (or a number of other non-binary identities) spend time in groups that say they include the whole LGBTQ+ spectrum, but don’t really mean the ‘B’ part.
That kind of exclusion happened to me repeatedly when I was first coming out, to the point that I started saying I was gay even though I knew I wasn’t and felt horrible about saying it. I even started to convince myself that I might actually be gay and not bisexual, because hey – I’m attracted to more women than men (and yes, I AM married to a man), and being gay meant these groups would accept me.
Knowing that there were spaces in which my identity wouldn’t be erased, that there were other people struggling with this erasure, and that things like #bisexual and #BiVisibility existed would have made a huge difference for me at that stage in my life. They did exist – the spaces and the people and the hashtags – but I wasn’t social media-savvy enough at the time to understand how to access/use them. The thing about teenagers now, though, is that most are social media-savvy enough to use them, and if the ones they need/want/feel best represent them don’t exist, they create them.
This is, in part, why the lack of social media in many YA books rings so false with me (and why I love books like Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for more than just their plotlines). The Internet is HUGE. Teens connect in real time with people from all over the planet. They’re funny and brilliant and vulnerable, sharing pictures of adorable animals and horrifying newscasts and their own true stories with people they know and people they don’t. And they’re constantly seeking others like themselves.
So what’s my point? Bisexuality is visible if you know where to look. It’s splashed all over the timelines of awesome bi-advocates both outside and within the YA community. It’s claimed loudly and proudly by teens and young adults all over Instagram and Tumblr. Yes, so is bi-erasure, but those of us who are bisexual (and those who aren’t but who are good allies) can and do shout over the biphobes.
And like Steve Berman said, we need to see more of that, of the way in which social media affects teens and young adults, particularly those who are made to feel ‘other’ by the people around them. Of the way in which the Internet, which can be horrible and dangerous and scary, can also be welcoming and comforting and full of other people screaming ‘ME TOO’.
Because yeah, ME TOO. #bisexual
*Protect yourself. I’m at a point mentally where I can flick past or report offensive/hurtful stuff without it affecting me too much, and offensive/hurtful stuff does NOT account for the bulk of posts tagged #bisexual (or most variations of this hashtag), but if you’re triggered by biphobia, I would consider reaching out to the online bisexual community in different ways. You can start with following other Gay YA guest bloggers on their various social media account, and also check out some of the great non-social media resources out there, including BiResource.net.
**Understatement of the century.
Bisexual Awareness Week Series: Day 5 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series – Bisexuality in YA – On Failing to Recognize Ourselves in Mirrors – The “B” Word – There Once Was a Girl
by Justina Ireland
When I was in high school I used to argue a lot about politics. I was the girl in class who would raise her hand and correct the teacher when they’d say something wrong or just plan biased. This usually exasperated the rest of my classmates. Sometimes I cared. Mostly I didn’t. I thought it was better to be right, to correct what was usually a pretty ignorant worldview, than to be popular. And at the end of these heated discussions, as the bell rang and everybody else gratefully escaped, more often than not my teacher would say something along the lines of “You won’t always see things this way,” or “it’s only because you’re still young that you think this way,” excusing my opinions and points of argument with a modification of the “it’s just a phase, you’ll understand when you get older” lecture.
By the time I graduated the phrase was enough for me to plug my ears and sing “LALALALALALALALA.” But at the same time, when I messed around with girls “it’s just a phase” was a protection against thinking that maybe I wasn’t just heteroflexible, that I was a lesbian or maybe truly did like boys and girls. Because if I could be so fickle to find both attractive, what did that say about me, about the way I was made?
“It’s just a phase” has long been the rallying cry of the closeted bisexual. Once we settle down, grow up, we’ll pick a side. It gives us an out from thinking about our sexuality. We have time to decide! To pick a side: gay or straight, forever more. Even the comic book character Iceman got a variation on this speech when he came out recently.
“It’s just a phase…” is the erasure of every bisexual person out there.
Your sexuality is real. You can be equally attracted, romantically, sexually, to both men and women. Even marriage or a long term relationship won’t change that. I’ve been married a very long time. And if tomorrow I ended up divorced I wouldn’t just date men, my dance card would be open to both men and women, still. Because bisexuals are real, they exist.
And it isn’t just a phase.
Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows, both currently available from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Her essay “Me, Some Random Guy, and the Army of Darkness” is forthcoming in The V-Word, an anthology of personal essays by women about having sex for the first time, published by Beyond Words (Simon & Schuster). You can find Justina on Twitter as
@tehawesomersace or visit her website.
by Tristina Wright
Once upon a time, there was a college girl very confused about her sexuality, and her best friend was a lesbian. They were the closest of friends and helped each other through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. They were never more than friends, nor did they ever want to be. They were friends and that was special in itself.
There’s this pervading stereotype of bisexuals that we’re incapable of holding down friendships because of our propensity to flirt with anything with a pulse. We’re portrayed as easy and promiscuous, yet confused and teasing. Bisexuality is a “phase” or a “stepping stone” to the more acceptable sexualities of straight or gay. If we do settle down, we’re then labeled based on the gender of our partner so we fit into a more socially palatable box. We’re only allowed to take on the label bisexual if we’re single and, even then, we’re questioned and erased and deal with assumptions of fidelity and promiscuity, even from within the queer community itself.
Watch out for those bisexuals, they’re tricky folks. Don’t look them in the eye.
It’s incredibly important that, in addition to portraying bisexuality respectfully in literature through their romantic relationship(s), there are strong platonic relationships as well. Bisexuality can be confusing enough and wrought with microaggressions from seemingly well-meaning folks who simply don’t think or believe they’re joking.
Ha ha ha threesomes, amirite?
But to navigate that, and life in general, without friends by your side is not only unrealistic prose, but a missed opportunity. Some of my most cherished memories involve friends, not lovers. My bisexuality and the sexual/romantic orientation of my friends has no bearing on our friendships beyond the occasional shared conversation of “Listen to this [microaggression] that happened to me today!”
Platonic relationships are just as important as romantic ones, especially for queer sexualities because of the myth that we want to hit on everyone regardless of gender or orientation. That line of thinking is incredibly disrespectful to us, and also paints us as disrespectful to everyone else as well.
However, it has to go beyond the Token Gay Friend in a group of straight characters. The vast majority of my close friends are queer in some fashion. We connect along those lines, and our friendships build off that and branch into shared interests such as writing or music or favorite video games and movies. But that support system exists for moments when someone pokes at one of us, or an ill-informed article appears on the internet. I have a network of people who understand on a personal level and can support each other that way. We flock together like penguins huddling in the cold.
When you’re writing a bisexual character, it’s just as important to give them well-rounded friendships as it is to get their sexuality right. It’s important to show strong friendships with various genders because those portrayals, while seemingly innocuous in themselves, add up to help combat the myth that we’re incapable of stable friendships.
Friends are one of life’s greatest treasures. Your sexuality doesn’t preclude you from having some of the best friendships of your life. And if someone doesn’t want to be friends with you because of your sexuality, run far away in the opposite direction.
Once upon a time, there was a woman confident in her bisexuality, and her best friend was bisexual. Her other best friend was straight. She surrounded herself with friends who existed all over the queer spectrum. They helped each other through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. They were never more than friends, nor did they ever want to be. They were friends and that was special in itself.
Tristina Wright is a blue-haired bisexual with anxiety and opinions. She’s also possibly a mermaid but no one can get confirmation. She writes epic queer YA SFF, and one day her books will be on shelves for you to read. Until then, you can find her on Tumblr, her website, and Twitter.
by Camryn Garrett
Reading a book is like being sucked into someone else’s world. I’ve learned about other worlds, but also my own through reading. Not only have I discovered that I was struggling with mental illness, but I’ve learned more about other cultures, other thoughts, other places, all in between two covers.
But on the other hand, I’m often learning about a specific group of people. It changed between the mode of media (films, books, TV shows), but there’s usually a specific race, gender, and sexuality portrayed.
I’m a sucker for romance stories in YA, but it’s like almost all of the couples are straight and white. Even now, while things are changing all over the place, there are still specific types of sexuality showcased.
There were gay dads in Fans of The Impossible Life and gay kids discovering themselves on The Fosters and shows like Orange is the New Black on Netflix. There seems to be lots of representation for lesbians and gays (it can still be argued, however, whether or not more is still needed.)
One of the things people still seem to avoid is the b word. And I guess it doesn’t seem like a problem, from the outside. Gays have the right to marry, right? We shouldn’t complain! Everything is absolutely awesome and great.
But the fact that people are just beginning to talk about bisexuality is an issue. A large one. When you are treated like you don’t exist, you start to feel invisible. It’s not just other people who doubt your existence – you doubt your own.
Like, let’s talk about the fact that I still sometimes wonder if I’ve made up my sexuality. I don’t know many people who are bisexual in real life, but they’re all over the Internet. There are groups and meetings and readings. It should feel real.
The thing is, it doesn’t always. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a phase. I remind myself that bisexuality is actually a thing, and wonder why I even doubt myself. It’s not like there are people constantly telling me that bisexuality is bad.
Actually, bisexuality is mocked all of the time – subtly, without anyone uttering the name. Lots of characters, so many that I can’t even count, have a “curious period.” Usually girls. I refer to this as the “sexy phase,” which I got from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Scenario: young lady goes to college. She meets another girl. They date. Have sex. Kiss. Whatever. After college, the relationship is over. They get married to an all-American guy, and don’t ever mention it again, except as a joke.
One of my favorite movies, Scott Pilgrim, has a scene between the love interest, Ramona, and her ex-girlfriend. She says all sorts of things that make me grind my teeth every time I rewatch. Including, but not limited to:
-“It was just a phase.”
-“It meant nothing. I didn’t think it would count.”
-“I was just a little bi-curious.”
So whatever. Sexuality is fluid, and lots of people explore, right? But that was the first time I’d ever even heard the word, and even then, the entire concept was being mocked. Bisexuality was ridiculous, and if you took it seriously, it was your own fault.
Even when there are characters who actually seem to be bisexual, bisexuality is never explicitly stated. I guess we can say that labels don’t matter, but they sure do seem to matter to other queer characters.
Off the top of my head, I can think of Connor and Jude from The Fosters, Cosima from Orphan Black, Sense8’s Lito, Mitchell and Cam from Modern Family, and, like, half of the cast of Glee, all announcing that they were queer.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s totally cool. But why can’t bisexual people have the same?
If you’ve seen me on Twitter, you know that I’m constantly talking about my bisexuality. That’s because it’s something that I feel safe saying, but I’m trying to remind myself that it can actually be a real thing. Being bisexual is weird, because I’m invisible. I don’t belong in the “straight club” or the “queer club.”
I don’t feel comfortable talking to the gay kids at school about sexuality, because I know there are people who think that bisexuality isn’t real, so much so that they get insulted at the sound of the word. It’s odd, knowing that a group of people who were once outcasts themselves are still turning people away.
Someone once told me that I have to disclose to lesbians that I’m bisexual before getting into a relationship with them, because there are so many lesbians who are biphobic. Apparently, there are women who might physically hurt me because I’m not just attracted to girls.
I’ve seen people get angry at bisexual girls who bring their boyfriends to Pride. Bisexual kids mocked for identifying as queer, because “they aren’t really.”
I’ve talked to adults about my sexuality and been told that bisexuality is a phase. My mother used to think that bisexuality means that I must be in a polygamous relationship. Even now, she is hesitant to let me hang out with both girl and guy friends. Because, apparently, being bisexual means that I’m attracted to every single person I see.
This scares me so much so, that I haven’t been to Pride, anywhere. I don’t know what it’s like. I worry that they’ll kick me out because I’m not queer enough.
There are so many bisexual stereotypes. I’m not saying that there aren’t other stereotypes for lesbian/gay people, but it seems to be that they’re slowly being overturned. There are lots lesbian/gay people on TV and in movies, and the amount is slowly increasing.
There are so many famous people coming out as gay. There’s Neil Patrick Harris and Jodie Foster and Ellen Page and Matt Bomer, and what feels like a thousand other people.
When famous people like Angelina Jolie or Freddie Mercury are bisexual, it’s glazed over. People decide to make their own definitions, and just decide that Angelina went through a “wild phase.” Evan Rachel Wood is the one famous person I know of who is openly bisexual, and even then, people give her a hard time about it.
It’s even more condensed in books. Even if books don’t have gay/lesbian characters as leads, there is usually someone sprinkled in the background.
I, like many other people, read to learn about new things. Even when people aren’t exactly reading to learn, they do it without meaning to. Many teens have learned about their gay/lesbian peers through reading books about them, like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda or the Miseducation of Cameron Post.
There’s one book I’ve read with an explicitly bisexual main character: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz. It’s the only book that actually shows the struggle it is to be a bisexual teenager. Friends who have read it can understand what I’m going through, what I mean, without me having to explain feelings I’m still discovering by myself.
Some people say that the things we read about in books or see in TV shows and movies aren’t important. But they are extremely important for people who aren’t seen in real life. A light is shed on you when you’re accurately portrayed in a story.
So many teens learn about the world and themselves through the media they consume. I learn from the books I read and the shows I watch and the movies I go to see. When groups of people are omitted, we are taught that these people don’t exist. They aren’t as important as those displayed.
Stories don’t fix everything, but they can most definitely bring awareness. Let’s use them to change the world – or, at first, society’s view of bisexuality.
Camryn Garrett is a teenager who thinks that she’s too awkward to function. She blogs at the Huffington Post when she isn’t ranting about racism or sexism, and has a laptop named Walden. When she grows up, she wants to be “better than Lena Dunham.” Reach her at @dancingofpens on Twitter.
by Claire Spaulding
When I first started brainstorming for this post, I came up with a list of what I want to see in bisexual YA: more badass bisexual ladies going on adventures! Swoon-worthy romance with happy endings! Bisexual pirates! Seriously, guys, where are my bisexual YA pirate novels?!
But then I moved beyond what I want in bisexual YA right now, and I started thinking about what I wanted in bisexual YA back when I really, deeply needed good bisexual YA. Which was when I was questioning.
And I realized that, at the bottom of a long wish list that includes pirates and adventures and happily-ever-afters, I’m actually still searching for what I needed back then: more nuance and diversity in the way that bisexual stories get told. Books that explore an array of complicated, subtle experiences of bisexuality that don’t fit into the conventional bisexual narrative. Bisexual books that welcome, include, and validate.
Diverse representation in literature provides mirrors for people who don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream culture, but when we look into those mirrors, we can’t always recognize ourselves. Sometimes, we don’t want to recognize ourselves. Sometimes, we’ve just been taught to look away. Don’t make eye contact. Pretend we never looked in the first place.
For the questioning teen, especially the questioning teen who might end up identifying as bi or pan or polysexual, the overrepresentation of clearly-defined gay and lesbian characters in queer YA literature can provide plenty of excuses to look away. “Oh, that character isn’t attracted to people of a different gender–I’m not like them.” “Oh, that character has always known that they’re gay–I’m definitely not like them.”
Queer YA tends to validate gay and lesbian identities with a force and clarity it doesn’t grant to bisexuality. And when queer YA does validate bisexuality, it only tends to do so in two very specific and limiting ways: either the bisexual character has had relationships with at least one boy and one girl in the past, or the bisexual character is currently in a love triangle with exactly one boy and one girl (I say boy and girl because queer YA suffers from a truly appalling dearth of nonbinary characters).
Made out with a girl? Check. Made out with a boy? Check. Congrats, you’re a genuine bisexual! Please proceed to the Bisexual Registration Office to submit your paperwork and confirm your status. No, you haven’t checked those boxes? Sorry, but why exactly do you think you belong here?
This trope spreads the insidious idea that, while straight kids and gay kids can know their identity instinctively, bisexual kids “can’t know for sure until it happens,” i.e. until they’ve had positive sexual or romantic experiences with people of multiple genders. While gay and lesbian kids also hear that message from the straight world, I think it’s something bisexual kids are more likely to internalize. After all, most of us are attracted to people of the “opposite” gender. So when we start to explore queer spaces, we get imposter syndrome. That nagging feeling that we need to do more to prove to others, and ourselves, that we belong. I’ve experienced that, and I’ve heard it from nearly all of my questioning friends at one point or another.
And that’s so harmful. It’s not as though we’re all asleep in a glass coffin of heteronormativity and being kissed by someone of the same gender is the only way to wake up. There are tons of valid ways to figure out one’s identity, and sexual experimentation is only one of them.
Which is another reason why the checklist approach to bisexual representation is harmful: the trope reinforces the stereotype that bisexual people are inherently more promiscuous than people of other orientations, which spreads a negative image of bisexuality and alienates the many bisexual teens who aren’t sexually active and don’t necessarily want to be.
Robyn Ochs’ inclusive definition of bisexuality reads as follows: “The potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Where is the space in bisexual YA for questioning teens? For teens with no sexual or romantic experience? For teens who experience attraction in complicated and messy ways, teens who haven’t always known, teens who have only ever been in serious relationships with people of one gender?
Where, in other words, is the space in queer YA for bisexual teens whose identities can’t be summed up in a series of checkboxes?
We need to use bisexual YA to welcome teens who find it difficult to access the majority of queer YA. We need complexity, nuance, inclusivity and positivity.
We need to create gentler mirrors. Mirrors that don’t make it so easy for questioning teens to look away.
At the end of the day, here’s the core of my wishlist for bisexual YA:
- Characters who self-identify as bisexual, pansexual, and polysexual. For contemporary fiction, at least one of those specific words needs to be used. In other genres, characters must still define their own identities clearly in contextually appropriate language.
- Books with multiple bisexual characters who experience bisexuality differently.
- Characters who start off questioning, end up questioning, and reject other characters’ attempts to label them as gay or straight along the way.
- Bisexual characters who have not been in relationships with people of multiple genders.
- Bisexual characters who do not end up having relationships or sexual experiences with people of multiple genders.
- Aro/ace-spectrum bisexual/biromantic characters.
- Bisexual and questioning characters with friends, both queer and straight, who affirm their identities and accept them as valid members of the queer community.
- Bisexual characters supporting other bisexual characters.
And, of course, pirates.
Claire Spaulding is a writer and college student. While she procrastinates on her latest novel, she can usually be found playing piano, drinking tea, crying over musical theatre, and reading as much diverse fantasy and science fiction as she can find. Her short story “Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Apocalypse” was published in Daily Science Fiction in February 2015.
Bisexual Awareness Week Series: Day 1 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series
by Shira Glassman
When I was a little girl, it took me until I was fourteen to realize that the way I liked girls counted as that way. Looking back, it was pretty obvious; I was obsessed with the cute blonde detective on Mathnet at age six and the Egyptian princess in The Ten Commandments at seven; at nine I talked about boobs an awful lot (my name for them, at the time, was “blossoms.”)
But I had no idea that counted as anything – because of a highly attractive male opera singer I’d also noticed as a youngster. You see, I hadn’t been introduced to the concept of bisexuality at all. Somehow in a lack of bi visibility it literally never occurred to me that you could like more than one gender at once.
The reason this is bad for bi kids is that we grow up in an environment that teaches that as long as you like the “appropriate” gender, your other attractions don’t matter and shouldn’t be acknowledged, explored, celebrated, or inform your choice of eventual serious long-term partner or spouse.
CAN I GET A NO, PLEASE.
YA literature can play its own part in establishing–or refuting–the idea that clear evidence of a boy liking a girl or a girl liking a boy is inherent proof of straightness. If a bi kid is reading a book and the book acts like bisexuality doesn’t exist, it reinforces that lack of awareness. “Maybe,” says the kid while turning the pages, “what I feel doesn’t matter, and I’m straight.”
An otherwise excellent book throws out a line implying that a boy flirting with another boy automatically means he won’t be interested in women ever… and a bi kid absorbs that. (And so do the straight and gay readers!)
I love how the bi girl Brianna in Dahlia Adler’s recent summer release Under the Lights knows exactly what she is — she’s bi, and she’s in a relationship with a girl. This provides modeling for scared bi kids that they, too, can be confident that their other-gender attractions don’t negate, invalidate, or sully their same-gender ones. This also provides a much-needed reminder that bi girls can and DO choose girls.
That’s the same kind of reassurance I’m going for by frequently writing bisexual characters in same-sex relationships. If someone picks up Climbing the Date Palm, they’ll see in Aviva a reminder that bi ladies can choose ladies and that some women in f/f relationships are bi, and they’ll see in Prince Kaveh a reminder that a man’s past girlfriend doesn’t rule out the chance that he might be interested in a boyfriend in the future. I hope Yael, the bi trans woman in my upcoming The Olive Conspiracy (2016, Prizm Books), will give readers the hint that trans people, like cis people, come in all orientations.
There also needs to be representation in YA for other bisexual experiences – bi girls who have boyfriends, bi teens who have a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time. I’m sure these books are out there but I haven’t read every book yet; bisexual-books on Tumblr can hopefully help you out if that’s what you’re looking for. Naturally, of course, we need more of them, and beyond that – and in the meantime – we need our “girls who love girls” and “boys who love boys” books to try if possible to stay away from bisexual erasure or narratives where attraction to more than one gender ONLY appear in connection with flaky, untrustworthy, backstabbing characters.
(Disclaimer that I’m definitely not asking for every same-gender-attracted character to be bisexual. That would make me really uncomfortable and be its own type of erasure.)
My goal would be a world where people who experience other-gender attraction feel just as justified pursuing their same-gender attractions (romantic, sexual, or both) as people who only experience same-gender attraction. And of course, people who only experience same-gender attraction should feel completely justified. After all, the straight world is largely telling BOTH groups to shut the hell up and be straight. I feel that healthy representation in YA literature is one of the ways we can create that world, where a girl will see it modeled for her by fictional girls just like her that her all-consuming crush on a male TV star doesn’t mean she shouldn’t ask out Sarah from biology; where a boy won’t assume his crush on the same celebrity is just “something that happens to all boys” and should be ignored, because a bi boy in a book he read liked more than one gender.
Have you read a book that unexpectedly reassured you that yes, there was someone else out there like you, that your feelings were real, that you were telling the truth about yourself after all? I’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s lesbianism, bisexuality, transness, nonbinary identity, an intersection between gender/sexuality and your ethnicity, ethnoreligious group, or disability, or another issue of marginalization, please comment and tell us!
Shira Glassman is a bisexual violinist living in North Florida with her agender same-sex spouse and the worst-behaved but prettiest cat in the world. (Seriously, stop eating cardboard boxes!) She draws on her Jewish heritage, her childhood in South Florida, and the German and French operas she adores for writing inspiration. Shira’s Climbing the Date Palm was a double finalist in the 2015 Bisexual Book Awards. Her next offering is a short f/f paranormal story, “Wet Nails”, in which a bi lady of today hooks up with the ghost of a bi lady of the past, contrasting the different ways the times they live in has affected their ability to express their love for women. “Wet Nails” appears in Torquere’s Haunted Hotties Anthology Vol. 1 on October 14, and will also be available as a separate eBook download.
Welcome to GayYA’s Bisexual Awareness Week Series!
Bisexual Awareness Week is a yearly event that “exists to help draw attention to the public policy concerns of bisexual people while also celebrating the great resiliency of bisexual culture and community.” (Find out more about it here http://www.bisexualweek.com/about/ and keep an eye on the #BiWeek hashtag!)
During Bisexual Awareness Week, we’ll feature posts from bisexual/biromantic contributors on various issues surrounding bisexuality in YA. We have a FANTASTIC line up of posts, and we’re so excited to share them with you all!
The Awareness Week series are something we’ve started doing for all of the LGBTQIA+ Awareness Weeks throughout the year. Though we hope to include everyone on our site at all times, we’ve found that dedicating a specific and concentrated space to a community to talk about issues of how they’re represented in YA can produce phenomenal results.
A big part of Bisexual Awareness Week is Celebrate Bisexuality Day (also called Bi Visibility Day) on September 23rd. During Bi Visibility Day, we’ll be be tweeting throughout the day, to chat as a community about bisexuality in YA and recommend to each other our fave bisexual YA books. Though a focus will be given to supporting bisexual voices within the community, everyone is welcome to join in!
And now, let the series begin!
We’re thrilled to be hosting the last post of Pat Schmatz’s book release blog tour. Pat’s new book, Lizard Radio, is out in stores today! You should make sure and pick up a copy– not only is it a phenomenal read, it is also our pick for GayYA’s October Book Club. 😀
Check out all the stops on the blog tour, and enter the giveaway here!
|YA Books Central||The Pirate Tree|
|TeenReads||The Children’s Book Review|
|KidLit Frenzy||The Book Rat|
|Swoony Boys Podcast||Gay YA|
Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither?
Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.
Hello Gay YA. When I started writing Lizard Radio, you did not yet exist. Now you do, and I do, and the world is changing.
I cannot tell you what a relief it was to write a book about a teen who is like me. Kivali is not me, but the ease of writing a teen with much of my core, essential experience of the world was amazing. It was a gift I could not have imagined when I started writing for teens at the age of 24.
I was out as a lesbian but I didn’t have a word for my experience of gender. Some words came close – androgynous, butch, dyke, tomboy – but they weren’t quite right. Radical feminism gave me a solid political and emotional foundation for my personal life, but when it came to working with kids at that time, anything gay was poison. I was carefully closeted in my writing, and kept any queer content in code.
I didn’t have to do that. I could have been fully myself from the start. But you see, I wanted to break into the business. I wanted to sell books. I didn’t know how to write my own experience in a way that people would buy or read. I thought it would always be like that.
It’s not like that anymore. It really isn’t.
I first heard Kathleen and Vee of Gay YA read at an open mic for young writers almost a year ago. They blew me away. Their writing was technically terrific, yes. But the words they were writing? That’s what got my attention. They were truly fierce. They made me want to be better, to do better. They made me write better.
I am so grateful for this generation. I can’t begin to tell you. They are giving me, at age 53, inspiration to keep learning and blasting away old ideas, to speak my truth, to try and be as fierce and bold as they are. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it. I’m too encumbered by years of silencing myself, of being silenced by others. But I can try.
Lizard Radio is me standing over here on the island of my youth, waving furiously at the queer kids and trans kids and the young activists of all kinds – hollering to them “Hey, I’m here! See me? I’m oldish now, but I was once like you are and I’m still like you are and you are raising me these days as much as I’m raising you and THANK YOU.”
This world is still difficult, still dangerous. As of this writing in mid-August, 13 trans people have been murdered in the U.S., almost all people of color under the age of 30. Then there are all the young people who kill themselves, or those who shut up, duck and cover, pass when they can and stay silent when they can’t, those who are just trying to survive childhood and high school and emerge into the world unscathed. It’s safer on Main Street now, but not in the back alleys. We have some new safety in numbers, but we’re also a threat in our numbers and the backlash is wicked.
My dream is that Lizard Radio helps at least one young person take a step toward living their truth, knowing they should and will be loved and appreciated for exactly who they are (whatever and whoever that may be). This book is my first uncoded effort to stand up and say, “Hello my young friends, I am here and I stand with you, bringing all of my privilege of race and education and the security that comes with the invisibility and respectability of aging. We need you. I need you. Bring on your activism, your social media networking, your voices and your truth. Don’t let them shut you up, okay? Do what you need to stay safe, but do not let them shut you up. At the very least, speak the truth in your own mind until the day comes when you’re safe to speak it out loud. Then speak it, and speak it loud.”
Pat grew up in rural Wisconsin and has lived in Michigan, California, and Minnesota. In addition to writing, she’s interested in language study (ASL, Italian, Japanese and Spanish), drawing/cartooning, travel and anything outdoors. She occasionally teaches writing on-line and in person, and is always happy for a chance to visit a middle school or high school classroom. Her #1 favorite hobby, relaxation and adventure has been the same since she was little – stories. Stories in books, music, art, dance – it’s all about the story. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.