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).