Pride Month Blogathon: Day 4 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Kiana Nguyen
I kissed my first girlfriend in 2011 when I was 18, and it was the first kiss that held my entire heart. I was excited, I was anxious, I was so happy to finally have them in my arms I felt close to bursting. I was so scared of finally feeling real that I wanted to run.
Kissing Casey*, who later came out as genderqueer and trans, was an experience so unreal and so right, I felt starved for the joy that rushed through me. Just minutes earlier I was running through the shoulder to shoulder crowd at NYC Pride, trying to locate the person who’d been stealing my wits for weeks on Tumblr. I’d fallen hard and quick for them, relishing the feeling of being liked back. Of being liked as a girl who was finally discovering that she wasn’t broken or lacking for not having a boyfriend or liking boys.
I did like someone and I liked Drew. I liked talking about my crush to friends in terms that fit, with pronouns that weren’t “he, him, and his.” Even if they didn’t always understand, even as I heard whispers of ‘I told you so” behind my back. I felt seen, I felt heard, and most of all I felt like myself.
When I think about why I write YA, and why I focus on queer characters, I think about Tegan and Sara (yes, that band of lesbian sisters that all gay ladies in their mid-twenties and above are obsessed with or at least know of). I was introduced to them by a friend during a particularly dismal math class. The Canadian band wasn’t my first dalliance with lesbians or queer people in the media – I grew up during the time of The L Word, after all, but for one, I saw myself in the quirky sisters. Tegan and Sara were warm and approachable, funny and down to earth. They were the first queer women that I saw parts of myself in, and I was so deeply in love with Sara that I made Tumblr to follow fan blogs, music, shows, etc.
I found my first queer spaces and made my first queer friends. I soon discovered media with gay ladies (I wasn’t incredibly intersectional at this point in my life, but also queer media is overwhelmingly cisgender and white) in relationships. IN LOVE! I quickly became obsessed with the U.K. show SKINS because of Emily and Lily, whose romance was slow and sweet and stumbling and raw. Really, thank God for Tumblr because there are so many queer people hungering for representation in media that once a television show, movie, or book drops with an inkling of queerness it will appear on your dash like a gift. Just make sure to cultivate a community of LGBTQIA+ angels! Tumblr gave us a platform to be free. Allowed us to be messy queer babies, finding out exactly who we were, exactly who we liked, exactly who we wanted to become in the safety of each others’ love and friendship. There are so many people I know from Tumblr who eventually felt safe enough to come out as trans, as asexual, as gay, etc, etc. Even if we couldn’t be out and proud in the streets of our cities, we could be in our safe space of the internet.
I think about that space and how it led me to kissing Casey* at Pride, where we were surrounded by people who loved like us, were like us, believed like us that there were better days ahead for our community. For so many of us, Pride events are the only times we can be who we are. In New York City, it’s also one of the only times queer communal spaces aren’t overwhelmingly white.
Surviving as a young gay teen (I didn’t know I was bisexual then), and a biracial one at that, was one of the loneliest things I had to do. I had little to no role models or stories to look to and hold on to during my darkest times. I didn’t even know that QPOC (Queer people of color) was a thing! That’s why my advocacy for this community is so focused on creating and lifting up queer stories, especially those of queer people of color. I want to create characters and stories that will do for a younger teen what Tegan and Sara did for me. It’s so important to me to build an inclusive YA market and community, where gay, bi, trans, queer and Black, Asian, and Native, are more than a tossed-aside mention of a side character. I want YA protagonists that are like so many of the queer people I’ve come to know and love, like so many of the real life people that exist – so that a safe community can be made for all queer teens, whether that’s in a pocket of the internet or a book club.
So that young teens can have an anchor to guide them to the moment they can love themselves and be loved back as freely as they deserve.
Kiana Nguyen is a biracial bisexual who loves alliterated phrases. She is a YA writer who doubles as an intern and social media coordinator at Donald Maass Literary Agency. When she’s not devouring avocados, she dedicates her time to making YA fiction queerer and blacker for current and future teens. You can find her wildly off-color tweets @kianangu.