Guest Post by Foxglove Lee
I want to tell you about a certain birthday dinner prepared by a certain special girl, which went on to become a certain YA comedy short called Happy Birthday, Klutzface! I want to tell you about it because it was about as far from perfection as any celebration could possibly be.
We all want our lives to run smoothly, am I right? Smooth is, after all, the path of least resistance. Rocky terrain is fine for hiking, but we don’t want our relationships to be jagged or unstable. That goes double (triple… quadruple!) for special occasions. Home-cooked birthday dinners, for instance. Everything needs to be perfect.
My sweetie pie and I usually go out to eat, especially if we’re celebrating something. This year, when my birthday came around, I opted for a meal at “home.” Like Mila in Happy Birthday, Klutzface! I happened to be housesitting on my birthday. As a result, I had access to an amaaaazing kitchen: gas stove, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances. So much more luxurious than my kitchen the size of a postage stamp, or Dee’s broken down, peeling-vinyl place.
Dee has cooked for me before. Girl’s got talent, so I had high expectations. I was really looking forward to my birthday dinner. She arrived at my (borrowed) house after work, loaded up with bags of groceries, marinating meat in a cooler, and a black forest cake in a white bakery box.
It was all downhill from there.
I won’t go into tremendous detail, since I superimposed my life directly onto Happy Birthday, Klutzface! but I will say this: when you’re fanning an ear-splitting fire alarm with a tea towel while your girlfriend curses burnt meat (alongside cries of, “It’s not my fault! I’ve never cooked with gas!”) and all you can think is, “This is gonna make a great story!”… well, that’s a pretty good sign you were born to be a writer.
Fiction becomes a filter for life. Stories like this one, which is so close to lived experience that I can still taste the lopsided birthday cake, become a way of processing weird stuff that happens. Things don’t always go as planned. We know that. Stuff gets screwed up, one thing gets overthrown by another, she cuts her finger, the cat throws up… and you always have the option of getting worked up about it.
I have a history of becoming… oh, let’s say “irritated” when things don’t go my way. At times, I’ve had trouble acting maturely when plans didn’t work. I could be juvenile, not as compassionate as I wanted to be, not as charitable or as understanding.
But being a writer has helped me to see the big picture, even while the house is filling with smoke. This too shall pass. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it. In the moment, we deal. When the moment has passed, we realize it wasn’t so terrible after all. After a while, we laugh.
That birthday dinner was terrible. The worst! But I didn’t stress about it. I knew, even in the midst of catastrophe, that it would make a funny story.
Foxglove Lee is a former aspiring Broadway Baby who now writes queer fiction for young adults. She tries not to be too theatrical, but her characters often take over. Follow Foxglove on Twitter @foxglovelee or stay tuned to her blog (foxglovelee.blogspot.com) for exciting announcements!
I’m awkward and it’s something I’ve accepted I will never grow out of. In fact, it seems to have worsened with time. Looking back on the years I spent as a teenager with body issues and a twisting tornado of sexual confusion chasing my every thought, I wish I could go back and give my teen self a hug, point to some recent events and explain how at least my teen self hasn’t gone through this yet.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m better on paper. In person, I’m a sweaty mess of stumbling words and rude statements. I don’t know why I blurt things out to strangers which should never be spoken in polite company. It’s like my awkwardness has become my personal enemy and, as a villain, has made its mission to make me appear as a bumbling idiot no matter how hard I try. Have you ever felt like this?
Last summer I was at an ice cream stand and the cashier used one of those card swipes which plugs into a cell phone to take my debit card payment. Thankfully, there were only adults nearby when I caught sight of this magical card swipe and blurted, “Man, I bet hookers use the heck out of those things!”
Why? Why would I ever say something like that?
As a teen, I thought simply being an adult would sweep away all my insecurities, word fumbles and missteps. Turns out, my awkwardness had little to do with shifting hormones and whether or not it was okay to like girls instead of boys or like both.
Old or young, whether we have our lives in order or are just beginning, if we’re lucky we’ll all continue to have moments we wish could be different. We’ll wish we hadn’t worn that particular dress to that certain event or wish we’d kept our mouths shut instead of saying something ridiculous which can never be unsaid. Moments like these mean we’re putting ourselves out there, testing boundaries and daring to LIVE.
You know the best thing about being an author? I get to put my characters into untenable situations, make them screw up and break down, then I get to build them back up and watch them become better than they were before their struggles. Check out Jay, the main character in the first book of my LGBT New Adult Urban Fantasy series, Caged in Myth. He has all the regular issues of a teenager, plus some of the life-or-death supernatural variety.
J. T. Fairfield is the author of:
Contest closes 4/22/13!
Caged in Myth by J.T. Fairfield
The Bayou Zoo, where magic is real, the beasts are deadly, and a bad day at work can literally mean the end of the world.
Octavian Julius McKellter— “Jay” to everyone who doesn’t want a punch in the face— struggles with keeping the secrets of his supernatural community and his own secret…he’s gay. Throw in a dose of danger, deceit, and Louisiana heat, and you’ll find yourself CAGED IN MYTH.
Congratulations, young writer, you live in a time unlike any other in modern history. It’s a time filled with incredible opportunities not seen since the advent of the printing press.You live in a time where your words can reach millions almost instantaneously. You live in a time where gatekeepers (like traditional publishers) no longer exist, though, honestly for some, a good edit could come in handy. You live in a time where the character reflecting your life no longer need to be veiled.
This, perhaps, is most important to you, as a LGBTQ writer.
Now, I’m not the most well-read guy. After the standard high-school literature and the smattering of classes I had in college, I’m mostly a popular fiction reader. With that background, I can’t think of a single, major character from a mainstream book that was gay until Dumbledore–and he was in what was, ostensibly, a children’s book!
When I realized what J.K. Rowling had done, my head nearly exploded. Not only had Dumbledore been revealed as the greatest wizard of all time in her world, he was the one character that main character, Harry–of course, trusted above all others. He was the source of knowledge, and the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, the good guys. But, he was gay. All of his other character traits, his stature in the book, were not affected in the slightest by his sexuality.
That was a lesson to me. If I break it down, it’s this: your characters don’t have to start out with the single foundation of being gay, straight or even asexual. Like our development as people, we don’t pop out of the womb desperate to watch Glee–even though we may know we are somehow different. We grow into who we are, and so should the characters we write.
So, how should this revelation affect our writing?
Well, I, for one, think that our characters and stories should come from our imaginations. Our characters will reveal themselves to us over time. If they’re gay or straight, shouldn’t stop you from writing their adventures, and don’t let that stop you from writing for a more general audience than just the “gay” marketplace. (Besides, I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of the same “coming out” stories. I want more than that for our community.)
It’s important that readers of all kinds find our work accessible and interesting. Gay characters–whether they’re main or incidental–help to create worlds that reflect real life and just might foster greater understanding in our world.
Living in his hometown of Seattle after graduating from Emerson, Reese Delaney works for a large corporation by day, and by night, creates new worlds of his very own. He loves coffee and the coffee crowd where he draws his writing inspiration.
We were alerted to this great project, and we wanted to make sure y’all knew about it!
From the press release:
“Award-winning author Lyndsey D’Arcangelo announced a national story call-out for her new groundbreaking anthology series, My Story Is Out: High School Years.
My Story Is Out: High School Years (MSIO) is intended to be a collection of personal real-life stories about surviving high school as an LGBT teen and coming out on the other side. “In working with LGBT youth through numerous writing workshops, I’ve discovered that they enjoy sharing their personal stories with each other,” said D’Arcangelo. “What better place to do that than an exciting new anthology series?”
The national story call-out for the anthology is open to straight, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered individuals 25 years old and younger. “We are looking for humorous, heart-warming, wistful and inspiring stories,” D’Arcangelo explained. “If you have a story to tell about your personal experience that is sure to touch the hearts, lives and souls of LGBT teens all over the world, then we would love to read it and consider it for publication.”
The MSIO anthology is being publishing by Publishing Syndicate and is slated for nationwide release in fall 2012. Those contributors whose stories make final publication will receive compensation. Story submission guidelines can be found at www.MyStoryIsOut.com.”
Be sure to join us at 4 PM EST today for another #GayYA chat on Twitter!
During a recent #GayYA chat, Lucas and Robin both expressed dissatisfaction with the term “Just Happening to Be LGBTQ”. We asked them to tell us more about it . This is Part 2 of the post they wrote for us on “Just Happening to Be Gay”. Do you agree?
Robin: I think there is a tendency to lump “about being LGBT” and “coming out stories” in together. Whereas I don’t think either one of those things can ever really stand alone. But whether a character is especially focused right now on coming out or on saving the world or on getting onto a reality TV show or whatever, if they’re LGBT, it’s going to matter.
If two boys are on a date it’s a different thing than a boy and girl going on a date. They have to think about things like “Is it safe for us to hold hands here?” “If he’s not out, then how will we handle it if we see someone we know while we’re out together?” etc. Straight couples, not so much, usually.
Lucas: Not to mention the unknowns of sexuality before the date even happens ― the LGBT community isn’t usually a “visible” minority. If a boy has a crush on another boy, the first thing he has to wonder is, “Is he gay too?” and potentially “How do I ask him out without the risk of getting punched in the face?”
Robin: Oh yes! Yes, this, so much! Looking for tiny signs and then being CRUSHED when you realize you misinterpreted them.
Lucas: Been there!
Robin: “I think she’s into me! She was totally flirting with me during gym! … Wait, why is she making out with that dude?”
OK, now I’m just having flashbacks. This is embarrassing. But anyway! Yes, all the tiny ways in which LGBTness makes day-to-day life, especially dating, a very different animal.
And no, as the writer you don’t have to dwell on those things ― we always have to make choices about what to include in our stories. So one could decide to leave that stuff out, if one were primarily concerned with making the character’s sexuality NOT the focus of the story. But then, I would argue, one would be a disingenuous storyteller. Disingenuous to LGBT teens, who deserve to have their entire stories told, because that hasn’t actually been happening for very long.
Lucas: I think even if you don’t focus on it in your writing, it still has to be present, or the character isn’t realistic.
I think there’s such a breadth of what stories do need to be told. All aspects of LGBT life, especially in high school.
It doesn’t need to be about coming out ― though we still absolutely need coming out stories. But LGBT teens need all the types of stories that straight teens have had for decades. We’ve had the stories about drug addiction, for instance. But how is that different when the addict is LGBT? Does that affect why they’re an addict, or how they deal with it, or the other problems they must deal with simultaneously?
Robin: Also? This may be controversial but I think even in gay-utopia alternate universes where coming/being out isn’t an issue, I still want to know stuff about the character’s LGBTness.
Lucas: Absolutely. Just because it’s a non-issue culturally doesn’t mean it’s not going to affect the person. They still have to deal with being in the minority, for instance.
And (speaking of controversial), while escapism is certainly nice, and I’d like to think about a world in which being LGBT is completely within the norm, if you manage to write a story where being LGBT would truly not affect the character at all (which as the entire previous discussion suggests, I don’t think is really possible), that seems to no longer be dealing with an issue that speaks to me as a gay person. To me, reading about an LGBT character is about dealing with being an LGBT person, even if just in the small ways.
Robin: Wow. Hmm. I can see that. I can also see the case, though, for losing yourself in a fairy-tale-like world with yourself cast as the hero, where you don’t have to suspend disbelief about the heterosexual romance. I think that holds particular value for teens who truly just want to forget about their LGBTness for a while.
Like, I watched Princess Bride over and over and over when I was eleven, and if there had been a Princess Bride with Wesley as a chick, I’d have watched it at least 80 gazillion more times.
Lucas: Ha! A fair point! And I certainly can’t speak for all LGBT people or writers out there. But even then, as we’ve discussed, it would make a difference to the story, small as it may be.
Robin: Right! If, in Princess Bride, Wesley had been a chick, it would have totally emasculated Prince Humperdinck. Even better comeuppance! But I would want to see Prince Humperdinck actively addressing the fact that Wesley was a chick and that he, the Prince, was obviously not doing it for Buttercup in that department.
But mostly they’d all still just have spent the movie running around the hills swordfighting and such, same as ever.
Lucas: Haha, yep! And Buttercup would too have been dealing with more than just not being in love with Humperdinck.
No matter the situation, making a character LGBT is going to affect the story. Even if it’s just in a small way! It is, in fact, those small ways that matter most.
They’re what make the difference between a character trait like that being tacked on, and having actual organic, realistic characters and situations.
Robin: Yes. And the dangerous thing is when you try to write around those traits in the name of making sure your character “just happens to be” whatever.
Well-rounded characters are well-rounded in every single aspect of their being. You need to sit and think about the impact of every single aspect of your character’s identity on how they act, how their lives work, etc. Even when it’s hard. As it often is when we’re writing about characters who are different from us.
Lucas: And it needs to be a conscious choice. If you do it, do it because it’s what right, because it’s what you want to do. Not just to have a token LGBT character (who “just happens to be” LGBT)!
For those of us who are, it does affect us in huge ways. There’s not a day goes by that the fact that I’m gay doesn’t make some difference in my life. Even if it’s that I had the opportunity to take part in this chat!
Robin: Haha, yes. (Although of course our ever-lovable non-LGBT friends are welcome to chat as well. GayYA is a discrimination-free zone!)
What about the rest of you? How do you feel about the “just happens to be” terminology, if you’ve come across it before?
Lucas J.W. Johnson writes speculative fiction, queer fiction, and YA fiction — often all at once. Visit him at http://lucasjwjohnson.com, http://silverstringmedia.com or on Twitter at @floerianthebard.
During a recent #GayYA chat, Lucas and Robin both expressed dissatisfaction with the term “Just Happening to Be LGBTQ”. We asked them to tell us more about it . This is Part 1 of a 2 Part post they wrote for us on “Just Happening to Be Gay”. Enjoy!
Robin Talley: So we discovered in a recent #gayya chat on Twitter that we’re both peeved by, and have gone so far as to blog about, the frequently expressed desire by many readers to see more books with characters who “just happen to be LGBT.”
Now, I can understand where people are coming from when they say this, but nonetheless it drives me up the wall. And you too, right?
Lucas J.W. Johnson: Absolutely. I’ve seen it when talking about real people too. And I know what they’re meaning to say. They’re meaning to be supportive, to say that being LGBT isn’t the only thing that defines a character. Which is true. But that’s not the end of the story.
Robin: Right, totally. I think with books people usually just use the phrase as a shorthand term for when they really mean something like, “I wish there were more paranormal thrillers with LGBT characters in them.” Which is obviously a very understandable desire.
Lucas: Yes, and one that I share! The problem I find with it is that the shorthand term almost seems to downplay that part of the character, like them being gay isn’t really important.
Robin: Absolutely. If a character is LGBT, I as a reader WANT to know about that aspect of the character’s life. I want to know about it now as an adult reader, but I would’ve wanted to know about it a lot more when I was 16.
People don’t just “happen” to be anything. And there’s a certain dismissive tone to the “just happens to be” phrase that I think is generally not intended. Just “happening” to be LGBT is not the same thing as just happening to have green eyes.
Lucas: Exactly. Unlike, as you say, having green eyes, being LGBT hugely affects a person in many many ways.
Robin: It very much does. If the main character of a story is knowingly LGBT, and the story doesn’t take place in an alternate universe in which sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a complete non-issue, then to some degree the book has to be at least a little bit “about” that, if it’s an authentic representation of the character’s life.
Lucas: Yep. You can’t just pass off that aspect of the character. It will affect how they grew up and developed, their relationships with parents and friends, obviously their love life, and their relationship with society as a whole.
Robin: And little day-to-day things too. Especially if we’re talking about high school, where your social life is your ENTIRE life.
Lucas: And not only is the social life your entire life, but it’s when you’re first really discovering your sexuality, having your first relationships… It’s hugely important.
Robin: Not to mention that the bulk of teenagers’ time that is not actively engaged in the having of a social life is spent talking with other teenagers ABOUT their social lives.
When I was a teenager I didn’t read books with LGBT characters, because I didn’t know such things existed (I was stuck furtively renting Go Fish from my local independent video store for cultural representations of lesbianism, which messed me up but good), but if I had, and the story hadn’t addressed that aspect of the character’s life, I’d have been pretty darn frustrated. I mean, the entire reason I started watching Buffy was to see Willow get her gay on.
Lucas: Ha, right??
As a writer, choosing to make a character LGBT isn’t something I can just tack on. It’s not like I plot out a story, develop some interesting characters, and then say “Oh, hey, one of these guys should be gay,” and then make it so. It’s a conscious part of developing a character, and an integral part of a character’s development.
Robin: Totally. My protagonists are always LGBT (though sometimes the particular letter in question surprises me), so I always know that out of the gate, and that informs every decision I make about them when I’m constructing them. I have to decide who they’re out to, when they came out to themselves, how much self-loathing they’re dealing with, how their particular set of friends feels about their orientation and/or identity, how it’s affected their relationships with their lifelong BFFs, and on and on and on. Not to mention figuring out how the LGBT social circles work in their particular environment, community, universe, etc.
Lucas: And even minor characters should have enough of a character of their own to warrant that choice having some effect on the actual writing of the character.
Robin: Totally. One of my favorite things to see in a book is an LGBT side character whose sexual orientation or gender identity is organically woven into the story in a really interesting way, even if it’s not integral to the main plot. My favorite example of this is always the best friend character in How to Ditch Your Fairy — her crush on an older female athlete is just tossed into a scene offhandedly, but it feels very natural. Though I have to admit, I’d always rather the LGBT character take center stage rather than being a side character.
Lucas: Right. When I’m writing a main character who’s gay, and it’s not the primary focus of the story to any degree, it’s not about him coming out or dealing with the reactions of people around him ― but he still has to deal with the reactions of people around him, and he still has different love interests and difficulties than he would were he straight. It affects everything he does and deals with, even in just a small way.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Lucas and Robin’s conversation coming tomorrow! In Part 2, they discuss coming out stories, utopian worlds, The Princess Bride and writing Gay YA!
Lucas J.W. Johnson writes speculative fiction, queer fiction, and YA fiction — often all at once. Visit him at http://lucasjwjohnson.com, http://silverstringmedia.com or on Twitter at @floerianthebard.
Young adult is a category filled with the documentation of firsts—first love being one of the most common. Any story about a teenager is going to be about self-discovery. So it stands to reason that a lot of books about GLBT (or “queer” to cover the gamut and then some) teens will be in large part about the process of coming out.
Personally, I was 28 when I came out and it felt like being 15 again. So if being a teen is about coming out, coming out can sometimes seem an awful lot like being a teen.
That said, some readers are beginning to bemoan the lack of other stories in Y/A with major queer characters. Does every book about queer teens have to be about coming out?
I say absolutely not. Coming out may be an angsty, teen-y experience in many ways, but it is not always so very angsty as to merit a whole novel. Other stories need telling, too. For the kid (or adult reading over a kid’s shoulder) for whom coming out isn’t or wasn’t an earth-shattering process, or for the ones who just want to read about something else, having lived enough of it already, those stories could and should take all kinds of forms.
The fact is that once you’ve gotten past that initial hump of coming out to yourself and to the most important people in your world, it’s not all that interesting to be queer anymore. “Gay” Y/A is going to start needing more than “gay” as a theme if it hopes to engage readers.
As a lesbian in an eight-year (extralegal) marriage with two kids under seven, I can attest to the fact that marriage is pretty much just marriage. My annoyances with my partner are much the same as my straight friends’ annoyances with their husbands. And while living in a heterosexist culture may impact my life in negative ways (eg: the extralegality of my marriage), so does living in a patriarchal culture as a woman, so does living in a racist culture as the (white) mother of African American children
Cultural biases definitely impact people’s lives, but let’s face it, the romance novels people love don’t dwell very much on how much sexism sucks, even though the main characters are usually women. The stories are much more about the specific details of the main characters’ circumstances. While sexism may put certain hurdles in a heroine’s way—perhaps she has to buck convention and marry someone her father doesn’t like—the story is about her relationship with the hero—not the argument with her father.
It is not the duty of fiction writers to make anyone a better person, nor to educate anyone nor to throw life rafts to the drowning. But fiction does have the potential for those kinds of effects (and their opposites and much in between). And if expanding the horizons of readers in general, giving queer kids a glimpse of how It Gets Better, or just affirming that they are people, are people, are people just like their peers, is anywhere at all on a writer’s list of goals, portraying the just-plain-human nuances of relationships between characters who are also queer, should be a to-do.
There are plenty of ways to do it. I have a young adult work-in-progress set in the past and another (not Y/A) work-in-progress set in the future. Both feature many lesbian characters and include strong romantic subplots. Neither book deals much with “coming out” or homophobia, but I consider both to be realistic portrayals of lesbian life and love. How can that be?
My historical story is set in the 1870s and ‘80s, partly in the slums of New York City and partly in the mining country of the Arizona Territory. One of my main characters has been passing as male since running away from an orphan’s home at age nine. At the end of the story, s/he is 19 and happy to be a “man.” Her love interest is conventionally female and their relationship is not worthy of much scrutiny because it passes as heterosexual. As for the self-discovery that they love members of the same sex, it would be historically inaccurate to have them too upset about that. For one thing, passionate relationships between women were acceptable—even committed, life-long ones—in the Victorian era, for another thing, both of my characters accept the passing boy as male. S/he is male-with-a-difference to be sure, but basically, male.
The futuristic story is simply set far enough into that future to imagine that people just don’t care that much about sexuality and gender boundaries the way they do now. One reader was confused by this. She wanted to know why these women weren’t more worried about the impact of being lesbians. Then she wanted me to add an explanation to the story of why they weren’t. I reminded her that in the 21st century, we rarely worry about being traded into arranged marriages as teens by our fathers, the way women did five hundred years ago. Nor do we ever sit around discussing how nice it is that we need not worry about that anymore. (Well, most of the time we don’t!)
Instead of being about being lesbians, my futuristic story is about challenges to the human race, as faced by two lead characters who struggle with having opposite values while being really attracted to each other. Oh, and they’re both women.
If we can’t imagine different worlds, we’ll never solve any of the problems in this one. Those different worlds could be frontier pasts, futuristic starships, or the internal landscape of an ordinary kid in the contemporary world who just cares more about the fight he had with his boyfriend yesterday than the fact that he has a boyfriend, rather than a girlfriend.
Shannon LC Cate is a write-from-home lesbian housewife and adoptive mom. She writes about writing at ShannonLCCate.com and about family life at Peterscrossstation.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter as @LilySea.
When I was a teenager, I faithfully devoured all six or so books I could get my hands on that had lesbian main characters. These were overwhelmingly coming out stories, and most of them left me balling my eyes out because of how depressing they were. The movies weren’t much better. Enter the world of fanfiction. Now that was something I could get behind! Okay, maybe they weren’t always the most well written stories, but at least they were about something besides coming out. I quickly began writing my own, and after many years of that I decided to branch off into something of my own.
Morning Rising was inspired by a friend’s issues with drugs, the ups and downs came so fast it was almost too much to handle. One day I sat down and started writing this, putting all that emotion to good use. Don’t be worried, it’s not an issues book or anything, it’s a fantasy novel all the way through. It follows Kara, sixteen and quietly in love with her best friend Dylan, as she wakes up in the world of Inbetween and learns there is so much more behind Dylan and her friendship than she could have guessed. Dylan is a princess from the Daylands, and Kara is her Guardian. They were both sent to the human world to hide Dylan from Demitar, the ruler of Inbetween, who wants to claim her because she was born of light and darkness. Whichever side she chooses, she will become their most powerful ally. As her Guardian, Kara is the only one who can help Dylan choose the side of light.
The book is pretty much everything I wanted to read when I was younger (and still do). The hero is a girl, a pretty bad-ass one if I do say so, and she gets to save the princess! They fight bad guys and use their magical powers, and sometimes they even get to kiss. This is what I was dying for. I know there are many fantasy novels aimed at adults in this genre, but I want some teen angst, not the risk of full blown, detailed sex scenes.
Now I would love to see this book sell amazingly, and I would love to see a movie made out of it. Unfortunately, even if the book does find an audience that falls in love with it, I know Hollywood isn’t out there making epic fantasy movies that center around a couple of teenage lesbians. That sucks. Why do they think there wouldn’t be an audience for it? Why does the story have to be defined by the two people who fall in love in it?
A lot needs to change before we will see shelves lined with books that feature gay characters as more than a stereotype or joke, by putting Morning Rising out into the world, I feel like I’m doing my part.
Samantha Boyette lives in upstate New York. Her short stories have been featured in various websites and books, and she was the co-winner of the 2010 Textnovel.com online writing contest. To learn more visit www.SamanthaBoyette.com
Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff is a story of friends lost and families found, place sought and love gained, but the book will be remembered for more than a heartbreaking and moving story. But I wish you would stop reading this review now and read the book yourself. Right now. This will be here when you get back.
Because what makes this book so remarkable is the way in which Brezenoff takes a fairly typical story of angst and trauma, a story no less powerful despite its archetypal structure, and puts it in a form that forces the reader to confront deep seeded notions about the idea of gender.
The reason I wish you would all read the book before reading this review is because the teacher in me wants to know what your initial, uncoached reactions to the protagonist, Kid, and Scout are. I won’t say “unbiased,” because the structure of this novel is designed to uncover and challenge biases with regards to gender.
You see, Brezenoff does something few writers have attempted. He presents a novel in which genders the main character and the main character’s love interest are not revealed, leaving it to the reader to decide. Brezenoff gives Kid, the protagonist, love interests of both genders, so the reader can’t assume Kid is gay or straight and thus boy or girl.
I made assumptions based on the characters. I won’t tell you what I assumed about Kid and Scout, but I did a lot of thinking about my choices, and more than anything, I realized that gender is more than boy/girl. And freeing characters of the expectations of gender takes a lot more than leaving off gendered pronouns and assigning characters gender-neutral names. At the end of the story, the reader is left with this question: why did I assign the genders to Kid and Scout that I ultimately chose?
My choices were undoubtedly marked my personal history and experiences. If a person behaves in this way, then it is highly likely this person is a boy or vice versa. But another reason I made the choices I did is the connotation one of the names evoked for me, a name tied in my mind to a long literary tradition — I don’t want to say it outright lest it influence your reading, but you can probably figure it out, you smarty smart pants readers you. Does the connotation I noted make me right about this character? Certainly not, but what it tells me is that gender is more than pronouns and names and preferences. The concept of gender is reinforced by hundreds of years of cultural history, and even the most careful scrubbing of pronouns from a text will not leave the story truly open. Ideas we didn’t even know we carried will make their way into our work and our world. There is always a choice to be made.
As I read the story, I was always mindful that the choices I was making as a reader were based on assumptions both surface of my thoughts as well as deeply internalized cultural information. And I really I wished that I could teach this book in schools. Alas, language and content mean that I could probably never (well, definitely never, here in my home state) teach this in secondary schools. However, I do believe that Brezenoff’s book opens the door for more artists to take up the challenge to create stories, songs, movies, paintings, etc. that challenge long-held notions of gender, of what it means to be normal, what it means to love, what it means to belong. I don’t think gender differences will ever be neutralized — our bodies are different, and face it. Sameness is boring. What I hope it that our differences — differences in gender, in taste, in choice, in life and love — will remind us all how awesome it is to be alive and to share this world with one another.
Debra Touchette is an assistant librarian, grad student, blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass: Adventures in Reading, and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to). She is often accused of being to serious and thinking too much, but she figures there are worse things, like awkwardly writing about herself in the third person all the time. But maybe someday she’ll lighten up, get a puppy, lay off the coffee. Or not.
When was the last time you saw a character in a tv or book whose entire life revolves around their heterosexuality?
Never? Me too. Admittedly, heterosexual people have not gone through the horrible atrocities the LGBTQ community has dealt with over the course of history. Straight people do not have to deal with the potential of being kicked out of their homes once they come out. Obviously, the LGBTQ community does need novels about coming out.
But why are the vast majority of LGBTQ YA books only about the beginning of a queer person’s identity? These books tend to revolve exclusively around the protagonist’s coming out struggle. In certain TV shows and books – like Glee’s Kurt for instance – it seems that the main character’s only reason for existence in this world is to be gay, and they have no other wants, motivations or desires.
Why aren’t there more books with gay protagonists who have bigger worries than their sexuality – like saving the world – on their mind? Bisexual characters who have to deal with the biases in their community? Transpeople who are total badasses and polyamorous teens coming into their own? The BTQ in LGBTQ needs to be better represented if LGBTQ lit is going to evolve in the way that will get consumers – queer and straight alike – reading.
What I want most to see as a reader who loves stories with narratives our heteronormative society rarely sees, is LGBTQ literature evolve from a genre of fiction into a secondary thought on the dust jacket. Because just as YA isn’t really a genre so much as a label for the protagonist of the story, LGBTQ lit is much the same thing. It’s time for the mainstream industry to start acting like it.
My desperate hunger for these kind of YA novels is not being completely ignored. Authors like David Levithan are known for writing books about characters who deal with love and politics, and happen to be gay. Books like Hex Hall and The Mortal Instruments Series too, have characters whose sexuality is less important than their personality.
I love LGBTQ fiction. It has provided me with the kind of tender romances that make me believe love is possible. But if YA is ever going to truly satisfy me and plenty of others as readers, it’s going to have to diversify in all directions, and give YA readers the fresh narratives they deserve.
Are there any particular LGBTQ stories you’ve been itching to see in YA fiction? I’d love to hear about them.
Emma Allison blogs at http://bookingthrough365.blogspot.com/