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The One Who Matters

Sara Zarr is the author of Story of a Girl and the forthcoming How To Save A Life. You can visit her online at her website.

A couple of years ago, I was speaking to a bunch of young readers at a book festival, and during the Q&A, one girl shot up her hand and asked, “Why did you decide to make Michael gay?”

The question caught me off guard.

Michael is an adult character in my first novel, STORY OF A GIRL. He runs the pizza dive where the main character, Deanna, has a summer job. On her first day, she learns that a boy from her past, Tommy Webber, works there, too. She nearly quits, hinting about her history with Tommy to Michael:

“I watched Michael watching me. If he was going to be around most of the time, it might be okay. He seemed like the kind of person I could trust. He took another drag of his smoke and it hit me—something about the way he flicked his ash or the way he was talking to me in hushed tones like a girlfriend—Michael was gay. For some reason that made me feel better, like maybe he’d be on my side.”

That was about the extent of me “making” Michael gay—not a conscious choice, but something that just sort of happened in the creative process.

There are some nice scenes between Deanna and Michael. He doesn’t solve any of Deanna’s problems, but he’s there with an ear at a couple of key moments.

When I was in junior high and high school, there was this man I knew through church, a friend of the family. I’ll call him Brian. At the time, his sexual life or orientation never occurred to me, though in retrospect it’s kind of obvious that Brian was gay—certainly in orientation, if not in practice. (I know that sounds like I’m dancing around something, I’m not, but I do have a number of gay friends who are celibate for religious reasons, and he very may well have fallen into that category.)

Brian was good friends with my mom and took an interest in my sister and me. He got me in ways other adults didn’t, he appreciated my sarcastic sense of humor and could dish it out as well as take it, he rolled his eyes at the same things I did, he could understand why certain things about my mother mortified me as a teen. He was an excellent listener—he didn’t ask the questions adults usually did that either seemed prying or stupid.

Brian was the adult who first introduced me to Hitchcock movies, the pleasures of cooking and entertaining well, and why bad, over-the-top art (aka “camp”) was fun in small doses.

I realize my description of Brian could be read as one big confirmation of a certain kind of stereotype. But this was my experience of him, and all I know is that for a girl who didn’t have a father figure, it meant a lot to me to have this adult male take an interest in me and my life. His friendship, his stand-in parenting, in a way, had a great and positive effect on my life and is forever part of who I am.

Let’s face it: There’s always been a special kind of dynamic between teen girls and older men, and I’m not being wink-wink or gross about it when I say this. (The book I’m working on now will explore this in depth.) There are real father issues for a lot of teen girls. And even with great dads, girls are often further along emotionally and intellectually than the boys their age, and an older man—often a teacher, or family friend—who acts as a mentor can be a particularly powerful influence. Or a destructive one, if there’s confusion about the boundaries.

For Deanna, who (like me as a teen) has a lot of issues with men and boys and mistakes sexual attention for love because at least it’s attention, and (again, like me) doesn’t always know how to maintain friends with girls, Michael is exactly who she needs at a crucial point in her life. There’s no danger of anything happening between them, but she gets that specifically male affirmation she so needs, as I needed Brian’s twenty-give years ago.

When The Story is About Love

by Gillian Chisom

Almost two years ago, I was sitting in a bookstore café working on my embryonic vampire novel. Its premise, at that point, went something like this: 20-year-old Eric has a great life: budding career as a pianist, fiancée with whom he’s madly in love, etc. All of this changes when vampire Gregory waylays Eric on his way home from a rehearsal one night and turns him into a vampire. Eric struggles to adjust to his new life. Meanwhile, he and Gregory develop an intense, complicated relationship which includes some romantic tension, but that never develops into actual romance.

And then.

And then, Gregory kissed Eric, and Eric kissed him back. Without my permission. Without even having the courtesy to warn me.

Those of you who are writers can probably relate to the vertigo of that moment. I had reached that perfect zone in which the story flowed out of me without conscious thought. I almost was Eric. And then Eric told me that Gregory was about to kiss him. In all honesty, my reaction at that point was something along the lines of oh crap oh crap oh crap. Not because I was ideologically opposed to this development so much as because I felt that I was in way over my head. Even so, it didn’t occur to me not to write the kiss. The kiss had happened, and I couldn’t do anything about that. For my writing process to work, for me to feel that I have any integrity as an author, I have to get out of the way and let the story happen. This is not to say that I don’t think long and hard about the messages I might be sending with my fiction, but that kind of analysis and soul-searching usually happens later in the process. When I’m working on the first draft, I try to let the characters take me wherever they want to go. I write because the story demands that I tell it, and I realized pretty quickly that, in this case, the story I had to tell involved Gregory and Eric kissing.

If I had paid more attention, I might have seen the kiss coming. The story was already moving in that direction, with or without my knowledge or consent. Early on, though, I had considered the possibility of Eric and Gregory developing a romantic relationship and rejected it, ostensibly because I felt that mixing gayness and vampirism might read as a negative comment about gayness. In all honesty, though, the thought of writing gay characters terrified me. I instinctively felt that, as a straight person, I couldn’t write an authentic gay character, and that if I tried I would only offend people. Of course, I quickly realized that I had already gone well outside my comfort zone by writing a main character who was male and a vampire, and that there was no reason for me not to let Eric and Gregory be who they were, as long as I took care with how I handled their story.

As it turned out, Gregory and Eric’s romance saved the novel. They showed me that, in spite of the difficult circumstances that led to their intimacy, their love could grow into something beautiful and tender and unexpected. Telling their story stretched me, as a writer and as a person, in ways I never could have imagined. I am twenty-five years old and I’ve been attempting to write novels since I was fourteen, but until Gregory and Eric I had never felt so committed to a story, so convinced that it needed to be out in the world.

In retrospect, I know that this particular story found me when I was ready to tell it. At the time, I was part of a close-knit community that included a lot of GLBTQ folks, many of whom had become—and remain—dear friends. Knowing them helped me realize how much I take for granted as a straight person, and made me want to fight for a world in which everyone can live and love openly and without fear. I still wasn’t ready, though, to consciously write a story with gay characters, so Eric and Gregory had to smack me over the head when I wasn’t looking, and the experience of telling their story became the most fulfilling of my writing life thus far. Every time I catch myself worrying about getting negative feedback for writing a gay love story, I remind myself that any prejudice I might experience can’t begin to compare to what my friends in the GLBTQ community deal with every day of their lives.

I’m not going to say that I don’t worry about what will happen when I’m ready to send Eric and Gregory out into the world, but I worry about different things now than I did two years ago. I worry that people will have negative reactions to the their romance, but I worry more often that I won’t shock anyone out of his or her comfort zone, in which case I’ll feel that I’ve failed to do my job. Most of all, I worry that I’ll disappoint my friends in the GLBTQ community. I realize, though, that in most important ways it isn’t about me. It’s about the story, which is bigger than me, and deserves to have a life of its own. And it’s a story about love, plain and simple.

This post is a part of our reader submissions program. To find out how you can contribute to posts on the Gay YA, click here.

Sharing Stories: Why Straight People Need to Read Gay Books

I just released my debut novel, The Dark Wife, which comes out of the closet immediately when I tell you what it’s about: a YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone/Hades myth. When sharing my happiness for the book release, I get the shifting from foot to foot, the nervous tapping of the fingers together, and–if they’re brave–the person will ask me the following question:

“Can straight people read it?”

To which I respond, yes, straight people absolutely need to read it. Not just my book, or maybe not even my book–but straight people need to read gay books.

When you see the gay rights struggle on the news, it’s often easy to relegate the GLBT to a small counter culture that’s not immediately relevant to you, or even important. People have admitted to me before that they never cared about gay rights, or even thought about gay issues, because they didn’t know anyone who was gay.

That’s not true for everyone, but it’s an important trend to notice. They didn’t care because they didn’t know. And not everyone is going to know a gay person, and last I checked, we’re not heading out on a campaign with a slogan of “A GAY IN EVERY HOUSE.” (If we are, why am I always the last to know about these things? ;D)

That’s where books come in.

A book is something that becomes personally important. Within a story, the main character (usually, hopefully) becomes someone you identify with, love, struggle with every moment they struggle.

The simple truth is: how will you know what being gay is like if you never read a gay story? How will you know what we feel, what we think, how we love and live? How are we ever going to get the rights we need, the rights we’re denied, if people think we’re completely alien to everything they understand? If you read a gay story, and you are not gay, for a few days you step into the story’s space, and you learn what it means to love someone the world might think you shouldn’t be with, how love can be so beautiful no matter who loves who, how our hearts are just the same as yours.

Books lead to culture which leads to people. Literature, at its very essence, is something that can change an entire culture. In the YA community, especially, people become deeply impassioned about books, fall in love with books. Gay, YA books have the potential to bring about an entire movement of acceptance and love. Nothing could be better.

Slowly, but surely, every day it gets better for gay teens, it gets better for gay adults, it gets better, but the world is not going to change completely unless we are heard and understood. A book, a simple, beautiful book, is the most subversive thing on the planet, because–between front and back cover–you could begin to love someone who is gay, someone you never thought about before, but someone you will now never forget. Gay rights will, in that moment, become something personal to you.

The world needs straight people to read gay stories.

Sarah Diemer is the author of The Dark Wife, released today. She blogs at muserising.com and is offering a free, pay what you can version of The Dark Wife online here. Be sure to check out her book & the gorgeous book trailer!

Sweepstakes: Old Habits and Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr!

We’re starting a series of weekend giveaways, with great books featuring LGBTQ characters or authors! We’ll be posting Twitter polls to determine what we give away, so keep watching our feed to make sure we’re picking your favorite books.

First Up: Ink Exchange(print) and Old Habits (eBook) by Melissa Marr, featuring the m/m couple Niall and Irial.

On Ink Exchange:

“Unbeknownst to mortals, a power struggle is unfolding in a world of shadows and danger. After centuries of stability, the balance among the Faery Court has altered, and Irial, ruler of the Dark Court, is battling to hold his rebellious and newly vulnerable fey together. If he fails, bloodshed and brutality will follow.” (Read More….)

On Old Habits:

“Melissa Marr returns to the ravishing world of Faerie with a story set between her bestselling novels Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity.

Recently anointed king of the Dark Court, Niall struggles to forge a new relationship with his subjects—and with the former Dark King, Irial, his once-friend, once-enemy, and now possible-advisor.”

To Enter to win Old Habits:

Post your favorite Niall/Irial quote in the comments! Haven’t read the books? No problem, you can also enter with the title of the book featuring your favorite m/m pairing in YA.

To enter to win a signed copy of Ink Exchange:

Tweet us (@theGayYA) with one way Gay in YA has been important in your life or someone else’s.

Contest Rules:

Ink Exchange drawing open to US residents only, Old Habits drawing open to anyone. Entrants are allowed one entry per drawing, ie one entry in the Ink Exchange drawing and one entry in the Old Habits drawing. Winners will be chosen at random and announced Tuesday, May 17th.

Contest Closes: Monday, May 16th at 11:59 PM CST.

Review of The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

The coming out story represents probably the largest portion of stories in LGBTQ young adult literature. It’s an important topic, to be sure, in part because trying to figure out who we are and who we want is a major part of adolescence, and Nick Burd’s novel is one of the best of the genre.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary takes place during the summer of Dade Hamilton’s last summer before college. Things aren’t looking great. His parents’ marriage is failing, his closeted jock boyfriend Pablo treats him like crap and he has a soul-killing at a grocery store. The plot follows a fairly predictable arc, but it’s Burd’s characters that make his book engaging and heartbreaking.

It was really difficult for me to read this book at times because I didn’t want to see Dade, or any of the characters, getting hurt. God, the way Pablo treats Dade. Even though Burd shows Pablo’s actions coming from a place of pain and confusion, it’s still so hard to watch the story unfold. I wanted to get into the story and alternately yell at and hug these kids.

To take a brief detour, I really love Burt Hummel on Glee, and I think the scene where he and Kurt have “The Talk” is one of the most beautiful and brilliant scenes in all of television. Every kid needs to hear this speech, every kid needs to know that she or he matters and that sex is important. Dade and Pablo need to hear this speech.

Why should you read this book? I’m certain not enough kids hear that they matter, and the actions of this play out in this story, with devastating consequences, because of it. I hope that the teens who read this book see that it’s not that they should remain celibate because they can’t handle the consequences of romantic relationships — not at all. I hope they see that they deserve to be treated with love and respect and if they’re not getting that, whether it’s from parents or lovers or friends, then something is wrong.

I think I’m making this book sound like an after school special, and it is so not as simple as that. It’s an elegant book. Burd takes the common coming out trope and turns it into an emotional sucker punch. I’m not even sure there is much catharsis, although I’m hopeful that Dade will find the love and respect he deserves

This book truly is heartbreaking, and it’s important to have good, well written and solid stories that address this aspect of adolescence, of life really, because even adults don’t get this right all the time, and Burd delivers with a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

 

Debra is an assistant librarian, grad student, fledgling 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).

 

The Importance of Outing Dumbeldore

Today’s featured author is Robin Talley, who writes here on Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series.

While the Harry Potter series was still being released, I kept crossing my fingers one of the kids would turn out to be gay.

It didn’t seem that far-fetched an idea. After all, the series was otherwise doing a great job of representing diverse characters.

But more importantly, when I was reading the books for the first time, I was in my early 20s, and I was still getting used to the idea that this whole being-gay thing might indeed be a lifelong deal. I was eagerly looking around for representations of people like me. Seeing gay characters and gay celebrities made me feel normal. It made me feel like someone had noticed I was there.

This applies to other aspects of identity too, of course. When I was a kid, my favorite Smurf was Smurfette and my favorite Thundercat was Cheetara ― because I was a girl, and they were the only female characters on those shows.* When you’re in the process of defining your identity, you can’t help but look for examples in the world around you.

After the release of Goblet of Fire, I held out hope that either Dean Thomas or George Weasley, both of whom appeared to be conspicuously dateless for the Yule Ball, might be somewhere on the LGBT spectrum. And after Order of the Phoenix came out, introducing us to Luna Lovegood and Nymphadora Tonks, well, it seemed like J.K. Rowling was just taunting me. **

But ultimately all four of those characters were shown to be hetero. And then Deathly Hallows came and went without any acknowledgement of other sexualities.
And I thought, “Ah, well.” It certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying the books. Plus, by that point several years had passed, and I’d stopped eagerly seeking out gay characters at every turn. But I was disappointed that the opportunity to show queerness among such a broad and interesting cast of characters had been missed.
And then, a few months after that last book’s release, J.K. Rowling casually dropped the news that Dumbledore was gay, and had been in love with the dark wizard Grindelwald.

My first thought on hearing the news was, “Wait. What?”

My seconds was, “Oh. This makes so much more sense now.”

The relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald was one of the most interesting subplots of Deathly Hallows. But it was a little hard for a reader like me to relate to. I’ve never had the Crazy Lust For Power that those two apparently shared. I have, however, had the Crazy Lust For The Absolutely Wrong Person, and have found myself doing really stupid things as a result.

But I didn’t get to know about that dimension of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship when I was reading Deathly Hallows for the first time. Because it wasn’t included in the book.

We don’t know exactly why the HP books failed to mention Dumbledore’s gayness, and I don’t think it’s really worth speculating about here. It might’ve been the publisher’s call. It might’ve been authorial self-censorship due to concerns about the potential public response. It might’ve been the result of tough decision-making about how much content include in an already-very-long book. We’ll probably never know all the answers on this point.

But oh, how I wish it had been included in the book. I wish Dumbledore had casually mentioned it to Harry during one of their many long chats in books 1-6. “You know, I always did think that Hamish McFarlan of the Montrose Magpies Quidditch team was quite fit,” or some such thing. They could’ve left it at that, as a non-issue. Or Rita Skeeter’s 900-page expose of Dumbledore’s life in book 7 could’ve discussed his sexuality along with all his other supposed secrets and lies.

Outing Dumbledore would have had two key benefits:

1. It would’ve made Deathly Hallows a stronger book, because readers would have had better context for understanding Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald.

2. Readers of the book ― kids and adults alike, gay and straight alike ― would’ve seen a major gay character in the biggest book series of all time.
When people talk about gay visibility? This is what they’re talking about.
Dumbledore is the biggest badass of all time. He eats dark wizards for breakfast. He dictates battle strategy and mentors orphans and invents gadgets and writes public policy and runs a school full of ornery teenagers, all at the same time.

And he’s a great big homo.

Imagine how different things might have been if the millions of people who read the Potter series ― the entire generation of kids around the world who grew up on it ― all knew that.

As authors, we always have to make decisions about how much detail to include and how much to leave out. These are not easy decisions to make. I always think of that line from Wonder Boys about how writers don’t need to include the genealogy of everyone’s horses.

And yet, if you have a character who’s LGBTQ, I think you have an obligation to your readers to tell them that.

There aren’t enough LGBTQ characters in children’s lit right now. And we’re the ones who can do something about it. We’re the people writing the books the next generation of teenagers will read.

Of course it isn’t always easy to find a way to work it in. It can be challenging if your LGBTQ character isn’t the protagonist, and especially if the character’s sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t directly relevant to the plot.

It can also be intimidating. We all live in fear of being accused of tokenism, of writing to stereotypes, of conforming to trends. Often, it’s just a lot easier not to put openly LGBTQ characters into our books.

So it might take some work. But it’s worth the effort.

My favorite example of an offhand inclusion of a queer character’s queerness is in How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalastier.*** This (awesome) story includes a best friend character, Rochelle, whose non-straightness is completely irrelevant to the story, but is nonetheless is specified in a totally organic way in the middle of an unrelated scene:

“Cassie-Ann was in final year A-stream basketball. … Rochelle’d had a crush on her for as long as I could remember and was mournful that the odds of being promoted from B-stream to A-stream basketball while still only a first year were vastly low, in the vicinity of zero, in fact. She would have to wait until she graduated and hope that some day they wound up on the same team.”

When I read that paragraph, it really stood out to me both as an author and as an LGBT reader. Suddenly Rochelle was much more important in my eyes than she had been in the 95 pages preceding this paragraph. Because now, Rochelle and I had something important in common. Smack in the middle of a book about a heterosexual protagonist with a heterosexual crush, there was a major character who was like me. (There are other mentions of minor characters who are in same-sex relationships throughout the book, by the way ― another tactic I love because it does a great job of establishing the book’s universe as one in which sexual orientation is a non-issue.)

But of course, I’m not the audience for your book. Kids are your audience. And that’s why this matters so much for YA writers. That’s why I think you have to tell your readers there are queer people in your book. Even if it means rewriting that scene you’ve already rewritten seven times, if that’s what it takes to work it in.

Because some kid somewhere could pick up your book and see, for the first time ever, a character who’s like her. Or a straight kid could see, for the first time ever, an LGBTQ character he can relate to ― and then realize that LGBTQ people aren’t so different from him after all.

And that’s a goal even Dumbledore would find worthwhile.

———

*Because it was the 80s. Yay for 21st-century cartoon diversity!

**By the way, lest you think I was alone in these speculations, any cursory examination of the various Potter-related websites from that era will quickly prove otherwise. Which characters held gayness potential was one of the hottest debate topics once upon a time.

***Justine has also written some really interesting stuff on her blog about visibility, especially regarding race. I often refer back to her “Why My Protags Aren’t White” post when I’m trying to figure out how to develop and describe my characters.

 

 

Robin Talley always writes about LGBTQ protagonists, so she doesn’t have this problem, but she likes to give people unsolicited advice about it anyway, because that’s just how she rolls. Visit her at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

2% Gay

Sometimes I wonder why I started questioning my sexuality. If it was because my father called me a dike when I told him I preferred stud earrings to hoops; or the few years my mother was half convinced I liked girls because my best friend was bisexual; or if it was when my doctor asked my sexual orientation and I hesitated. But then, maybe it was because I actually liked a girl.

Before then, my sexuality wasn’t in question. I had no interest in my sex.  So I wore my stud earrings, spent every day with my bisexual best friend, and told my doctor I was straight. I meant it when I said it then, and I meant it every other time the words passed my lips.

It wasn’t until I met Dahlia that I started to wonder how true those words were. She shook up every belief that I had of myself, pulling me in, in a way that I thought only boys could. She was taller than any girl I knew and her hair was just as long; the deep mahogany color of an old desk. Her eyes were blue and brown and green all at once, and staring at them was like staring into the very center of the ocean. I could lose myself in her eyes, and I think I did.

I fell in love with her, or as in love as a straight girl can be with another girl. We were friends, and could have been more if it wasn’t for my conflicted feelings about her building a wall between us. For every stray thought about her eyes or the smoothness of her skin, another brick was added. For every time the silence of a million unsaid things filled the air between us, another brick was added. I knew Dahlia was gay, there was never a question about what she wanted. It was me who hesitated, who couldn’t figure out if I was simply enamored with her or if it was something more.

The wall grew, my confliction grew, my unease grew. The more time we spent together, the less I knew what to make of myself. I became two separate pieces.

98% of me belonging to me and the unwavering knowledge that I was straight.

2% of me belonging to her and the uncertainty of what that made me.

Gay? Straight? Bisexual? Was my mother right? Did my father have a point?

But, wouldn’t I have known by now if I was anything other than straight? Wouldn’t I have felt this for some other girl at some other point in my life? I didn’t believe that one person could change my sexual orientation, so I had to believe that this part of me had existed before her. I had to believe that she wasn’t the exception to genetic makeup. She couldn’t change me.

What I couldn’t accept was the fact that this part of me belonged solely to her.

I found myself staring at other girls, trying to figure out if I felt anything for them. I quizzed myself every time I saw a girl that I thought was beautiful, trying to pinpoint some kind of attraction that was similar to what I felt for boys or even what I felt for Dahlia. The artist in me always admired any beauty I saw, especially in people, but that was the extent of it. I couldn’t make myself feel more for my gender. It just wasn’t there, and that bothered me. I was sure that if I could call myself bisexual, I could move on from this limbo I was trapped in, I could stop stringing Dahlia along on the false hope that we could be more. Because it was taking a toll on our friendship, and that killed me. No matter what conflictions I had, I knew without a doubt that I needed her friendship. And I didn’t like hurting her. More than once, I thought of just going to her and saying “yes,” yes I like girls, yes I want to try this, yes I love you, too. And yes, I’m sorry.

I never did, though. I couldn’t make myself take that step. Almost like I was standing on the sidelines, I watched as we drifted apart. I watched myself scrambling for an answer like they were scattered puzzle pieces. I watched the friendship that I valued above all else fail because I couldn’t make sense of my feelings.

I regret that the most, the way it had to end between us. I don’t regret anything else from that year, not even the doubts that she brought to my mind. In fact, I would thank her for that. By forcing me to answer those questions, she brought a clarity that had been missing before.

Now, I understand that I’m not straight or gay or bisexual. I understand that it doesn’t matter, that I’m just me.

Brittany Clarke is a YA writer of nine years. She hates to read one book at a time and believes the cure to eluding characters is a good cup of coffee and a doughnut. On the days she’s not staring at a blinking cursor, you’ll find her sitting in the back of a movie theater and laughing louder than anyone else. You can follow her on twitter @balancingbritt or read her blog at www.balancingbrittany.blogspot.com

This post is a part of our reader submissions program. To find out how you can contribute to posts on the Gay YA, click here.

Books or Bells: The Gift of Words

In 1778, a community in Massachusetts incorporated itself into a town called Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin. Seven years later, the leaders of Franklin, Massachusetts contacted their namesake. Pointing out how they had honored him, they asked if he would buy a bell for their meeting house. Instead, Benjamin Franklin sent a crate of 116 books from his personal collection and asked them to build a library instead, “Sense being preferable to sound.” The town leaders took his advice and created the first public library in America. It’s still open, with Benjamin Franklin’s original 116 books on display.

America was founded on the idea that, after a full stomach, the thing a person needs most is a hungry mind. Their curiosity and intelligence and drive should determine how far they go in life, not money, luck, or social status.

That idea is part of why I’m proud to work with Guys’ Lit Wire–a book blog aimed at teenage boys–and its annual book fair. During past book fairs, GLW readers bought books for Indian reservation schools and a juvenile detention facility. This year, we’re helping out Ballou Senior High School, a seriously underfunded school in Washington D.C.

As this video shows, Ballou High’s library is tiny, just a 1150 books for a student body of 1200. (For comparison, the American Library Association’s standard is eleven books for every one student.) Working with Ballou High’s librarian, we’ve assembled a 900-book wish list at Powells.com. Anybody can purchase a book (or more than one) and have it sent directly to the school at:

Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400

The wishlist runs a wide gamut, from Shakespeare and manga to non-fiction books about science and nutrition to SAT prep books. There are several wonderful GLBT titles including Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club, Steve Berman’s Vintage, and It Gets Better by Dan Savage and Terry Miller. And every single one of them has the potential to be that one book a kid at Ballou High has been waiting for, the one that will help him understand who he is and what he wants out of life. Books change lives. They alter attitudes and expectations.

That’s why, 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin decided the town of Franklin needed books more than a bell. America was a young nation and democracy an untried experiment. To succeed, we needed dreamers. We needed people who could imagine a new kind of nation. Every generation since has struggled and strived toward a more perfect union and a more just society. We will always need dreamers, we will always need books, and every revolution–great or small–will start in a library.

If you can, please consider buying a book or two for Ballou High. There is no gift you can give someone as awesome as a book. Books reshape us, and they give us the power to reshape the world around us.

 

Kristopher Reisz is the author of Unleashed, Quiet Haunts and Other Stories, and Tripping to Somewhere. He blogs at his personal LiveJournal, and Guys Lit Wire.

A Message to Writers

To some people, I guess it’d be a mystery as to why I would choose to come out as a bisexual for the first time here and now. (God, writing this is so scary. Bear with me!) It took me a couple of days to figure it out myself. Sure, I’ve told my husband, and my best friend, and my mother during one especially passionate screaming match. But I never really felt the need to bring it to attention before, so I just treated it like some intensely private thing.

I’m a happily married, twenty-three year old woman with a sixteen month old. To a lot of people, that would automatically mean that I am straight, or that my bisexuality is somehow canceled out simply because I have found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and he’s a man. People have such weird ideas about bisexuality.

That’s why I’m here, I guess. Because of how bisexuals are so often portrayed, especially young bisexual females.

I live in a small town, and at my high school there were only a few openly gay people. But one time these two girls who were both known to have had boyfriends in the past started holding hands in the hallway, and kissing each other around campus. They changed their statuses online and let it be known that they were officially dating.

The most common reaction amongst my classmates? “They’re doing it for attention.” “They’re doing it so guys will think they’re hot.” “They’re doing it to be trendy.

Nobody took them seriously. And if it’s not sad enough seeing these reactions in person, imagine reading books and watching TV and movies were the majority of young bisexual females are portrayed as overly promiscuous bad girls who are more into the sex than anything else. (And hey, of course that person exists, and that’s totally okay. It’s not, however, an accurate or fair representation of all young female bisexuals.)

 

I saw this episode of Tyra that was all about “Barsexuals.” Apparently a barsexual is a straight female who makes out with other women in bars in order to score men and get free drinks. When asked if they are bisexual, these women were quick to deny. Whether they were lying, or weren’t sure, or were telling the straight up truth, why are situations like these being highlighted as opposed to more authentic ones?

I know it happens. But there just isn’t enough of the average. I was inspired by Scott Tracey’s post about having gay characters that are simply gay. Their sexual orientation is just another part of them, rather than being a highlighted feature in the story. I haven’t read many books featuring bisexual characters, but the few that I have read were portrayed dryly and with hurried cliches. And while bisexual characters in general would be a refreshing thing to see, it’d be even more impressive to meet a serious but totally average teen bisexual. (If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love for you to leave them in the comments so I could read up!)

It’d be extra difficult to cover I know, since high school can be a confusing time as far as sexuality goes. While I was in high school, I definitely would have put myself in the Q category of LGBTQ, rather than the B. But I know that there are young female bisexuals out there, wondering why they aren’t anything like the bisexuals they see in books and on TV.

And it’s for those girls that I’m here now. Write your characters, tell your story, be yourself. But please, on behalf of the evolution of human acceptance, ask yourself if it’s possible to include LGBTQ characters in your novel. Bisexuality, being gay, being transsexual, these aren’t new things. The number of LGBTQ people isn’t rising, it’s just that the number of people comfortable enough to admit it is. If we can support each other enough through our writing to keep that number rising, having a more true to reality ratio in the media will follow naturally.

Amy Lukavics is a YA writer represented by Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. Besides writing and reading, her other favorite activities include tearing it up on Xbox Live, cooking things that call for at least 4 cloves of garlic, and building pillow forts with her daughter Lily Mila. Gamertag: electric lola Twitter: @amylukavics Blog: hello, moon.

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Author Wednesday: Ellen Wittlinger

Ellen Wittlinger is the author of Hard Love, Parrotfish, and many other novels for young adults. She can be found online at her website.

In 1997 when I began writing the novel Hard Love, most (if not all) of the YA novels with GLBT characters dealt with the process and difficulties of coming out. But when I looked around it seemed to me that there were a lot of teens for whom coming out was no longer such a big deal—they were past that stage already. I thought it was important to look at the question, “What comes next?” I decided to try writing a character who was moving on, a girl who was out and easy with it, but who had other problems, the same problems most teens have: how to get along with her parents, how to make sense of her heritage and her gifts, how to find love.

And so Marisol Guzman was born: a “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love.” In other words, Marisol was a lesbian, but that was not by any means her entire identity. She defined herself in a variety of interesting ways.

It’s probably time now to admit that I am not G,L,B, T or even Q. I’m also not young. I grew up in the Sixties when an admission of homosexuality made you (at least) the black sheep of your family, and very likely caused a more permanent rift with them. Maybe because I had problems with my own family, I felt a strong bond with the gay and lesbian people I met which was solidified by living for three years in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a small, quirky fishing village on Cape Cod that has for decades been a mecca for artists, writers and GLBT people. It was and is a unique place where the locals make room for and celebrate each other’s differences and eccentricities. And it had a profound effect on the way I chose to live my life.

I knew I wanted to include gay and lesbian characters in my YA novels from early on—that was part of the world I lived in. I was not worried that I hadn’t “walked in their shoes.” There are only so many shoes a person can walk in, and if a writer limits herself to only writing about direct personal experience, her stories will be very repetitive. Besides, the way I’d always built my characters was from the inside out—the inside being that small core place in which we are all the same, the outside being all those millions of ways in which we’re all different. To my mind, this is the best way to guard against stereotypes.

Hard Love did well, winning both a Lambda Literary Award and a Michael L. Printz Honor Award from the American Library Association, and some years later I wrote a companion novel called Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story which followed Marisol into her own difficult love.
In 2006 my husband and I moved to western Massachusetts where our daughter had settled after college. Among her close friends was a young man named Toby Davis who I was surprised to learn had entered Smith College five years earlier as a female. Toby was not only an aspiring playwright and novelist himself, but had been—before even meting my daughter—a big fan of Hard Love.

We hit it off immediately, and before long I was dreaming about writing a novel with a transgendered teen as protagonist. Of course, growing up trans was not something I was familiar with at all, so (after doing a lot of research) I asked Toby if he’d help me get it right. And he did. He answered all sorts of personal questions before and during the writing process, and vetted every word of the finished manuscript of Parrotfish. The story is not his, but many of the emotions are.

What I hope to accomplish with Hard Love, Love & Lies, Parrotfish and my other novels with GLBT characters is to normalize homosexuality and transexuality—to make gender and sexuality just two of the many ways in which we’re all different from one another and not such a big deal. Although there is still much to be done, the lives of gay and lesbian people are considerably easier in the twenty-first century than they were in the one just past. I hope the same will soon be true for trans people as well.

A fan—a straight girl–once wrote to me that she had been “afraid of homosexuals” before reading Hard Love. But, she continued, “after knowing Marisol, I know that gay people are just regular, normal people.” She got it. In the same way, I hope readers will come to “know” Grady and lose some of their prejudice towards trans people too.

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