By: Sarah Deimer
I’m twenty, at a party with people mostly older than me. Everyone’s drinking around the bonfire, and I’m sipping my glass of water, talking and laughing, mostly about ridiculous, nerdy things. It’s the beginning of summer, the scent of wood and smoke in the air, the insects buzzing a melody.
“I’ve gotta talk with you…” says one of my friends, her hand at my elbow. She leads me away from the fire, beer sloshing out of her plastic cup. ”I’ve been thinking a lot about it. You,” she says, waving her hand over me under the pine trees. ”And I wanted to tell you that I don’t think you’re normal.”
My stomach tightens. Where is this coming from? What the hell is she talking about?
“What…” I begin, but her eyes are narrowing, and she’s staring at me angrily.
“What you’re doing with Jenn. Being a lesbian. It’s sick.”
I feel like I’d been punched. All the air leaves me. I’d known this woman for two years, we’d laughed and cried together, we’d helped one another. When she’d had a car accident, I’d held her while she wept for hours. When I’d lost my dog, she’d made me tea, hugged me tightly while I sobbed.
“You’ve known I was gay this whole time,” I splutter, and then I shut up, because she’s not done talking. She’s rubbing at her eyes–I can see in the firelight they’re red.
“I’ve thought a lot about this, and I needed you to know what I thought. It’s disgusting, and it isn’t natural or normal. And I wanted you to know what I thought of it,” she says, sniffing. And then, as an afterthought: ”I can still be your friend.”
I can still be your friend.
I don’t think. I just speak the first thing I know. ”I’m not normal,” I tell her, breathing out. ”And neither are you.”
“Yes I am,” she splutters, and I take a step forward.
“No. No one’s normal. We came up with that stupid word as something to measure everyone against. I’m at peace with who I am, that I’m different. Are you?” She shakes her head, waves her arm at me, walks away.
She says later that she was drunk. That she’s sorry this sort of stuff came out. But that, as a Christian, she has to stick with the Bible, and that’s the way she’s thought all along. We stop being friends. It breaks my heart. But it’s not the first time–or the last time–I’ll lose someone because I’m gay.
But I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, that night in the dark by the fire. I’m not normal, and I never have been. And neither are you. Everyone’s always afraid of being different, that people will point at them and laugh, or that they’ll become what people talk about behind their hands.
Is it liberating to say that, yes, totally, these things will happen? Because they will. I’m a Pagan, vegan, lesbian, pink-haired, heavily tattooed author chick. There’s at least something in that list that makes you uncomfortable. There are some things in that list that I’ve chosen to be as a statement and because they make me happy. And there’s things in that list that I was from birth, that I can’t change, that I wouldn’t, even if I could. And living out and openly as all of these things is painful, hurtful and incredibly vulnerable. Always.
But I know I’m not normal. And I’m incredibly happy not being normal. I know the secret:
No one is.
In my just released YA novel, Twixt, I embrace that idea. There is not a single character in that book who’s normal. The main heroine has a lot of dark secrets, but on top of that, she’s falling in love with a girl. The other characters are trading their hair for an addictive drug. There’s monsters who would take you away, and monsters that would sell your soul, and the only way that things can possibly get any better is realizing that you’re completely not normal. And being okay with that fact.
Because here’s the most important part. The twist, if you will: Being not normal? Yeah. Totally normal.
So kiss your girlfriend and eat that vegan cupcake and obsess about your pen collection without worrying what people will think. And because it makes you happy.
And if you need a little inspiration, give my newest YA novel, Twixt, a read. It’s a dark fantasy YA novel with a lesbian heroine!
You wake upon the cold ground. As you struggle to rise, as your breath exhales like a ghost, you know only two things: You can’t remember who you are. And you’re being hunted.
No one sleeps in Abeo City. The lost souls gather indoors at night as Snatchers tear through the sky on black-feathered wings, stalking them. But inside the rotting walls of the Safe Houses comes a quieter, creeping danger. The people of Abeo City have forgotten their pasts, and they can trade locks of their hair to sinister women known only as the Sixers for an addictive drug. Nox will give you back a single memory–for a price.
Like the other lost souls, Lottie wakens in this harsh landscape and runs in terror from the Snatchers. But she soon comes to realize that she is not at all like the people of Abeo City. When she takes Nox, her memories remain a mystery, and the monsters who fill the sky at night refuse to snatch her. Trying to understand who she is, and how she ended up in such a hopeless place, Lottie bands together with other outcasts, including a brave and lovely girl named Charlie. In the darkness, and despite the threat of a monstrous end, love begins to grow. But as Lottie and Charlie plot their escape from Abeo City, Lottie’s dark secrets begin to surface, along with the disturbing truth about Twixt: a truth that could cost her everything.
Find TWIXT on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or as a SIGNED paperback plus free eReader copy on Etsy.
To WIN A SIGNED COPY of TWIXT, tweet about it, talk about it on your Facebook, Tumblr or blog, and let Sarah know on her blog post, to be in the running! http://muserising.com/?p=2095
by: Kenneth Creech
Last week in my post about The New LGBTQ Teenager I explored the topic of characters that are gay for a purpose, or gay to fit in. This week I wanted to explore a similar topic, but one that maybe gets discussed a little less often. When I was in my middle to late teen years, it seemed that almost every LGBTQ YA book I read was almost singularly about the coming out process. The entire book revolved around who was coming out and how. Some examples that come to mind are Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series and Brent Hartinger’s book Geography Club. These books were great, and I am sure that many people found a lot of help from them. I was already beyond the coming out process at the point that I read them, but they were the only age appropriate LGBTQ books I could find at the time.
New books are released all the time, but over the years, the LGBTQ section in mainstream bookstores has continued to shrink to the point where the only books available now are cultural studies books or non-fiction books that offer tips for coming out. My question is, where are the great books for YA readers than leave coming out behind? Where can readers find books about LGBTQ characters that are dealing with issues other than being LGBTQ? Steven Bereznai’s book Queeroes offers a glimpse inside a world where being gay is not totally taboo or altogether that unusual. Similarly, Malinda Lo’s book Ash offers young readers a lesbian love story that focuses on much more than dealing with the sometimes painful or awkward situation of telling others that you’re LGBTQ. But these are only a couple examples of what I’m hoping is a larger group of books that allow LGBTQ characters to be themselves without having to come to grips with it?
It is my sincere hope that as new indie authors emerge, and established authors publish increasing numbers of books with gay characters, that we can leave coming out behind, not because it isn’t an important part of being LGBTQ, but because it isn’t the only important part of our lives. If you know of a great LGBTQ book that doesn’t deal with coming out or coming to terms with being LGBTQ, leave a comment and let me know, I’m always interested in new reading material.
Originally published on Loup Dargent as “QUILTBAG Protagonists in SF/F YA literature.” Reposted on YAtopia, March 16, 2013.
There is a lack of diversity in young adult fiction especially when it comes to QUILTBAG characters having the starring role in genre fiction. For those unsure, QUILTBAG stands for queer, unisex, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual and gay – a handy acronym to encompass various sexualities. The only one missing is the fairly new, pansexual, denoting a lack of preference or an all inclusive sexual preference.
Science fiction and fantasy, as both a literary and movie/TV genre, has been dominated by straight white males for decades. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in his roles from Terminator to Total Recall. Consider Christian Bale and Tom Cruise in their leading manly-man roles in science fiction films like Equilibrium, Minority Report, Batman and soon to be released Oblivion. Given that a good number of these films are based on the works by literary greats like Philip K Dick, Asimov and others, this straight white male syndrome seems prevalent in the genre, and is sadly true for YA fiction as well.
Let’s look at recent YA smashhits: Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. J.K Rowling’s series featured a straight white male protagonist, Stephenie Meyer’s series featured a straight white leading couple (I’ll get to Jacob in a minute) and Suzanne Collins’s dystopian series featured a straight white love triangle.
Only after the success of Harry Potter, both as a novel series and as a movie franchise, did it surface that Rowling had always thought of Dumbledore as gay, not that this was ever made apparent in either the novels or the movies. Why not?
There are numerous articles about Twilight and possible racism floating around the net. Regardless of how you interpret the fact that Native Americans were the ‘animals’ in the story, what surprised me even more than a centuries old vampire willingly repeating high school, was the lack of sexual fluidity so apparent in vampire characters from the works of progenitors like Anne Rice. Even the True Blood vampires explore same sex partnerships. But Twilight didn’t feature a single gay main character. And neither does another super popular vampire series: The Vampire Diaries. Meet Damon and Stefan Salvatore – white and straight despite both being almost two hundred years old, who confound just about every social more. Meet Elena Gilbert and her brother – straight and white. Meet the sidekicks Caroline, Matt, and Tyler – straight and white. Bonnie is the only smudge of colour on the cast and she’s a witch (why is no one screaming racial stereotypes?). There is one gay character but his appearance is fleeting and has little bearing on the mostly white, all straight main cast.
And now The Hunger Games. There was an uproar at the time of casting for the movie adaptation of the book when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue. Why is Rue black – fans protested. Why not? Is every character in a YA book white and straight until proven otherwise? Another character in The Hunger Games, played by Lenny Kravitz in the film, is referred to as ‘the gay guy.’ Kravitz is quoted to having said he didn’t want to play Cinna ‘too gay.’ In the novel, his sexuality is never expressly stated. He’s simply a stylist and designer, so once again stereotyping runs rampant.
YA protagonists are only gay, lesbian, bi or transgender when it’s a contemporary issue book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring the fabulous Patrick. I can’t name a single best-selling SF/F YA title featuring a gay, lesbian or bi – never mind transgendered – protagonist. Can you?
I’ve never deliberately gone out of my way to write a QUILTBAG character, that’s just who my characters tend to end up being. My most recent YA book, Obscura Burning, is a hybrid contemporary issue (my character’s sexuality is the least of his issues!) come science fiction novel and features a white bisexual male protagonist who has relationships with a Native American girl and a Latino guy. When I submitted this novel to agents they liked it but were nervous about the content. Thankfully, an indie press wasn’t afraid of taking on my novel and all its ‘questionable’ content. This is the beauty of the indie industry: they’re not afraid to take on books that might be controversial.
Even in books like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince where varying sexualities are presented as not only acceptable but ordinary, the main character remained straight. This is exceedingly frustrating. Why can’t the main characters in YA science fiction and fantasy be gay? There’s no reason why QUILTBAG individuals can’t be heroes. Just look at pansexual Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood fame, played by the openly gay and awesome John Barrowman. This is the type of heroic character I want to see in YA SF/F.
Given the slew of dystopian novels set in varying futures, I find it impossible to understand why so few if any of those main characters aren’t at least bi-curious. If we’re fated to a bleak future of robot wars, tyrannical governments and zombie apocalypses, why can’t we at least love whomever we choose and be comfortable with our sexuality?
Suzanne is a freelance writer and author from South Africa. She is the author of the cyberpunk novel Dragon’s Teeth (Divertir), the YA science fiction novel Obscura Burning (Etopia) and has had several short stories published by Golden Visions Magazine, Space & Time, and Niteblade amongst others. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and online.
by: Kenneth Creech
When I was working on my undergrad degree in Sociology, I read a book by Ritch Savin-Williams called The New Gay Teenager, which argued that LGBTQ teens were no longer identifying themselves as LGBTQ. Savin-Williams suggested they were instead adopting the belief that labels were no longer needed and that by labeling themselves, they were limiting themselves.
No offense to Mr. Savin-Williams, but I did not find that to be true when I was an undergraduate, and I still don’t find it to be true as an author or professor of Sociology. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly being labeled and categorized by people with whom we come into contact. The same can be said for many of us, who put ourselves in boxes, or tack on labels about who we are, in order to help figure out how to relate to the world around us. But often, the label for sexual orientation only exists if you are not heterosexual. When interacting with new people, there are some assumptions that are made, and for the most part, heterosexuality is one of those assumptions. Consider the last time a co-worker or friend “came out” as straight to you, or talked about going to a “straight bar” or having dinner in the “straight part of town.” When it comes to being LGBTQ, we have painted rainbows around ourselves and created little tiny pockets of gayness, that we then use when living our lives in a non-gay world.
The interesting thing about these labels in fiction however, is that they are not really necessary. As authors, we control the worlds in which our characters live. We control (to some degree) their interactions with others, how they respond and react, and how much they get to know about each other. For this reason, it is possible that we could leave behind these labels which we have to adopt as social actors in our own lives, and let our characters be who they are, free of definition. I have never read a book where the main character had to explain to someone that they were straight. They never “come out” or struggle with their heterosexuality, which means they are never explicitly labeled by the author as “straight.” LGBTQ characters on the other hand are constantly being labeled, even when it isn’t important, as a way of showing why they fit or don’t fit into a scenario. The example that pops immediately into my mind is Damien from the House of Night series. He is the only permanent guy in an otherwise female group, and it seems to only be his sexual orientation that allows his presence to be accepted. Contrast this with Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series, who never discusses his orientation, but was in love with another wizard. Neither character required a label to exist or be useful in their respective books, but Damien was still sidled with one. Don’t get me wrong, I love that he was included in the series, it just would have been nice to have him be included because he was smart or had an affinity for an element.
Dumbledore never discussed his attraction to, or love of the other wizard in the series and it was only during the movie production that the world even found out he was gay. This is maybe going a little too far in the opposite direction, and LGBTQ characters may best be served with a happy medium. When I was writing Awakened, I had the main character acknowledge his sexual orientation, but it wasn’t the major identity he assumed in the book. He was a teenager, facing some life altering changes, who happened to be gay.
I have noticed this same trend with some other YA books with LGBTQ characters, who are included as primary or secondary characters because LGBTQ people exist in the world, not because it served some function in the story. I think this is a great sign of progress. Hopefully there will come a time when the characters we create can be themselves, completely free of labels. Those would be stories worth reading!
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.
Source: review copy provided by publisher
Review by Lydia Sharp
SPEAKING OUT is a diverse collection of short stories about teens who must speak up and take a stand, either for themselves or someone close to them. The stories feature gay teens, lesbian teens, bi teens, and transgender teens, all with different backgrounds and facing different obstacles.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of parental views highlighted in the stories. For example, in the opening story, “Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez, the main character, Pedro, has already had “the talk” with his parents that he is bisexual. His parents are outwardly supportive of him, but it becomes clear as the story progresses that they don’t really understand him.
In the very last story, “All Gender U” by Sandra McDonald, we see a completely different parental perspective. The main character’s mother has believed, since the day he was born, that he is the reincarnation of her dead sister. He–or more accurately, she–grew up not only feeling that she is a girl born with the wrong parts, but is also a very girly-girl who wears dresses and has long hair and everything that goes into maintaining that, not the least of which involves constant waxing. I loved the viewpoint in this story. Lin is a girl inside of a boy’s body, but her sexual orientation is fluid, open to either boys or girls. It’s a good example of how gender identity is not the same thing as sexual identity.
Touching on something entirely heartbreaking, Dia Pannes’ story, “The Spark of Change”, offers a unique perspective from a girl whose father works as a volunteer fireman. He gets a call about a fire in the area, but no one responds to it (including him) because the home belongs to a lesbian couple. This particular passage highlights how some people, sadly, view others in their very own town.
“People like that should stick to their own. New York. San Francisco. The cities. Where they already have their own community, and they can look out for each other.”
“So if Ms. Gibbs was black, you’d still sit here and let her house burn down? We don’t have no black people up here.”
“How is that different?”
“People can’t help being black.”
“And they can help being gay?”
If you’re in the mood for tears, that’s the story for you.
“Duet: A Story In Haibun” by Charles Jensen is one of those stories you want to read over and over again to savor the beautiful prose. So it’s a bonus that the story itself is just as inviting. Abbott and Lancaster have a wonderfully intimate relationship that goes far beyond the physical. They also come from different family upbringings, which affects their outward actions in opposite ways. The musical imagery and infusion of poetry throughout made this story a favorite for me. It reads like a work of art.
If you prefer characters with grit, then you’ll enjoy “Subtle Poison” by Lucas J.W. Johnson as much as I did. The story is told through the viewpoint of an alcoholic gay teen who has a crush on his friend’s boyfriend. While dealing with this inner conflict he also must stick up for his transgender friend who has recently decided to go public as a boy. This story is uncomfortably crass, intellectually complex, and at times, genuinely tender. It’s the kind of mix I personally love to see in YA.
And as much as I hate to play favorites, I have to admit that my personal favorite of all the stories is “Captain of the World” by Alex Jeffers. This is the story of Burak, a teen who is not only fighting against sexual prejudices for being gay, but also racial and religious prejudices for being a Turkish Muslim. Add to this that he’s the captain of his high school’s soccer team–a confident leader in this particular arena–and at the same time totally insecure about his relationship with a certain someone. He’s afraid of ruining their friendship by acknowledging his crush, and the inner conflict here is refreshingly realistic. His characterization is nothing short of awesome. Burak is the kind of person I would’ve loved to have had as a close friend in high school.
The entire story takes place over the course of a single soccer game. The taunts from a specific player on the opposing team become harder to ignore as the game rolls on, until finally, Burak has no choice but to speak up for himself. Loud and unmistakably clear.
And that’s what this whole anthology is about, really, taking a stand for yourself and others. Because no matter the immediate consequences, seemingly good or bad, in the long run it’s the right thing to do. Always.
About the editor:
Steve Berman sold his first short story at the age of seventeen, so he’s always considered himself a young adult author. His novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as named to the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association’s Rainbow Project Book List, which is recommended reading of queer books for children and teens. He has edited the young adult fantasy anthology Magic in the Mirrorstone (a Parade Magazine Pick), as well as Lambda Literary Award finalists Charmed Lives (co-edited with Toby Johnson) and Wilde Stories. He regularly writes queer spec fic short stories for teens—his most recent being a lesbian retelling of the Swan Lake story for The Beastly Bride and a gay vampire tale for Teeth. He has spoken about queer and young adult fiction at numerous conferences around the nation but always returns to New Jersey, as his cat Daulton demands it so.
Full table of contents:
“Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez
“Day Student” by Sam Cameron
“Gutter Ball” by Danielle Pignataro
“Captain of the World” by Alex Jeffers
“The Proximity of Seniors” by L.A. Fields
“Subtle Poison” by Lucas J.W. Johnson
“Forever Is Composed of Nows” by Will Ludwigsen
“The Spark of Change” by Dia Pannes
“The Trouble With Billy” by Jeffrey Ricker
“Only Lost Boys Are Found” by Steve Berman
“Waiting to Show Her” by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
“Duet: A Story In Haibun” by Charles Jensen
“All Gender U” by Sandra McDonald
Imagine you’re a seventeen-year-old cowgirl living on an isolated cattle ranch in Montana, being raised by your father, a redneck Texan who thinks gays and lesbians are, “unnatural and disgustin’.”
Imagine your mother abandoned you when you were twelve and the only sex education your father provided was, “You’ve seen the critters go at it. Figure it out from there.”
Imagine that what you want most in life is your father’s love and approval.
Imagine you discover you’re gay.
In my paranormal thriller, Threshold, the pieces of seventeen-year-old Leah Dillon’s confused sexuality fall into place during an encounter with sexy ranch hand, Nita. The two young women are caring for a colicky horse:
“Any particular boy you’re hot for?” Nita asked.
Leah shook her head. “That’s the problem, I guess. Just not been in love yet.”
“Never felt fire in your belly for anyone?”
Leah stopped walking Dixie and stroked the horse’s face, certain that her own face reflected the same shade of red. When it came to the land of sex, Leah had always been a foreigner unable to speak the language or navigate the terrain.
Nita stood, walked to them, and offered Dixie a handful of hay. The horse nibbled cautiously at first, and then with greater interest.
Relief blew through Leah. “Her stomach’s okay. She’s going to be fine.”
Nita stepped closer to Leah. When Leah turned to look at her, Nita grabbed her by the hair at the back of her head, pulled her face close, and drew her lips to her own. Startled, Leah tried to resist the unexpected, but weakened as Nita’s kiss stole her breath. Like Dixie, she discovered her appetite, and it grew by the moment. Hungry, she devoured the food Nita offered. Thunder filled her blood. A rumble escaped her throat. Limbs trembled in the wild wind.
Nita pulled back and slipped her hand into Leah’s waistband, hot palm against bare skin. Lightning struck with such force that Leah staggered.
“Now you’ve discovered fire in the belly,” Nita whispered. “Figure out what to do with it.”
When Nita strode out of the barn, Leah stood like a young tree in a fierce storm, its tender roots desperately clinging to hold on to a turbulent new world.
Threshold is told from three revolving viewpoints. Besides, Leah, we meet her younger brother, Cole, who drowns, has a near-death experience, and returns with a mission. And Elijah Thunderbird, a Native American shaman, is the manager of the Dillon ranch and Cole’s spiritual mentor. Through these three characters, the novel explores issues of life, death, and the transformative power of love.
In Threshold, Leah’s father, Ty, brings home a new wife named Branwen. Conflict instantly arises between Leah and her stepmother and escalates to the point where—when Branwen finds Leah and Nita making love—she threatens to “out her” to Leah’s father.
“Nita! I need some help! Dixie got away from me and—what the hell are you two doing?” Branwen’s voice cut through Leah like a knife.
Nita leapt off Leah, hastily buttoned her own shirt, and retrieved Izzy’s for Leah.
Leah frantically squirmed her way into the sweatshirt.
Branwen stood a few feet away, her face even whiter than normal, and her burgundy lips parted in surprise.
Leah’s mind tried to think, but it was impossible. “It’s okay, I’m gay,” she managed to blurt out, then slapped her hand across her mouth to shush herself. Well, that certainly hadn’t been the proper response, had it?
“Mrs. Dillon—” Nita began.
“Tell it to Ty,” Branwen said ominously, then turned toward the door.
“Wait!” Leah cried. “Branwen? Wait!” She stumbled after Branwen, grabbed her arm, and clumsily swung her around. “You’re not going to tell Dad?”
A smile danced on Branwen’s lips. “Payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
Horror filled Leah and she sank to her knees, not too proud to beg. She clutched at Branwen pitifully. “Please, oh God, Branwen please don’t tell him. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you. I’ll never do anything again. But God, don’t tell.”
Branwen glanced at Nita and then back at Leah. “If I were you, I’d make sure your girlfriend gets out of here in a hurry.” Branwen shoved Leah away. “You’ll have to excuse me now, but I’m late for that lunch with your father.”
Leah couldn’t breathe. It was all too horrible to bear.
Imagine the only solution you can think of rather than face your father’s disgust and hatred is to commit suicide.
70% of all teen suicides are gay or lesbian. Can you imagine?
Threshold is available in print and as an eBook. Learn more about it HERE.
Devin O’Branagan writes paranormal thrillers, urban fantasy, and humor novels. Her bestselling urban fantasy, Glory, was nominated for the 2011 Best Popular Paperback for Young Adults List, sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association. Pretty Sacrifices, the sequel to Glory, will be released in 2012. To learn more about her novels, visit her website at www.DevinWrites.com
Copyright © 2011 by Devin O’Branagan
Welcome to our new series, Teen Voices. We are inviting LGBTQ and straight teens to share their experiences with Gay YA in this weekly series.
Writing my online story Henny, I try my best to explain to the reader my own life trials and triumphs in finding myself. One of the toughest experiences I
had to encounter was Sexual assault. In reading Alex’s Sanchez’s “Bait” his main character lashes out against a gay classmate in
dealing with his own rape by his stepfather when he was younger. Luckily, I wasn’t assaulted by a family member but it was still by someone very close to me…
Or so I thought.
In reading his novel I came to realize my own similarities with his main character Diego. I never really lashed out in a violent way, or self mutilation,
but it mentally handicapped me. When I was assaulted I felt as though it was my own fault, so I fabricated a lie for my close ones. The man who I thought cared for me
slithered his way into my life and tried to give me a sense of self worth. He told me so many things that made me care for the little things in life. He financially supported me and my family. My mother clueless as to what was going on accepted the little hundred dollars I’d bring to the table, with little to no questions asked.
That was good because I never really had a true answer. Finally it came time for me to pay him back.
He took me in, loved me up, and broke me down. Those moments when I told him to stop, words came from my mouth apparently in foreign languages. He told me to just relax… but I couldn’t. It was so difficult. This man staring at me in my face, touching me so inappropriately. When I finally left that room myself was so broken down. Tears swell my eyes that I fought back for so long. I made it to the weekly youth group meeting where my cousin demanded I call my mother. It was one of the hardest things I had to tell her… Because instead of the truth, a lie slipped from my mouth like butter had greased my lips. I couldn’t bring myself to give her the actual truth I couldn’t even face myself. Not because I wanted to save him, but because of the embarrassment. This young boy, going off to love another man in an already so close minded country. I couldn’t see anyone truly holding out there hands to help me, unless it was truly an attack that could be seen in their eyes.
The overwhelming task of holding on to this lie took its toll on me. I lost sight of school. I picked up drinking, smoking and looking for the love I needed to obtain from a father figure in all the wrong people. I found myself with stranger’s kisses, and stranger’s touches. The stories and the theories or what happens after a rape that I never thought I would have to experience started to become so real.
But soon I began to see the light. Like Diego I found a way out of the water…..
Born on the small island country of Trinidad and Tobago, 19 year old Phillipe Tristan Alexander, was raised in The United States with an strong Caribbean upbringing. Being able to grow up with the many different influences of America, I found it hard to figure out what was right for me. I felt something inside me when I was younger, playing with my step-sister and her dolls, rather than playing football with the boys. Growing up pretty wasn’t all that easy either because I took more of my mothers feature than my fathers own.
In school I began to fall weak to these feelings. I tried my best to cover them up by getting a girlfriend but still didn’t feel comfortable. Finally in 2005 after the death of my stepfather I told myself that it was about time I stop lying to myself and to my loved ones. I finally began to accept the fact that I was gay. I soon moved in with my uncle and I began to love myself a little more each day…
Now, I’m back home in sweet T&T, and a proud advocate for Gay and Bisexual teens of the Caribbean. I am also the writer of the online story Henny which can be found on facebook. I began writing with inspiration from Alex Sanchez, writer of the Rainbow Boys series.
If you are interested in contributing to our Teen Voices series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor’s Note: Kelly York is the author of HUSHED. Check out our review of it here.)
When I first started writing HUSHED, up until the point I started querying it to agents, I thought nothing except: “This is the story I want to tell.”
Not once did I wonder what kind of reaction I might get to having written a male/male pairing. Even when it did dawn on me that some agents might not be into that, I wasn’t worried about that in particular. It had more to do with, “I’ve written a male/male pairing…and I’m not a guy. How the hell do I know if Archer’s voice is accurate?”
That was what worried me. Wondering if I had somehow managed to capture the right voice and tone for a character like Archer. I’d had zero complaints about it from beta-readers, and…surprisingly, I didn’t get any complaints from agents, either.
The closest I got to a complaint about Archer and his sexuality was someone asking, “Why is he totally cool with being attracted to another guy if this is the first time it’s happened?”
My initial response was, “Why does it have to be a big deal? Why can’t he realize this is the person he likes and leave it at that?” It made me think a lot about Archer as a person, and I realized why he reacted the way he did to finding himself attracted to someone of the same sex.
Because that’s exactly how it happened for me.
There was no huge revelation. No crash of lightning, no identity crisis. No long, drawn-out thing where I wondered, “Am I…?”
For me, it was as simple as this: I met a girl I liked…and I asked her out.
I’m not saying it’s the norm. In fact, most gay people I know had more to it than that. But there are people out there who didn’t have a problem when realizing they were attracted to the same sex. Archer happens to be one of those people.
When I acknowledged this about him, I considered changing it. Maybe making him more confused, having him do more self-discovery to reach that point. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought—why should I? I didn’t want HUSHED to be an issue book, nor did I want Archer’s sexuality to be the spotlight of the story.
(Besides that, given everything else going on in his life, I think realizing he likes another guy is kind of low on the list of “wow” factors…)
Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a call for issue books and coming out stories. That will never change. But I’m happy my book can join the ranks of stories wherein a character can discover this about themselves and enjoy a smooth transition.
What do you guys think? Does it read unrealistic to you for a character to not have more of a reaction to that same-sex attraction, or is it refreshing to see? Why?
Kelley was born and raised in central California, where she still resides with her lovely wife, daughter, and an abundance of pets. (Although she does fantasize about moving across the globe to Ireland.) She has a fascination with bells, adores all things furry – be them squeaky, barky or meow-y – is a lover of video games, manga and anime, and likes to pretend she’s a decent photographer. Her life goal is to find a real unicorn. Or maybe a mermaid.
Find Kelly Online: http://www.kelley-york.com/blog
Be sure to check out Kelly’s new book, HUSHED:
Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn’t protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he’s never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn’t matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another – Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed. Then along comes Evan, the only person who’s ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is.
But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer’s committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn’t get what she wants…And what she wants is Evan’s death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hushed-kelley-york/1033904538
I could probably list one hundred reasons why I write, but one of the most important is this: we only have so many opportunities in our lives to transform bad things into good. We only have so many opportunities to take things that are muddled and angry and difficult and shape them into things that matter. We can choose not to lie every day of our lives, but we only have so many opportunities to say things that are very, very true.
So: a story. On the day after Thanksgiving several years ago, I told my mother I had something to say to her, and we took a walk. It was dusk, not quite evening yet, a quiet crisp New England gloaming settling all around us, and I was eighteen and alight with every new thing my life was becoming and I wasn’t sure how to say it but I wasn’t sure how to hide it anymore, either, not even sure I could. We wandered over to a playground surrounded by towering trees, their shadow arms stretching up and out like a congregation lost in prayer and as we swayed back and forth on the swings I clasped my hands in front of me and trembled and opened my mouth and I finally said the words into the frosted air. I watched them wisp up like smoke; I watched them catch in the arms of the trees.
With one sentence, everything changed.
There is power in bringing your voice to bear. Writers know this; so do LGBT people. It’s why writers write. It’s why LGBT people open their mouths and speak themselves into the frost. We know the power of words. We know that one simple declaration can change everything.
And that’s the thing I try to hold on to, as I breathe life into my characters, as I try to give voice to their wants and desires, to bring forth their darkness and tangles and joys and secrets: I am looking for the words that will change everything. After all, that’s what writing is, isn’t it? You discover these people living at the edge of your consciousness and you coax them into being, and then you try your best to take what they give you and somehow shape it into something real and very, very true.
But that isn’t always a simple thing to do. One of my characters recently – and completely unexpectedly – came out to me. I smiled when it happened. I looked up into the trees. It was as though, after all these years, my words were floating back down to me.
And then I freaked out. Because I know that words are powerful – I know it as a writer, I know it as a lesbian. But does that mean I have some sort of obligation to send a message with this character? Do I have to teach a lesson? Do I have to be extra-careful in how I present her, because there’s a risk that she might be read as a stand-in for lesbians everywhere? What added responsibility do I have, if any? What do I owe readers? What do I owe myself? What do I owe my world?
Given the way our society treats LGBT people, and especially its teens, it’s hard not to feel like there’s some extra responsibility that goes along with writing an LGBT character in YA. Of course, writing a queer character isn’t inherently different than writing any other character; after all, like children and significant others, it’s not as though any of them come with instructions for assembly. We’re all muddling through, trying to get out of the way and allow our characters to emerge into the fully-realized people that they are.
But there’s an added weight, with this character of mine. Because I want to do her justice, yes, but I also want to do queer people justice, and if those impulses come into conflict I’m not sure how to reconcile them. I want to write my character as she is – I don’t want her to be a cliché, or too-perfect, or sanitized for public consumption. I want her to be complex and genuine and flawed. But as she walks through the world, this perfectly imperfect creature, I can’t help but fear that somehow she’ll be misused. That instead of being seen as an example of a shared humanity, she’ll only be seen as proof of queer people’s flaws. Too this. Too that. Not enough. Never enough.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe this is a non-issue, and people are more enlightened than I give them credit for. Maybe everyone who reads LGBT characters does so with an open mind, a generous heart.
Or maybe I’m right to have doubts, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Because maybe – and this is what I’ve come to realize – maybe what it comes down to is that while my words matter, my intention for them doesn’t.
The thing is, once your characters go out into the world, they’re no longer yours. You can have intended all sorts of things for them, attempted to steer them one way or another, forced them into boxes, tried to keep them safe – but in the end, the world won’t have it. Readers may misunderstand them, may turn your every intention on its head, may use your ideas in ways you never intended. You can’t predict that. You don’t get to control it. You can only do your best to say what you mean, and then release your words like so many balloons and hope they find their way. And that is part of being a writer, too – the letting go.
So for me, I’ve found it’s best to write without those sorts of conscious intentions. I am not here to create perfect characters who project some kind of idealized reality, and I think that using a character as a lesson is a quick and easy way to kill a story. My character is who she is. She is flawed. She is a street-level miracle. She is ordinary; she is astounding. She is true, and she doesn’t owe the world anything more than that.
Here is what I know. To write is to sit beneath the sky on a very cold night and speak words that float into the waiting arms of a congregation of trees. It is to try your hardest to say the words that change everything. Hold on to that: write from that place. Use your words to say the things that are very, very true.
Speak into the frost. That is your only obligation. That is what you can control.
And if you are lucky, that will be enough.
Jessica Albrecht is a reader and writer of YA, a lawyer, a tea-drinker, and a solver of problems that do not involve math. When she’s not reading, writing, or failing to count correct change, she’s blogging. (Okay, she also occasionally indulges in really bad TV). Visit her at http://sortofmentalsquint.blogspot.com/ or catch her on Twitter at @writerlyjes.