Guest Post by Suzie Day
Not long ago, I asked a room full of about 30 queer youth, most in their early twenties, to raise their hand if they were bullied at school. Almost everyone did. I then asked those who had been bullied if they had taken refuge in their school library. About 75% of the room raised their hand.
For LGBTQ youth, school can be one of the most dangerous places to be, with 89% of queer youth in Australia reporting that they had been harassed on school grounds (Hillier, Turner, & Mitchell, 2007). For many of those affected by bullying, their library is a safe space, where there is a teacher always present, shelves where they can hide, and books they can escape into.
Gay youth are four time more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, and this rate increases even more in country areas (King et al., 2008). It is important that gay youth are able to access information, and be in a safe space at all times, without fear.
As Harvey Milk said, “You gotta give them hope”. Milk inspired thousands of people to stand up for their rights, because he believed that if one person showed the world it could be a better place, this would inspire hope in others that their life could be better too. He believes that a little hope could go a long way, which is something I fully agree with. I grew up in a small, isolated mining town in Western Australia. When I was about 14 or so, I saw a vehicle with a rainbow bumper sticker, and for days I was walking on clouds, just from the knowledge that I was not alone, and somebody else out there was willing to make that public statement. Blogger Emily Lloyd agrees, and had recounted the story of seeing someone wearing a Pride button, gave her the courage to do the same (Lloyd, 2010).
Libraries are in the unique position where we can give hope to some of society’s most at-risk youth. Little things, such as making sure you have a selection of LGBTQ-themed books in your library can go a long way for a closeted teenager, afraid to tell anyone his greatest secret. Having uncensored internet access can mean that a 16 year old lesbian can get safe-sex information, when their school fails to give her relevant sex-education. Having LGBTQ inclusive picture books in your collection can help a parent explain to their child why their friend Tommy has two mummies.
The American Library Association in the US has an established special interest group already has a special interest group that deal with queer issues within libraries, known as the GLBT Round Table (2011). Right now, the Australian Library and Information Association is establishing a similar group (2011), which hopes to (a) support LGBTQ library staff, students and professionals, and (b) assist and advise libraries in catering towards the LGBTQ community. Librarians want to support their whole community, and that includes those who are gay. This idea isn’t always being put into practice, but efforts are being made to change that.
Your library is a safe place, where you will not be judged, based on the books you read, nor try and stop you, no matter what kind of information you seek. We may not always get it right, but we will try our best to rectify our mistakes. Above all, you are welcome in your library.
I am a Library and Information Studies student at Curtin University, in Western Australia. I grew up in an isolated mining town in the desert, where the only place in town telling me that it was okay to be who I am, was my public library. I am currently the national convenor and co-founder for the Australian Library and Information Association’ LGBTQ special interest group, and I hope to one day persue a career in children’s library services.
American Library Association. (2011). GLBT Round Table. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/glbtrt/index.cfm
Australian Library and Information Association. (2011). aliaLGBTQ. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://lists.alia.org.au/mailman/listinfo/alialgbtq
Hillier, L., Turner, A., & Mitchell, A. (2007). Writing themselves in again: six years on (Monograph series no. 50) (p. 106). Melbourne, Victoria: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & SocietyLaTrobe University. Retrieved from http://www.glhv.org.au/node/69
King, M., Semlyen, J., Tai, S., Killaspy, H., Osborn, D., Popelyuk, D., & Nazareth, I. (2008). A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry, 8(1), 70. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-70
Lloyd, E. (2010, October 2). Being Visibly Queer-Friendly: Please Consider It. Poesy Galore. Retrieved June 20, 2011, from http://poesygalore.blogspot.com/2010/10/being-visibly-queer-friendly-please.html
Young Adult Contemp Thriller
(upper YA, dark)
*Advance reader copy provided by the publisher. This in no way affected my review of the material.
He’s saved her. He’s loved her. He’s killed for her.
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.
(blurb from goodreads)
Review by Lydia Sharp
The first reaction I had to this novel after finishing it was–
MIND = BLOWN
Easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year, but not for those with a weak constitution.
Hushed opens with a highly disturbing scene in which Archer forces Vivian’s brother (one of the people who hurt her all those years ago) to commit suicide by way of a drug overdose. Archer even gets him to leave a note. He’s very good at covering his tracks, which is both scary and brilliant.
So we start out thinking that Archer is doing Vivian a favor, in his own twisted way, and we’re not sure what to think of Archer, but we certainly believe that Vivian is worth it. Possibly. But as the story moves on and we see more of Vivian and Archer’s messed-up leecher/leechee relationship, and then Evan shows up–
Where do I even begin with Evan…
He is everything Archer needs in a guy yet never had, because Archer was always too centered on pleasing Vivian, even though she never appreciated it. She is always with another guy– an obviously wrong guy– and takes for granted that Archer would always be there to pick her up when she fell.
But Evan helps Archer see Vivian for what she really is– bad for him. And he repeatedly assures Archer that it’s okay to do what’s best for himself once in a while, instead of always what’s best for Vivian. You can’t help but love Evan, because you can’t help but see how good he is for Archer. You also get (more than) a little worried for Evan because he’s unknowingly involving himself with a serial killer.
It’s takes Archer some time to get used to this idea of (1) having someone in his life who selflessly cares about him, and (2) allowing himself to not be so concerned about Vivian. But as he spends more time with Evan and less time with Vivian, and less time plotting and carrying out murders, Archer begins to realize that he really isn’t the monster everyone pegged him for. Not the least of which was his own mother.
He wants to change. He wants to do better. And with Evan’s help, he believes he can.
That’s when Vivian fully reveals she is not the innocent little girl she used to be, the one that Archer holds dear in his memory. Vivian can’t stand not being in first place anymore, and suddenly Evan has become her personal “public enemy number one.” Drive Evan away and things between her and Archer will go back to normal, right?
What happens in the story from there is altogether heart-breaking, jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching, and just about every other cliche’ you can think of, all wrapped into one.
The romance between Archer and Evan is utterly delicious. It builds slowly through the first half as Archer comes to terms with the fact that, yes, he has feelings for this guy. And although it’s never outright stated in the story, I got the impression that Archer had never been romantically involved with a guy before, and Evan had.
But that’s really not the point. Because once Archer admits that he needs Evan in his life, the romantic thread of the story takes on an incredible new intensity, and it’s just as important to the outworking of the plot as the opening murder. Everything becomes so tangled up together– the romance with Evan, the murders, the screwed up relationship with Vivian– that you don’t know how it can possibly all work out in the end.
Well. You’ll just have to read it and see for yourself. Because the best part of this book? Is the ending.
Hushed by Kelley York releases on December 6, 2011.
To most people, I’m a pretty typical girl who likes girl things, who has been with a guy for 12 years. Simple, uncontroversial. Few people probably realize I’ve ever felt ashamed or confused about gender or sexuality. But as I sat down to write this post, I realized that in fact, I’ve dealt with layers of confusion about it as long as I can remember.
When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time pretending to be a boy. Mind you, it was in the context of pretend games, elaborate pretend games with my friends where at first I co-opted other people’s characters and by the age of nine I was transitioning into original creations, but I never cared to be a girl. My female friends all wanted to be women–warrior women, healer women, girly girls, wise women, female dragons…you name it, but it was always female. And my male friends always played boy parts. I was the only one who had to step out of gender.
I was quite self-conscious about it, and increasingly so over the years. My friends never outright mentioned that it was WEIRD that I always wanted to play boy parts, but I felt different. Ashamed, even. I tried to mask it by throwing female characters into my play, art and writings–look, a wise woman, an elven archer, a tribal chief who is the most badass person in the village!
But it was always forced. The girls were usually relegated to love interests to the fascinating boys. I identified with the guys more. I wanted to be them. I wanted to blame it on the fact that, in the 80s/90s entertainment of my formative years, guys tended to be more interesting. But I’m not really sure it’s “them”. Other girls of my generation liked pretending to be girls, writing about girls. I still identify with my male characters most. The only difference is that now I’m more willing to accept my yang moods, to own skinny vintage neckties and all the things that match them–my boy-self dwells, perhaps, on a stylish British street around 1965 or perhaps 1973 (the psychedelic period in between he can take or leave), and he is also in my closet.
I remember when I found out what a lesbian was. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was probably older than kids are now, maybe 10 or 11, because there were few gay characters on TV or anywhere, at least not openly. But as soon as I learned, I worried that maybe I was a lesbian, because I liked pretending I was a boy, and I had always felt there was something wrong and weird about it, just as being a lesbian seemed to be wrong and weird. It wasn’t something people talked about, it wasn’t a word people said. I didn’t even yet know about all the religious persecution that could come wrapped up with being gay because I didn’t come from a remotely religious or conservative family, but even in my hippie homeschooler world, I understood it must not be normal or else people would talk about it.
I was also pretty boy-crazy, though, and throughout my teens I had mad crushes on various boys. Also, the internet happened. I started to realize there were other girls who preferred writing about boys, and girls with glorious wardrobes who would dress like a 50s bombshell on Monday and an English schoolboy on Tuesday. I also got into anime. In anime, it was okay to be gay, okay to be straight but dress in drag, it was okay to wander around in bondage gear or furry costumes, even…pretty much anything went at anime and comic cons, and however weird you were, you knew someone else was far weirder, so it was all good. I started to realized what a complicated, confusing, glorious, fraught, fascinating world gender and sexuality were beyond the world I had known as a kid.
I also occasionally ran into a girl on the internet who seemed to be a kindred spirit, who would give me a fluttery feeling that was a lot like being in love. If they dropped out of my life, as internet friends tend to do, I’d feel…well, kind of heartbroken. There were no sexual thoughts associated with these friendships, only intellectual and emotional, but after one particularly crushing loss of friendship when a friend of mine got busy with school and another relationship, I started to wonder. And the fact is, I’m just not a very sexual person anyway…at least, I’m very cautious about that aspect of myself. I fall in love with boys in a pretty similar way as those close female friendships unfolded–I like guys because we have a lot to talk about, similar sense of humor, similar interests, an emotional affinity… I was never the kind of girl who cared about rock-hard abs or jumped straight to kissing fantasies. I started to wonder if maybe I’m bisexual. Or maybe I’m asexual and I just like really strong friendships. Frankly…if I had to choose a label for myself, I’m not sure what it should be.
A funny thing did happen when I admitted, at least to myself, that maybe I wasn’t 100% straight: I started being able to write about female characters a lot better. I started to be able to put more of myself into them, and some of the girls I’d had strong feelings for over the years, too.
When I started working on my latest book, Dark Metropolis, with a setting based on the free-wheeling mood of Berlin in the 1920s, I knew this would be a wonderful book to include a romance between girls. This was something I feel strongly about, because, although this is changing, there are still very few lesbian romances in YA, especially in fantasy, and I love playing around with gender and sexuality themes. The characters of the girls came easily…but the romance did not. In my heart, I felt it. On paper, I hesitated.
I think the trouble for me *was* that I felt it. And a part of me still felt ashamed. To acknowledge that I did feel ashamed makes me, quite frankly, sad. If I, in my late twenties, still felt some deep-down shame just to write a fairly chaste love story between two girls, how hard is it for many teenage girls in real life to acknowledge their feelings for other girls? And this is a thought I had to keep coming back to. I think I would have felt so differently about myself as a kid if the books I’d read had included LGBTQ characters. Books are important to me now, but as a teen they were *everything*. I owed it to girls of the future to just get over it already, and write the things I felt. So I did. I kept rewriting the scenes between Nan and Sigi and pushing them a little closer each time, peeling back another layer of feeling. I still think I can probably do better, of course…quite likely I always will. But it was a cathartic book to write, in many ways, and I hope it is one small step to a world that is more open and free for every sort of person.
Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of Magic Under Glass, Between the Sea and Sky, and the upcoming Dark Metropolis. She has a passion for thrift stores, history, vintage dresses and organic food, and lives somewhat reluctantly in Orlando, FL with her partner and three weird cats.Twitter: twitter.com/jackiedolamore
We asked Aju to talk to us about the experience of growing up gay in the Caribbean. If you would like to share the LGBTQ teen experience in your country, please email email@example.com We’d love to hear from you!
Moving back to Trinidad and Tobago I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into. Honestly, I had a false sense of hope that maybe things wouldn’t have changed so drastically… And it was Tobago I was heading for. It was much smaller and slower than the more industrialized Trinidad. The majority of the people grew up with their minds going in a complete opposite direction. But Tobago was home… with its beautiful beaches and vacation sites… No one knew of the darker side of this planet, including myself.
I had spent majority of my life in the USA so I had an open mind to a lot of things. I grew up on what most would think is the greener side of the fence which isn’t so true, due to the difficulties I faced with my family and my own self. Nonetheless, I was the kid from America. My hair was long, my face lean, my eyelashes full. I was what a lot of these girls in my class wanted to be. But I thought it would be almost obvious that I wasn’t like everyone else. I had been living in Tobago about a year already and honestly there wasn’t another gay soul in sight. And being such a “different” individual in the small minded, laid “backwards” Tobago had its difficulties.
Religion is a big thing here. Even in school… morning prayers, evening prayers. Having everyone down your back about finding the lord was enough, I mean I have a personal relation with HIM and I don’t believe I need to conform to a religious routine to prove that, but that’s a different story. The younger boys would have these names for me, like, “batty” and “buller-man” ‘buller’ deriving from bull which is slang for sex. Every now and then they’d use the common words like fag. Honestly I didn’t even know what these words meant but as I came to realize it was like a sin to be consider one. Most didn’t even know me, but because of my look, I was labeled. I was even disrespected by my elders, in public at times. Once I had a rotten apple thrown at me… The black sheep of Tobago.
But through the humiliation and a lot support from those people who accepted me for who I was (and those who were secretly like me) I picked myself up every day
and little by little, I accepted myself and my circumstances. I know that because I’m in truth an illegal citizen, I wouldn’t be back in the U.S. anytime soon (but that’s a whole different story). But being here has taught me some things. Everywhere you go there will be some kind of adversity, especially for gays. There is a brighter side though… The sister island to Tobago, Trinidad with its open mindedness, offers a greater safe haven to those finding themselves. It offers a fun nightlife with gay-friendly bars, parties, and a comfort that no one is really going to mind your business. There is the occasional gay drama (but once again, that’s a whole different story).
After about 5 years of living here, back and for the between Trinidad and Tobago, life for me here in Caribbean isn’t so bad at the end of the day. Yeah, I may not be accepted by some, but it’s the love of so much more that has me going. There are so many projects and opportunities that I’ve dove into like modeling and writing that I don’t have time to study what everyone has to say. The Caribbean for me has evolved my sense of life and the way I live in so many ways (both bad and good) but I am thankful for it. I encourage all teens living in other countries who have problems with their own environment, to try and look past the difficulties and love yourself. Find a way to look past the adversity and allow those who love you to blind you from those who try to obstruct your well being.
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 mewhen 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 didnt 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.
Thanks to Dennis Upkins for allowing us to reprint his review of Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey.
Braden’s witch eyes give him an enormous power. A mere look causes a kaleidoscopic explosion of emotions, memories, darkness, and magic. But this rare gift is also his biggest curse.
Compelled to learn about his shadowed past and the family he never knew, Braden is drawn to the city of Belle Dam, where he is soon caught between two feuding witch dynasties. Sworn rivals Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe will use anything—lies, manipulation, illusion, and even murder—to seize control of Braden’s powers. To stop an ancient evil from destroying the town, Braden must master his gift, even through the shocking discovery that Jason is his father. While his feelings for an enigmatic boy named Trey grow deeper, Braden realizes a terrible truth: Trey is Catherine Lansing’s son . . . and Braden may be destined to kill him.
I’ve been hearing a lot about this novel and I actually had it on pre-order. However yours truly has peepuls and was able to procure an ARC (hat tip to E).
Ladies & gentlemen, it’s a wrap. The gauntlet has been thrown, the bar has been raised, the standard has been set. THIS is how it’s done! I haven’t been this excited about a novel featuring a gay protagonist since Perry Moore’s Hero.
Braden proves to be a strong protagonist. He’s a three-dimensional character. He makes mistakes, he’s fallible, he’s human and sympathetic. And even when he gets himself into trouble, this is still a character you can root for. While there’s angst aplenty, he has more than enough legtimiate reasons for said angst (which keeps him sympathetic) and Tracey does an excellent job not allowing said angst to pummel and warp Braden’s characterization and development. Tracey also avoids making him stilted and obnoxious like a lot of writers do with their characters.
Tracey’s description and prose is quite impressive. It didn’t overburden you with filler and purple prose. Between the descriptions and the first person narrative, you could easily place yourself in Belle Dam and easily visualize the town and its inhabitants. The mythos and the plot immediately sucked me in and I was dying to find out what happened next. Many of the characters have secrets and agendas, and you’re eagerly awaiting them to show their hands. And more than once I got impatient with intel the audience finds out early on and was wanting to scream, REVEAL ALREADY. The anticipation was killing me.
Forgive the vagueness of this review but I’m trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible.
And can I stress how much I love the book cover?
Braden’s orientation was also handled as-a-matter-of-factly, with nuance, with insight and respect. Witch Eyes could’ve easily have worked with Braden being a heterosexual and it was a relief to read a story that wasn’t a formulaic coming out tale or a tragic gay angst tale or Braden being the formulaic gay guy whose sole raison d’entre revolves around his orientation.
What was also a relief was that the romance didn’t overwhelm the story like you see too often in countless YA, gay novels, and urban fantasy books. The romance was one (albeit important) part of the complex and interwoven plot. The romance was well-executed, as was the mystery, the action and the drama. But it was all well-balanced which made the story that much stronger and that much more enjoyable.
And speaking of romance and love interests, Trey’s a dick. Braden is too good for him and can do so much better. I’m down for Team Somebody Else. And that objective analysis has nothing to do with the fact that Trey reminds me of my ex. Nope, not at all.
[shakes head solemnly]
When it comes to storytelling, Tracey proves that he knows his craft and I found myself having to pace myself with the story because I didn’t want the book to end too soon. There isn’t much resolution at the end which I initially found distressing. But said distress was quickly relieved when I found out that Witch Eyes is the first of a series and the next book is scheduled to be released next year. Thank God. From what little I’ve researched, it appears that Witch Eyes only answered a few questions only to unlock more mysteries. Shorthand, to quote Jim Ross, business is about to pick up.
And if Tracey is this impressive in his debut novel, I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes next.
It saddens me that it took three years for me to find another enjoyable book that features a queer male protagonist. The last one I read was Hero. When you stop and think about the number of books that get churned out each year which feature cis straight white protagonists, it’s all the more infuriating.
But hopefully Witch Eyes is a sign of things changing. We still have a long ways to go obviously but maybe novels like this will lead to more.
Witch Eyes will be available on Sept. 8. PREORDER IS YOUR FRIEND!!!!!
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!
That’s the choice that both the straight and the gay community often gives us. Pick your team. You’re either one of “us” or one of “them.” But what if you’re attracted to both genders? And the fact is that most people are… bisexual.
Of course you’d never know it from news reports. The media hardly ever mentions bisexuality. And yet numerous studies, beginning with those of the groundbreaking sex researcher, Alfred Kinsey over a half-century ago, have documented that the vast majority of us aren’t either 100% exclusively heterosexual or 100% homosexual. Instead, most of us are or have been romantically and sexually attracted, in varying degrees during the course of our lives, to both genders. Given that reality, why do we continue to divide ourselves into gay and straight as if there were some clear dividing line?
Maybe there is some deep-seated tribalism encoded in our genes that gives us a strong need to identify with and belong to a particular group. Or maybe it’s because many of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around bisexuality. We’re often so fixated on the romantic ideal of a single life partner with whom we’ll be happy forever-after, that we can’t understand how bisexuality would work in practice.
And yet a life of serial monogamy is the reality for many couples, both gay and straight—being involved with one person for a period of time, and then another person. Who says that the people we’re drawn to and involved with during the course of our lifetimes all have to be of one particular gender?
Gauging from the emails I receive from teen readers, increasing numbers of young people are refusing to buy into the entire either-you’re-gay-or-you’re-straight dichotomy. As being gay becomes an ever-increasingly viable option in society, many teens are rejecting the belief that if you have sex or fall in love with somebody of the same sex that means you’re really gay or that if you have sex or fall in love with somebody of the opposite sex that means you’re really straight. They’re refusing to accept the false choice of defining themselves as either gay or straight (or even bisexual). They are daring to live label-free.
Teens are my heroes. They give me so much of my writing inspiration. And they’re the reason I wrote my latest book, Boyfriends with Girlfriends. The story focuses a lot on bisexuality issues. But it focuses even more on being true to who you are before putting yourself into either the gay or straight box. Find out more on my website, www.AlexSanchez.com
Alex Sanchez is the author of Rainbow High, Rainbow Boys, and Boyfriends with Girlfriends among many other GayYA books.
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.