Young adult is a category filled with the documentation of firsts—first love being one of the most common. Any story about a teenager is going to be about self-discovery. So it stands to reason that a lot of books about GLBT (or “queer” to cover the gamut and then some) teens will be in large part about the process of coming out.
Personally, I was 28 when I came out and it felt like being 15 again. So if being a teen is about coming out, coming out can sometimes seem an awful lot like being a teen.
That said, some readers are beginning to bemoan the lack of other stories in Y/A with major queer characters. Does every book about queer teens have to be about coming out?
I say absolutely not. Coming out may be an angsty, teen-y experience in many ways, but it is not always so very angsty as to merit a whole novel. Other stories need telling, too. For the kid (or adult reading over a kid’s shoulder) for whom coming out isn’t or wasn’t an earth-shattering process, or for the ones who just want to read about something else, having lived enough of it already, those stories could and should take all kinds of forms.
The fact is that once you’ve gotten past that initial hump of coming out to yourself and to the most important people in your world, it’s not all that interesting to be queer anymore. “Gay” Y/A is going to start needing more than “gay” as a theme if it hopes to engage readers.
As a lesbian in an eight-year (extralegal) marriage with two kids under seven, I can attest to the fact that marriage is pretty much just marriage. My annoyances with my partner are much the same as my straight friends’ annoyances with their husbands. And while living in a heterosexist culture may impact my life in negative ways (eg: the extralegality of my marriage), so does living in a patriarchal culture as a woman, so does living in a racist culture as the (white) mother of African American children
Cultural biases definitely impact people’s lives, but let’s face it, the romance novels people love don’t dwell very much on how much sexism sucks, even though the main characters are usually women. The stories are much more about the specific details of the main characters’ circumstances. While sexism may put certain hurdles in a heroine’s way—perhaps she has to buck convention and marry someone her father doesn’t like—the story is about her relationship with the hero—not the argument with her father.
It is not the duty of fiction writers to make anyone a better person, nor to educate anyone nor to throw life rafts to the drowning. But fiction does have the potential for those kinds of effects (and their opposites and much in between). And if expanding the horizons of readers in general, giving queer kids a glimpse of how It Gets Better, or just affirming that they are people, are people, are people just like their peers, is anywhere at all on a writer’s list of goals, portraying the just-plain-human nuances of relationships between characters who are also queer, should be a to-do.
There are plenty of ways to do it. I have a young adult work-in-progress set in the past and another (not Y/A) work-in-progress set in the future. Both feature many lesbian characters and include strong romantic subplots. Neither book deals much with “coming out” or homophobia, but I consider both to be realistic portrayals of lesbian life and love. How can that be?
My historical story is set in the 1870s and ‘80s, partly in the slums of New York City and partly in the mining country of the Arizona Territory. One of my main characters has been passing as male since running away from an orphan’s home at age nine. At the end of the story, s/he is 19 and happy to be a “man.” Her love interest is conventionally female and their relationship is not worthy of much scrutiny because it passes as heterosexual. As for the self-discovery that they love members of the same sex, it would be historically inaccurate to have them too upset about that. For one thing, passionate relationships between women were acceptable—even committed, life-long ones—in the Victorian era, for another thing, both of my characters accept the passing boy as male. S/he is male-with-a-difference to be sure, but basically, male.
The futuristic story is simply set far enough into that future to imagine that people just don’t care that much about sexuality and gender boundaries the way they do now. One reader was confused by this. She wanted to know why these women weren’t more worried about the impact of being lesbians. Then she wanted me to add an explanation to the story of why they weren’t. I reminded her that in the 21st century, we rarely worry about being traded into arranged marriages as teens by our fathers, the way women did five hundred years ago. Nor do we ever sit around discussing how nice it is that we need not worry about that anymore. (Well, most of the time we don’t!)
Instead of being about being lesbians, my futuristic story is about challenges to the human race, as faced by two lead characters who struggle with having opposite values while being really attracted to each other. Oh, and they’re both women.
If we can’t imagine different worlds, we’ll never solve any of the problems in this one. Those different worlds could be frontier pasts, futuristic starships, or the internal landscape of an ordinary kid in the contemporary world who just cares more about the fight he had with his boyfriend yesterday than the fact that he has a boyfriend, rather than a girlfriend.
Shannon LC Cate is a write-from-home lesbian housewife and adoptive mom. She writes about writing at ShannonLCCate.com and about family life at Peterscrossstation.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter as @LilySea.
When I was a teenager, I faithfully devoured all six or so books I could get my hands on that had lesbian main characters. These were overwhelmingly coming out stories, and most of them left me balling my eyes out because of how depressing they were. The movies weren’t much better. Enter the world of fanfiction. Now that was something I could get behind! Okay, maybe they weren’t always the most well written stories, but at least they were about something besides coming out. I quickly began writing my own, and after many years of that I decided to branch off into something of my own.
Morning Rising was inspired by a friend’s issues with drugs, the ups and downs came so fast it was almost too much to handle. One day I sat down and started writing this, putting all that emotion to good use. Don’t be worried, it’s not an issues book or anything, it’s a fantasy novel all the way through. It follows Kara, sixteen and quietly in love with her best friend Dylan, as she wakes up in the world of Inbetween and learns there is so much more behind Dylan and her friendship than she could have guessed. Dylan is a princess from the Daylands, and Kara is her Guardian. They were both sent to the human world to hide Dylan from Demitar, the ruler of Inbetween, who wants to claim her because she was born of light and darkness. Whichever side she chooses, she will become their most powerful ally. As her Guardian, Kara is the only one who can help Dylan choose the side of light.
The book is pretty much everything I wanted to read when I was younger (and still do). The hero is a girl, a pretty bad-ass one if I do say so, and she gets to save the princess! They fight bad guys and use their magical powers, and sometimes they even get to kiss. This is what I was dying for. I know there are many fantasy novels aimed at adults in this genre, but I want some teen angst, not the risk of full blown, detailed sex scenes.
Now I would love to see this book sell amazingly, and I would love to see a movie made out of it. Unfortunately, even if the book does find an audience that falls in love with it, I know Hollywood isn’t out there making epic fantasy movies that center around a couple of teenage lesbians. That sucks. Why do they think there wouldn’t be an audience for it? Why does the story have to be defined by the two people who fall in love in it?
A lot needs to change before we will see shelves lined with books that feature gay characters as more than a stereotype or joke, by putting Morning Rising out into the world, I feel like I’m doing my part.
Samantha Boyette lives in upstate New York. Her short stories have been featured in various websites and books, and she was the co-winner of the 2010 Textnovel.com online writing contest. To learn more visit www.SamanthaBoyette.com
Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff is a story of friends lost and families found, place sought and love gained, but the book will be remembered for more than a heartbreaking and moving story. But I wish you would stop reading this review now and read the book yourself. Right now. This will be here when you get back.
Because what makes this book so remarkable is the way in which Brezenoff takes a fairly typical story of angst and trauma, a story no less powerful despite its archetypal structure, and puts it in a form that forces the reader to confront deep seeded notions about the idea of gender.
The reason I wish you would all read the book before reading this review is because the teacher in me wants to know what your initial, uncoached reactions to the protagonist, Kid, and Scout are. I won’t say “unbiased,” because the structure of this novel is designed to uncover and challenge biases with regards to gender.
You see, Brezenoff does something few writers have attempted. He presents a novel in which genders the main character and the main character’s love interest are not revealed, leaving it to the reader to decide. Brezenoff gives Kid, the protagonist, love interests of both genders, so the reader can’t assume Kid is gay or straight and thus boy or girl.
I made assumptions based on the characters. I won’t tell you what I assumed about Kid and Scout, but I did a lot of thinking about my choices, and more than anything, I realized that gender is more than boy/girl. And freeing characters of the expectations of gender takes a lot more than leaving off gendered pronouns and assigning characters gender-neutral names. At the end of the story, the reader is left with this question: why did I assign the genders to Kid and Scout that I ultimately chose?
My choices were undoubtedly marked my personal history and experiences. If a person behaves in this way, then it is highly likely this person is a boy or vice versa. But another reason I made the choices I did is the connotation one of the names evoked for me, a name tied in my mind to a long literary tradition — I don’t want to say it outright lest it influence your reading, but you can probably figure it out, you smarty smart pants readers you. Does the connotation I noted make me right about this character? Certainly not, but what it tells me is that gender is more than pronouns and names and preferences. The concept of gender is reinforced by hundreds of years of cultural history, and even the most careful scrubbing of pronouns from a text will not leave the story truly open. Ideas we didn’t even know we carried will make their way into our work and our world. There is always a choice to be made.
As I read the story, I was always mindful that the choices I was making as a reader were based on assumptions both surface of my thoughts as well as deeply internalized cultural information. And I really I wished that I could teach this book in schools. Alas, language and content mean that I could probably never (well, definitely never, here in my home state) teach this in secondary schools. However, I do believe that Brezenoff’s book opens the door for more artists to take up the challenge to create stories, songs, movies, paintings, etc. that challenge long-held notions of gender, of what it means to be normal, what it means to love, what it means to belong. I don’t think gender differences will ever be neutralized — our bodies are different, and face it. Sameness is boring. What I hope it that our differences — differences in gender, in taste, in choice, in life and love — will remind us all how awesome it is to be alive and to share this world with one another.
Debra Touchette is an assistant librarian, grad student, blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass: Adventures in Reading, and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to). She is often accused of being to serious and thinking too much, but she figures there are worse things, like awkwardly writing about herself in the third person all the time. But maybe someday she’ll lighten up, get a puppy, lay off the coffee. Or not.
When was the last time you saw a character in a tv or book whose entire life revolves around their heterosexuality?
Never? Me too. Admittedly, heterosexual people have not gone through the horrible atrocities the LGBTQ community has dealt with over the course of history. Straight people do not have to deal with the potential of being kicked out of their homes once they come out. Obviously, the LGBTQ community does need novels about coming out.
But why are the vast majority of LGBTQ YA books only about the beginning of a queer person’s identity? These books tend to revolve exclusively around the protagonist’s coming out struggle. In certain TV shows and books – like Glee’s Kurt for instance – it seems that the main character’s only reason for existence in this world is to be gay, and they have no other wants, motivations or desires.
Why aren’t there more books with gay protagonists who have bigger worries than their sexuality – like saving the world – on their mind? Bisexual characters who have to deal with the biases in their community? Transpeople who are total badasses and polyamorous teens coming into their own? The BTQ in LGBTQ needs to be better represented if LGBTQ lit is going to evolve in the way that will get consumers – queer and straight alike – reading.
What I want most to see as a reader who loves stories with narratives our heteronormative society rarely sees, is LGBTQ literature evolve from a genre of fiction into a secondary thought on the dust jacket. Because just as YA isn’t really a genre so much as a label for the protagonist of the story, LGBTQ lit is much the same thing. It’s time for the mainstream industry to start acting like it.
My desperate hunger for these kind of YA novels is not being completely ignored. Authors like David Levithan are known for writing books about characters who deal with love and politics, and happen to be gay. Books like Hex Hall and The Mortal Instruments Series too, have characters whose sexuality is less important than their personality.
I love LGBTQ fiction. It has provided me with the kind of tender romances that make me believe love is possible. But if YA is ever going to truly satisfy me and plenty of others as readers, it’s going to have to diversify in all directions, and give YA readers the fresh narratives they deserve.
Are there any particular LGBTQ stories you’ve been itching to see in YA fiction? I’d love to hear about them.
Emma Allison blogs at http://bookingthrough365.blogspot.com/
Since the release of my debut novel, Hollowstone, I’ve been making the rounds to promote the novel via interviews and guest posts. One of the most frequent topics of discussions is the representation of marginalized people in the media.
Being a queer storyteller of color, it goes without saying that diversity, inclusion, and representing minorities with respect is something that’s very important to me.
I wish I could say things are getting better, but I’d be lying if I did so. Having a story with POC and queer characters as the leads shut a lot of doors as far as many markets went. Not surprising as this is still an industry that blatantly whitewashes book covers with POC leads. And let’s not forget that a New York Times bestselling author was forced to remove a short story from an anthology after being told that she couldn’t have gay teens as the romantic leads in the piece.
While bigotry and discrimination isn’t exactly new for me, the impact of the erasure of queer, POC and other marginalized representation didn’t really hit me until I began promoting Hollowstone.
It was sobering to be reminded by interviewers and readers alike that Hollowstone is a rarity in that of the three main characters, one is an African-American teen while the other is a bisexual female teen. Not only that but as I’ve been reminded by readers, both characters debunk many stereotypes that inundate the media. While I’m thankful for the accolades for doing something positive, I’m also disheartened that more novels aren’t doing the same.
It saddens me because even in LGBTQ friendly/centric fiction such as YA, the roles of queer characters are immensely limited.
As a gay geek, I desperately want to read more stories of queer male protagonists kicking butt and taking names in the spirit of Jack Harkness, Wiccan and Hulkling, Daken and Midnighter for my fellow comic book geeks. Sadly too many stories consisting of gay characters is usually limited to us being the sassy best friend, the walking gay tragedy, the gay romance (most of which aren’t even written by queer males and not surprising our depictions are grossly inaccurate and homophobic).
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have gay romance novels (when done right) or tackle homophobia and other challenges that queer youth face. I did so myself with Hollowstone. But like Oliver Twist, I’m holding out the bowl, and asking (in a wicked cool British accent) “Please sir, I want some more.
LGBTQs need more and deserve more. We need escapism just like our cis straight brothers and sisters. We need to be portrayed in roles we wouldn’t be expected to be in. Because in real life, many of us are defying convention. It’s not even enough to have gay characters in gay stories. We should also be leading characters in well-crafted mainstream tales where the protagonists happen to be queer as opposed to our orientation being the be-all-end-all of our identities. While being visible as the sidekick or the supporting character is nice, it’s past time we take the lead.
Queer readers should be able to walk into the YA section of a local bookstore and have a selection of stories featuring queer protagonists to choose from.
The next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl doesn’t have to be cis, straight white males. Queer teen characters are just as capable of having epic adventures, saving the world need heroes and heroines that represent us. Whether it’s Hero by the late Perry Moore, or Huntress by Malinda Lo which I’ve recently been reading and enjoying.
Queer readers need to see ourselves portrayed in a positive and encouraging light. But more than that, cis straight readers need to see us portrayed in a positive and encouraging light.
But change doesn’t happen passively. The industry has to be be proactive in improving things. Editors and publishers have to actively seek out well-penned stories featuring queer protagonists, allow queer writers the opportunity to share our stories and our experiences. Queer allies have to step up as well. They should be pushing the issue and not allowing the burden of the heavy lifting to fall solely on LGBTQs
Change is rarely easy, but it’s not impossible.
One thing I’ve learned as both a black man and a gay man is that real pride is demanding better, of yourself and of others. Equality is not a dirty word, it’s simply something that we’re all entitled to.
Dennis R. Upkins was born and raised in Nashville, TN. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling.
His debut novel, Hollowstone, was released in June 2011 by Parker Publishing. More information on Upkins and his other projects can be found at http://dennisupkins.com/.
By Karen Kincy
I’m not qualified to blog about LGBTQ characters and pairings. This was my first reaction to being asked to write for Gay YA. My second reaction: Why not? Am I more qualified to write about boys, werewolves, men, shapeshifters, and anyone much older than me? Who says I’m able to understand the inner thoughts of a small-town sheriff, or a murderer? Many more people in my life identify themselves as LGBTQ rather than werewolves or serial killers. In all seriousness, I want to know why I still felt like this was something off-limits.
In my debut novel, Other, I explored what might happen if paranormal people were real, and everyone knew it. Of course the differentness of these Others would be obvious, and would inspire prejudice in many Americans, even fear and hate. The protagonist of Other, Gwen, is a half-pooka shapeshifter, and hasn’t told anyone outside her family and best friend, not even her human boyfriend. She’s afraid his conservative upbringing will trump his feelings for her. Obviously, Others can be seen as a metaphor for people facing prejudice in the real world.
If I had been writing about LGBTQ teens instead of paranormal ones, Other would be an issue book. The issue being that a character’s sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t considered mainstream, and this differentness becomes the story’s conflict. Similar issue books focus on characters whose racial identity or religion—or fill in the blank—is considered different. Anyone who isn’t a “default” protagonist, who isn’t white, straight, etc. This is a book about a girl’s blackness, or this is a book about a boy who falls in love with another boy.
Yes, I wholeheartedly believe we need books like this. But I think we also need books where LGBTQ teens are part of a bigger story, like a fantasy adventure where the heroine falls in love with a huntress, like Malinda Lo’s Ash, or Dumbledore being gay in Harry Potter—though I do find it interesting how J. K. Rowling chose not to mention this fact in the books themselves. On the one hand, it’s Dumbledore’s business; on the other hand, Rowling likely knew the controversy that would result from her making this an unavoidable fact on the page.
I don’t think authors can pretend there isn’t any controversy surrounding LGBTQ themes in YA—or in real life. But I also don’t think LGBTQ characters should forever be pigeonholed into issue books, always explored and examined by what makes them different, rather than what makes them the perfect character to crack an ancient mystery, or fall in love in outer space, or have an ordinary, boring life until the author throws some adventure their way.
LGBTQ characters aren’t off-limits for my YA. I might need to fight some preconceptions of my own, and force my brain not to travel in the ruts created by “mainstream” thoughts. But I know that there’s nothing else stopping me.
Karen Kincy’s debut, Other, came out last July, and her second novel, Bloodborn, will hit shelves on September 8. You can find Karen online at www.karenkincy.com
My name is james crawford and I am a young adult writer and yes I meant for my name to be in all lowercase. My First book is named ‘Caleo’ it’s about a boy named Caleo Anima who the social outcast of Butler High. His pale skin and white hair have caused him nothing but trouble since birth. Now at age seventeen a mysterious stranger appears out of nowhere telling Caleo that he is part of a magical race of people called Leeches and tearing him from a world that has rejected him, to be thrown into the middle of civil war that has been being fought in the shadows for decades… all in an effort to control ‘Caleo’
‘Caleo’ is a science fiction/fantasy book where the main character is gay. When I started writing Caleo I decided very early on that I did not want Caleo to be a “gay themed” book but ascience fiction book with a gay main character. Some people ask what the difference is and I feel it is simple a “gay themed” book revolves around the characters sexual orientation where as Caleo story line has very little to do with his sexual preference and focuses on the actual story plot. Yes there is a bit of a love interest in the book but no more than any sciencefiction/fantasy.
My inspiration for writing ‘Caleo’ came from the late Perry Moore’s book ‘Hero’. It was the first young adult book that I read with a gay main character. Sure it was a cheesy superhero novel but it opened my eyes to a new world of young adult fiction. While looking for books like it, I found that there is very few out there and decided to set out on my journey to be an author just like him. I want to inspire the young readers out there and let them know that it’s okay to be who you are. No matter what that is.
Thank you, and please check out my book ‘Caleo’ available on Amazon Kindle and Nook. For the next two months all my proceeds will be donated to charities. For the month of June all sales will go to help support www.GLBTAYS.org so please show your support. Next month is still up in the air so if you would like to recommend a charity drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a blast writing for the good folks and readers of Gay YA—I believe in the core of my being that young readers need these stories, especially as there are so many nincompoops out there who would slam the entire genre and dismiss our hard work out of hand. Those naysayers are not our audience, after all.
I hope you’ll come and see me over at my blog, Trans/Plant/Portation, and elsewhere around the net. And I do suspect I’ll be back here from time to time, as the powers that be are inclined. Happy reading, and happy summer!
Eighth grade, 1984. Enough of spring had popped through the soil that the scent of daffodils trickled up to the third floor of the Princeton primary school, which was set right up against busy Nassau Street. As the building was nearly 200 years old, we relied on cross-breezes for air conditioning, which, given that each classroom had windows on only one side of the room and given that New Jersey air does not come pre-conditioned, meant that we were all overheating on a regular basis at some point after April 6. Our core temperatures, however, to a great degree reflected our disparate uniform code: boys could wear thin polo shirts once winter was over, but the girls’ dresses were heavy and scratchy, not much of an improvement over their woolen vests and kilts. More >
I’ve looked at stories, characters, plot devices, layering, the writer’s mission, and some of the tropes around gay YA and genre fiction this past month or so, but left to examine among many other aspects of writing is audience. Not all writers seek publication, and that’s fine, but for those of us who want to get our words communicated to the world outside our heads should understand our options, the market, and readers’ expectations. In no particular order:
Get your work in line with your mission—Looking to write crossover or mainstream YA novels? Then there needs to be cross-market appeal. But if sticking to LGBT themes and characters is your priority, be prepared to work only or primarily with smaller niche markets. I had a novel (I’ve since trunked it for a later day) that used santorum the substance, not the politician, and was told by a very big, helpful editor, that I needed to change it if I wanted to get big markets to go for it, or stick to gay publishers. We’re the writers; we need to see these moments as the choices they are.
Learn the lingo—Colleen Lindsay, who was an agent for years and now works on the Book Country project out of Penguin, told me that they’re not “LGBT” books, they’re “YA books with LGBT themes.” This signals to potential agents and editors that we’re professionals and we know how to market our projects and work with the folks in publishing. Conferences and agent blogs are a great way to pick up the ways in which the industry categorizes its products.
Be a good writing citizen—Sure, there is plenty of evidence that if you start a blog, it shouldn’t be all about writing, although I resist the notion that avid readers aren’t interested in how we do what we do. I know they’re out there because they’ve tugged at me and waved. Let’s make sure we don’t swing the pendulum too far against writing about writing. If we share some of our experiences—meaning our failures and successes—we create a better writing community than if we isolate ourselves in our endeavors. Consider being a beta reader for someone else’s project, and eventually, you’ll make some trusted writing friends. Also, there are too few avenues into publishing not to share our connections with each other. Supporting other writers helps us take a little more control in our own hands for gaining advocates for our own work.
Listen more, talk less—Watch conversations like #litchat on Twitter, which runs MWF at 1PM Pacific Time. Sure, throw in your opinion from time to time, but pay more attention to what others are saying online. Follow your favorite agents and editors in the social networking sites they frequent. Don’t barrage them with questions; the last thing an emerging writer needs is to make a bad name for herself, so that when the agent sees the name on the query, she rolls her eyes in fatigue. That guy who sends out the same query every day to 200 agents—yes, he exists—is NEVER going to get an agent. Learn what’s going on in the industry beyond the doom and gloom narrative—maybe a part of your writing time each week could be spent reading Writer’s Digest, or Writers & Poets, or Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, for example. They give very helpful, actionable advice.
Find LGBT-inclined markets—Canonball blog, Expanded Horizons, Original Plumbing, and other journals feature or prioritize LGBT stories and writers. Duotrope dot com lets writers search for relevant markets and manage when they’ve querying and what outcome they’ve received. You’ll also find out via my earlier points where the LGBT-friendly folks are, and meet the audiences who are reading these markets. Let hyperspace be your guide. What do these journals list on their blogrolls? Are there other Web sites associated with any commenters to short stories you like? Check them out and their submission guidelines, and get involved in some of those conversations. This also has the added benefit of keeping you on top of contemporary LGBT-themed fiction, what kinds of fiction different markets produce, and where your work may best be accepted.
Remember you’re part of the audience—Be willing to look at your own writing with a critical eye. Have you criticized a book’s opening when you have a similar beginning in one of your projects? We know more than we think we do. I know it’s challenging to be confident when you’d rather give up, but not exaggerate your capabilities. If you know what you like as a reader, chances are there are many other readers who like that same kind of thing. Sure, writing is a process and a labor of love, and sometimes it’s part of our social agenda. But it’s also a product, and if we’re seeking a route toward traditional publication, we need to understand our projects need to be sellable and marketable by publicity agents (and ourselves). So turn your reader’s eye, not your nervous writer’s eye, to your work when it’s time for rewrites, and it will come out a lot cleaner when it’s time to query.
Find whatever outlets for your writing that you can manage to support—Is there a call for unpaid guest bloggers? Think about throwing your hat in the ring; you’ll likely find new readers. Then engage people who respond to your posts with replies, making the readers feel appreciated and the editors taken seriously. Does one of your writing buddies need a last-minute 500-word post? Write one up. Paid blogging or writing gigs are even better. Once you’ve established a solid reputation, you can use your connections to see if larger markets are interested in an idea or pitch of yours.
The good news is that even in this economy book sales—especially ebooks—are still doing reasonably well, and more titles than ever are on the market. There is room for us in Gay YA. We need to be our own, friendly champions and if we stick with it long enough, our hard work will more than likely pay off for us.
When I met her, she was an ardent lesbian who couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be attracted to a man. Now she’s married to one.
When I met hir, zie was queer. Then trans. Then — in part because zie became frustrated contemplating the costs and inadequacies of surgery – zie returned to female pronouns. Though I tend to avoid pronouns altogether when discussing that particular friend, waiting to see what might be next.
One of my favorite reviews of my second book, The Rules for Hearts, refers to my characters’ “fluid sexuality.”
I write characters with fluid sexuality because I’ve seen and experienced it, shifts in sexual and gender identity that I never could have predicted. And I keep thinking that if we weren’t all so desperate to define and label every relationship almost before it begins, maybe managing the shifts would be easier.
Of course, we put ourselves in boxes as often as others consign us there. Climbing into the box of a particular identity can be like building a fort; we barricade ourselves from everything outside and revel in the security within. And as teens, we’re often especially anxious to claim membership in a tribe. Plant the flag, wear the button, wave the banner — here I am! It’s valid and satisfying and affirming.
It’s also inherently limiting. What if a territory that once felt like home suddenly doesn’t feel so comfortable? What if you find yourself unhappy, or even just restless?
As a writer I’m interested in complexity. I’m interested in blurry lines. I’m interested in the times when you look at someone, blush, and wonder: is this friendship? More? Less? Is this where I fit? How about here? Or there?
I’m not saying that these kinds of shifts should be part of every story, or that there aren’t any number of people — and thus, characters — whose sexual and gender identities remain moored and steady. But sometimes, for some people, they don’t. Let’s tell those stories too.