Back in January I found out that Secrets of Truth & Beauty had been named to the Rainbow List. I'd like to say that this was a pleasant surprise, but really I'd known that it had been nominated, and I'd been aching and hoping for it to be included. The more I work with teens as a librarian, the more I realize that the books on lists like the Rainbow List and the Lambda Literary Awards are vital to have in a collection, not simply for the LGBTQ students, but also for their peers. The recent defeat of same sex marriage and a controversy over a transgendered student in my current home state of Maine have driven home the point that we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of acceptance.
The funny thing is, when I was writing Secrets, the sexuality of the characters was not something that I'd really thought of as a big deal. There are gay people in the world, and so there are gay people in my novel. Nothing revolutionary there, or so I thought.
To be fair, while I wrote most of the first draft, I was living in what can only be called a LGBTQ Friendly Bubble. I lived in the Davis Square area of Somerville, Massachusetts, a stone's throw from uber-liberal Cambridge, and I was working at what could very well be the left-most high school in the America. Many faculty members were out and proud, and sometimes it seemed unusual if a student were not questioning his or her sexuality. This attitude was reflected in early drafts. When Owen described his coming out, it was as rosy as it might have been in my previous school. But my editor encouraged me to make it a little more rough, and after having moved out of my bubble, I knew what she meant.
As a librarian, I knew that some people would probably take issue with the book simply for its inclusion of gay characters. If I allowed myself to imagine any confrontations, I always played the role of the eloquent hero, vociferously tackling prejudice. In reality, it didn’t quite go down like that.
I was invited to meet with a book group at a small library. They had read Secrets and I went to discuss it with them. The conversation was going on nicely when a little old lady told me that she thought the book was fine – she had enjoyed it – but that it was inappropriate for children. She explained, “It makes it seem like homosexuality is normal.” I did not expect the challenge to come from a kindly woman. Her tone was both respectful and matter of fact. My strident reply: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point.”
While I didn’t write Secrets as a political book, it definitely contains my point of view. And if the book itself didn’t convince her that it’s okay to be gay, well nothing I could say at that meeting would. I can't decide if my reaction is just rationalization, but I do think that it's unlikely that any one book is going to change people's mind. We need more of a chipping away. We need, in short, many books, many movies, many stories – and many lists like the Rainbow List that celebrate these stories. And that's why I'm so proud to be a part of it.