Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Megan: Why We Need LGBTQ Books

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.”

Some hero.

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.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent point.

    When I started my first novel (unpublished), the mc was reeling from a breakup with the love of her life. In the third chapter I decided I had to describe "Dallas"--the former love. Dallas turned out to be a girl. None of the interaction/dialogue/characterization had excluded that, but it was unexpected even to me. Soon it was merely a fact of the story. I was astounded that my early readers had a huge problem with it.

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  2. AMEN to that! I'm so glad to see inclusion in today's teen books.

    (You're still a hero. Just a quiet one.)

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  3. I am currently writing a YA LGBTQ book, this post is quite encouraging. I often find myself questioning the future of the novel in the sense that no one will want to read it. I have read a few mainstream books in the genre and been pleasantly surprised at their ability to be both wide-reaching and not watered-down. But then I get to the part where two guys kiss and I always think of Christina Aguilera's video for "Beautiful". I was in high school and at the time it came out, my friends were rather outspoken about the guy-guy PDA on the park bench scene. In fact, it made even me a little uncomfortable. So then I sit there writing my book and I get frustrated at my discomfort when describing certain acts. Okay rambling. Anyway, my MC's are gay and I can't change that and I am not intending to change anyone's view with my book, I just want to write it and believe in it. Thanks for your help!

    You should be proud to be a part of change. You don't need to consider yourself a hero to be appreciated by me.

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  4. My YA book (as yet unpublished) is also LGBTQ...well, it's actually more BQ than anything, but I've only had readers in the safe bubble. The characters themselves are definitely not in that bubble, so I look forward (yes, it's true) to reactions from folks I know who will probably run me out of town on a rail. Thanks for your book, which normalized a queer world in the most lovely way, Megan, and your post.

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  5. What a great post, Megan. I'm looking forward to reading your book!

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  6. Thank you for your post, Megan. I loved your book and am glad it's on the Rainbow list. Your writing of all your characters is skilled and full of affection and understanding.

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  7. It's hard to know about those kinds of confrontations. I run into it all the time with my students in my diversity lit class. Maybe it just wasn't the time/place, and as you say, I don't think you could have changed her mind. One of my favorite LBGT champions would tell you to save your breath for the people who *will* listen and not waste your time on those who won't.

    Congrats on the Rainbow List! : )

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