Gay YA and Me: A Love Story

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So, I don’t identify myself as homosexual. I’m a straight, married, white woman. I’m pretty comfortable saying I’m around a 2 or a 2.5 on the Kinsey Scale. (That is considered “straight,” right?) My kids (as far as I know) are all straight, as are my parents, siblings and my very closest friends. I do have some friends who are gay. And I have cousins who are gay, who live the most normal, middle-class, suburban, family life, with no more strife or focused discrimination than most people I’m familiar with (again, as far as I know). Of course they live in Massachusetts, which helps with that pesky marriage issue. So why, one might ask, am I so damn concerned with gay issues?

Ms. Magazine 1972

Ms. Magazine 1972

Well, first let me give you a little bit of background about myself: I grew up during the 1970’s. My mom was a self-proclaimed feminist and a proud early member of NOW. I lived in a town and went to a school with people of all colors. Our family considered ourselves politically liberal. I still consider myself both a feminist and a liberal, even though those words are sometimes now loaded with all kinds of nasty, derogatory meaning. When I was a kid it just so happened that my very first best friend (like when I was 4 years old) was physically handicapped and in third grade my best friend was Hispanic. In fifth grade one of my BFFs was substantially overweight. In middle school I had a crush on a black boy (but a friend of mine was the one who “got” him) and in high school I was pretty good friends with a boy who was considered “artistic and flamboyant,” which in the late 70’s was code for something else.

Um, so who really gives a shit about  your childhood?” you say. “Big deal. A lot of people grow up ‘open minded.’ What difference does any of this make regarding what issues you feel strongly about? I’m sure you’re very evolved. But really isn’t it just that you’re a bleeding heart liberal weenie, Linda? Hunh? Isn’t it?

Well, yes. Yes I am.

But also, I’ve always  loved people. I love people for who they are, not who they love, not what their race, ethnicity, sex or religion is, not what their body looks like or what it can/cannot do.

imagesI’m concerned with gay rights, and I’m committed to representing books that include, are written by or written for people in the LGBTQ community because of that love of people. You know, I love human beings as a species, because we are so damned interesting. In a general sense I guess I’m just enamored with the human condition. I mean, I really do think about shit like “the meaning of life,” or “can we ever be truly content?” or “what does death mean?” But I digress… What I’m trying to say is, I think that because I love people I’m interested in issues surrounding human rights.

Right now is a moment in history when we, as a country, have begun to tackle discrimination based on sexual orientation. (For the moment, let’s not get into how racial and sexual discrimination hasn’t improved as much as I thought it would have back in the ‘70s.) I feel like our country is slowly catching up to talk about (if not always to deal with) some of the issues that have always been on my mind and in my heart.

OpenlyStraight_CVSo why am I going on and on about this on the blog today? What does this have to do with books? Well, first of all it’s my damn blog. I can write whatever I want. Click out if you don’t want to hear my rambles. But secondly, I’m writing about this because I’d like to celebrate young adult literature that represents the GLBTQ experience. Today I’m focusing on YA because a. It’s a great time to read gay YA, with a veritable explosion of fantastic books in the past 10 or so years; b. Today’s young adults are tomorrow’s grownups, so it’s fascinating to read what they’re reading; c. My client Bill Konigsberg’s young adult book, Openly Straight, comes out June 1st and I’m excited beyond belief; and d. Didn’t you hear me before? It’s my damn blog and I can write about whatever I want.

Recently there have been some interesting articles about gay YA, with a particular focus on how gay characters have been evolving in literature. I think this might be because the conversation about what it means to be anywhere on the GLBTQ spectrum has also been evolving. This month there was a terrific blog post by Bill, and an article in The Atlantic Wire specifically about this issue. They are way more eloquent than I can ever be. There’s also a nice article by David Levithan talking about his book BOY MEETS BOY, which first came out ten years ago.

BH_TRMS4_TheElephantofSurpriseI’ve been reading quite a few gay YA books recently because well, as I said, I enjoy them, but also if I represent clients who write in this genre I’d better be reading the genre and understanding it. Currently I’m reading THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE by Brent Hartinger, who has been kind enough to agree to be interviewed by me. Look for that interview here on the blog this coming Monday, April 29th. On my bedside table waiting to be read is MARCO IMPOSSIBLE, the newest treat from the inimitable Hannah Moskowitz and Maureen Johnson’s THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE, which I can’t believe I haven’t yet read. Also, I’m dying to get my hands on advanced reader’s copies of TWO BOYS KISSING (Knopf, August 2013) also by David Levithan and FREAKBOY (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2013) by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, because I really hate having to wait for things.

How about you? Why do you/don’t you care about issues that may/may not affect you directly? And how does that inform your reading?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Gay YA and Me: A Love Story

  1. Laurie

    I’ve recently been reading Kelley York’s work, and I really loved Suicide Watch. She does an excellent job of portraying gay characters without making sexuality an “issue.” Thanks for the personal post!

  2. Excellent reading list. 🙂
    If you want more suggestions, I’m an book snob and most of what I buy is queer fiction. I’m actually wondering if I might have broader reading tastes than I assumed because having protags I relate with, and plot events that really appeal to me make a big difference in my reading experience.

  3. I’m not gay, but my mother is, so LGBT issues are really close to me. Thanks for this post. Have you read THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME? It came out last year and I love it because aside from being a great look at what it means to be gay and straight during your vulnerable years, it also has one of the best set of voices I’ve ever read in YA fiction (especially multiple POV).

  4. I spent my formative years in San Francisco, where the homophobic are soon marginalized and cut off from the rest of society. It’s hard to keep hating and fearing gay people when they’re your doctors, decorators, line managers, professors, and so on. I’ve had gay housemates and colleagues and pals, and my daughter is a lesbian, but even if none of that were the case, I’d still be an advocate for marriage equality and other gay causes, because I feel in my heart that it’s the right way to be.

    Glad I hooked up with an agent who feels the same way.

  5. Fabulous post, Linda. I love when you let us inside your head!

    To sort of answer your question, I’m vegan and pretty environmentally-minded, and yet I avoid reading fiction that has an environmental message. It’s weird, I know, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it all comes back to finding an escape through fiction. I tend to like novels that introduce me to new places/people, rather than stuff I’m already familiar with.

    (Or maybe I secretly hate the environment? [insert evil laughter here])

  6. The last fifteen years, this topic has caused severe pain in my family and I’m caught between my mother, a conservative Christian, and her baby brother who is gay. My uncle is only five years older than me and we’ve been close for as long as I can remember. We were even roommates after I graduated college. I love both of these people and while I consider myself Christian I don’t feel the same way my mother does about homosexuality. She says things that hurt him and his lifestyle hurts her. They still both love each other and try so hard to remain friends, but the fabric of their relationship has some serious holes and rips. It breaks my heart and there is nothing I can do but love the both of them.

    I am for gay marriage and I am the only one of my five siblings who feels this way. I think because of my interracial marriage, I have a different perspective than them. Martin Luther KIng made it possible for my in-laws to marry and have my husband, and MLK made it possible for me. Because of this, I feel all people should have the right to marry the person they love! And it takes posts like this and people willing to live their life honestly to change history. So I applaud you and thank you for adding one more voice to the movement.

  7. Carmella

    Linda, I knew there was a reason I liked you so much. 🙂 I grew up in a fairly liberal minded home. The homosexuality thing never bothered me even tho I grew up in the 80’s when it still wasn’t anything you openly talked about. But over the years, I’ve grown more outspoken about gay rights. It was just an injustice I saw and it bugged me a great deal. But then one of my kids came out about a year ago, and my passion for gay rights kicked into a much higher and personal gear. (People have asked me if I somehow “knew” but I don’t think I did. I like to think the Universe was just matching up the right parent with the right child.)

    I love reading books with LGBT themes and am committed to including LGBT characters in my MG and YA books. For instance, my forthcoming book has a character with two moms and my WIP is about a girl whose brother is kicked out for being gay. I’m not a politician or anyone famous but I feel like I can help change things one reader at a time. That’s my job in this human rights battle.

    I will definitely have to check out your suggestions and all the other suggestions people have posted.

    Thanks for the great post!

  8. Jackie Bade anner

    Great post Linda! I think you would find your old school system to be amazingly more tolerant on issues of LGBT, race relations and handicapped access/acceptance than when we were there. Of course, security is a much more prominent issue than it was – kids are not able to get away with much anymore. In any case, I’d be interested in adding some of these books to my reading list this summer. Are there any in particular that you would recommend for high school age students?

    • I don’t know that we were so intolerant of LGBT issues in HS as we were ignorant. Well, I was ignorant anyway. Or self-involved. Yes, I was pretty self-involved in HS. Honestly, I don’t really remember racial problems from HS either, but I might have a white washed memory (pun definitely intended). All of the books I mentioned are appropriate for HS age students. Also, you can check out this website http://www.leewind.org/2009/12/glbtq-middle-grade-bookshelf.html for a huge list of gay YA books and what each of them is about. Happy reading! Maybe we can discuss over a cocktail on the Nautical Mile this summer! 🙂

  9. Thanks for this great post. I always try to have some books with gay characters on my kids’ bookshelves so they’ll know that whoever they are, they are welcome and loved, and so they can make friends sensitively, openly and without fear or judgment.

  10. Dee

    Great post, LInda! I think this is one of my favorite paragraphs ever-

    “But also, I’ve always loved people. I love people for who they are, not who they love, not what their race, ethnicity, sex or religion is, not what their body looks like or what it can/cannot do.”

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  11. I’m currently obsessed with BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle. It’s MG not YA, but touches on being Nate trying to determine if he’s gay in a totally awesome, middle grade appropriate way, In addition it’s ridiculously funny and a total NYC love story. LOVED IT!!!! Great post!