Peter, written by Kate Walker, is a 1991 novel (published by Houghton Mifflin in the US in 1993) set in Australia, where a 15-year-old boy named Peter suddenly begins to grapple with his sexuality. Peter rides his motorbike on some family property in a suburban development area and has to fend for himself with some hooligan “townies” that he is afraid of. He is always being accused of being too soft and of not being willing to stand up for himself. His peers constantly talk about how they can sleep with a girl, any girl, and how any guy who does not fight or go after girls with such zeal is a “poof.”
Peter does not “come out” as such, given that the story ends somewhat unresolved in determining what his sexuality may be. This is a story of self-exploration and subjective attraction. David, a gay friend of Peter’s uber-masculine brother Vince, becomes a role model to Peter and makes him start questioning who (or which sex) he likes. After meeting David, Peter is come on to by a fast-moving girl whom he rejects, instigating more self-doubt as more friends and peers start questioning whether Peter is a “poof.”
It is with the accusations of being a homosexual that Peter gets indicators of how his parents would react if he formally came out as gay to them. His mother is a no-nonsense, progressive-minded nurse who encourages her kids to express themselves and try things out. “She’s great, you’d like her” (p. 3) he tells the readers in an aside. She knows that Vince is friends with 20-year-old David, who is gay, but is sensible enough to not jump to conclusions and often invites David to the house for dinner. When there are unspoken indicators that Peter may also be gay, she reminds him that his father will “never withdraw support” in spite of disagreements fathers and sons may have (p. 135), in effect showing that she will not, either. Peter’s father is going through something of a mid-life crisis after the divorce and is very concerned about his image and his boys being sufficiently masculine. He comes to the scene when things go awry, in this case because “the whole neighborhood could be thinking [our] son is queer” (p. 110). He also believes that David has been making moves on his son.
Peter gets support from three fronts. He first makes an anonymous call to a teen hotline where a seemingly indifferent counselor comes through for him by saying he is young, has to experiment, and must not base what he should feel based on what his peers say or may present themselves as being. The second comes from tough love from his brother, who pushes him to resolve his own issues and not worry about what other people think. Finally, he gets support from David, who tells him that Peter’s experience of discovering sexuality is very different from his own (David knew that he was gay from the age of twelve, and never wavered), and that being fifteen leaves many years for Peter to sort matters out. David offers his friendship and support, but clearly says that there is no chance of a relationship due to their age difference and his friendship with Vince.
Peter is a unique story in that it offers support to teens facing coming out, but also allows for readers to embrace more fluid interpretations of their sexuality that live outside of labels.
Walker, K. (1991). Peter. Norwood, S. Aust: Omnibus.