We have decided to look at LGBTQ non-fiction for young adults as a compliment to the young adult literature we have been reviewing. No matter how profound, enlightening or meaningful a story is, it is not possible for a single novel or even several novels to address every issue an LGBTQ young adult is wrestling with. It is in these instances that non-fiction specifically intended for teens becomes very important. In fact in a survey conducted in 2003 by The New York Public Library, self-identified queer teenagers listed “real stories of real people” as their number one information need and this need got twice as many responses as any others (Martin and Murdock, 21). Unfortunately, there are a surprisingly small number of non-fiction titles for LGBTQ young adults and many of these titles are written in stale language and read more like school textbooks. The following 3 resources stand out as books which will be meaningful resources for LGBTQ teens and in keeping with the project’s theme we have focused on information pertaining to coming out.
Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents, by Mary V. Borhek (1993)
Coming out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents was originally published in 1983, but updated and re-issued in 1993. Some of the assumptions in this book are outdated almost 20 years later, but much of the insight is still very relevant. In Coming out to Parents, Borhek focuses on the psychology behind common parental reactions and attempts to help young adults understand the many emotions which their parents may experience:
The disclosure that you are lesbian or gay has set in motion grief reactions within your parents. And chances are that they have not the slightest idea they are experiencing grief…After all you are in good health. Why should your parents grieve?…They have lost an image of you, an idea about you, the identification of you as a heterosexual person (Borhek, 1993, p. 28).
Borhek prepares readers for the possible reactions which their parents may have and provides practical advice for how, when and where to come out and how to deal with initial responses. Borhek does a wonderful job of explaining and contextualizing the roots of parental fear, guilt and shock and explaining to young adults how they can help minimize the impact of these emotions so the coming out process is easier on themselves and their parents. She does not address bisexual, transgender or questioning teens, but this is more likely a by-product of the lack of visibility these groups had in the 1990s than a deliberate omission.
GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens, by Kelly Huegel (2003)
GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens is an extremely informative manual, written in readable language with text boxes, sidebars and illustrations. It was published more recently than Coming Out to Parents and includes information not just for gay men and lesbians, but also for bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. GLBTQ has an entire chapter on coming out which includes a list of questions teens can ask themselves to determine whether they are ready to reveal their sexual identity, information about how to deal with being outed and a list of responses to possible reactions which a parent might have upon hearing the news. This chapter also has a section on how to come out to friends and includes anecdotes from real teens about their own experiences throughout. For example, “June” reflects on how important safety is to consider when making the decision to come out:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of who I am, I just have to be proud quietly because I live in a very small (and small-minded) community. Just last year at my school, a boy people called gay was beaten within an inch of his life. I’m a little scared to be too public about it for now. – June, 19 (Huegel, 2003, p. 47)
GLBTQ also has a chapter on Religion and Culture which addresses the feelings of conflict which some young adults may be facing in relation to their cultural/religious and sexual/gender identities. Though discussion about coming out is very general in this chapter, some difficulties which LGBTQ young adults may face are highlighted:
Coming out can be difficult in many cultures because its seen as embarrassing or bringing shame on the family (or even on the race) because it makes public something that is considered private (Huegel, 2003, p. 161).
GLBTQ also has a chapter on Transgender Teens which contains a section on coming out. This section includes information about the impact such an announcement may have on parents and also anecdotes from real transgender teens who have had positive experiences coming out to their parents.
GLBTQ is a very comprehensive and informative manual which contains essential information for all LGBTQ young adults. It addresses coming out with complexity, and from many different angles, making it a valuable resource for teens all across the LGBTQ, cultural and religious spectra.
The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities, edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell (2006)
One way to effect change is to share truths. To tell our stories. To make our hearts and minds heard.
-Levithan and Merrell, 2006, Notes to Reader
The Full Spectrum is a compilation of non-fiction account written by LGBTQ young adults under the age of twenty-three. This anthology was published because of the noticeable lack of young queer voices in teen literature. Their accounts cover a wide range of topics which include fitting in, first sexual experiences, homophobia, bullying, self-loathing, self-acceptance, growing up gay, struggling with religion, relationships, love and heartbreak. Coming out is also a heavily featured topic in the anthology, in which both positive and negative experiences are represented, but more importantly, these young authors also chronicle their paths to self-acceptance in light of their experiences.
In one account, “My Diary: Documented. Done.” by L. Canale, a teenage lesbian writes about the twenty month period when she is first outed by her religious and unaccepting father to a time when she has come to terms with that period in her life and forgiven her father. In the beginning, her diary entries have titles such as “Dad found out”, “Oh, its killing me” and “F-That”, and include very angry language such as, “OH MAN. My dad is full of SO MUCH SHIT”(Levithan and Merrell, 2006, p. 45). However, by the end of the account the author is able to look back at the progress she’s made:
It’s funny how things change. Here I am rereading what I wrote almost two years ago and patting myself on the back. How’d I get through it?…Was I ever really alone, though? I don’t think I was but I felt so alone at times” (Levithan and Merrel, 2006, p. 53).
Heartfelt stories from real LGBTQ young adults are what many of the teens who are going through these experiences crave most, and since information in these accounts is true they have the power to touch readers in ways that fictional stories may not. The Full Spectrum is a powerful anthology which imparts meaning and hope, and will be of great value to LGBTQ young adult readers.
Resources and References
Borhek, M. (1993). Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press.
Martin, H.J. & Murdock, J.R. (2007). Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Huegel, K. (2003). GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer & Questioning Teens. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Levithan, D. & Merrell, B. (2006). The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.