Posts tagged ‘gay’

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens, edited by Jane Summer (2004)

Not the Only One

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens is a collection of short stories edited by Jane Summer.  The stories generally do not deal directly with “coming out,” but the reader still sees the consequences of coming out (or not, as the case may be).  Perhaps “coming out” is too complicated a theme to discuss within the confines of a short story.  Below is the discussion of two individual stories.

“Fooling Around” by Claire McNab

“Brett – how could you?”

“Mum, we were only fooling around.”

“Fooling around?  Fooling around!”

“Give me a break –” (p. 53)

Brett has been caught kissing his friend Steve, but he isn’t ready to admit to his parents that he’s gay.  Brett tells his mother that it was no big deal, that they were drinking and it didn’t mean anything.  Besides, Brett has a girlfriend.  Brett’s mother is very upset, and concerned about what everyone will think when they find out that her son was fooling around with a boy.  Martin, Brett’s father, arrives home mid-argument.  His reaction is surprising: he doesn’t seem even remotely affected by the news, and he advises Brett to make a joke of it.  Martin later reveals the truth: he himself is gay, but decided that it was better to get married and have a family than to live as a gay man.  Brett admits to Martin that he wasn’t just fooling around, and the reader is left wondering whether or not Brett will make the same decision as his father.

“Her Sister’s Wedding” by Judith P. Stelboum

Veronica has never told her family about her long-time girlfriend Leslie.  Her family has no inkling that she is a lesbian: they have always assumed that she would meet a nice man and get married.  Veronica is at her sister’s wedding, and is feeling the pressure to get married more than ever.  She gets set up with her new brother-in-law’s cousin, Buddy.  Buddy seems genuinely interested in her, and is obviously looking for a wife.  Veronica is not interested, but enjoys having her family’s approval.  Will she give in to the pressure and marry a man, or will Veronica be true to herself and tell her family that she is in love with a woman?  The story ends thus (p. 98):

She followed him outside, and he lifted his arm to wave goodbye.  And in that moment she realized she had to stop the panic attacks, the lying, the pretense.  If she didn’t do it now, there would be a million excuses not to do it later.  She turned back to the party and looked first for her brother, Terry.

Summer, J. (2004). Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.

Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole (2008)

Down to the Bone

Laura Amores is a tortillera: a girl who loves girls.

In Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole, Laura is a Cuban-American teen living in Miami. When her teacher (“Sister Fart Face”) reads aloud a letter from Laura’s girlfriend, Laura is abandoned by most of her friends, kicked out of her ultra-conservative high school, and banned from her home by her mother. Laura will only be allowed to come back home and see her younger brother if she changes and marries a man. Laura’s beloved girlfriend, Marlena, is forced to move back to Puerto Rico, where she decides to marry a man to appease her conservative Christian family. Laura has to decide between living a lie in order to regain her mother and brother, or being true to herself and possibly losing her family forever.

The characters in this book have one of two reactions when they find out that Laura is a tortillera: they are either fiercely supportive of her or violently opposed to her sexuality. When Laura is kicked out of her house, she goes to live with her best friend Soli and Soli’s mother: they are loving and nurturing, and encourage Laura to forget Marlena and date other girls. Laura also receives a lot of support from her new friend Tazer, who is “genderqueer” or a “boi” (that is, Tazer was born a girl but identifies as a boy; he does not want to undergo gender assignment surgery to become genetically male).

Many of Laura’s other close friends and family members abandon her when they find out she is gay. Her friends call her “revolting” and spit on her. Her teachers tell her she is immoral and deviant. She is nearly assaulted with a knife at work. Her mother has a strong negative reaction, and obviously believes that being gay is a sinful choice that Laura is making (2008, pp. 17, 27):

On our way home I try to reason with her: “Let me explain.”

She yanks my hair. “Explain? You’re a disgrace to our family name. If your father were alive, he’d die right now… I’ve never been so humiliated and embarrassed in all my life.”

Mami pushes me out the front door. I stumble and almost fall, but I don’t. “I’m sorry, Laura, but I can’t continue loving you if you stay gay.”

Laura’s love for her family and her desire for acceptance are so strong that she finds a boyfriend and considers marrying him. She cannot admit, even to herself, that she is a lesbian. Despite her difficult situation, Laura never loses her sense of humour and her fire.  Her lively narration gives the reader a sense of what it is like to be a gay person in Cuban American culture.

Dole, M. L. (2008). Down to the Bone. HarperTeen.

ALA Booklist Top Ten First Novels for Youth

ALA Rainbow Books highly recommended title

Américas Award Commended Titles (2009)

10 Outstanding LGBT Teen Reads (from the last 10 years)

Rainbow Road, by Alex Sanchez (2005)

In the final installment of the Rainbow Boys trilogy, Jason, Kyle, and Nelson embark on a cross-country trip to L.A., where Jason has been invited to speak at the opening of a gay high school. Kyle and Jason are each nervous that so much concentrated time together might be detrimental to their relationship, but the lure of the open road and the promise of sleeping next to each other every night for two weeks is too good to resist. Nelson is along for the ride (after all, it’s his car), but his incessant smoking and flamboyance (particularly in redneck country) put everyone on edge.

On their trip, each boy confronts his own expectations about what it means to be gay or bisexual, worthy of love, and in a relationship. Nelson, Jason, and Kyle meet a number of characters, from Horn-Boy and Lady Bugger, members of a free-spirited gay mountain sanctuary; to BJ, a transgender teen outside of New Orleans who’s a dead-ringer for Britney Spears; to “heteroflexible” university students in Texas; to a gay couple celebrating their twenty-year anniversary—each of whom serves to broaden the friends’ definitions of themselves and each other.

Jason shrugged and sipped some of his Coke. He didn’t really like to label himself as “bi” because it made him feel like he didn’t belong in either group, straight or gay. Besides, he was boyfriends with Kyle, so didn’t that mean he was gay? He wanted to ask Evie and Keesha more about how they dealt with their “heteroflexibility.” Were they still attracted to guys? Did they feel like they fit in with hundred-percent lesbians?

Sanchez (2005), p. 130

In his third and final Rainbow Boys book, Sanchez shows the myriad ways in which people identify and express themselves, a furthering of the “coming out,” in that the label one gives oneself is often not completely accurate or fully inclusive. Coming out—again, that “lifelong process”—is more than an event. It is a journey to happiness. Rainbow Road is a testament to that.

Sanchez, A. (2005). Rainbow road. New York: Simon Pulse.

Lambda Literary Award 2005 Finalist

New York Public Library 2006 “Book for the Teen Age”

American Library Association 2009 “Popular Paperback for Young Adults”

Rainbow High, by Alex Sanchez (2003)

Rainbow High picks up right where Rainbow Boys leaves off. Kyle, Nelson, Jason, and others at Whitman High School are successful in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, and meetings begin with the hope that they will help to alleviate some of the rampant homophobia in the school’s hallways. Kyle and Jason are together, but not publicly. Nelson has a new boyfriend, but he’s HIV positive, and Nelson’s nervous about his own HIV status after an unsafe one-night fling and how it will affect his relationship with Jeremy. Kyle has come out to his parents: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My mom cried that she’d never have grandkids. My dad argued all this stuff about it being a choice—the wrong choice. I told him it’s not like I asked to be gay. It’s just the way I am” (Sanchez, 2003, p. 4). Kyle endures taunts from his swim teammates and can’t count on his coach to back him up, but soon realizes he has an ally in his dad. Jason’s experience in coming out to his dad ended badly in the first book; his dad left the house in a rage, calling his son a “maricón.” Jason worries that by coming out to his own coach—and the rest of his team—he is putting a much-needed university scholarship in jeopardy. He seeks advice from the GSA advisor, art teacher Ms. MacTraugh:

“Coming out is a life-long process,” Ms. MacTraugh continued. “Each time we meet someone new or move to a different setting, we’re challenged to reveal who we are. It’s not always easy. But no matter how difficult, it’s something I’ve never regretted. So few things in life truly matter. Chief among them are being true to yourself, and being honest with others.”

Sanchez (2003), p. 69

Throughout the book we see that coming out to their parents and close friends is only one of the first steps in the “life-long process” for these teens. Jason, in particular, is seen as a role-model because of his basketball star status. Time after time he’s told to come out, or not come out, for that very reason. What will his teammates say? What will the school at large think? Does he have a responsibility to maintain a certain image because that’s what people expect? While Kyle has indeed come out at school (having added “AND PROUD” to the “QUEER” scratched into his locker door) he has yet to experience being part of a public couple, or to talk about boyfriend troubles with his mom. Sanchez‘s second book in the Rainbow Boys trilogy wrestles with these issues frankly, revealing the pain and triumphs for teens just beginning the “life-long process” of coming out.

Sanchez, A. (2003). Rainbow high. New York: Simon Pulse.

Lambda Literary Award 2003 Finalist

New York Public Library 2004 “Book for the Teen Age”

Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez (2001)

The most amazing thing was how Nelson talked about all this stuff in front of his own mom. She even subscribed to XY magazine for him.

“How did you ever tell her?” Kyle wanted to know.

Nelson lit a cigarette. “You kidding? She knew before I did. I’m her fucking cause.”

Sanchez (2001), p. 14

In Alex Sanchez’s book, Rainbow Boys, we’re introduced to three characters who are in various phases of confronting their sexuality. Kyle is a shy, straight-laced swimmer who knows he’s gay but hasn’t come out to his parents or at school. Nelson is his outspoken friend, gay and proud and lucky to have an ally in his mom (she’s the president of the local PFLAG chapter), yet he faces unrelenting harassment on a daily basis at school. Jason is a popular basketball player who suspects he may be bisexual, but fears the wrath of his alcoholic, homophobic father if he were to come out—not to mention, he has a girlfriend.

Sanchez deftly portrays each character and his point-of-view—the chapters alternate between Kyle, Nelson, and Jason—and it’s a riveting read. Will Kyle ever get up the nerve to tell Jason how he feels about him? Does Nelson like Kyle as more than a friend, and if so, how does Kyle feel about him? Can Jason love his girlfriend, Debra, yet have these unexplained feelings for other boys? We are drawn into the boys’ world, and with them we face typical teen worries (about popularity, sex, friends, sports, weight, braces) as well as those challenges facing gay teens in particular. While Kyle and Jason must come out to their families and friends (and each does so to varying responses), the real issue is whether they can be truthful to themselves.

Sanchez, A. (2001). Rainbow boys. New York: Simon Pulse.

American Library Association 2002 “Best Book for Young Adults”

New York Public Library 2002 “Book for the Teen Age”

Lambda Literary Award 2001 Finalist

What They Always Tell Us, by Martin Wilson (2008)

What They Always Tell Us is entitled based on the remark “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you” and Alex remarks, “Yeah, that’s what they always tell us” (p. 70). Martin Wilson writes a story that appeals to older teens with siblings, or readers who may be facing the issues of sexuality or depression. It is ultimately a story of support between siblings in coming out.

The story is told with a quiet tone to mark the sadness and intensity of, and the contrast between, two brothers, James and Alex. The two brothers, growing up in Alabama, are night and day, James the extroverted high school senior, and Alex more withdrawn, introspective, and considerate. The brothers are initially close, but James begins to withdraw and avoid Alex after an incident at a party in which Alex drinks Pine-Sol in an apparent suicide attempt.

The undercurrent of the story revolves around Alex’s sexuality, which is indicated but not referred to directly at first, much like the subtly referenced gay longings of the character of Peter in William Sleator’s House of Stairs.

The first time the reader knows to whom Alex’s sexual attraction is directed is when Alex becomes very close with James’ friend Nathen. “Alex and Nathen are friends now, for sure. But it’s a different type of friendship. Or it feels like it is. It’s not like he and Nathen are hanging out drinking beers, or talking about girls, or even going to parties together” (p. 100). When the two are at the locker room of a sports club, Alex steals glances at Nathen’s body, while feeling insecure that he is not toned enough, his hips are too wide, and his butt is white and “too plump” (p. 105), all thoughts that are indicative of his sexual preference. This passage still leads one to wonder at times if he is merely idolizing Nathen, as Nathen is one consistent friend while others have stopped being Alex’s friends.

Alex and James’ parents regularly ask James if something is wrong with Alex or if it is just that “[m]aybe he’s going through the whole sullen teenager phase” (p. 31). When younger, Alex was able to maintain an affinity with his two friends Tyler and Kirk because neither of them had dated, either. This dynamic begins to unravel as the story progresses, and it intensifies his depression. Homosexuality is not overtly addressed at first. Alex does not want to go to church, and James does not attend any more either (p. 44).  Alex’s interest in Nathen is returned when Nathen seamlessly and naturally nudges him into the same shower stall at the sports club and they begin kissing (p. 122). In short order, they are dating, and the jock clique that James is a part of immediately begins to notice that there is something going on between Nathen and Alex.

While the story is written in third-person, the chapters alternate which brother the perspective focuses on. The alteration of focus indicates that the sexuality awareness affects more than just one person and has some bearing on the brothers’ relationship. What looms larger is the guilt that James feels for not being able to help Alex or make him happy. This guilt expresses itself by a feeling of hostility James develops towards Alex for not being “normal” (as in not depressed). James immediately suspects that something is going on between Alex and Nathen, and the text implies that he knows it is a relationship, but his real discomfort comes from Nathen’s ability to make Alex happy and lift him up when James could not. Even with this jealousy rising up in him, his love for his brother prevails, and he defends Nathen when there are allegations of Nathen being a “fag” (p. 177). Eventually, Alex comes out to James because he cannot hide some of the taunting going on at school. In spite of the taunting, Alex is happy in his relationship with Nathen. James tells him “I know you’re happy. An I’m glad. I mean it” while patting him on the shoulder, and James sobs with relief because he feels he has finally been a good brother (p. 240).

What They Always Tell Us has a somewhat atypical coming out backdrop because it is almost exclusively in the context of the brotherly relationship. While there is one passage that insinuates their mother knows Alex is gay, this area of exploration is not pursued, perhaps because this will happen after James leaves for university the following year. This story is one of absolute support. James is, in fact, only able to give full support to Alex once Alex puts all of his previous troubles in context by sharing who he is.

Wilson, M. (2008). What they always tell us. New York: Delacorte Press.

Reviews of What They Always Tell Us, from Martin Wilson Writes.

Sprout, by Dale Peck (2009)

Sprout, the 2009 novel by Dale Peck, explores the life of Daniel “Sprout” Bradford, who is taken from Long Island to a small Kansas town by his grieving father. This novel explores the teen experience of coming out, but encompasses a different view of such an event because Sprout’s mother has passed away: the reactions of his surviving parent and peers are influenced by this added dimension.

The focus of the story is on the dynamics between Mrs. Miller and Sprout.  Mrs. Miller is a teacher at the Hutchinson, Kansas school who takes an interest in Sprout’s writing potential, and much of his character development is instigated by her influence. It is with her prodding to improve his writing that Sprout is enabled to analyze himself in terms of his sexuality, though he never denies homosexuality. One suspects that the one reason Sprout dyes his hair green is that it is a way of expressing his state of being without having to articulate it. Mrs. Miller points this out but ironically she fears that an essay pertaining to Sprout’s sexuality might jeopardize his winning a state writing competition she has pushed him into doing.  Mrs. Miller serves as a supporter who crosses a lot of boundaries (some of them inappropriate, supplying him with alcoholic drinks in her home), but at the same time is a major figure in leading Sprout to suppress his feelings, for which she later expresses regret and reverses (p. 273).

Readers are only occasionally provided the reaction of Sprout’s peers except that he is generally picked last in selecting sports teams, despite his running ability. His best friend Ruthie has pigeonholed him as a relationship failure, but what she does not know is that he has already begun fooling around with the same boy she is after, Ian. Ian himself is furtive as the affair carries on in the janitor’s closet for four years, and he is never exposed for his involvement with Sprout.  In fact, Ian later impregnates Ruthie, perhaps to prove a point (p. 262).

Sprout’s mother never gets to have her say on the matter of his sexuality, but the tension her absence creates makes Sprout’s father have sloppier and more erratic reactions.

A year earlier, when my dad found a couple of gay sites in the cache of Internet Explorer, he threw my dictionary into our PC. I think he thought I’d learned how to be gay from the web, although the truth is I’d only looked at those kinds of sites after I was pretty sure about myself…

“I should have seen it coming. Absent mother, poor role model for a father. I apologize, son. I should have found a maternal figure for you.” (p. 70-71)

The initial hostility of Sprout’s father indicates that he sees his son’s sexuality as another blow or failing. Unlike many parents with a negative view, however, he does not blame his child. His father has also developed alcoholism in the wake of his mother’s death, and therefore, the extraordinary circumstances cloud some knowledge as to how the father might react under less duress. Immediately after the first verbal acknowledgement of the situation, his father asks his son to pass him a beer.

     “That’s it? A beer?”

“Oh, okay, two.”

Dad.”

     He didn’t meet my eyes. “Hey. You’re a fag. I’m a drunk. Nobody’s perfect.” … “That was mean. You’re gay. I’m an alcoholic.”

     “Just promise me you won’t tell anyone. I don’t want to have to identify my son at the morgue.” (p. 72)

The father cannot be said to offer any support to Sprout, but his reaction is more indicative of an overall instability and responsiveness to the external culture that might compromise his son’s safety.

Finally, Sprout’s father slowly does a few things that might be considered marginally supportive of his son’s sexuality and overall well-being. He leaves a condom in his son’s room, prominently placed, and with a note that states: “I don’t want to know. But I don’t want you dead either” (p. 135). When Sprout’s love interest, Ty, runs away from an abusive home after Sprout does not stand up for him, his father finally pulls his act together and tries to put a show of tough support for his devastated son, but it is too late in some ways.

Sprout is a work that shows a coming out development period that happens over a number of years, with a few defining, dramatic moments. There are no major moments of affirming support or endangering rejection to the announcement, perhaps suspending Sprout’s ability to become as comfortable with the idea of a relationship with a boy as he is with his sexuality.

Peck, D. (2009). Sprout. New York: Bloomsbury.

ALA Stonewall Book Award Winner in 2010

Lambda Nomination (Dale Peck blog)