Posts tagged ‘sexuality’

Dare Truth or Promise, by Paula Boock (1999)

Dare Truth or Promise is a love story about two girls, Louie and Willa, who meet working at a local fast food restaurant.  Sparks fly and soon they enter into a passionate and loving relationship.  Willa has been involved with a girl before and her mother is both aware that she is a lesbian and supportive of her sexual identity.  Louie is only discovering her sexual identity so she has not come out to her family, yet her mother takes an instant dislike to Willa and tries to prevent the two from spending time together.  Louie’s mother eventually catches the two girls in bed and in an intense and traumatic scene, kicks Willa out of the house and forbids her from returning.

Much to Willa’s dismay, Louie is devastated by her mother’s reaction and internalizes these feelings of shame and guilt, withdrawing from their relationship:

Louie…looked at her in such pain that Willa couldn’t bear it. “I love you, Louie,” she said, starting to cry though she’d promised herself not to.

“I know.” Louie’s voice sounded ready to snap in two. “I love you too,” she said, at last. “But that’s not the point, is it? (p. 104)

Louie’s mother continues to push her away from Willa and tries to convince her to date men, yet Louie is miserable and eventually comes out to her priest in hopes of receiving moral guidance.  In a very touching scene he explains to her what is really important:

Louie stared at him.

“And she? Does she love you?”

“Yes, I think she does.”

Father Campion smiled. “How wonderful.”

“How lucky you are, to love and to be loved in return.”

This wasn’t what Louie had expected. (p. 147)

This information gives Louie a much more positive perspective to reflect on, but it is eventually a car accident which brings the two back together.  After this near tragedy they realize how lucky they are to have found each other and Louie is able to work through the negative messages which she received about herself and her sexual identity.  At the same time Louie’s parents are so shaken by the accident that they reevaluate what is best for their daughter and open up to Willa as well.

In Dare Truth or Promise, we see how damaging it can be for young adults to be “outed” before they have time to work through their own emotions surrounding their sexual identity.  Louie survives this experience and it ultimately strengthens her relationship with Willa but it is a very difficult time for both girls and highlights just how vulnerable young adults are at this stage in their lives.

Boock, P. (1999). Dare Truth or Promise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Senior Fiction Category
New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Book of the Year Award

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The Bermudez Triangle, by Maureen Johnson (2004)

The Bermudez Triangle, one of the few novels to include a questioning character, looks at the evolving relationships between 3 friends as they explore their sexual identities and struggle to understand themselves and one another. Nina, Mel and Avery have grown up together and separate for the first time when Nina spends the summer before their senior year of high school away.  In her absence Mel and Avery discover they have feelings for each other, share their first kiss and begin dating.  Mel has been sure that she is a lesbian for a long time, but Avery is not as certain and struggles to define her sexual identity.

Though Mel and Avery try to keep their relationship a secret from their parents and their peers, they struggle with how and when to come out to Nina:

“We have to decide, Mel,” Avery said. “I don’t think its time to tell her.”

“When will it be time?”

“Not when she steps off a plane. We haven’t seen her since June.”

“So why don’t we get it out of the way?’ Mel asked. “We can’t lie to her.”

“How do you think she’s going to feel?”

“Fine,” Mel said defensively. “Nina doesn’t have a problem with this stuff.”

“Nina doesn’t have a problem hypothetically.  Nina doesn’t have a problem with other people.” (p. 74-5)

Mel and Avery chose not to reveal their relationship to Nina, but she catches them kissing in a department store dressing room and they are forced to come clean.  After this revelation, Nina struggles with how to respond to this new development. Her feelings about her friends and their sexual identities are complicated by the effect their relationship has on the friendship between the three and her own feelings of exclusion. In a letter to her boyfriend she writes:

I hate feeling like I’m always intruding on my friends. This is MEL AND AVERY! I am SUPPOSED to be with them. But they kind of shift around and look at each other with love eyes and I end up saying that I have to go home…I want my friends to be happy, but I also want my old life back.  I feel like some big homophobe for complaining about Mel and Avery. That makes it even worse. And I’m not. At least I don’t think I am (p. 134).

As the story unfolds and the relationship between Avery and Mel evolves, Nina is at times stuck between her two friends, but ultimately discovers that both Avery and Mel are going through a difficult period in their lives and tries to support both the best she can.

Coming out to parents is not a central theme in the novel, but Mel and Avery are accidentally outed by Nina towards the end of the story and we observe different parental reactions.  Mel’s mother is angry and unaccepting, but her father, while confused and still coming to terms with this development, is quieter and stands up for Mel.  Avery’s mother is surprisingly accepting and even seems a little disappointed to discover that Avery is not in fact gay (p. 324).

Throughout the novel Nina, Avery and Mel all struggle to define who they are and their relationships with one another.  It is a rocky road, but all three come out stronger and rebuild the bonds which originally connected them.  With this foundation it is clear that Nina and Avery will be there to support Mel as she continues to come out as a lesbian and works through her relationship with her mother.

Johnson, M. (2004). The Bermudez Triangle. New York: Razorbill.

 

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher (2009)

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher is a story told by Logan Witherspoon, a high school senior in small-town Missouri.  He is upset about – and borderline obsessed with – the recent breakup with his ex-girlfriend, Brenda.  Then Sage Hendricks moves into town and changes his world: she is tall, vivacious and beautiful in her own quirky way.  Sage and Logan hit it off immediately, but she is not allowed to see him outside of school, and sometimes she reacts strangely to his touch.  Sage is obviously keeping a secret from him.  They finally kiss, and Sage reveals the truth: she was born a boy.  Logan reacts with anger, and treats Sage badly for weeks.  He is confused: if he was (and still is) attracted to a male, does that make him gay?  Does anyone else know that Sage is really a boy?  Logan eventually realizes that Sage desperately needs a good friend, so he decides to reach out to her and rekindle their friendship.  He cannot help but see Sage as a girl, and he finds himself falling in love with her.   Almost Perfect is an honest exploration of an uncommon relationship and a topic that is seldom discussed.

Throughout the course of the novel, very few characters know that Sage was born a boy, and they have a variety of reactions.  Logan is angry, and later finds himself cycling through feelings of love, disgust, and fear.

Why couldn’t she just be a real girl?  Our lives would be great.  She was so close to the real thing.  But close didn’t count. (p. 285)

Sage’s parents are permissive, but not supportive: they only allow her to live as a female because of a suicide attempt.  They forced her to be homeschooled for several years and moved to another town so that no one would find out her secret.  Sage’s sister Tammi is loving and very protective, but she feels guilty for encouraging Sage to become a girl: Tammi knows how much easier Sage’s life would be as a normal boy.  Logan’s sister is immediately accepting: she thinks Sage is a wonderful person, and could not care less that Sage was born male.  An unnamed college student has an unfortunately violent reaction: Sage is badly beaten and left for dead.  Will this incident convince Sage to go back to being a boy?

Katcher, B. (2009). Almost Perfect. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

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)

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)