Posts tagged ‘Stonewall’

Luna, by Julie Anne Peters (2004)

Luna

Luna by Julie Anne Peters is a story about a male-to-female transgendered teen. Born as a boy named Liam, she can only reveal true self – Luna – at night. The story is told by Luna’s younger sister, Regan. Regan is the only person who truly knows Luna, and helps Liam transform into Luna every night in the secrecy of Regan’s bedroom. Liam/Luna is suffocating under the weight of concealing her true self, and knows that she must become Luna permanently. But will her family and friends accept her once they know the truth?

Regan has always known that her brother was different. She is fiercely protective and supportive of Liam/Luna, and though she is a bit conflicted about her brother, her support (almost) never wavers. For example, when Luna announces her intent to transition and have sex reassignment surgery (pp. 70-71):

Why did this shock me? Because I never allowed myself to go there.

He called to my back, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” Don’t desert him, my brain screamed. Don’t do this. Don’t let him down. Don’t let him know.

He asked more softly, “You understand, don’t you?”

I stopped in the threshold, my eyes squeezing shut. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Holding my stomach, I opened my eyes and forced a smile over my shoulder. “Well, yeah,” I lied. “Of course.”

Regan and Liam/Luna have a complicated relationship. Liam is exceptionally intelligent and popular at school; Regan goes virtually unnoticed, except when her teachers are unfavourably comparing her to Liam. At the same time, Regan and Luna seem to share one life, and Regan is willing to sacrifice everything to help Luna. Liam realizes that just as he must free himself to become Luna, he must free Regan to become her own person as well.

The other characters in the story have a variety of reactions to Luna. Liam’s best friend Aly has been in love with him since they were children: she is upset when she learns the truth about Liam/Luna, but is beginning to accept Luna by the end of the novel. Liam’s father, who is very traditional in his beliefs about gender roles, has an extremely negative reaction to Luna. He is angry, almost to the point of physical violence; after the confrontation, he falls into a near-catatonic state. Regan is afraid to let her new boyfriend, Chris, know about her brother/sister: she is pleasantly surprised when Chris accepts the situation without hesitation.

Liam/Luna’s mother has the most interesting reaction of all. Through Regan’s memories, the reader can see that there have been many clues to Liam’s gender identity ever since the children were young: Liam asked for a bra for his ninth birthday; as a very young boy, he begged his mother to take off his penis, and then found a knife and tried to do it himself; his mother caught Liam/Luna dressed in her clothes and makeup. But when confronted with the truth, the mother feigns deafness and amnesia as if nothing is going on. The mother has known all along, but she felt the truth was “unspeakable” (p. 241).

Luna is a poignant and touching story about the search for identity and the strength of love between siblings.  The story gives the reader insight into how harmful it can be not to come out: in this case, the secrecy erodes Liam/Luna’s family as well as Luna’s true self.  It costs Luna a lot to come out to everyone, but the reader can see how much better her life will be because of it.

Peters, J. A. (2004). Luna. Little, Brown Young Readers.

National Book Award Finalist
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Stonewall Honor Book
Lambda Literary Award Finalist

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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)