Monday, April 18, 2011

Gay Teens in YA and the Media

I've been thinking on this topic a lot and I thought I'd really like to do a blog post on it. I know in America gay teens have a little bit of a harder time coming out and dealing with their sexuality, and there is some tension in some places more than others. I'd love to talk about the bullying issues and suicide rate among gay teens, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I don't have any real experience with that.

I live in Canada, and I grew up with gay kids. I went to school with them, I played matchmaker, I dated girls. And even though I grew up hearing about all these horrible things that happen to gay kids, I never saw any of it. I'm not saying it doesn't exist or that kids in Canada don't struggle with it just as much as the kids in the US, it just wasn't part of my world. But the kids were.

When dealing with coming out, I think the greatest problem (besides our parents, because there is always fear of disapproval from parents, no matter what) was that it was just a "phase" we were going through. As if, even though she was looking at that girl and he was longing after that boy, they'd just wake up the next morning and boom, it'd be gone. And then the humiliation of going up to your friends and having to tell them, "Actually, I'm not gay." Because then comes the stigma that they were a liar, a sheep, trying to get attention. And that stigma was way worse than being gay or straight.

So, as I was in Junior High and surrounded by all these kids who were gay or bi or transgendered and who were trying to figure each other out, I began to ask, where's the drama?

There was drama all right, but no more than any other kind of drama. Kids gossiped, as they always would, and there was hate, just like there was hate for any other kind of relationship. And it just became part of my world. When I first started writing, I wrote gay characters. They were part of my world too.

So you can understand my confusion turning on a TV and opening a book and finding absolutely no hint of gay characters and culture.

And I started to wonder, am I the freak? Why doesn't anyone else hang out with gay people? Where were all the gay people?

The media, especially, is pretty bad for this. In YA, we see more and more gay characters beginning to show up. Some that deal with the quintessential "gay problems" (parents kick you out, bullying, ect.) and some that don't. But frankly, I think we need to see more of this. The hatred for gays in the US and Canada and around the world won't go away if we quietly ignore it. Most hatred for gays is bred in the household, where parents pass their prejudice onto their kids. You can't tear open the household and force people to believe what you believe, and that's not what we're trying to do. But if a kid is told time and time again at home that gays are bad, but when they go outside they read about them in books, see them in tv shows, are exposed to not only gays but the ideas that gays are normal, then that's what's going to make an effort to change people's minds.

You don't have to write about gay problems. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Some kids go up to their parents and say, "You know, I think I'm gay" and their parents accept them at the drop of a hat. No big deal. I'm not saying don't write about gay problems, because they are real and that's a terrible thing, but you're not going to change anyone's mind by talking about the negativity brought by those who don't understand. The way you're going to change people's minds is to paint gays like normal kids. Who don't get beat up just for being who they are. Who don't go home wondering if they'll get kicked out. Who don't want to kill themselves because they think God made them "wrong."

Just write kids.

If you help bring gay characters into the light, even if they're side characters or barely mentioned, then you really help to show kids who are struggling with their sexualities or living in a hostile environment that this is okay. It's normal. Maybe it's not a huge thing, maybe you're not changing the world overnight, but it's the small things that matter.



1 comment:

  1. I feel like a lot of people don't understand this. I've been shot down by more than one person looking at my (unpublished) writing, with them saying that it was unrealistic because I don't write about suicidal gay teens, I write about teens who happen to be gay and don't have much problem with it. I don't live in Canada, but I do live in Maine, which some might say is close enough :P And I've had very little resistance to gay culture, despite the sad people who decided gay marriage didn't belong in Maine. It seems like the people who expect LGBT books to be issue books are the ones with very little experience with actual gay people. Hopefully we can change that!