Pondering on GLBT Literature

28 Jul

GLBT themes and characters are hot in teen literature right now and this is something that I welcome. As I posted in my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (http://wp.me/pYHNm-11) I think it is important for gender variant teens to have role models that they can identify with. This issue hits close to home. I have children and friends who are GLBT and I want them live in a world that accepts them, and the unique and wonderful contributions they bring to it.  I want them to be safe and feel loved. For those of us who are straight, I believe that it is important to read books that expand our understanding and empathy.

I hesitated with writing my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson for several weeks, because I wanted to make sure that I handled the subject with grace and sensitivity.  Clearly, homosexuality, and other gender variations, do not fit under the under the “disability” definition of exceptionality, however, I have found that many of the GLBT teens I have known are extremely gifted and talented.  By my more loose definition of “Twice Exceptional” (http://wp.me/pYHNm-B) I could argue that being GLBT adds another layer of complexity to a gifted person that deserves attention and makes it fit well into the theme of my blog. (Not that I have any problem posting about any book that I like, but I wanted to be clear of its place here.) In my experience, teens who are gifted tend to think more deeply than the average teen, and thus, they tend to be  articulate and thoughtful about their identities because they have needed to be.  It seems that for these kinds of kids, literature that speaks to them is even more important to their well being than it is to average kids.

A recent suicide of a young, gay man in my circle of community struck me very hard.  (http://usu-shaft.com/2010/homophobia-claims-another-life/) I didn’t know him, but I know many like him, with the same background, and I hurt for him, and them, and want, somehow, to speak out against the bigotry and intolerance that is hurting people.  I worry that I will alienate family and friends who believe differently than I do. But, feel it is more important to stand up for what is right and stand by those I love–a lesson that I was reminded of in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

In addition, I don’t want to word anything in a manner that might offend my GLBT friends or family. Even the words I use seem loaded and dangerous at times. I’ve stuck with GLBT and “gender variant” in my writings even though they often feel awkward and repetitive.  I had a discussion the other day with my son who prefers to use the term “Queer” but that feels to me a bit like a white person using the “N” word. I just don’t feel comfortable using it.  And so, writing this post has taken longer than most. I have written and rewritten a number of times, trying to express my feelings the best way I can.

My son and I also talked about a recent discussion I saw on another blog that I read:  The Right Amount of Gay? (http://tinyurl.com/2vmput7) The Lambda Literary Foundation has made the decision to only give their yearly award for LGBT books to LGBT-identified authors. As a straight supporter of gay rights, I understand the sentiment. However, I am troubled by the idea that a writer can only write about his or her own identity. This begs the question: Can adults write from a teen point of view or can a woman write from a man’s point of view? My opinion is that the purpose and talent of writing is the convincingly write a character that isn’t your own.  My son felt much the same as I did on the issue.

My readings and ponderings of late have been a good jumping off point for discussion with my son, and maybe, that is the value of GLBT literature for teens. Maybe, GLBT literature will provide a place for gay and straight youth, adults and parents to meet and find understanding and compassion.  We can use it.

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2 Responses to “Pondering on GLBT Literature”

  1. Julie July 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    I prefer queer too, for the record (I believe it’s Soren’s preferred terminology as well) — but that’s mostly because I don’t feel “bisexual” is a useful term when it implies a gender/sex binary I believe is arbitrary and often not even medically valid. (This is not saying that gender/sex don’t exist and people aren’t physically different, just that they don’t always correspond and they exist on a spectrum rather than being diametrically opposed and rigid categories. There’s too many trans, intersex, genderqueer people, not to say anything about heterosexual folks who don’t fit into traditional gender roles, for the binary construction to have any place in my worldview.)

    I can understand straight allies being uncomfortable with using the terminology in a reclaimatory sense and that’s fine. If someone shouted “queer” at me from a car, yeah, I’d be upset — but I and most of the other queer folks (my age, anyway) I know prefer it as a looser umbrella term. It’s definitely a generational thing, older gays and lesbians tend to find it offensive or weird and would never self-identify that way. On the other hand, it has sort of become the accepted academic terminology so I don’t think it’s as fraught as the “n-word”. Anyway, for what it’s worth.

    I also agree it’s unfair to discourage straight authors from writing. On the other hand, it’s like my struggles with affirmative action in general: there has been so much discrimination and suppression of queer authors throughout history that it doesn’t seem entirely unjust to have a special award/scholarships/contests/etc just for them. It’s not an ideal solution, but those rarely exist in practice anyway. I’m not really sure how I feel about it.

    • exceptionalbooks July 29, 2010 at 7:53 am #

      I thought I remembered that you preferred queer too. I do think it is somewhat generational, but I have friends my age who also identify that way.

      When John read this post he told me it didn’t sound like I quite knew what my opinion on the issues were and that I was mostly making a list of issues that I am still figuring out. He is probably right. He also said that I he is sure I have more to say on the subject. He is probably correct there too.

      If you ever want to guest blog let me know. (on this or another subject) You have better insight into this than I do. I am just a mom/person/teacher trying to do what is right.

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