The Queer Kids Are All Right, a guest post by James Sie
If I were to write down a story for you about what it was like to be gay in my solidly middle-class, suburban New Jersey high school, it wouldn’t take long. I wouldn’t have to do any fact-checking or hunting down of names or places, no consultation of old yearbooks. I’d need none of those things.
All I’d have to do is hand you a book of blank, white pages.
There are no stories, because I didn’t have the words. I didn’t know what being young and gay meant, and there was nowhere to find that out. When I was growing up, the idea of teen gay visibility in my world was unimaginable, because the idea of a homosexual teenager was unimaginable (I use the words gay and homosexual because there were no other terms for queerness at that time; at least, terms that weren’t designed to hurt). I had only the barest knowledge of what being gay even was, only that it was something hidden, something wrong, and that it involved sex, and men. It certainly had nothing to do with normal teenagers. No one talked about being gay in high school; it would be like talking about extraterrestrial lizards in human disguise walking among us—it just didn’t exist.
(It’s been a long while since those years. Let’s put it this way: I grew up in the Time Before the Internet. Yes, hard to imagine, but I was already an adult before the advent of message boards and AOL—“You’ve got mail!”— and online images that took approximately seven hours to gradually reveal themselves on my tiny computer screen. To many YA readers, I am relatively (okay, empirically) ancient.)
Back then, there weren’t many options for learning more about being gay, no school assemblies to discuss the issue, no GSAs, no books in the library to confirm what I was feeling. What little I actually knew I observed with lowered eyes from the adult world: the TV show where the guy wears a dress and gets a laugh; the lisping characters everyone makes fun of in movies; those hairy, bare-chested men entwined and smoldering from the covers of magazines my local newsstand put on the top shelf in the way, way back. Was that me? Was that going to be me? Being gay belonged to the world out there; and until you graduated and grew up and then maybe found others like you out there, it meant being alone, hiding yourself even from yourself, being a blank page: unexamined, unwritten upon, empty.
So much has changed since then. Much of it has to do with the internet. As odious and toxic as the World Wide Web can be, it’s also be a place where the queer community can find each other, help each other, and make us feel we are not so alone, no matter where we live, no matter what our circumstances. There are YouTube vlogs and Reddit threads, pages and pages of Tumblr posts devoted to who you are and who you are becoming, thousands of beacons flaring bright: I am here! Are you there, too?
There also books. Books for queer teens. About queer teens. Books that can affirm lives, or even save them.
When I began writing my novel, All Kinds of Other, one of my main objectives was to create two queer high school boys, one cisgender and one transgender, who were authentic and relatable to teens today. Along with spending hours online, watching YouTube videos and reading blogs, the really invaluable information came from going out in the field and interviewing high schoolers, mostly from Los Angeles and Pittsburgh (where the book is set), via GSAs and LGBTQ Centers. What I discovered not only changed the trajectory of the book; it gave me such hope and admiration for this new generation of queer kids. The high schoolers I spoke to were articulate and self-aware; they weren’t waiting for someone to tell them who they were; they were discovering it on their own. They were resourceful and determined and outspoken. Most of the conflict in their life arose not from wrestling with who they were, but in getting the world to understand and accept that identity.
That understanding and acceptance is not a given, not even for those who are being raised in larger urban environments with more access to support. Conditions for LGBTQ youth vary wildly from state to state, from county to county. More visibility means more backlash, more hysteria from the Old Guard, more political posturing. When I started writing All Kinds of Other in 2015, I wondered if by the time I was published the issues of gender and sexuality raised in the book would be irrelevant (naive, I know). Now, I watch in alarm as a battalion of proposed laws across the country aimed squarely at stigmatizing and delegitimizing trans kids are being pushed through state governments. It brings me right back to the fear-mongering anti-gay efforts (No gay teachers! No gay marriage!) I’ve witnessed most of my adult life, all of them intent on legislating us right out of existence.
It won’t work, of course. Eventually, that arc of the moral universe will bend toward justice. But in this precarious moment, it’s more important than ever to support our queer kids, to stand with them and amplify their voices. It’s also important to provide them with positive images of themselves, reflecting back and validating their own experience. My book was written for them. Maybe, too, it was written for my younger self— a beacon of my own, flaring: You are not blank. Your stories are worth telling. You are seen. And you are loved.
Meet the author
JAMES SIE (pronouns he/him) is the author of Still Life Las Vegas, his debut novel, which was a Lambda Literary Award nominee for Best Gay Fiction. An award-winning playwright, he has had productions performed in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York (Lincoln Center Institute) and across the country. He has contributed essays to The Rumpus and The Advocate.
James is also a voiceover artist for many cartoons and games, including Stillwater, Jackie Chan Adventures, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness; Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, where his excessive love of cabbages has earned him immortal fame.
Born in New Jersey to immigrant parents, James now lives in Los Angeles with his husband and son.
Visit his website at www.sieworld.com.
About All Kinds of Other
In this tender, nuanced coming-of-age love story, two boys—one who is cis, and one who is trans—have been guarding their hearts, until their feelings for each other give them a reason to stand up to their fears.
Two boys are starting over at a new high school.
Jules is still figuring out what it means to be gay…and just how out he wants to be.
Jack is reeling from a fall-out with his best friend…and isn’t ready to let anyone else in just yet.
When Jules and Jack meet, the sparks are undeniable. But when a video linking Jack to a pair of popular trans vloggers is leaked to the school, the revelations thrust both boys into the spotlight they’d tried to avoid.
Suddenly Jack and Jules must face a choice: to play it safe and stay under the radar, or claim their own space in the world—together.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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