Saturday, September 3, 2011

Am I Blue?

2 X   Am I Blue?: Coming Out From the Silence Edited by Marion Dane Bauer
Weight: 1.8 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donating the one with a cover, leaving the one without somewhere someone can find it

This is an anthology of gay/lesbian young adult fiction that I loved when I was in the right age bracket for it.  I remember reading it and trying to get my father to read it too, though he was nervous about carrying it on a plane.  He traveled a lot for work.  

The author opens the book with these words:
         Ten years ago, an anthology of short stories dealing with gay and lesbian themes
         probably would not be considered by any major young adult publisher.  It is my dream
         that ten years from now an anthology will not be needed, that gay and lesbian
         characters will be as integrated into juvenile literature as they are in life….
         one out of ten teenagers attempts suicide.  One out of three of those does so
         because of concern about being homosexual.  That means that in every
         statistical classroom across the country there is a young person in danger of dying for lack                    of information and support concerning his or her sexuality.

I probably bought this book about 4 years after it was published, and I was thankful for it.  It has now been 17 years since it was published.  I worked in the children’s/young adult department of a bookstore for years, and I remember what it felt like—long after I quit reading exclusively young adult fiction, as I was an adult—and finding all the new gay/lesbian books.  There was a handful, maybe two or three, of fiction books.  I think there were two books about being transgendered.  I was stunned.  It was not that many , but it was a huge increase.  They kept coming.  I read them all, one after the other.  I love YA fiction anyway, but this was huge to me.  It was unexpected.  As booksellers, we would have to scan the books and send the ones that weren’t selling back to the publisher.  I always made sure to keep a couple books on the shelf no matter what the scanner said.  I fought to get that section, instead of one of my coworkers.  I knew that teenagers would still read them, but might be too ashamed to bring them home to their parents or might need their parents financial support to buy them.  There are many good reasons, including a child’s safety, that they may not want their family or friends to figure out about their questions and/or sexuality.  The big chain bookstore might not have cared about that, but I did.  

So, in a way, her dream has partially come true a decade later.  There are not quite as many books as I believe there should be, but they are coming.  There are more and more every year.  Tides are changing.  She did not mention transgendered literature, and YA fiction is truly lacking in that department--hell all fiction is.  The books I do find are good, but they are very basic and do not support a real continuum of gender.  There are still a lot of traps and simplicities.  I feel the young adults and teenagers are ready for some more complicated themes.  Not only can they handle it, but they need it.

Almost two decades later, we have the “It Gets Better” Campaign.  Queer youth is still struggling and suicide is still of huge importance to the sexual minority population.  The more information we can get out there the better.  We all need safe places and access to information and support. 

 In some ways, I am sad to see that the editor’s wishes have not been completely fulfilled to their fullest extent in almost twice as long as she had hoped.  But then I think about what I expected when I was at the age when I found this book, and I am so pleasantly surprised by how far we have come.  How different life is for me now than it was then.  How different it seems to be for the younger generations I have been lucky enough to talk to and interact with.  At least, when it comes to gay and lesbian progression.   

We still need a lot more information on bisexuality and queerness.  We need more information on transgenderism.  We also need information about being intersexed and, please, rush it on to the youth.  Most adults I know have no concept of what that word even means.  And, let me clarify here, that being transgender is not a sexuality.  Being intersex is not a sexuality and it is not directly linked to being transgender.  I include these groups because we are all dealing with problems that are created and exacerbated by a gender, sex, and sexuality binary system, and we are considered a minority because of it.

Thank you, Marion Dane Bauer, for your work and let us all continue doing this work together.  I hope these books fall into hands that need them.

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