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Gay Characters in Young Adult Fiction

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There was a thread somewhere here I read the other day regarding the reluctance of publishers to promote books with gay themes or gay characters. Related to this issue, I have been corresponding with a gay writer in Britain who attended a dinner the other night with, among others, a record producer who told him that one of the reasons Ronan Parke, the delightful young singer, has had difficulty gaining acceptance is because of his obvious gay orientation. Even in the 21st Century and in a more progressive society such as the UK, this is a problem. How sad.

I have noticed, however, that despite the lack of acceptance of gay orientation in young people, in those books that do have gay characters, they tend to be stereotyped. A perfect example is the book Absolute Brightness, a delightful, yet irritating (to me) book about the flamboyantly gay fourteen year-old Leonard Pelkey, who leaves a broken and dysfunctional home in Arizona to live with his female cousins in New Jersey. Leonard disappears (no spoilers), but his disappearance shows what a positive effect his energy and happiness (which mask his inner pain) have on the community. In line with the other discussion, the narrator is the female cousin and regarding my point, Leonard is quite frankly typical of the stereotypes most have of gay people, flamboyant, effeminate, over the top. Publishers seem reluctant to show gay characters, but when they do, they are stereotyped.

I admit that I'm pretty conservative in my demeanor and appearance, though I wish I could have been more flamboyant when I was younger. I envy Ronan Parke for his attitude. I wish I could have avoided hiding behind my facade in my teenage years. However, I get tired of constantly seeing the media portray us all as flamboyant queens.

My ex and I marched in the 1989 Pride Parade in Oklahoma City (yes, I know- the terms "gay pride" and "Oklahoma" do seem to involve some cognitive dissonance). My ex was a hairdresser who portrayed Frank N Furter in a community theater production of Rocky Horror and was quite festively attired. I wore khakis, a blue Polo oxford, and Bass Weejuns. Guess which one of us made the news. Of course, I also marched with ACT-UP in DC twice and in Austin once, so even though I used to look like an Aryan Blond College Republican nightmare dressed in everything from the Lands End catalog, I was pretty liberal on the issue of gay rights. I support the right of gay people to dress and act any damn way they choose. HOWEVER, I get tired of the media thinking that THAT is the only way we look and act.

There is progress being made. There are gay people on TV now who are no longer the gay versions of Steppin' Fetchit. The media doesn't automatically go to Harvey Fierstein as a gay role model anymore. (Don't get me wrong- I love Harvey and I watch Torch Song Trilogy over and over). But Jack on Will and Grace is not representative of us. Neil Patrick Harris is available now. Matt Bomer. Many others. There is a gradual movement away from the stereotype. I just wish it could be faster and we could see it in literature more. How about some of the characters we see here on AD? Publishers should read some of the brilliant writers here to see what diversity means. The gay community is pretty diverse. The media needs to show that more. Especially the publishing industry. Sometimes boring people are gay, too.

A quick aside, I do want to praise the author of Absolute Brightness, though. James Lecesne is one of the founders of the Trevor Project, so he's a good guy.

By the way, as I write this, I'm wearing a purple shirt. I'm finally pushing the envelope.

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And what am I doing wrong when starting a new paragraph? I hit enter at the end of the paragraph and its skips a line, but when it posts the space between the paragraphs is missing. I'm blond, so what am I doing wrong?

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You're not doing anything wrong. It's this messed up IP.Board version (3.2.3) that's causing your problem. It can be fixed but apparently it's a huge (read: expensive) task involving experts and/or extensive tinkering with the internals. GA has spent a lot of time and some money getting their version (3.3.3) up and running without the bizarre paragraph break problems.

The Google spell checker works with 3.3.3 without showing a blank message if it finds a spelling error. Here's what you can do on AD and version 3.2.3 if you use the Google spell checker and the message goes blank: click the down-arrow next to the Check button and select Auto-Fix. Click the Check button to turn off spell checking, then click it again and you should see your spell-corrected text. Then you can clean up the stuff that shouldn't have been corrected. If you press the Check button and the message text is still displayed, the Google spell checker didn't find any spelling errors.

What I do to separate paragraphs is press Enter twice: it created the space between the second paragraph and this paragraph.

I pressed Enter once and it created a new line below the above line, with no space between the lines.

Edit and Preview can sometimes mess up the paragraph spacing, so doing either might require a re-visit to Edit (perhaps a couple times in a long document with lots of paragraphs and other tags like quotes) to fix it up. Another couple tips: 1) don't use the Full Editor when you edit; 2) don't turn on HTML.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Typical HTML deal: two hard returns = one displayed paragraph preceded by a space.

I agree about the diversity shown by different types of gay people, but I think Queer as Folk established this pretty well in 2000, in terms of mass media. And Will & Grace (which I worked on occasionally during its 7-year run) had a wide variety of gay and straight characters during the series, many of which were not flamboyant.

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Okay, back on track.

My favorite character in a published novel is Noah in Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates. This story is funny and tongue-in-cheek, it has two dysfunctional families, two gay teens, and a mystery all rolled up into one tightly-written package. Highly recommended.

However, I'm not a fan of another Yates' novel, The Brothers Bishop. It's an adult-youth relationship story that I found very disturbing.

Colin :icon_geek:

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The Google spell checker works with 3.3.3 without showing a blank message if it finds a spelling error. Here's what you can do on AD and version 3.2.3 if you use the Google spell checker and the message goes blank: click the down-arrow next to the Check button and select Auto-Fix. Click the Check button to turn off spell checking, then click it again and you should see your spell-corrected text. Then you can clean up the stuff that shouldn't have been corrected. If you press the Check button and the message text is still displayed, the Google spell checker didn't find any spelling errors.

Colin :icon_geek:

What I do to avoid all that is simply copy what I'm writing to Word, spellcheck it there, and then return it to AD. Simple as pie.


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Correct me if I'm wrong, (Mathematicians and Englishmen), but isn't English Pi Day coming up? 20/7, as opposed to American Pie day which is 3 14? By the way, how did we get from Gay Characters to Cole's Pies? :razz: And, would Mathematicians and Englishmen be anything similar to Mad Dogs and Englishmen?

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Pie Day is actually Pie Month, all of October, in Julian, California, a delightful haven about 70 miles up into the hills from San Diego. Pie bakeries line the main street and the smell of freshly baked pie permeates the air year round, although in October at the peak of the harvest the total output of the town is 10,000 pies. If you love pie, as I do, this is the Promised Land. I had one shipped once from Julian to the east coast, and it arrived, frozen, in fine shape. http://www.desertusa.com/Cities/ca/julian.html

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Publishers and television/movie people tend to get nervous, because of how they perceive (misperceptions) gay people, gay stories, gay adults, and gay youth. The publishers and TV/movie people are often worried they'll get lots of complaints from "concerned citizens" or parents, about how that book/show is promoting the gay agenda, recruiting those kids, and so on and so on. I'll bet you've all heard those before, huh? Even if it's a story about two male penguins, for instance. Goodness gracious, if it's about two boys kissing or falling in love. Never mind if the same story about a boy and a girl would not raise one single eyebrow during prime time TV or on the school reading list.

I've recently seen comments where some writer or other had written a story involving a gay teen couple. The agent and publisher thought it would be just fine -- If the author would change one of the characters' gender so it would be a straight couple. Or if the author could just edit those parts out. The author's objection was those were a key part of the story, even if the couple was one part of a larger story and cast of characters. The author was understandably upset. -- I thought, on reading it, the author should've shopped it around to another publisher before fussing so publicly. But saying so, publicly, does draw attention to the problem.

Teens aren't stupid, especially teens who like to read. They can choose not to read something. But they might want to read about something that is important to them or their friends. Or maybe they are open-minded enough to be curious, ask questions, and look for answers.

(How amazing it would've been, even if I hadn't known quite what to make of it, if I could've read about a boy loving a boy, when I was a questioning teen wondering about himself. If a friend or two had been interested, that would've cleared up a whole lot right then.)

I think publishers and TV/movie people in the "establishment" (wow, how 70's) would be really surprised if they paid any real attention to what's on the internet, amateur fiction, fanfic, YouTube and web films, all of it. There is plenty of writing, audio, and video out there involving gay themes that yes, would be publishable and televisable. There is clearly a lot of interest in it, and that is not just among gay folks. It wouldn't be out there and wouldn't be read or listened to or looked at, if people weren't interested and wanting to have that.

There is real quality out there, even if the presentation or editing are not always ideal. -- That's true of anything, not just gay-themed stories, but stories generally, online. Things like online fiction, ebooks, web audio and web video, podcasts of audio and video, all are doing things the "big boys" are too reluctant to do. The nice thing is, that may propel some of those indie productions into production teams with more oomph. That's happening as the indie folks get more experience and try more new things. Ultimately, that's good for all of us.

One of the troublesome things I see out there is what you might call "brand identity confusion" or "genre confusion." A look through the e-commerce sites out there for ebooks and video will show you that a lot of what's in the "gay and lesbian" category is, plain and simple, pulp romance or erotica (or porn). What about the non-fiction that LGBT people might want to read? Health? Relationships? Family? Law relating to LGBT folks? What about quality fiction involving gay characters? What about quality fiction with gay characters for youth? It IS out there, but you may have to squint and dig to find it.

Best suggestions: For published stories or films or TV shows, look at recommendations here and at other gay-friendly sites. For quality online fiction, well hey, you're already here, plus, look at recommended stories elsewhere and look at allied/friendly sites, such as the links available from the AwesomeDude home page. I know that might sound like a commercial, but it's meant as a, "please support our authors, allies, community" response.

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