Actually, I hesitate to call them kids. Last Friday I gave a talk at Parkway North High School after being invited by the faculty advisor for the Social Justice Action Team. He’d seen the article on me in the St. Louis Business Journal and—
Hey, did I mention that? I was in the Business Journal last month. They run a weekly feature call St. Louis Character—yep, I’m a character.
Anyway, one of the things I said in the article stood out to him, in response to the question What attracted you to the young adult genre?:
“When I was a kid there weren’t any books that had characters I could identify with. I think when you’re a teenager, at least in my case, I read to make sense of the world. You look for characters you can identify with or relate to, and there was always something missing.”
Which means I didn’t see any gay characters in YA back when I was a teen in the ’80s. There were more of them in grown-up books, but even then I had to hunt for them—and let’s not even discuss how nerve-wracking that was for a not-even-out seventeen-year-old.
Anyway, that led to an email, which led to a conversation, which ended up with me standing in an auditorium talking to thirty or so high school students about being a gay writer.
Of course, when I was standing there waiting to get started I was thinking, Me? What do I know? And then I thought, well, maybe I know a little bit, and if I know just a little bit, I’ll at least share that little bit and then we’ll open it up and ask questions. I shared a story from my friend ’Nathan about the casual homophobia that you run into just going out to dinner, and then talked about feelings of alienation and isolation and how reading and, later, writing were ways I dealt with that. Then we traded questions back and forth, me as well as them, about representation and reading and what difference it makes whether there are representations of queer people in literature. They were a smart bunch of students, and I hope they learned at least half as much as I did.
And as a thank you, they gave me Parkway North swag!