The tragic death of her parents sends 12-year-old Cameron Post into a state of guilt because she’s instantly glad her parents won’t have to find out that she’s gay. Against the backdrop of early 1990s rural Montana, she struggles with her guilt and comes to terms with her identity, all while wrangling with those who can’t—and won’t—fully accept her.
Along the way, Cameron receives some help from a summer friend visiting from Seattle, but then her first real love affair goes wrong, and she’s forced into a church-sponsored conversion-therapy school. Emily Danforth talks social responsibility, fried green tomatoes and the Republican Party, and how they all play a part in her debut, The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
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Do LGBTQ adults have more of a social responsibility in terms of mentoring teens than their heterosexual counterparts?
I think as long as we’re comfortable thinking very broadly about what it means to be a mentor then yes, absolutely. Adults who are living out and proud lives as lesbians or gays or in a relationship that is non–hetero-normative, if they live their lives in a way that shows it’s not something shameful then I think that can be a kind of mentorship.
So yes, unquestionably there is a responsibility to say: This is a struggle, we still don’t live in a world where this is easy in adolescence, and it certainly is not always easy in adulthood, so here’s my experience and here’s a way to get through this.
Like Cameron, was there a particular film that you turned to for the escape at her age?
Fried Green Tomatoes. I was completely in love with Mary-Louise Parker as Ruth, and I wanted to identify with Mary Stuart Masterson as Idgie. You could tell that there was this romantic relationship between the two of them.
There’s this scene where Ruth and Idgie are in the kitchen, and Ruth is supposedly teaching Idgie how to cook and they’re having this food fight, and I think the director has described it as “the sex scene.” It’s incredibly sexual, and I remember blushing [at age 11] and not quite being able to figure out what was going on or to put a name to it. For me, they were this ideal lesbian couple even though they’re certainly not presented that way on the screen. At least not specifically, anyway.
What would you say to someone who claims to be successfully “cured” like Pastor Rick?
I would hand him a copy of my book. I’m not someone who typically pities people in my life, but I think it’s hard not to pity someone like Rick who’s living a life of shame and denial. People like Rick who are muddling along and preaching this thing are living a half-life, and it’s all because of shame, guilt and misinterpretation of a few biblical passages. I certainly met some people who were really committed to working the program. There’s a rigid system of rules and you can make that work like any routine, but of course it doesn’t touch on any sort of internal struggle you’re having, and there’s something really sad about that.
When you reached the end, was it hard not to further explore where Cameron ends up?
I think the current ending speaks to Cam really reconciling her feelings about the death of her parents. Some readers have said, “I finished the book and I’m not really sure where she is with her sexuality or that part of her identity,” and I think that’s OK. I’m not sure that she’s figured all that stuff out. I’m not sure that she needs to, I mean she’s still pretty young but she has made sense of some things and made this fairly drastic decision to flee [God’s Promise] because she realized how wrong it is. I feel like the current ending speaks to important themes in the novel, and I’m not at all unhappy with it—but I would have loved to have told where everyone goes.
Is it any coincidence that Cameron’s church, Gates of Praise, has the same initials as the nickname of the Republican Party?
That is not at all a coincidence. But I’m not suggesting that every member of the Republican Party would be an advocate of conversion therapy! There are a few things like that in the book. Rick’s last name is Roneous, and that’s my play on “erroneous.” I love that about Victorian literature where you play with the names and so there are a few of those. GOP is by far the most obvious!
Lindsey, Cameron’s friend from Seattle, sends Cameron several mixtapes. Can you take on the role of Lindsey and put together a mixtape for the musically uneducated?
1. Songs from Bikini Kill’s Revolution Girl Style Now!
2. Salt N’ Peppa: “Let’s Talk About Sex”
3. A Tribe Called Quest: "Check the Rhime"
4. B-52s: “Roam”
5. Any Prince from 1980 to 1990
6. Sinead O’Connor: “The Emperor’s New Clothes”
7. Nirvana: Both the albums Nevermind and In Utero
8. The Indigo Girls (first live album as an EP): Back on the Bus, Y'all
9. Melissa Etheridge (who was not yet the "ubiquitous lesbian rock star") "Bring Me Some Water"
10. Janis Joplin: "Piece of My Heart"
11. Sam Cooke "Cupid" (It's just like Lindsey to mix it up like this.)
Gordon West is a writer and illustrator living in Greenpoint Brooklyn, N.Y. When he's not diving headfirst into teen literature, he's writing, drawing (WallaceWest.com), observing (ITakeMyCameraEverywhereIGo.com) or scouring the culinary landscape for gluten-free fare. His beagle mix, Sammy Joe, is supportive of all endeavors.