Romantic relationships are tricky enough for teens, but for young people uncertain about their sexual orientation, either openly or undisclosed, there's an additional level of challenge. Parental disapproval is a common experience, as is mistreatment and harassment from peers, something that cannot be even more evident as another teen, Jamey Rodemeyer, took his own life just this week.
The contributing writers to Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up offer some alternative narratives in their short stories, with characters who display confidence, bravery and fortitude. Edited by Steve Berman, this collection includes 13 pieces intended for young adult readers.
Read our interview with Dan Savage on his It Gets Better project and book.
Don't be mistaken and presume that these fictional gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters face no adversities within these pages. Among the stories, there are parents who disown their children rather than accept their sexuality. Bullying is another common thread. However, an even greater emphasis is placed on the characters' abilities to overcome these challenges, rise above hate that may be directed their way and to establish confidence in their identities.
In an age where folks from all walks of life are directing messages of "It gets better" to LGBTQ youth, I imagine that some young people are hopeful about what the future might hold for them, but still ultimately concerned with simply getting through each day in the here and now. While these stories don't present a road map or specific guidelines to dealing with hate and harassment, they provide support in story form for a population who may not be used to reading about characters struggling with the same issues they do.
The power of friendship is another theme running through the collection, and for many of these characters, the friendships they cultivate figure more prominently in their lives than any romantic relationships they may wish for. In "The Trouble with Billy" by Jeffrey Ricker, the main character Jamie is a high schooler who is feeling weakened by continued harassment from another student, Billy. Sarah, his closest friend, does whatever she can do to help him cope, even if it's just listening. If that might seem cliché or uninspiring, perhaps this excerpt will help to portray how that support can appear:
"I keep telling myself I just need to get through another year and a half, but how can I even think that far ahead when I don't even know if I have it in me to get through the next period?"
Sarah reaches across and squeezes his hand. "You do. I know you can do it."
Jamie stops shuffling papers and stares at her hand around his. "Maybe I don't want to do it anymore," His voice is small, like it's hiding under the desk. The day isn't even halfway over yet, and already he sounds exhausted.
Sarah wants to tell him not to say things like that, but Mrs. Hathaway closes the door, and that's the signal they're about to start…[Jamie] seems able to put aside his anxiety. If only Sarah could put aside her anger half as easily, even for a moment, but she can't, never has been able to. It's been a steady beat of the hammer, this anger, ever since she was old enough to realize life isn't fair…
It's important to note that the writing elevates these stories from appealing only to young readers who can personally identify with the struggles of the primary characters. Even though this is a collection of fiction, the value in educating friends—especially parents—about obstacles these teens face and the encouragement offered directly to those teens cannot be overstated. The stories in Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up bring forth beautifully composed messages of love, acceptance and self-confidence, powerful and universal for readers of any orientation.
When she's not reviewing books on 5 Minutes for Books, Dawn Mooney (and her online alter ego, morninglight mama) can be found blogging at my thoughts exactly, pondering parenthood on her local Patch, and being a twit @mteblogmama.