For a long time, the narratives woven around LGBTQ characters in literature dealt with sexuality as an obstacle, as something that needed to be addressed and overcome in order to allow for acceptance to be obtained from the self, the family, or the community. Recently, there’s been a trend in young adult fiction to present sexuality as just one part of one’s identity rather than the defining struggle of one’s life. However, this movement toward diversifying the stories being told about LGBTQ people has largely been constrained to dealings with cisgender, secular, gay male characters. In his debut novel, Deposing Nathan, Zack Smedley sets out to offer a new perspective on two communities whose stories continue to be told in ways that have been depicted narrowly: bisexuals and religious folk.
Growing up, Smedley knew that he was attracted to both men and women. “But,” he recalls, “I was not familiar with the term ‘bisexual’ until sophomore year of college.” Immediately, he says, he recognized himself in the word, and he came out as bisexual three weeks later. Given the complicated and often dismissive attitude toward bisexuals both within and outside the LGBTQ community, Smedley’s delayed introduction to the concept should not, perhaps, be too shocking. Things are changing, of course. “Recently, I’ve come across young adult books that have a lot of mentions of bisexuality, and validation of it,” he says, “but that isn't the same as exploring it head-on in the first person.” For Smedley, then, it was crucial to write Deposing Nathan in first person.
A blossoming friendship between teens Nate and Cam becomes increasingly fraught in the novel as they begin to understand their attractions toward one another. While Cam is able to quickly incorporate his sexuality into his broader identity, Nate struggles. His main sticking point is his Christian faith—or his reading of his Christian faith.
“I wanted to explore the different sides of the argument of sexuality versus religion,” Smedley explains. “So many think they repel each other, but I was raised Christian, and to me, it made all the sense in the world that if you were LGBT that would only serve to strengthen your relationship with your faith, so as to be more in tune with who you are.” He admits that writing Nate’s character proved more challenging than expected given how different his own experience was.
Nate’s shame, reinforced by a strict interpretation of religion peddled by his aunt Lori (a stand-in for his deceased mother and, according to Smedley, organized religion), causes Nate’s emotions to swing back and forth with increasing volatility, which strains his friendship with Cam. Eventually, confusion, hurt feelings, and misplaced anger boil over into an altercation in which Cam stabs Nate with a shard of pottery. This criminal element—the book is structured around Nate’s lengthy deposition—provides a high-stakes backdrop to Smedley’s careful and nuanced exploration of sexuality and faith, which remains the heart of this story.
“I wanted to write something where the main character is unironically a person of Christian faith and trying to reconcile that with their sexuality and who ends up doing it,” Smedley says. “My hope would be that readers come to the realization that it's possible to have a relationship with God and be Christian and still be queer. I think,” he adds, “and this applies to God and to family—if you feel that there’s a rubric you have to meet in order for someone to love you, then something’s not right.”
James Feder is a writer based in Tel Aviv.