The Bi Teens Are Out There. They’re Just Hiding.

I read this great, thought-provoking post by Kody Keplinger (author of The DUFF which is FREAKING AWESOME btw) about bisexual characters in YA. And, like thought-provoking posts tend to do, it got me to, well, thinking.

When I was in high school, back in the 90s ― pre-Dawson’s Creek, pre-Buffy, and vastly pre-Glee, when everything my friends and I knew about gayness came from our own, um, gayness ― I recall bisexuality as being the default assumption about anyone who expressed same-sex interest. There was no expectation that just because a girl was interested in another girl one week, she wouldn’t be interested in a boy the following week. But I don’t recall using the word “bi” very much. Maybe that was a generational thing; we didn’t have many examples of people calling themselves bi (we’d never heard the acronym “LGBTQ” either), so it didn’t occur to us.

Empress of the WorldToday, the vocabulary of the LGBTQ movement has entered the mainstream, and so labels are much more the thing. Kids come out earlier, too, both to themselves and to others. And in some cases, certainly, there is a rush to claim a label of their very own.

But the thing that hasn’t changed from my own teen years to today is the fact that high school is a time of sexual uncertainty for a lot of people. There is much deliberation and much exploration, and, especially for a lot of teens who identify as being on the LGBTQ spectrum, there is much fluidity. On Monday you’re totally in love with that redheaded girl in Geometry; on Tuesday she blows you off so you hate her; on Wednesday you hook up with her ex-boyfriend just to spite her; on Thursday you think hey, maybe you and the redhead’s ex-boyfriend could actually have, you know, a thing; on Friday you and the ex are picking out your prom clothes; then on Saturday you catch the ex exchanging sexy Facebook messages with your ex, and on Sunday you’ve totally moved on and are crushing hard on your field hockey coach. During all that time, are you worrying about your sexual identity? Maybe, but more likely you’re too busy exchanging melodramatic text messages with your best friend analyzing it all.

All of which, in my mind, ties back to the presence of bisexual characters in YA novels like so:

I think a huge chunk of the protagonists in LGBTQ YA novels, especially the girl protagonists, are bi. But they don’t get credit for it. Because the books themselves aren’t branded as bi in the books’ back cover copy, in reviews, in Publisher’s Marketplace blurbs, etc.

Because novels are about problems. And usually, the problem when you’re a teenager isn’t that you’re attracted to people of both genders. Attraction to people of the opposite sex is the norm; it’s expected. The problem is that you’re attracted to someone of the same sex. So that’s what books tend to focus on.

So a book gets branded as a “lesbian” book because it’s about a girl having a relationship with another girl. Sometimes one or both of those girls explicitly refers to themselves as a lesbian, but just as often, maybe more often, the protagonist just spends the book obsessing over the feelings she’s having about this one particular girl. (Btw, I’m talking about girl books here because that’s what I write myself and that’s most of what I read as well; on the boy end of the spectrum, I think this happens much less often.)
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The Worst Blogger in the World

Yes, all right, that would be me.

In my defense, I have been writing like a madwoman these days, trying to finish the first draft of my WIP. Yesterday I spent seven hours in a coffee shop listening to bad 80s music, only taking my hands off the keyboard to up to the counter to buy more $5 chocolate croissants. (I think I might’ve internalized Sara Zarr’s SCBWI speech about writers choosing to live our lives like crazy people a little too much. At least when it comes to snack foods.)

And yes, part of my eagerness to finish my first draft is the awareness that when I do, I will put it aside for a little while to let it marinate, and during that marination time, I will get to play with my Shiny New Idea.

Now, past experience has shown that my Shiny New Ideas tend to fall off into the Significantly-Less-Shiny Pit of Old Unworkable Ideas after a chapter or so, and thus I don’t want to get too attached to it now. But as it stands, I am very psyched about my SNI.

And once I do finish playing with it and dive back into my current WIP, there will be a LOT of revision needed. Lots of juicing things up, adding more detail, adding more stuff not directly related to the plot-plot-plot, which is always my tendency in first drafts because I live in permanent fear of TOO MUCH WORD COUNT OMG THE WORD COUNT POLICE WILL COME GET ME. So I am kind of … looking forward to it? I guess? Weird.

I am a happy writer this week. I had almost forgotten what that feels like.

I should try this more often.


The following announcement was in Publisher’s Weekly today:

Putnam Kids Ponies Up for YA Debut
In a high six-figure world rights deal, Arianne Lewin, executive editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, bought three books by Jessica Spotswood, including the debut novel Born Wicked (formerly called Thrice Blessed). Agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich brokered the deal for Spotswood. Born Wicked, set in what the publisher calls “a world of tea parties, engagements, and elegant dresses,” follows the Cahill sisters, a trio of teen witches who must hide their powers in order to save themselves from being shipped off to prison or a mental ward. Spotswood, who is from a small Pennsylvania town, lives in Washington, D.C.

Believe me, this announcement is worthy of much, much squee.

Because I have read this book. And this book is amazing.

It’s a feminist paranormal romance with kickass witches and ponderous mysteries and swoonworthy kissing scenes and scandalous tea parties (not the scary kind, just with witches).

And equally amazing is this book’s author, Jessica Spotswood.

Jess and Caroline Richmond and I are agent-sisters who meet up in DC once a month for food and drinks and reading/writing/publishing talk. When I was struggling to wrap my brain around what is now my WIP, Jess Google-fu’d me up some research links that suddenly made the whole thing seem doable, and she and Caroline talked me through it and now I’m going strong through the first draft.

Not to mention that Jess is an awesome person and a supportive friend and an excellent fashion guru. Not to also mention that she has excellent taste in cocktails.

So congratulations Jess! Hope you enjoy this moment, and can’t wait to see Born Wicked on shelves!!!!

On the Sudden Depth of Brittany and Santana

Brittany and Santana

Last night’s Glee continued in a major way the storyline I waxed on about in a post last fall, In Defense of Brittany and Santana. So I feel compelled to wax on about this episode too. Warning: this will be long.

Here is what Santana said last night.

“I’m a bitch because I’m angry. I’m angry because I have all of these feelings. Feelings for you, that I’m afraid of dealing with because I’m afraid of dealing with the consequences. And Brittany, I can’t go to an Indigo Girls concert. I just can’t.”

When Glee was new, it always annoyed me that in the press, the writers and producers always described Kurt as “dealing with some identity issues.” Kurt was never doing anything of the kind. Kurt has always been completely sure of himself. His problems all stemmed from how other people felt about that.

Santana, on the other hand, is dealing with identity issues in a deep and fascinating way. She feels things. She knows she feels things. But she can’t go to an Indigo Girls concert. She just can’t. And to her, that is the most serious thing in the world.

I’m angry because I have all these feelings.

It’s been clear ever since the Brittany/Santana relationship was first outed halfway through season 1 that Santana had mixed feelings about her sexuality. That fact was made much clearer earlier this season in “Duets,” when Brittany, mid-makeout, tried to get Santana to sing a Melissa Etheridge song with her, and Santana doth protest way too much about how she wasn’t a lesbo.

Jessica Spotswood and I were talking on Twitter last night about how we were confused about the significance of the song “Landslide.” The thing was, when the girls first sang it in the ep, I thought I understood what they were getting at, to the degree that I was almost crying along with Santana. But then in that climactic scene by the lockers it became clear that my interpretation had been way off, which is a big part of why the locker scene shocked me so much on first viewing. But now, having listened to the song a few more times, I get it.

The key lyrics are the chorus:

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
And I’m getting older too.

When I first watched the episode, those lyrics combined with Santana’s tears caused me to interpret the song as Santana saying that she was sad and afraid to let Brittany go, because she’d been such an important part of her life for so long, but that they were getting older now, and it was time to put aside childish things like making out with your best friend because you’re lonely, and it was time to embrace change and look to the future and to adult relationships. I thought this song was about Brittany and Santana breaking up, and I was crying too, because that made me sad.

It was not about that at all. The same lyrics actually meant something entirely different.

I thought the key line was “I’ve been afraid of changing, ‘cause I built my life around you.” But it’s actually “Time makes you bolder, children get older.” It’s about Santana growing up and realizing she’s been wasting her life being bitchy and chasing guys she doesn’t like, and that she needs to grow a pair and go after the one thing that will really make her happy. Which is Brittany. And that makes her cry, partly because she doesn’t like the way she’s been acting, but also because of what she tells Brittany later in the hallway: “I’m afraid of dealing with the consequences.”

Has Santana’s bitchiness throughout the entire series really stemmed, as she claims, from her unacknowledged love for Brittany? Maybe. Santana has been bitchy since before she delivered her first line. And she’s been making gay jokes at Kurt’s expense almost as long. It’s easy enough to buy that those are the direct result of her own issues; we’ve already got another character who’s been doing the same thing (albeit in a much less interesting way) since the show began, too.

It’s strange and often unpredictable how these issues manifest themselves. High school is a confusing time when all your feelings jumble up together and cause you to do weird, weird things.

And whatever the reality of their situation, I can definitely buy Santana thinking she’s in love with Brittany. Close female friendships are confusing enough even when there isn’t sex involved. When someone else is your entire world, especially because you think everyone else in the world hates you, all your feelings get mixed up and…

And that confusion and big mess of feelings is why it’s so much fun to write about high school. For me, anyway.

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