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Being "Weird," Being "Different" and Finding Hope <3

Nov 08,2013
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One of the best things about being an author is getting to meet and talk with kids who've read your book. Last night, I was invited to speak to a library book club in Colchester, Vermont. In addition, a reporter from Vermont Public Radio was there to record the meeting for a series they're doing on books that have been nominated for a book award in Vermont. (It's a little like the Inky Awards.)

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We gathered around a conference table in a tiny room (that tray has ice-cream cups on it!) and the kids started asking me questions about the story. In addition, the librarian asked them questions. One was, "Who was your favorite character?"

My favorite answer was from a girl, who said, "My favorite character was Ran, because he's weird. But he's also cool. Sometimes people tell me I'm weird. But they say that's also what makes me special." She smiled to herself, and I could see she felt proud. Inside, I thought how great that was, and how different things are for these kids, than they were when I was young. And how glad that makes me.

Another boy asked me why I made Holden "different." He was probably about nine years old, and I had a feeling  this may have been the first time he'd seen a gay character in a book. I told him that I based Holden on my brother, who was also gay. He made this shocked expression, and looked around the room.

The other kids didn't seem to react at all. We've come a long way. I explained that when I was growing up in the 1970's and 80's, it was really hard to be a gay teen. Then I said, for a lot of kids, it's STILL really hard. There were some knowing nods. We've come a long way, but not far enough.

"I don't think kids who are gay should feel like they're 'different'," I said. He nodded thoughtfully, his big glasses slipping on his face, as if to say, "me either." But we all seemed to silently acknowledge that most still probably do.

Later, I wished I'd said more. It's hard, sometimes, when you don't have time to really think carefully before answering a question. It's even harder when you are nervous, and knowing you're being recorded for a radio show! So driving home last night, I kept wondering about my answers and if they were OK, but in particular this one kept bugging me. How far have we come to accept "different" people? How long will we keep using that term? How long will we continue to need labels like gay, straight, bi, etc.?

My son said to me recently, "We're all on the spectrum, Mom. As soon as people lighten up about it, we won't need labels. You can be attracted to anyone and it won't be an issue. We're just human."

I hope he's right.

But for now, we do still have an awful long journey to reach true acceptance. I still have teachers and librarians tell me that they can't have See You At Harry's in their schools because the content (gay character) is too controversial. Sometimes it gets labeled as young adult instead of middle grade, even though my publisher has categorized it as the latter. And while it's not always clear why this decision gets made, sometimes the reason is listed because the book has "mature content." Since there are plenty of middle grade books about death, do we assume the reference is homosexuality? I don't know. It's confusing. It's frustrating. And it makes me sad to think so.


But last night, the kids at the meeting gave me so much hope. They reminded me how far we've come, and that even though we still have a long way to go, I'm confident we'll get there. And that makes me very happy.

:-)

Nov 26,2013

Renee and Luci, I agree. Thank you!

Riyannah: It warmed my heart too. She was a great kid.

Alexandra, right??? I don't understand either.

Carla, nicely said.

Amelia, me too!

Hannah, thanks for your kind words.

Aweet_Akok: Great quote!

Christina, I think so too. I wish this were the case EVERYWHERE. :-)

12115: Yup!

Kathryn, you sound like my son :-)

Chloe, well said!

All the anonymous people:  I wasn't sure how to comment individually but THANK YOU for your thougthful responses.

Love,

Jo

Nov 24,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I think what your saying is a great message for teenagers because they can find it hard to be different without thinking they will get judged. I agree that we have come along way and you can be openly gay. It is now almost normal to be gay or bi. In the past you would be an easy target if you were different  but now it's fine.

Nov 21,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I think that the fact that your book has not been put in libraries because there is a gay character is very misleading and rude toward people who are gay/bi. I think that mentioning in a book that a young boy is gay is a great, healthy way to familiarise young children with gay people. It's so absurd that just because a book has a gay character in it that people may not be allowed to read it! These days you never hear any mention of people not being allowed to read books because there are characters of different racial backgrounds mentioned in it. In fact many of the books I was exposed to in primary school were about the hard ships of young children in Afghanistan.

 

I think many people need to be more open minded about the topic of homosexuality and adults should experiment more with kids, exposing them to controversy over this. No child is born homophobic, but children are born gay and I think that’s what many people need to understand in today’s society.

 

Nov 20,2013

I really like that you wrote this because you don't see many with characters that a gay or bisexual. I agree that it has come far but maybe not far enough. I think that kids should be exposed to it and learn that there is nothing wrong with being different. I really don’t understand why people need to be labelled according to their likes and dislikes.

 

Nov 19,2013

I agree, the world has come very far, but still not far enough. People still get judged and bullied because they are different, but if your being yourself, it shouldn’t matter everyone should be proud of who they are.

Nov 19,2013

The girl who commented, 'Sometimes people tell me I'm weird. But they say that's also what makes me special', warms my heart! Too many people are afraid to be bold and be different. Weirdness is not a bad thing, just as she said, 'that's also what makes me special'.

Nov 19,2013

Wow, it's really inspirational and takes a lot of confidence to write about a character like that. In today's society some poeple have a lot of trouble accepting others who to them are 'different.' I do feel though that as a society we have come a long way. I can imagine just how hard it would be living as a gay person in the past and not being accepted by society.

I don't unsderstand why you're book in some libraries is classified 'young-adult' and is deemed not suitable for a younger audience. There is nothing wrong with being gay, so what are we trying to shield young children from?

Nov 19,2013

The fact that you posted this really makes teenagers, who do feel intimidated by other people because they may be different, is a great thing! I believe everybody is sort of weird in their own unique way. The fact that society and peers around you immediatley put a label on you, because of the way you look or act, is a totally different story. Why is it bad to be a little bit different? Because honestly, who would want to live in a society where everything is the same? We would all dress the same, look the same and would be into the same things. I know that the type of music I listen to, may not be the same as the type of music another girl in my year level would listen to. I know that for a fact because the girls in my school are different, and the people who like to be the same can become boring. 

 

I hope that one day, this society changes for the better. The more pressure the younger generations are facing, the less they focus on school work and how good their lives are, and the more the stress and depression builds up in their bodies. If only, in our world, people were accepted for who they are. You will always have people who will bring you down, and you just have to work your way up to the top, to ignore them. There is always hope.

 

Nov 19,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

So true! Everyones weird in their own way and that's what brings out their true personality. Everyone's different and if we were all the same imagine how boring this world would be? Yet some people don't accept others differences, and everywhere, people are always judging. It's heartbreaking to think that people who are gay feel like there not accepted. Our world has come a long way in acceptance but just not far enough... You're right. 

Nov 18,2013

In this world you are judged for everything you do, everything you say and who you are. Does it show the flaws in society? Or display the unjust world we live in? I agree in all that you say. It is really difficult for somebody to be gay and be accepted by everyone. It may be much easier than it was, but for some teenagers they just can’t escape. But what if we taught a person, that been gay was right, would that change everyone’s perspectives. There is nothing wrong with been different.  I hope that one-day everyone will be accepted and different becomes the new hipster.

Nov 18,2013

I think everyone is weird in their own special way. Being weird makes us who we are. You’re right; kids or adults that are gay shouldn’t feel as though they’re different and not accepted. Everyone should be treated as equals and people shouldn’t be labelled.

 

As people grow up, I think they’ll learn to appreciate each other and stand up for people who may be different. I hope in the future we’ll be able to overcome this problem in our society.

 

I think it’s great and brave that you wrote about a gay character in your book. Although we have come a long way there is plenty more room for improvement. You have taken this next step by raising awareness in your writing. It’s a shame that some librarians and school teachers won’t allow your book in their schools.

Nov 18,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I agree with what you are saying, the world is changing for the better. Teenagers around the world are all trying to find out who they are and what they stand for. Gay people for example are slowly becoming accepted into society as normal people. We have come a long way but still have a long way to go.

Nov 18,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I’m in high school and kids these days have to put up with a lot, its all about being skinny and pretty and perfect. You can’t be different or weird because you wont ‘fit in’. I think being different is a great thing if everyone was the same the world would be boring! Being unique or different makes you stand out from the crowd and makes people appreciate you for who you are.

Nov 18,2013

You're right being different use to be a bid deal but now being different is being original and standing out of the crowd. Being different has been accepted by most people my favourite quote about difference is 'Don't be afraid of being different, be afraid of being the same as everyone else.

Nov 17,2013

I agree totally on what your saying because being different is playing a big deal to the world. In the pervious years people were very quick to judge people but now things are changing. Many people are accepting that people are different like being gay. The world is changing dramatically and I think it is really revalent to teenages. Teenage are still trying to find themselves and slowly people will start to accept wierd,special and gay people.

Nov 17,2013

I'd have to definitely agree with what you’re saying because being different is a big thing in our world, people are always trying to be something that there not whether it be a model or a body builder. And people are getting judged all the time on everything. But definitely being different has changed dramatically over the years like as you mentioned being gay was not accepted before but now it is becoming more of an acceptance to the world today. Its very appropriate and relevant thing to teenagers as people have said because many teenagers are stuck wondering who they are and who they want to be making them feel judged or weird to other people rather than be accepted for they are because everybody is unique and a kind of there own.

Nov 15,2013

I agree with what you are saying, we have come a long way but just not far enough. I dont understand why this is and why we need lables because what does it matter if one guy is with another. 

Nov 13,2013

Great post! I agree that even in the past two years, peoples  appreciation of being special, gay, weird, etc. has grown heaps! Back in 2011 if you weird  people would run away from you at school! Now people have just learnt to accept it. the problem now is, some people don't mean to be offensive, and don't know it's offending the supposed 'target' . People are so much more than what they are labeled by. It's what's in the inside that counts.

Nov 13,2013

This is a beautiful post, I think it is very relevant to people in teenage years. Many teenagers do find themselves wandering if they are weird and some of their friends don't think of it as "special" and abandon them. 

Nov 08,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Just two days ago my grandson's mom said my grandson (who is not ready to know his indentity but clearly has gender issues ) isn't being teased at school even though he is refusing to go to gym, and is having problems. She said kids are more accepting now and I shouldn't worry about that aspect of my grandsons many problems. 

Then that night on the news an 18 year old boy was set on fire on the bus - becasue he was wearing a skirt. He was asleep and a 14 year old kid lit him on fire! Apparently the 18 year old won't idientity himself as male or female, and just feels comfortabe with who he is. (according to the news stories)  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a pretty liberal and accepting place, comparitively speaking. 

So yes, we have made some strides since the '80's. But boy oh boy, do we have a long way to go. 

 

Nov 08,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Great blog post! And I agree, while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. As a third-generation Japanese American, I am still surprised when people make comments to me about my race. I don't think they intend to be offensive (or maybe they do), but obviously, some people look at me and say "Asian" and that's my label. But I am so much more than that. It would be nice to live in a world without labels but I don't know that that will ever happen. Instead, talented authors like you can continue to write wonderful stories about all kinds of people. Thank YOU.

xo

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