I just helped a friend out by filling out a questionnaire for her psych class, and it kicked my ass a little.
These were questions about dating as a teen, and I realized while answering that I have absolutely no answers for what LGBT kids did in the 1980s for dating. For me, there was no one “appropriate” to date, really. I had one other gay kid in my high school class and we were good friends. I remember keeping an eye open and hoping to find someone in the closet at my school whom I could fall in love with. That didn’t happen.
I went to a couple youth groups for LGBT kids in New York City. It really wasn’t for me. I was the kid whose hair WASN’T blue, or pink, who DIDN’T have multiple piercings. It was frustrating. Like, I was too weird to find love like the “normal, straight kids” at school, but not weird enough for those groups.
I went for what was behind Door C.
I get wonderful emails. This one came from a 16-year-old Orthodox Jew who had just finished The Porcupine of Truth. For those of you who are thinking about writing an author to respond to a book, take a look at the way she does it here: it is respectful, yet honest. It is an expression of her opinion and reaction, which I cherish as an author, even if it isn’t entirely positive.
Here is her note, followed by my response.
Dear Mr. Konigsberg,
The Porcupine of Truth was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for writing it, and also Openly Straight. I love writing and I’d love to be an author one day (I’m 16), and getting to the last page of your books makes me feel like, ‘this is what I want to do. I want to be able to create something as fantastic as this.’
There was one thing that bothered me. It’s not against your book specifically, it’s just something I feel is applicable here. I actually wondered if you got any angry letters from religious fanatics, but trust me, this is not what this is. I’m an Orthodox Jew, but I have no problem with gay people. I just need to get something out there.
I got a delightful email from a teen in India the other day. This really made me happy! Openly Straight was nearly published in India, but in the end it was decided that too many of the allusions in the book would not translate. Maybe that wasn’t so?
Hey Bill…I Am 17 And From India…I Read Openly Straight In August…And It Has Some Reference From India…Trust Me…When I Read The Word India…I Literally Jumped On My Bed…I Was Like How…How Does He Know That Boys And Boys And Girls And Girls Actually Hold Hands Walking Down The Street…Have You Ever Been Here…?? Cause It Is A Minute Detail Of Indian Culture…Though I Never Hold My Best Friends Hand Walking On Streets…It Is Much Common In Smaller Towns…But Yeah The Fact, I Must Say, Is Correct…Now…How I Got Into Reading Your Book…It Is A Funny Story…I Had Ordered Some Books From Amazon…And Accidently Or I Don’t Know What That Delivery Man Was Doing…I Got This Book As Well…I Knew It Was Someone Else’s But Had Already Opened It…I Read The Description…A Very Very Different Story…And I Love Diversity…So I Returned The Book To The Person Who Had Ordered It…And I Ordered One For Myself…And I Read It…Very Different Story…I Must Say…And I Read On Many Sites Many People Saying That The Ending Is A Little Abrubt..But I Did Not Find It Abrubt…I Mean Come On…This Is How Our Life Is…Things Are Changing Constantly…But I Know A Sequel Is Coming…So I Am Pretty Excited For It…So…Just Wanted To Tell You…I Enjoyed The Book Very Much…And I Would Love It If You Reply…
I did reply, as I always do, even if it takes me a week to get to it. I love feeling connected to people across the world. It really reminds me how similar we all are!
I was so excited to learn that Openly Straight won Honorable Mention in the 2015 Joan F. Kaywell Books Save Lives Award!
The award went to my friend Meg Medina for her wonderful novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. So well deserved! I love, love, love that book.
The award is named after Joan F. Kaywell, a professor of English Education at University of South Florida. Kaywell is a huge name in the world of English Education. She’s past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) and currently serves as its membership secretary.
I’m so honored to be associated with this award!
If I’ve learned one thing on my trip around the United States, talking to LGBTQ youth about coming out and suicide and depression for The Trevor Project, it’s the fact that the concept of unity in this country is an impossibility.
How do we unite:
The 18-year-old gender fluid person of color in Little Rock who has three current partners but really considers themselves only sexually attracted to themselves, and
The older white gentleman in St. Louis who said he liked E. Lynn Harris because he didn’t blame whites for racism, and
The older black gentleman who heard this comment and said, “It’s interesting that you said that…”, and
So here’s what happened when I visited a high school in Houston.
It’s been an interesting tour so far! At moments, I’m keenly aware that I am doing important work. Then, at others–often when I’m driving–my brain takes over.
No one knows who you are, it tells me.
These kids think you’re OLD.
You’re kidding yourself if you think talking to such a relatively small number of kids is going to make a difference.
But then I remember the butterfly’s wings, and how we don’t really know who we impact, and I feel better. A little, anyway!
What follows is the transcript of a fascinating conversation I had Tuesday night with a group of transgender teens at the Oasis Project in Nashville called TYME (Trans Youth Meet to Empower)
I started this journey with a subpar understanding of what transgender really meant, and I’m in the midst of a fast and wonderful education. I want to share that with you, so that maybe you can learn some things from these amazing kids, too. If questions come up for you, I suggest you work to continue this conversation. We learn by asking each other respectful questions. I still don’t know that I fully “get it,” but I’m trying.
In the dialogue, I am ME, and the teens are T. T is not for trans, but for “They,” a pronoun a majority of the teens feel comfortable with. Instead of naming particular speakers, I offer their words as a sort of Greek Chorus.
Finally: Snaps are the group’s way of applauding. They snap.