Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sneetches of Sexuality

"The Book That Turned Me Gay," a story which could well prove career-ending for me, is up at The Overcast.  Podcaster JS Arquin absolutely crushes the narration, providing wonderful character distinction and a narrative spirit entirely faithful to my vision of the story.  There's also an audio postscript to the story, narrated directly by me, which 1. explains why I wrote it, and 2. demonstrates that I really, really need to buy a new mic.

In that postscript, I reference the situation at the library at the school which employs me.  The real world version of the story has no villains, and certainly no counterpart to Weston Munsch.  The school library--er, the "learning commons"--is in capable hands, and everybody involved, from administration on down, is operating from understandable motives.  But I make no apologies for being bothered by it.  I'll always push back against the sentiment that a high school can be made a better place by having fewer books around.  God bless librarians, Little Free and otherwise.

A secondary theme of the piece, which I don't discuss in my postscript, is the fundamental futility of wondering why people develop same sex attraction.  There's a bizarre maze of arguments and agendas wrapped up in the question.  Progressives who believe in virtually no prenatal component to cognition, who would be desperately offended by the assertion that other aspects of character or ability are largely determined in the womb, suddenly assert that non-traditional sexual orientations are ENTIRELY prenatal--that kids are "born this way" and that environment plays no part at all.  Meanwhile, conservatives who believe that government is utterly incapable in every other area of human life suddenly convince themselves that government affirmation is the key to civic virtue, and moreover, that gay kids can be trained like dogs.  These intellectual contortions are amusing.  The problem is the idea that it's necessary to make these arguments in order to justify or dejustify homosexual orientation or behavior.

But it isn't necessary.  The question of where sexual attraction comes from is immaterial.  Nobody else has the right to tell you who to love.  This is equally true in a world in which nature makes people gay, in which God makes people gay, in which people become gay because it's fashionable, or in which aliens are creating homosexuals as a labor force to build landing strips outside Des Moines.  The question "why are people this way" blinds us to the more important question of "what should we do," the answer to which is, "treat people with respect regardless of how they use their genitals."  We make it more complicated than it ought to be.

The other question which readers will ask is:  who the hell am I, a straight white guy, to write about gay kids?  The short answer to which is: a human with an interest in the welfare of other humans, which is all the qualification I need.

A somewhat longer answer:  I'm a believer in imaginative empathy.  I believe that fiction can help us to appreciate the humanity of people who may not be exactly like us in terms of ethnicity, income level, or sexual orientation. I recognize that representations of experiences that aren't our own are likely to be imperfect, but I don't think that's a good reason not to write.  If our identities are defined intersectionally, then NOBODY'S experience is like our own, and memoir becomes the only legitimate form of creative expression.  The fear of imperfect representation is valuable if it causes us to try to write more accurately, but poisonous if it keeps us from writing at all.

For this reason, I choose to take risks.  I imagine life from the perspective of people who aren't me--women, LGBTQ individuals, Congolese child soldiers.  I research as thoroughly as possible and check my work, when I can, with people whose lived experiences are similar to those of my characters.  And then I turn the work loose, and subject it, and myself, to judgment.

This week I re-read A Wrinkle in Time in anticipation of the movie.  I was struck, as I did so, at the utter fearlessness of Madeleine L'Engle.  She opens the book with "It was a dark and stormy night."--the exact line Charles Schultz has Snoopy use when he's up on his doghouse being a hack writer.  L'Engle's characters are colorful in ways which other writers wouldn't dare, sometimes successfully (Charles Wallace and Meg) and sometimes less so (has any human being in history ever spoken the way Calvin O'Keefe does in this book?).  She ladles the Christianity and the techno-magic on in heaping helpings, and dares the reader to disbelieve.

I'm no Madeleine L'Engle.  I can't match her writing chops or purity of spirit.  But I can try to be more like her.  I can choose to write without shame, and to set aside my fear of judgment in order to tell my stories. 

And I do so choose.

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