Dear Disney, Please Stop.

batbI’ve always been a Disney fan. I was raised on Disney movies. The Lion King is the first movie I can remember seeing in theatres. And I’ve been very, very excited about the live-action Beauty and the Beast that’s coming out this month. I mean, Emma Watson as Belle?! How could I not love it?!

But today I find myself very, very disappointed with Disney in light of recent events. Yesterday, Attitude Magazine revealed that Beauty and the Beast is set to make history with Disney’s first canonically gay character.

And at first I was like…

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The idea of Disney having an actual, canon-endorsed gay character excited me to no end. Queer representation is so important, and the only place I’d kill to see a queer character more than in Disney is in the Harry Potter universe (hint hint, J.K. Rowling!).

But sigh, because my excitement was short-lived as I clicked on the Attitude article and it was revealed exactly who the gay character is…

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Josh Gad as LeFou in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast.

LeFou!

Yep, you read that right. Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, best known for singing about no one is like Gaston. His obsession with his boss/friend/overlord kind of makes sense that he’s gay.

But while this makes sense, it’s extremely disappointing, and in many ways it feels like a cop-out from Disney, who are just now trying to queerbait and drum up some extra publicity for the film.

This was my reaction to reading the announcement:

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Reaction across Twitter was swift: many people are also just as upset and angry and disappointed as I am.

And here’s why:

While I fully appreciate and embrace the idea of a queer Disney character, LeFou is not the best choice for that character. Yes, he’s obsessed with Gaston, but therein lies the problem. For its first canonically queer character, Disney has chosen someone who is in love with his straight companion. Gaston is a character designed to be a misogynistic prick, a typical ultra-macho, Type A heterosexual cisgender male. LeFou idolizes Gaston, as director Bill Condon says in the Attitude article: “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston”.

Yes, he’s gay and wants to kiss Gaston, cool! But Gaston will never love him back. So he’s being set up for heartbreak. But on top of that, LeFou is evil. He’s a bad guy, and as Ana Mardoll points out in her Twitter thread on this fiasco, LeFou is an active participant in Gaston’s schemes to pursue Belle, despite the fact that she wants nothing to do with him.

But what’s more, the Attitude article quotes the film’s director again talking about how LeFou is confused and unsure about what he wants. He promises “a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie”. BUT HOW?! Disney finally decides to have its first canonically queer character and it’s an evil, confused man who’s in love with literally the worst possible person who thinks of no one but himself!

I’m just so angry and hurt by this decision. Like…

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Queer representation is so important, but it has to be taken seriously and done right. And while I haven’t seen the movie yet, I just have a really bad feeling about this based on LeFou and Gaston from the original animated film. This feels like queerbaiting, and nothing more. It’s Disney trying to give itself a pat on the back by saying there’s a gay character in the film.

I’m currently researching identity and representation in young adult novels with queer characters for my Major Research Essay for my Master’s, and I’ve looked at studies that talk about how important proper queer representation is, especially for youth in the process of figuring out their identity. It’s very possible, and even highly likely, that children and teens going to see Beauty and the Beast could be struggling with who they are. I should know, I wrestled with my sexual identity for over five years before I finally started coming out.

LGBTQ+ youth need to see realistic portrayals in the media. They need to be able to see characters they can relate to and see themselves in. Seeing flawed representations on screen likely won’t help anyone grappling with themselves, especially when that identity is portrayed through a confused, malicious character whose feelings likely won’t ever be reciprocated by the object of his desire.

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Like, if they really, really wanted to include some legitimate queer representation, why not go with Lumiere and Cogsworth?! Fans have shipped them for years anyway and they bicker like an old married couple. AND, Cogsworth is played my literal gay wizard Ian McKellen in the new film! Just imagine, at the end of the movie when all the objects are human again, and Lumiere and Cogsworth confess their feelings for each other and it’s just so cute and perfect and gay. HOW MUCH MORE DIRECTION DO YOU NEED HERE, DISNEY?!

In all seriousness, I just can’t even fully explain how upset I am. This just feels like such a betrayal from Disney. I will still go see Beauty and the Beast because it is one of my favourites, and I love Emma Watson, but I’m still so hurt by this.

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You had one job, America!

When I first started this blog, I wrote that my point in starting this blog was, “to give me a place to say all I feel like saying, to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”. I also said, “I long for a world when there is no more homophobia, transphobia, hatred, discrimination, etc. of the queer community. But I know that day is still way, way into the future and there is still a long way to go before it gets here”.

Well, thanks to America, we now have an even longer way to go!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty-four hours, by now you surely know that the United States of America have elected a lying, racist, bigoted, groping, prejudiced, sexual predator, Cheeto-dust-orange buffoon to be their president.

I honestly did not see this coming. I did not believe for one single second that America would be stupid enough to elect Donald Trump. No way, no how. But yet, it happened. It’s a thing. And now, America and the rest of the world has to live with the consequences. To make matters even more fucked up, according to Google, while Trump won more Electoral College votes, Hillary Clinton actually beat him in the popular vote by more than two hundred-thousand votes. That’s how fucked up this is: more people voted for her, but he’s the one who gets to be president?! HOW IS THIS A FUCKING THING, AMERICA?! 

Regardless, nearly half of the people who voted still voted for Donald Trump. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that most of them were white. That’s what systemic racism looks like.

And y’all, it’s bad. BuzzFeed has some very important articles I’m going to link to. Like:

Read them. Read them all now, I’ll wait.

….

How about a few more?

So yeah, it’s bad. People are panicking. People are scared. And you know what? They probably should be. That’s the most terrifying aspect of this. People should be scared because the idea of Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice-President is fucking scary. So much so that Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Website actually crashed when Trump started getting strong results.

I’m going to share a few key Tweets from last night/today:

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These are just some of the reactions that really struck me. I’m so scared for the LGBT, female, Muslim, Latinx, black, and disability communities in America. And several times throughout the night, I felt so thankful that I live in Canada.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Canada is far from perfect, which I’ve acknowledged on this blog at least a few times before. Including the day before the election, when I wrote this post about how it seems like Donald Trump’s version of America is making its way into Canada. I talked about a few events that have happened recently that suggest a growing sentiment of anti-LGBT expression in Canada.

The last thing Canada needs is Trump’s values making their way north of the border, but now that he’s actually going to be president, it’s hard to ignore the possibility of this happening. I’d like to believe Canada is better than this, but recent events seem determined to prove me wrong. And you know what just had to be the icing on the fucking cake?

Kellie Leitch.

Leitch is a Member of Parliament who is running to be the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. And late last night she sent the following email to her followers, which one of her former staffers, Andrew McGrath, shared on his Twitter:

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That’s right: Kellie Leitch wants to bring Donald Trump’s message to Canada. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, this does not necessarily mean Leitch is anti-LGBT. After all, she marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade this year. But still, here we have a woman who used to be the Minister for the Status of Women saying that Donald Trump’s message is exciting. Let us not forget: Donald Trump is the one who was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women and has had numerous women come forward since to accuse him either assaulting, groping or kissing them without consent.

But no, let’s all just listen to Kellie Leitch and embrace Donald Trump here in Canada. From what I can tell, it’s mostly Donald’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee message that Leitch is really embracing. In the email above, she says she’s “the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Part of Canada who is standing up for Canadian values”. During the fall election campaign last year, Leitch suggested setting up a snitch line for people to report “barbaric cultural practices”. And she wants to screen would-be immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values”.

So yeah, if Leitch gets her way, Canada might as well just start consider itself part of the United States. And you know what, if that happens… if anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric starts to spread even more in Canada, who’s to say Trump’s other values won’t as well? If Leitch wants to open the door to Trump’s message, how do we know that anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and racist rhetoric won’t follow?

That’s the thing: we don’t. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of the next four years.

The U.S. had one fucking job this election: to not let hatred prevail. And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Florida–a state where not even six months ago, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history happened (which was also an attack on the LGBT community)–elected Donald Trump. If even Florida couldn’t see Trump for who he is, it’s no wonder he got elected.

America has now pretty much erased years of progress made under the Obama administration. Some have suggested the country has been set back fifty years. I’ve seen Tweets from people who (jokingly or not) have suggested that America could soon turn into the Hunger Games, that LGBT conversion camps could be coming.

My one hope is that America wakes the fuck up in the next four years and makes Trump a one-term president. But honestly, now that Trump has won, nothing will surprise me anymore. Who knows if there will even still be democracy in the U.S. in four years?

Anyway, I need to try to end this post on a good note, even though I haven’t felt very positive much of today. First, here’s a bunch of inspiring Canadians who are ready to welcome terrified Americans. And finally, here are people using Harry Potter for comfort after the election.

Like I said at the start of this post, the point of this blog is, “to stand up and shout my gayness from proverbial internet rooftop, to be loud and proud and to keep shouting until the world gets better or until I can’t shout any longer”.

Well, if there’s one thing I can promise you now, after this election went the way it did, you can bet your ass that I am never going to stop shouting.

Is Donald Trump’s version of America making its way into Canada?

trumpflagThe U.S. Presidential Election is tomorrow. The polls are tight, and there’s a very real possibility that Donald Trump could become the next president. I hope more than anything that never happens. Donald Trump is not fit to be the U.S. president. He called Mexicans rapists. He wants to ban all members of an entire religion from the United States. He openly bragged about being able to sexually assault women because he’s famous. He has been accused by at least eight women who say he either assaulted, groped or kissed them without consent. And yet, there’s still a chance that this man could be the next American president.

Donald Trump likes to pretend he’s supportive of LGBT rights. But let’s be clear: a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the LGBT community.  And as explained in two articles, one by Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast and one by Kira Brekke at The Huffington Post, here’s why:

Trump has repeatedly promised to appoint conservative Supreme Court judges, who would no doubt be in favour of overturning same-sex marriage rights. His running mate, Governor Mike Pence, may actually be worse than Donald Trump. Pence signed a law that allows discrimination against the LGBT community under the guise of “religious freedom”. He has also endorsed (and wants to fund) the horrible treatment known as “conversion therapy”.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, there is very little methodologically sound research on conversion therapy. In fast, the results of scientific research indicates that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions through SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts). Conversion therapy is harmful to the LGBT community, especially youth, who are often the ones forced into this by unaccepting families. We already know that unacceptance and prejudice causes harm toLGBT youth. Again, according to the HRC, LGBT youth are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide, more than 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression, more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other STDs.

Trump has also not been clear on his stance regarding transgender rights. He initially spoke out against North Carolina’s bathroom bill, but later said he supported the state’s right to pass such discriminatory legislation, and he has said he wants to rescind the Department of Education’s guidance to allow transgender youth to use the bathroom of their choice at school.

Even a conservative LGBT group, the Log Cabin Republicans, have said they won’t endorse Donald Trump.

So yes, Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House would be terrible for the LGBT community. That much is obvious to sane, intelligent people. But yet, they still have supporters. Anti-LGBT statements don’t seem to be diminishing. Instead, they seem to be increasing as more and more people seem to be embracing the ideas that Trump and Pence perpetuate.

And so, I’m beginning to wonder, are these ideas making their way north of the border? Is Donald Trump’s version of America making its way into Canada?

Before this past week, I’d probably have said, “No way, no how”. But now, I’m not so sure. While I love my country and all of the pro-LGBT laws/demonstrations/etc. that we have here, a couple things in the news recently have me wondering whether anti-LGBT sentiments are spreading here in Canada as well.

The House of Commons recently passed at second reading a bill that will protect the rights of transgender people by adding gender identity and expression to human rights and hate crime laws. It still has to pass a third reading and go before  the Senate before it will become law, but I don’t doubt that it will happen because this is Canada and our government usually makes the right calls. But that doesn’t mean the bill doesn’t face opposition.

Recently, a professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, spoke about his refusal to use non-binary pronouns—i.e. “they” instead of “he” and “she”. Peterson also has issue with Bill C-16 (the trans rights bill mentioned above). He also takes issue with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s definition of “gender identity”. Peterson doesn’t believe in political correctness and thinks the government has no right to mandate the words that people speak.

People should have the right to choose which words people use to refer to them. I’m sure that Peterson prefers to be called a “he” and would likely take issue with someone calling him a “she”, so if someone prefers to be called “they”, then that is their choice and his refusal to abide by their wishes undermines their human rights.

Beyond the news about Peterson, there have been two other frightening news stories in the last week or so that I almost don’t want to believe happened in Canada.

The first is about a gamer group in Quebec called ATG that wants everyone to know that its members hate gays. According to Mack Lamoureux at Vice, ATG’s members “[Sport] shirts that say ‘If you’re gay, don’t approach me, I’ll kill you’ in public and [drop] quotes like ‘I hate gays for real’ in interviews with media”. One member of the group openly wore the shirt at a haunted farm event in Ottawa. Not only is this happening in Canada, but it’s happening in Ottawa, which just so happens to be where I freaking live! This is not okay!

As Lamoureux further reports:

Dr. Kristopher Wells, the faculty director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, called it “very concerning” to know that this isn’t just a lone wolf situation.

“The shirt goes beyond being offensive,” Wells told VICE. “I think the Ottawa police and the RCMP domestic terrorism group should be investigating this kind of shirt.

“With this kind of rhetoric, it puts citizens on edge wondering when or if this kind of language turn into actual violence. What would actually happen if a gay person went up to these people and did want to, you know, shake their hand?”

Wells said that the shirt in itself is violent and some critics, including lawyers, have said they believe it violates Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code which governs hate speech.

One member of the group told CTV News that he believes the shirts should be allowed because of freedom of speech. Ummmmm, freedom of speech does not allow for hate speech. Ughhhh, people.

The second story is about a restaurant in Montreal that tried to bar a transgender woman from using the women’s washroom. According to CBC News:

Estelle Davis told CBC News she was chastised on Tuesday for using the women’s washroom by employees of New System Bar-B-Q, located on Notre-Dame Street.

On her way to the bathroom, she said a staff member yelled at her from across the restaurant and told her that men were prohibited from entering.

“I looked back at her and said ‘That’s perfect cause I’m a woman, so I’m going to go use the washroom,'” said Davis.

“And she said ‘No, that’s for women. You’re a man, you’re not allowed to go in there.'”

Geeeee, I didn’t realize that Quebec had suddenly turned into North Carolina!

I just cannot believe all of the anti-LGBT shit that’s been going down in Canada lately. This is Canada, and I firmly believe we are better than this. But sadly, I’m left wondering if the views of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and others within the Republican Party are having a negative effect on life here in the great white north?

All I know is that I really hope we see Hillary Clinton winning tomorrow’s election, and that from there we see things get better for the LGBT community. Until such a time, my ongoing mission to keep queering the mainstream continues!

Bisexual Visibility!

Some sort of flagThis week is #BiWeek2016, a week all about celebrating bisexuality!

I believe it’s so important to raise awareness of, and talk about, bisexuality, not only because of the instances of bisexual erasure and invisibility that occurs in the LGBTQIA+ Community, but because of my own experiences too.

I identify as gay. That is my chosen label, because it’s the one that feels most right for me. But I wasn’t always this way. When I first came out at the age of 17, I said I was bi. I wasn’t lying, something I was often accused of. Back then, bisexual felt like the right term for me. I was my last year of high school, and I was dating a girl and had been for a few months, though we’d been close for a while and I knew my feelings for her were real. So bi felt right to me, then.

After we broke up, the next person I dated was a boy. This confirmed what I’d felt, debated, and tried to deny, since I was 12: that I am very much attracted to the same-sex. But again, I still said I was bi, because I believed I still felt that way about girls too.

From my late teens into my early twenties, I kept bi as my chosen label. Yet, looking back, things never felt the same with girls. Not since the girl I was with when I first came out. This lead to me doing a lot of thinking, and I eventually came out again as gay. Gay is the label I choose now, because it’s the one that feels most right.

I would never with 100% certainty tell you that I will never fall for a woman again. I believe that all sexuality is fluid to some extent. I also believe that it’s the person we fall for that matters most, not their parts. So who knows? But as I said, gay is the label I choose.

Yet, when I first came out, when bi was my chosen label, countless people tried to tell me I was wrong. I was told that I wasn’t bi, I was just too scared to come out as gay. I was told I was greedy because I wouldn’t choose boys or girls.

This is what the community calls bisexual erasure, which Wikipedia defines as, “the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists.”

In short, these are all things I experienced when I chose to call myself bisexual. I don’t regret that choice. Like I said, at the time it’s the label that made the most sense to me, just as gay makes the most sense to me now. My labels are my choice, and no one else gets to tell me who or what I am.

I feel very strongly about the fact that people who try to erase bisexuality. While I no longer identify as bi, that’s just me. Bisexuality is very real. People who identify as bisexual are very real. That’s why BiWeek is so important. We need to keep on raising awareness and talking about bisexuality until bi erasure is no longer a thing.

I don’t want any other teens to experience what I did: being told that their chosen identity isn’t real, that they’re lying or that they’re greedy. You are not. You are human. You are beautiful. You are perfect as you are. And no one has the right to label you besides yourself. You get to decide who you are, not anyone else.

For more information on BiWeek, click here. For more information on bisexual erasure, click here. And for a list of twelve Young Adult novels with bisexual characters, click here.

Happy BiWeek!

Go away, Brad Trost!

trost1Ok, so the first thing you’re probably thinking: who the hell is Brad Trost?!

And trust me, you’re not alone on that. Brad Trost is a Member of Parliament from Saskatchewan (and yes, I spelled that without Googling it). Trost is running to be the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. And he’s doing it by trying to promote his views, one of which is his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Here’s one of the ways he’s attempting to do that:

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Le sigh. Like, really? Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada FOR OVER A FREAKING DECADE. Will we ever see a day when people don’t say “marriage is only between a man and a woman”? I sure hope so.

But for now, it’s people like Brad Trost who won’t let things be. He just needs to try to make people like me feel like we shouldn’t be allow the right to marry. Well, fuck you, Brad Trost. QUIT TRYING TO SAY I DON’T HAVE RIGHTS.

I honestly can’t freaking wait to have a big fabulous gay wedding. Maybe I’ll even invite you, Brad. Just so you can see how beautiful love is. IN ALL SHAPES AND ALL FORMS.

Anyway, the good news is he says, despite this horrendous campaign, that he has no plans to actually repeal same-sex marriage laws. Um, good. Because you know, it’s been legal nationwide for eleven years. Ain’t no one taking it back now!

Sadly, this kind of rhetoric is nothing new from Brad Trost. According to PressProgress, he has a history of anti-gay marriage views:

During debate on Canada’s Civil Marriages Act during the mid-2000s, Trost called the idea of same-sex marriage “a direct attack on the basic institution of marriage” that was intended to “malign the religious freedoms of millions of Canadians.”

Trost also argued “the uniquely heterosexual nature of marriage” is the only way to “build society in a responsible and organized fashion.”

In 2009, Trost described the Toronto Pride parade as “polarizing” and said funding should be cut off because it is “more political than touristic in nature.”

And this spring at the 2016 Conservative Convention, Trost drew links between same-sex marriage and socialism following a landmark vote that saw the party adopt a neutral position on same-sex marriage.

Oh, I should mention that he’s anti-abortion too. Wow, what a shocker!

Ughhhh.

Anyway, the good news is that he likely doesn’t stand a chance at becoming the new Conservative leader. According to CBC News:

A national poll of Conservative Party voters shows Trost’s campaign doesn’t seem to be registering on the federal stage.

A poll conducted last week showed less than one per cent of Conservative supporters supported Trost, the lowest results in the survey. 71 per cent said they didn’t know who he was.

So, let me reiterate what I asked at the beginning of this post:

Who the hell is Brad Trost?!

Answer: No one important. He’s just another politician trying to make a name for himself by saying people like me directly attack his views because I want to get married. Well, Brad Trost, you attack my views by trying to tell me I shouldn’t be allowed to marry because I want to marry another man.

Well guess what? Other men are fucking beautiful, and I’ll marry one if I damn well want to, and there’s nothing you can do about it, Braddy,-boy.

See you at my big fat gay wedding! Until then, just go away!

“A better place” follow-up.

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my last post about the wonderful teacher I met on Tuesday. That teacher came back into my store today to tell me she absolutely loved George by Alex Gino and she thanked me for making the recommendation. She said she can’t wait to share the book with her students.

I was nearly moved to tears. It was so heartwarming, not only to hear how much she enjoyed my recommendation, but how excited she is about sharing this amazing story with her students.

Needless to say, I’m pretty over the moon right now!

Making the world a better place, one classroom at a time.

georgeYesterday at work I had a teacher ask for book recommendations for her grade five and six students.

I immediately thought of Alex Gino’s George.

Here’s some info on George:

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!

(Source: Alex Gino)

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when the teacher came up to the register a few minutes later, and George was one of the books in her hands. I won’t lie, I wanted to both cry, and hug the teacher.

Not only is this teacher to be praised for buying books to keep in her classroom for students to read, but the fact that she bought a story with a transgender character just warms my heart.

George is such a wonderful, powerful and impactful story, that I believe has the power to change lives. We need to see more LGBTQ+ books being made easily and freely available to those who want access to them, especially a children’s novel like George.

I’ve recently been working on a proposal for my major research essay for my Master of Arts in Communication, where I’m proposing to examine identity formation in young adult novels. Part of my proposal involved looking into the impacts LGBTQ+ YA books have on the youth who read them.

Here’s some of what I found:

YA literature is an influential source of information on identity development for teens, and that it deserves further study to explore efferent readings of the literature. “The young adult novel is quickly becoming one of the best complementary sources of information related to sex, tolerance, navigating queer life, and sexual diversity—both for queer teens who wish to find books they can relate to and for nonqueer teens who wish to read depictions of what their peers experience in life” (Bittner, 2012, p. 370-371).

“Examining texts for different conceptualizations of sexual and gender identities might invite students and teachers to interrogate assumed notions of identities as essential or even developmental. This might free a student who has been tagged as a fag or a dyke, even for years, of the burden of homophobia, even if only in his or her English language arts class. It might also liberate a student who has always understood himself or herself, and has always been understood by others, as straight, but who is struggling with a confusing attraction to a same-gender peer. In other words, exploring possibilities of sexual and gender identities that are multiple, variable, and fluid might alleviate some of the pressure of being or becoming someone who is socially acceptable and soothe the anxieties associated with being or becoming someone who is not” (Blackburn, Clark & Nemeth, 2015, p. 34).

“While literature may not eliminate homophobia nor alleviate the risks stemming from it, well-written books may help subvert the culture of silence still current in many school environments and offer a supportive framework for self-understanding by gay and lesbian teens. Moreover, books such as the ones discussed here may help heterosexual students who are homophobic question their traditional assumptions in order to lead lives not bound and threatened by prejudices and fears” (Norton & Vare, 2004, p. 69).

YA authors understand the powerful socializing forces of children’s and YA fiction, which Wickens (2011) argues is a reason they should be studied. “Authors of contemporary LGBTQ novels appear to be as equally aware of the potential impact of their books on their audiences. As a result, studying these texts for the ways they enact and engage with ongoing discourses around sexuality and gender helps effectively trace these cultural shifts and their impact on future generations” (Wickens, 2011, p. 162).

(References below.)

As the studies referenced above show, LGBTQ+ literature for children and young adults has the power to shape minds and its impacts are possible, not only to help queer and trans youth to understand themselves, but to also help straight and cis youth to understand what their peers are going through. This can help to reduce homophobia and transphobia, and I think that introducing books like George to children a young age will help to make these impacts happen sooner.

If there’s one thing we need, it’s more love, acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s people like the teacher I met today that will help make this possible. And ultimately, I think more people like that will make this world a better place. One classroom and one student at a time.


References:

Bittner, R. (2012). Queering sex education: Young adult literature with LGBT content as complementary sources of sex and sexuality education. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9(4), 357-372.

Blackburn, M., Clark, C., & Nemeth, E. (2015). Examining queer elements and ideologies in LGBT-themed literature: What queer literature can offer young adult readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 47(1), 11-48.

Norton, T. L., & Vare, J. W. (2004). Literature for today’s gay and lesbian teens: Subverting the culture of silence. The English Journal, 94(2), 65-69.

Wickens, C. M. (2011). Codes, silences, and homophobia: Challenging normative assumptions about gender and sexuality in contemporary LGBTQ young adult literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 42(2), 148-164.

Secondary LGBT characters matter too!

This post is kind of inspired by an exchange I had with the lovely Becky Albertalli on Twitter. I had posted a Tweet sharing my excitement for some new LGBT YA novels coming in 2017, namely Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben and Becky’s The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky, the lovely human that she is, said she was honoured to be included, but unsure if her book counts as LGBT YA since it’s mainly secondary characters that are LGBT–the main character’s sister has a girlfriend, and they have two moms. And while Becky is right, and the book is not primarily LGBT YA, I decided I wanted to write something nonetheless about why secondary LGBT characters are just as important as LGBT main characters.

In my opinion, it is super important that more and more books, TV shows, movies, etc. include more queer and trans characters, even if they are only secondary. I would argue that the more and more LGBT characters we see and read about, the more and more our world will become more embracing of the LGBT community.

After all, this blog is called Queering the Mainstream for a reason: the more queer and trans characters that exist, the less heteronormative our society becomes.

But not only that. The LGBT community deserves to see itself recognized everywhere, and not just in stories where the main character is LGBT. This is important because LGBT people are everywhere and it’s only realistic to show that. And in my opinion, you do an injustice to a whole group of people by pretending they don’t exist.

For example, I have always loved the Harry Potter series. It’s been my favourite since I was a kid. Yet, one major issue I have with the series is the lack of LGBT representation. I mean, sure, J.K. Rowling said after-the-fact that Dumbledore was gay. She also once told a fan on Twitter that, of course, there were LGBT people at Hogwarts. To which, I wonder: why couldn’t she have shown us that?! Why do we need to learn these things after the fact?

A recent article on Hypable by Tariq Kyle (warning: Minor Spoilers!) raises this point excellently:

“Dumbledore being gay? That’s not a big deal. The big deal here is the fact that there apparently wasn’t a natural way to input that into the novels, to make it truly canon. I know that generally speaking anything J.K. Rowling says is canon, but it would have had so much more meaning if Dumbledore being gay was just a natural part of the story, like Peeves being annoying or Hermione being smart.”

Kyle goes on to say that J.K. Rowling, “missed an opportunity to change the way stories for LGBTQ characters are told”. He adds she missed an even bigger opportunity to do this with the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I won’t go into detail here, because spoilers, but feel free to check out Kyle’s article (here’s the link again) if you want to further understand. But here’s one more excellent point that Kyle raises:

“Telling your readers and/or audience a few years later that a character has been gay this entire time doesn’t equal representation, because you weren’t representing that community when you wrote it.”

My point is this: even if the main characters in the story (in this case, Harry, Ron and Hermione) are totally straight, why not include some secondary characters who are LGBT?

I’ve said several times in recent years that I wish I had known about LGBT YA when I was a teenager and trying to accept my sexuality. But you know what? I think seeing a gay character in my favourite book series may have helped too–even a secondary character. Why not make Seamus or Neville gay? Why not have Hannah Abbott, a minor Hufflepuff character, be a lesbian?

In summary, secondary LGBT characters matter too! Any and all LGBT representation is important. LGBT people exist in all aspects of life, and we deserve to see ourselves represented in all aspects of fiction too.

What could be more powerful than having LGBT characters that exist simply as they are and a big deal is not made of it? Maybe more of this would eventually lead to a world where being queer or trans is not a big deal. But right now, we’re not in that world yet.

When J.K. Rowling announced Dumbledore was gay, it was a big deal. When it was announced that the character Sulu in would have a husband in the new Star Trek, it was a big deal. We need more secondary LGBT characters to show that it’s really not that much of a big deal!

So, thank you to authors like Becky Albertalli, who show us that secondary LGBT characters matter too. And to authors like J.K. Rowling, (a woman I absolutely adore and think of as my idol, so please don’t think I am trying to attack her here), please consider representing me and others like me more in the future.

Who knows, seeing a gay Gryffindor character could have made this Ravenclaw brave enough to come out sooner than I did.

Outing people is NOT okay.

If there is one thing that is never okay, it’s outing someone who has not come out on their own yet. Never. Don’t do it. I’ve already written about why coming out still matters. But coming out is not always possible.

For some people, it’s illegal and could get them killed. There are over 75 countries in the world where it is actually illegal to be queer, trans, etc., many of which carry a death sentence for those who are caught.

Now, as many people will know, the summer olympics are currently taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is where our story today begins. Last week, a straight, white journalist named Nico Hines from The Daily Beast decided to write an article called “The Other Olympic Sport in Rio: Swiping”.

I can’t share the link to the article, as it has been removed and replaced with an editorial comment. But here’s the gist of what happened:

Hines went on Grindr and other dating sites/apps and wrote his article about the olympic athletes he met on there and arranged dates with. Let me repeat: a straight man decided to write an article about how he used gay apps to find olympic athletes.

But here’s where it gets worse, as Curtis M. Wong at The Huffington Post writes:

“Much of the outrage stemmed from the fact that Hines, who identifies as straight, included telling details such as the heights, weights and other physical features of the Olympic athletes with whom he arranged dates.”

Now, Hines swears he didn’t lie about the fact that he was a journalist. But really, shouldn’t a straight man trolling gay apps to find athletes and write articles that could potentially out them be considered lying? I’m pretty sure if you open your nearest dictionary and look up the word “lie”, the definition will say something along those lines.

And while Hines didn’t actually name any of the athletes he described, that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible for them to be discovered. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate writes:

“With his dubious premise established, Hines proceeds to out athlete after athlete, providing enough information about each Olympian he encounters for anyone with basic Google skills to uncover their identities. (After several minutes of Googling, I surmised the identities of five of the gay athletes Hines described.) I’m not going to repeat his descriptions, because—as Hines himself acknowledges!—some of them live in ‘notoriously homophobic’ countries and remain closeted at home.”

I’ll repeat again: Stern found five of the athletes Hines described using Google in minutes, some of whom live in notoriously homophobic countries, like possibly some of the countries on the list linked above.

UGH. Outing people is never okay. Outing people is never okay. Outing people is never okay. I’d keep repeating this until people actually got the message, but it appears that I’d be here for a billion years. While Hines may think that his article may have been just for fun, his idea of fun could potentially damage someone’s life, or put them in danger, or worse, get them killed.

I sincerely hope nothing happens to those athletes Hines wrote about. It’s never okay to take someone’s coming out away from them. But it’s even worse to out people who could get killed by their own governments just for being born the way they are.

Why coming out still matters.

Note: A different version of this post originally appeared on my other blog, Scattered Thoughts.

In March of this year, I presented at my first academic conference. Hosted by my department’s Communication Graduate Caucus, the theme of the 11th annual CGC Conference was Play/Rewind, which focused on the notion that, in order to understand the present and how to shape the future, we must first understand the past.

I presented on YouTube coming out videos. These videos have become hugely popular in the last few years, with some of the more popular videos receiving millions of likes and thousands upon thousands of comments, which many comments coming from young individuals saying the videos helped them find the strength to come out themselves. Yet, for all the positive comments, the negative ones are still there as well, and I wonder whether the negativity, homophobia, and queer shaming hinders the coming out process for some individuals who are still in the closet.

For my conference presentation, I argued that in order to understand what’s happening today on YouTube, it’s essential to first look to the past and learn more about the coming out process itself. As I mentioned before, this research into the past allowed me to learn some new things, like where the term to “come out of the closet” finds its origins.

Here’s some of what I spoke about in my presentation:

Chirrey (2003) defines the phenomenon of coming out as being, “recognized by most self-identified lesbian or gay individuals as an experience they have in common: that moment of recognizing and asserting their gayness” (p.24). Of course, this goes beyond just lesbian and gay individuals and encompasses the whole queer community. When someone comes out, they are challenging the heterosexist view of the world by refusing to accept a negative evaluation of themselves and their lifestyle (Chirrey, 2003).

Coming out is, according to Judith Butler (1990, 1997), a performative process. Liang (1997) calls it a speech act that, “not only describes a state of affairs, namely the speaker’s gayness, but also brings those affairs, a new gay self, into being. By presenting a gay self, an individual alters social reality by creating a community of listeners and thereby establishing the beginnings of a new gay-aware culture. Coming out is, in this respect, a performative utterance that can be seen as revolutionary” (p. 293).

This revolution is extremely significant in the LGBT community. Delany (1999) argues that coming out has acquired extraordinary significance in the gay community—so much so that, “through much of that quarter-century [after the Stonewall riots], when, if you hadn’t ‘come out of the closet,’ many gay men and lesbians felt you had somehow betrayed them, that you couldn’t really ‘define yourself as gay,’ that you had not ‘accepted your gay identity’” (p. 67).

Looking beyond the act of coming out, I also want to briefly touch on where the terminology itself comes from. The use of “coming out” was introduced to the academic community in the 1950s when Evelyn Hooker observed that, “very often, the debut—referred to by homosexuals as the coming out—of a person who believes himself to be homosexual, but who has struggled against it, will occur when he identifies himself publicly for the first time as a homosexual” (Hooker, 1965).

As Chauncey (1994) explains, coming out is, “an arch play on the language of women’s culture—in this case the expression used to refer to the ritual of a debutante’s being formally introduced to, or ‘coming out’ into, the society of her cultural peers” (p. 7). He goes on to explain that a gay man’s coming out originally referred his being presented to prewar gay society at drag balls that were patterned on debutante and masquerade balls. In those prewar years, gay people did not speak of coming out of a closet, but rather into the, “‘homosexual society’ or the ‘gay world’, a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor, often, so hidden as ‘closet’ implies” (Chauncey, 1994, p. 7).

Both Brown (2000) and Okrent (2013) suggest that the closet metaphor stems from the idea of “skeletons in the closet”. As Okrent says, “It is unclear exactly when gay people started using the closet metaphor, but it may have been used initially because many men who remained covert thought of their homosexuality as a sort of ‘skeleton in the closet’” (Okrent, 2013). Brown (2000) says that, while the exact origins of the metaphor are unclear, “it is clear that between 1968 and 1972 the term [‘closet’] came to signify the concealment and erasure of gays and lesbians” (Brown, 2000, p. 5). Sedgwick (1990) called the closet, the defining structure for gay oppression in the 20th century (p. 71).

According to Tamashiro, “In the 1950s, the term signified a coming out into a new world of hope and communal solidarity. However, by the 1970s, after the Stonewall rebellion, it came to signify not so much coming out into a new world as coming out of the loneliness, isolation, and self-hatred of the closet” (Tamashiro, 2004).

Rhoads (1994) argues that, “The normalization of sexuality created and continues to reinforce the closet. “Because heterosexuality is the norm, most people assume that everyone is straight. This makes leaving the closet an ongoing process, since one continually makes new acquaintances” (p. 61). Of course, this means that I have again left the closet while this presentation is happening.

(References below.)

It’s important to understand the past because that allows us to understand the present and plan for the future. As a young gay man, knowing what has happened in the LGBT community before my time is essential, especially when I hope to research something happening now.

But, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t know as much as I should. That’s something I am working to change. I recently bought a book on 100 years of LGBT activism, which I hope to read soon. Plus, I also just read Merle Miller’s 1971 essay called What It Means to Be a Homosexual, which featured this incredible quote:

“I have never infected anybody, and it’s too late for the head people to do anything about me now. Gay is good. Gay is proud. Well, yes, I suppose. If I had been given a choice (but who is?), I would prefer to have been straight. But then, would I rather not have been me? Oh, I think not, not this morning anyway. It is a very clear day in late December, and the sun is shining on the pine trees outside my studio. The air is extraordinary clear, and the sky is the colour it gets only at this time of year, dark, almost navy-blue. On such a day I would not choose to be anyone else or any place else.”

I too wouldn’t choose to be anyone else, and that’s another reason why it’s important to understand the past, because it helped shape and make way for the world I live in now.

If there’s one thing I learned from this research, from watching the YouTube videos, and most recently from the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, it’s that coming out still matters. Coming out is still an act of defiance, where one stands up in the heteronormative world we live in and dares to be different. I recently read a couple of articles (here and here) about people who chose to come out in the wake of the Orlando attack.

In my opinion, YouTube coming out videos are exceptionally important, as they bring more and more LGBTQIA+ identities into the mainstream. If Orlando proved anything, it’s that, now more than ever, we need to keep queering the mainstream, we need to keep being out and we need to show the world that we’re not going away.


References:

Brown, M. P. (2000). Closet space: Geographies of metaphor from the body to the globe. London: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1997). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.

Chauncey, G. (1994). Gay New York: Gender, urban culture, and the makings of the gay male world, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.

Chirrey, D. A. (2003). ‘I hereby come out’: What sort of speech act is coming out? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(1), 24-37.

Delany, S. R. (1999). Coming/Out. In Shorter views: Queer thoughts & the politics of the paraliterary (pp 67-97). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Hooker, E. (1965). Male homosexuals and their “worlds”. In Marmor, J. (Ed.), Sexual inversion: The multiple roots of homosexuality (pp 83-107). New York: Basic Books.

Liang, A. C. (1997). The creation of coherence in coming-out stories. In A. Livia & K. Hall (Eds.), Queerly Phrased (pp. 287-309). New York: Oxford University Press.

Okrent, A. (2013). Where did the phrase ‘come out of the closet’ come from? Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://theweek.com/articles/464753/where-did-phrase-come-closet-come-from.

Rhoads, R. A. (1994). Coming out in college: The struggle for a queer identity. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Sedgwick, E. K. (1990). Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Tamashiro, D. (2004). Coming Out. Retrieved March 4, 2016, from glbtq.com.