Gay Pride & Orlando: Never Going Back Again

I stare at the photo of a long-ago Gay Pride march. In it, I march with my girlfriend (now wife) and a bunch of young lesbians. I recently posted it on Facebook with the caption “I’m remembering my first gay pride, when my flamboyant 80’s shorts conveniently distracted from the fact that my knees were shaking…Cheering on the next generation who proudly claim who they are (and have a great time doing so!)…meet you on the corner of Beacon and Joy.”

Gay Pride 1988

I was telling the truth about participating in that Gay Pride march; my knees were shaking. I’d only been “out” a year. It was 1988. People were dying of AIDS. People stayed in the closet, at work and from their families, out of fear. I remember looking up at Boston rooftops and wondering if a gunman could be up there, ready to shoot at gay people. Then I chided myself for being paranoid.

silence=death

Now I’m taking in the news of today’s massacre in Orlando, the news of the attempted violence at the Pride celebration in L.A., the news of armed guards stationed outside the Stonewall Inn in NYC. 

Stonewall Inn
I remember how agitated I got last year when one of my college students wrote a descriptive essay about Provincetown, mentioning gay couples who held onto each other in the street “as if that was the only place in the world they could do that.” If you’ve never felt safe holding the hand of your loved one in public, never felt safe kissing that person on a sunny park bench, or felt free to dance with abandon with your loved one in a nightclub– you understand how sacred those spaces are. These are not just bars or clubs or cute, artsy destinations; they are sanctuaries.

I’m also conscious of the safety that has been ripped away from so many other people by gunmen: people going to bible study, health clinics, movies, first grade. Now there are 50 dead in Orlando, and some of the names and faces are becoming public: vibrant men with beautiful Latino names.

Our flag rainbow

We’ve been celebrating so many advances in LGBT rights these past few years, but this is a horrible reminder that we have a way to go. The biggest difference I can see now is that we have so many more allies, and so much more openness. 

rainbow flag candle

We’re not hiding, and we’re never going back again.

Writing abt Characters w/LGBTQ Parents- our presentation!

Lively conversation and great questions added rocket fuel to our presentation yesterday on Writing about Characters with LGBT Parents.

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The New England SCBWI* Conference is broad and deep– 700 attendees, many workshops on all aspects of the writing life, and powerful keynote addresses. I co-presented with my wife Bonnie Jackman, an LICSW and middle school counselor.

Can you tell we've been together 29 years? Active listening! :)
Can you tell we’ve been together 29 years? Active listening! 🙂

Here are a few points from our presentation:

**In a diverse country such as ours, with LGBT rights and protections shifting in real time, SETTING is critical to any story with LGBT characters. Setting can be an antagonist, a support, a mix of the two– think about where your character/family lives and consider the political/social climate for LGBT people there.

**LGBT adults have had to make their peace with living outside the  margins of dominant culture/mainstream paradigms of relationships. Where are their children in this process? Age is critical here– a kindergartener may love having her two moms come in to the classroom for a celebration; an older kid might ask to be dropped off two blocks from school.

**Kids of LGBT parents have to explain their existence all the time. Who’s your real mom? Where’s your dad? What do you mean you don’t have a dad? Wait, what? There are many dissonant moments our kids just deal with as a matter of course. How does this affect their character, their quest, their relationships, their school experience? This is rich material for character development.

Famed New Yorker cartoon by Harry Bliss, beloved by lesbian families!
Famed New Yorker cartoon by Harry Bliss, beloved by lesbian families!

I’ll post more soon… in the meantime, I’m enjoying the post-conference glow. A few people have asked if we’d consider presenting with workshop elsewhere– the answer is yes!

*SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Writing about characters with GLBT parents

“Who’s your real mom?”

“What do you mean you don’t have a dad/mom?”

“Please bring these permission slips home to your moms and dads.”

Life is just different for kids of GLBT parents. They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and heteronormative language on a daily basis.

That’s just some of the territory we’ll be covering in our presentation at the New England SCBWI conference at the end of the month in Springfield, MA. My wife Bonnie Jackman and I will be discussing sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict in Re-imagining Families: Writing about characters with GLBT parents – a morning workshop on Sunday, May 1.

Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference
Bonnie and I presenting at the 2015 NESCBWI conference

We’ll offer insights and strategies for writing about families with same-sex and single parents, focusing on gay and lesbian-led families as well as those with bisexual and transgender parents. How can writers realistically portray characters with parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? How will these various family structures affect our characters (from early childhood to middle grade through adolescence)?

Our flag rainbow

Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor, with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I’ll bring the craft perspective to the conversation. It should be a fun and lively session. Hope to see you there!

Read more about the conference here.

A nod for TOMFOOLERY!

May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back.

~Irish Proverb

Tomfoolery. It’s a word I love, and the title of the middle-grade novel that I’m revising and preparing to send back to my agent, Linda Camacho.

Tomfoolery just received a runner-up honor in the Cape Cod Writers Center annual writing contest– a delightful confirmation that I am on the right track, something all writers need at one time or another. I feel the wind at my back, even as I acknowledge that in the writing and publishing world, the road can be rocky for writers and it does not always rise to meet us!

My main character is eleven-year-old Tom Foley, who lives on Cape Cod and dreams of being a famous window dresser like Simon Doonan. When he defies his grandmother’s wishes and sneaks off to a semester of Saturday art classes in Provincetown, his artistic skills blossom, but he realizes he needs the support of his friends and family to be truly happy.

Tom, a bit of a late bloomer (a topic I blogged about recently), frequently gets teased for being gay– but he’s not quite sure of his identity yet. He fits into that “questioning” category, like many middle-schoolers who question just about anything.

Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!
Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!

Thank you, Cape Cod Writers Center, for the vote of confidence!

GLBT Youth- Hiding in Plain Sight

I was shaken recently when a friend relayed a story from a school in my liberal state of Massachusetts: an 8th grader received an anonymous note at school, to the effect of “Faggot- hope you kill yourself.”

lockers

In my writer world, I admit I get lulled into a sense of security– look at the praise heaped on books like Alex Gino’s GEORGE and Tim Federle’s BETTER NATE THAN EVER! Things are better. So much better!

Nate

In my adult world, as an out lesbian, I sometimes forget how hard it is to come out, to BE out, to risk safety and relationships to be who you are.

That story of the 8th grader reminded me. Not so fast. We have more work to do. More books to write. This is what drives me to write my current novel, Tomfoolery, about a boy who is trying to muster the courage to be who he is.

More vigilance. More supportive adults. Let’s keep at it, with organizations like GLSEN and Rainbow Boxes and The Trevor Project and Lee Wind’s blog. We need to keep being visible. We need to be there for our youth!

national coming out day

Summer School on Gender

Learning about gender: that was one of my summer reading goals as a children’s writer, a teacher of teachers, and a creative writing instructor. As a lesbian writer and supporter of We Need Diverse Books, I am always on the look-out for new titles to recommend. Two books on my summer reading list have stayed with me.

Middle-grade novel GEORGE by Alex Gino brought me inside the mind and heart of a transgendered child– fourth grader George, who sees herself as Melissa. George yearns to play Charlotte in the school production of “Charlotte’s Web,” and she figures that will be a perfect vehicle for telling her mother and others that she really is a girl, despite being born in a boy’s body. GEORGE is chock full of heart and humor. Within the past few months, I’ve talked to teachers who are figuring out how to best respond to students who identify as transgendered… students ranging in age from preschool to middle school. Teachers, start with GEORGE. Feed your brain with information for allies, statistics and studies… but GEORGE will feed your heart.

Read more wonderful tips from author Alex Gino here: “How to Talk About George.” 

George

Young adult novel NONE OF THE ABOVE, by I. W. Gregorio, taught me so much about the experience of being intersex. Main character Kristin is diagnosed with an intersex condition, and she worries that it means she’s “not exactly a girl.” This book made me think so much about the “either/or” gender dichotomy so prevalent in our world, and how that traps so many kids who feel different or gender variant in some way. There is so much information conveyed gracefully in this book; while I was learning about the intersex experience, I fretted over Kristin’s worries about peer reactions, medical issues, implications for her romantic/sex life, and her future. For teachers wondering about the “I” in LGBTQIA– this is your book!

none of the above

Now I am back in the groove of juggling teaching, tutoring, writing… but I feel enriched and refreshed by my summer reading, and these two titles still resonate long after I read them under my beach umbrella.

beach umbrella

 

 

 

 

What a children’s writer learned from a fierce diva’s cabaret act

Billy Porter was just in Provincetown for a three-night nightclub engagement. You know, the Billy Porter who won a Tony for the role of Lola in Broadway’s hit “Kinky Boots.” He sang with supreme confidence in a skirt, a killer hat and some kick-ass ankle boots.

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He paid homage to “Kinky Boots” (now on national tour with someone else in the lead role) without irony or sarcasm, honoring it as the show that changed his life, that brought him to a new level of artistic growth. He described reassuming the role of Lola when the national tour hit his hometown of Pittsburgh: “the prodigal son came home… in a dress.”  In his Pittsburgh childhood, he said, he’d been “bullied… discarded… told by the ministers at the front of the church that I was worth nothing because of my homosexuality.” Years later, he conquered the Pittsburgh stage as Lola, in a play that, as he said, “changed hearts and minds…. it was the ministry of Lola.” A triumph.

kinky boots billy w tony

A professional career coach recently told me that the most successful people are the ones who know WHY they are going what they are doing. The WHY behind the work drives success, clarity, and vision.

As Billy swept through the audience, eliciting participation and making merry, he neared a smiling mom and her androgynous teen. As he walked past, he placed his hand for a moment on that teen’s shoulder. That moment, that gesture, said so much. Ministry, indeed.

Billy also paid homage to Cyndi Lauper, lyricist of “Kinky Boots.” “She wrote the hell out of that song” he said of one number… and told us about her completely rewriting Charlie’s “want” song four days before Broadway opening… because it needed it! Then he sang the song so we could admire her artistry.

Seeing this show rearranged all my brain cells. There was music, fierce fashion, food for writing thought, activism and beauty. Billy Porter is a genius– it was a delight to see him in a small venue.  He clearly knows the WHY of what he is doing, and it shines out of him with a laser’s intensity. His example made me, someone who writes for kids, a better writer in that one evening, crystallizing my own WHY that keeps me writing, persisting, creating.

Here’s my favorite song from “Kinky Boots,” which Billy sang solo in Provincetown quite beautifully. Enjoy!

Rainbow Boxes- books for LGBTQ+ youth

Have you heard about Rainbow Boxes? It’s a way to get sorely needed books into the hands of LGBTQ+ youth.

rainbow boxes

Flashback to a scene in a middle school library about six years ago: the school counselor, who happens to be my wife, was showing me the section in the library where the books on sexuality could be found. Included in the collection were a few books referencing gay and lesbian youth. Except you could never find them, she said, because kids would covertly take the books, read them furtively in the far corners of the library, and stick them back into a random shelf when they were done.

So much has changed since then!

First, my wife wrote a grant and her school library now has a full collection of GLBTQ+ books. Plus, there is a middle school GSA (now called GSE, for Gender, Sexuality and Equality). There is more openness, inclusion, conversation– at the school level and in our country as a whole!

But that’s just one school, with some progressive leadership, on Cape Cod. There are so many schools that don’t have those resources. YA authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy are aiming to fill that need with their genius idea called Rainbow Boxes, which are boxes filled with books about GLBTQ+ characters. These books, funded by an Indiegogo campaign, will be sent to every state in the union (to one school and one shelter)– if the project reaches full funding! This project goes hand-in-hand with the We Need Diverse Books mission.

I’ve made my contribution. Will you kick in a few dollars, for kids who need to see themselves represented realistically and positively in a book? And check out their book list (on the Indiegogo page) for some fantastic summer reading.

rainbow boxes2

Follow Rainbow Boxes on Twitter at @RainbowBoxesYA.

Follow We Need Diverse Books on Twitter at @diversebooks.

 

When Stars Align: diversity, writing & pop culture

As a teacher on summer hiatus, I’m grabbing all of the free hours I can muster, running as far and fast as I can with my middle-grade novel-in-progress, Tomfoolery. And the other day, the stars aligned to tell me, “Yes! Keep going. You are moving in the right direction!”

You see, my main character Tom’s world is being rocked by taking part in an art class in beautiful Provincetown. Suddenly, as a gay/questioning, artsy kid, he doesn’t feel so alone– he has found his people.

 

Provincetown
Provincetown

I wrote a scene the other day in which the art teacher referenced ballerina Misty Copeland. In response to someone using the term “firebird,” the teacher shows an image of Copeland leaping mid-air in flaming red regalia. I wrote some dialog from the teacher:

“Misty Copeland,” Will pointed. “African American soloist  with the American Ballet Theater. Most famous role: Stravinsky’s Firebird.”

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland

Finished with my writing time, I clicked on over to Facebook for some social interaction, and there on the headlines was Misty Copeland: newly-named as the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. I immediately went back to my manuscript and made that change!

In the middle of my novel, where my gay/questioning character feels a bit at sea, a bit too “different,” I had introduced an example of another artist who has also had experiences of feeling at sea, and different. And then, there she was, like a Firebird, soaring. Inspiring my character, inspiring me.

The stars aligned, in a little way– but it was enough for me. To keep me going, when I feel a bit at sea in the writing process.

FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.
FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I’m going to keep soaring.

 

Up and Coming (Out): song for a budding lesbian

If we stare long enough, there are times when we swear we can see a budding flower actually bloom.

fun home logo 1

That’s the tender window of time portrayed in “Ring of Keys,” the signature song from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Fun Home.”

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, “Fun Home” allows us to witness the moment when young Alison, a tomboyish girl, sees a grown-up lesbian and has a transcendent moment of recognition.

sydney lucas.fun home

Middle-grade writers will want to study the clip of Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys.” It captures an emergence, a turning point, a discovery, that is found in all rich middle-grade novels. That’s why I used the clip in a recent workshop I presented, Developing Gay and Questioning Characters in Middle Grade Fiction.

In an interview in Variety, composer Jeanine Tesori said, “This is a song… that is a turning moment, when you think you’re an alien and you hear someone else say, ‘Oh, me too.’ It’s a game changer for Alison. And that’s just Musical Theater 101.”

In her Tony acceptance speech, Tesori said the song “…is not a song of love, it’s a song of identification, because for girls, you have to see it to be it.”

You have to see it to be it.

Those are words to remember for anyone writing for children and teens (boys and girls!). Let’s continue to give our readers a multitude of moments, of discoveries, of ways of being–
so that they can fully inhabit their world and more clearly see their place in it.

keys