Tuesday, December 1, 2015

That Is What Fiction Means

I just read a new young-adult gay novel, which I'm not going to name because I don't particularly want to single it out.  It was well-written, and I liked it on the whole, though I admit I'm getting a bit weary of what seem to be not merely conventions but cliches in this genre.  But I guess it's not all that surprising that a 64-year-old might not find coming-of-age stories very relevant to him.

I don't want to deny the enormous value of having lots of affirmative fiction available to kids, gay and straight alike.  But consider the story of the novel I just read: two teenage boys in a suburban school connect online over a Tumblr posting by one of them.  They're both closeted, of course, so they want to meet face to face but are afraid to meet face to face.  In the end, to cut to the chase, they do, and of course they're both totally cute and they fall in love and despite some incidents of antigay bigotry by a few fellow students they come out and everything ends happily.

What bugged me was that they are, of course, both totally cute.  So are all if not most of their friendship circle. It's not fair to expect a story like this to be realistic, but almost anyone who's met other people for romantic or grittier purposes online knows that disappointment is a frequent part of the process.  (Especially when the people don't exchange photographs before meeting, though this can still result in disappointment.)  So, I thought, what would have happened if the narrator had met his correspondent and found him to be not a totes adorable jock but someone pudgy, acned -- or even just not his type?  As often as not the person you meet isn't repulsive, he (or she) just isn't someone you're attracted to, often because you've been constructing a fantasy figure in your mind that no one could live up to.

An old friend of mine, when we were both speaking on a GLB panel to a college psychology class, told of growing up gay in rural southern Indiana.  He's about fifteen years younger than I am, so he grew up in a different queer Weltanschauung than I did.  He met another gay kid his own age while they were both still in high school, and they became friends.  He told the class how they'd also discussed the prospect of becoming boyfriends, but they weren't attracted to each other so they gave up the idea.  This bothered the professor, a middle-aged straight woman; she assured the class that all gay people don't think about sex all the time and that two gay kids who found each other in high school wouldn't usually consider each other as sexual partners.  I can't remember now how we responded to this; I think we just let it go.

In retrospect I'm not sure we should have done that.  There was nothing sinister about these boys considering a sexual relationship.  Neither of them had any prior sexual experience, and most adolescents of any sexual orientation are interested in acquiring some.  Unlike their straight peers, they were in a sort of desert-island situation, without other dating prospects or other erotic options besides the institutions of promiscuity, with all their dangers.  If a heterosexual man and woman were cast away on a desert island, they'd probably have to decide whether to have sex with each other -- there's a long genre of jokes, cartoons, and the like about such a situation.  So why shouldn't two isolated gay boys do the same?

The protagonists of this new novel don't have many other options, even thirty years after my friend's high school days.  So, I couldn't help wondering what would have happened if their great opportunity hadn't panned out?  What if they'd had to cope with rejection from each other when fantasy ran afoul of reality?  Has anyone written a YA novel about finding out that your dream guy, your fantasy prince, turns out to be a frog?

There's drama there.  I wish I could write fiction, because that would be a story I'd like to write.