I know in my last post I talked about doing my personal trip down Memory Lane, and I will get to that in the coming weeks. But first I wanted to do a quick (not really) review of a book called Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg. In this review I will also be expressing my opinions about homosexuality. I hope that doesn’t become an issue.
Openly Straight follows Rafe, a high school junior who is openly gay. Rafe’s parents are extremely supportive, his community accepts him, and he even starts to talk at other high schools about being gay. But through all this he feels that the label of “Gay” is following him around. So, in an attempt to shake the label, he transfers to an all-boys boarding school and becomes “openly straight” to try and live a “normal” life without his Gay label. This of course leads to some consequences, especially when he falls for a straight friend.
The book is good. What’s good about it is that it reads like any other Young Adult fiction. It has a flawed, but likable main character, a love interest, conflict, motivation, and a resolution. The only difference is that the protagonist is gay. Strangely (or ingeniously) enough, this book has the same label on it that Rafe is trying to escape. It’s about a GAY. It’s DIFFERENT. It’s making A POINT. And it does a fairly good job of making its point, too. On the one hand, we have Rafe’s love interest, who knows he is straight but is still confused by his feelings for Rafe. This makes him almost a foil for Rafe. The Gay boy who is trying very hard to appear straight falls for the straight guy who is trying very hard to remain straight. The love interest’s (I’m refraining from using his name so as to avoid spoilers) inner conflict is almost a better representation of the struggle that a lot of young, questioning people go through. It also subtly incorporates the concept of the Kinsey scale, putting the love interest somewhere on a spectrum of sexuality, rather than making him one thing or the other. (Even “Bi” is a definite label that doesn’t allow any leeway or preference towards one sex over the other.)
Then there are Rafe’s parents, who are supportive of their Gay Son to a fault. I capitalized those words because the parents were also part of the “labeling” problem that Rafe tries to escape in the book. Instead of continuing to think of him as their son, they started to think of him as their Gay Son. And I think this addresses a very poignant issue: Sometime in our history, we as a society decided that Homosexuality (as well as everything else included in the LGBT spectrum) was a Big Deal. This left individuals and groups with the task of assigning either a positive or a negative to this Big Deal. People had to decide whether they thought this was a Good or a Bad. And, as I said earlier, there are problems with both. Because both schools of thought serve to strengthen this idea that those in the LGBT community should be recognized as “Other.” Am I saying that there shouldn’t be groups like PFLAG, or Gay Pride marches? No. But I am saying that even people with the best intentions can still actively isolate a community by saying “Oh yes, I have NO problem with THOSE people.”
What do I propose instead? It’s hard to put into words. Take a simple statement like, “Oh, I can’t do Thanksgiving at your house this year. I’m going to my sister’s. She and her husband invited the whole family.” You know how no one ever responds to a statement like that by trying to slap the person? People should react just as calmly if the word “husband” were switched with “wife.” We should stop thinking about Gay People and start thinking about people. When someone says “My sister and her wife baked these orgasmic cookies,” no one should react with anything other than “Can I get the recipe?” Why? Because the sooner we start to accept that “the Gays” are just people whose sex lives should be no more or less interesting than anyone else’s, the sooner reality will reflect the change in our actions and thoughts. The sooner everything will calm down and suddenly there will be less and less need to fight for “Gay rights.”
I shouldn’t say this, but Americans are just awful at learning from their mistakes. Many, many decades ago, we decided Black people were less than human. We fought a war over it, and now the majority of people realize that slavery was wrong. We are still trying to apologize for it with things like Black History Month. So we know it’s wrong. Even more recently, Women had to fight to get the right to vote. Women are still fighting for equal rights, but at least we’ve accepted that maybe they should be treated like equals, too. Now we’re in the present day, and none of our past mistakes have served as learning experiences. We are still trying to create Us and Them, still trying to select groups of people and make them Less Than. When really I thought we were supposed to be better than that. Land of the Free and all that? Where exactly are the Free at this point? How Free are we when we need to restrict other people’s freedoms just to feel that much more in control? How Free are we when we cringe away from anything that seems Different? We’re bound by our own prejudices and hatred. It sounds cheesy; it’s also fucking true. Stop thinking of LGBT and Gay and Straight and start thinking about People. We’re all just people.
Anyway, it was a pretty good book. You should read it if you have the time.
No comic today.
Word of the Day: Prurient (adj) – having, inclined to have, or characterized by lascivious or lustful thoughts, desires, etc.
This post is dedicated to George Takei, who’s just a really cool, inspiring dude. We should all try to be George Takei when we grow up.