Here she explains why her mailbox gives her great pleasure and how GSAs have changed the GLBT teen experience.
You write a lot about high school. What was your experience like as a teen? Has it influenced your writing?
I think I was just a regular teen with normal, everyday issues: dating, dealing with peer pressure, keeping up my grades, sneaking out to parties, going to football games, acting crazy. A few small, harmless misdemeanors along the way. Of course, every minute of every day was a crisis, so maybe that influenced my writing.
What were some of your favorite books as a teen?
I didn’t read for pleasure as a teen. It was enough to get through the suffocating demands of required readings for English. During the summer after high school graduation, though, I worked as a receptionist and rediscovered the joy of reading. The office activity was so slow and boring, to maintain my sanity I read as much Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as I could get my hands on. The longer the book, the better. If young-adult literature was around then, I wasn’t aware of it. I needed epics.
You cover a variety of teen experiences. For example, in many of your books you address the experience of being a young lesbian. And in Luna, you also get into the issues faced by a transgender teen growing up in a pretty traditional family. Do you find certain characters easier to write than others?
Certainly Luna was a difficult person to capture on paper, since I didn’t even know any transgender people when I began that book. I had no idea why Luna would choose me to write about her. (Later, I figured out it was my ignorance. I could bring a fresh outlook and a hunger for knowledge to the subject and the research.) My own self-discovery of trans issues gave Luna more authenticity than I could ever have conjured up through creativity or imagination alone.
Since I am an out and proud lesbian, I do feel more confident to represent. But every person, no matter her or his sexuality or gender is an individual, so it’s always a challenge to dispel stereotypes.
A lot of teens find solace in your writing. Do you think that you mainly appeal to GLBT teens? Do you hear from hetero teens, as well?
My mailbox is a daily delight. I hear from straight youth and straight adults, most of whom have friends or family who are of the LGBTQ persuasion. I hear from queer youth and queer adults, bi-, pan-, and a-sexuals. Persons of every stripe from all over the world write to share their personal journeys with me. Yes, I’d say the majority of my most loyal readers are LGBTQ youth because my books, and those of other queer YA writers, give those young readers a sense of belonging, validation and support.
What do you think has changed the most for a GLBT or questioning teens since you were in high school?
When I was in high school, you didn’t dare identify as gay or lesbian for fear of your life. Pride in who you are today and the accompanying visibility are HUGE. Not only do Gay/Straight Alliances provide a safe haven for queer and questioning youth, they also combat discrimination, bigotry and harassment.
Knowing you have an active community of your peers—gay and straight—who will stand up for you during that most challenging time when you are coming out to yourself and others is a model for peace in our global society. I have tremendous hope that future generations will embrace difference as a beautiful thing.
Is there anything teens would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a little bit country; I’m a little bit rock and roll.