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literature

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Young Adult Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  

The Threat of Loneliness and Unhappiness

Another stereotypical assumption that young adult fiction tends to reflect is that lesbian and gay characters, youths and adults, live lonely, bleak, deprived, and unhappy lives; so much so that the message seems to be that children and young people should by no means fall under the influence of gay and lesbian adults.

In young adult fiction, the homosexuality of characters (or its revelation) often results in loss of friends, loss of career, loss of family, and loss of community.

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Although two teachers in Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982) act as positive lesbian role models in a stable, loving relationship, they both lose their jobs.

Jinx, a character in Jane Futcher's Crush (1981), is expelled from an exclusive girls' boarding school during the mid-1960s.

Gary Bargar's What Ever Happened to Mr. Forster? (1981) is set in Kansas City in 1958. Although Mr. Forster is represented as a mentor and hero for sixth-grader Louis Lamb, he ultimately loses his job as a direct result of the disclosure of his gayness.

These and many other early examples of lesbian and gay young adult literature are set in the 1950s and 1960s, during more repressive and homophobic eras. But the message of gay loneliness is also repeated in more recent works with contemporary settings.

In Ann Rinaldi's The Good Side of My Heart (1987), for example, a handsome, mysterious new boy in town, Josh, finds himself the object of narrator Brie's considerable romantic admiration. When Josh explains that he is gay, Brie's sadness over his "wasted" masculinity and her pity for him result in his social isolation.

A particularly disturbing set of homophobic and misogynist assumptions are contained in Judith St. George's Just Call Me Margo (1981). Margo discovers the nature of the relationship between her tennis coach, Miss Frye, and her English teacher, Miss Durrett.

Miss Durrett is physically disabled, personally unappealing, and socially unpleasant. As Christine Jenkins points out, Miss Durrett embodies the myth of the lesbian who simply cannot attract a man.

The representation of Miss Durrett as physically disabled and personally unpleasant also confirms cultural myths about disabled people as unappealing and about lesbians as willing to accept those people who have been judged inadequate for a "real" relationship with men.

More subtly, as Goodman notes, when gay and lesbian characters are shown in happy relationships, they have no friends or support outside those relationships.

In Garden's Annie on My Mind, a warm, sensitive, and positive story, the adult women who are depicted in a loving alliance have no extended support system, nor any group of friends, gay or not. The successful lesbian or gay relationship is a self-contained unit, continuing without social acceptance or grounding.

An exception is found in Scott Bunn's Just Hold On (1982). Although this story recapitulates some potentially destructive stereotypes, the characters Stephen and Rolf are ensconced within a warm circle of friends.

Community Distrust of Gays and Lesbians as Role Models

Even in young adult literature in which gay and lesbian adults act as positive role models for teens, lesbian and gay adults--particularly those who are teachers--are frequently indicted and punished for their alleged influence on the emerging homosexuality of teen characters.

Community distrust of gay teachers surfaces in many works. Rarely is there any basis for the claim that an actual romantic relationship exists between students and teachers, although in David Rees's The Milkman's on His Way (1982) a teacher does initiate a student into his first homosexual experience.

Far more common in this literature are students' crushes on teachers and intense bonds between teachers and students. Among works that depict such crushes and bonds are Holland's The Man without a Face, Barger's What Ever Happened to Mr. Forster? and Garden's Annie on My Mind.

Depicting Homosexuality as a "Problem"

The greatest failure of gay and lesbian young adult fiction as a genre is that the works are generally plotted around the "problem" of homosexuality. Consequently, the lives of the gay and lesbian teen and adult characters revolve almost exclusively around the issue of their homosexuality; and gay and lesbian characters are included simply because of their gayness rather than because of their intrinsic interest or complexity.

These tendencies are legacies of the category's origins in the "problem novel" genre that became popular in young adult fiction in the late 1960s.

In the best works, however, homosexuality is presented as simply part of the lives of the characters rather than the central issue, and the "problem" is not homosexuality per se. For example, Norma Klein's My Life as a Body (1987) treats the lesbianism of a major character, Claudia, merely as an important aspect of her existence.

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