DiversifYA: Meagan Rivers, part two

MeaganToday Meagan Rivers is back on the blog! And I couldn’t be more excited. In case you missed Meagan’s AMAZING interview about living with bipolar disorder, have a look here. Meagan is also YA contemp writer, reviewer, and cheerleader extraordinaire!

Follow Meagan on Twitter here and read her blog here. Probably go do that before you read this interview, because you don’t want to miss out on her awesomeness!

1. How do you identify yourself?

As much as I hate to say it, I have different answers depending on the people I’m around. If someone asks, and I’m surrounded by people I don’t really know, I’ll just say “bisexual” because it’s easier for other people to deal with. But if I’m around people I know, people who have more experience in the LGBTQ community, I say queer. Just queer. My attraction doesn’t rely on gender, and I feel more comfortable saying “queer” than “bisexual” because it’s more open to interpretation, and my sexuality is mostly fluid.

2. What did it feel like growing up queer?

I never had a magic moment that made me sit up and think “hey, I’m queer” because it was always there inside of me. But there were times in middle school, long after people figured it out, where things felt really isolating. My best friend at the time was super grossed out, and she was the one to make fun of me the hardest. I didn’t grow up in a very diverse part of NY, and the simple act of taking my friend’s hand and dragging her to her locker got a ring of “ewww, dykes!” My older brother wasn’t any more receptive, but my parents accepted it more easily. I’m lucky, so very lucky, that my parents support me through anything.

Some friends I had in high school who were super into gay rights went about things in a way I never understood. Things like the Day of Silence — while I understand why it means so much to people, I can’t get behind it. They would get irritated with me for not participating, and when I gave them my reasons, they told me I was just “afraid to be me,” which was total BS.

The second I hit college and hit the city, I felt more comfortable — but I went to a Jesuit college and wound up relegated to a “Unity” club that was run by cisgender, white allies instead of queer kids. I tried to participate, but found myself bothered by them having the voices. We did the same events year after year, and I found myself growing more disconnected from the community because they participated in things I didn’t see as helpful, and when there was backlash from other campus groups (namely the Republican group), we had to sit back and accept it, and I was never okay with it.

It made me angry, and I think I’ve carried some of that anger with me from all those experiences. I’m a lot less tolerant of straight people being crappy than I was, because after a while you just get. so. tired. of. it.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

For me, coming to terms with the changing landscape of what’s acceptable in American society.

When you’re on the internet a lot, you get used to certain things. The internet’s a pretty liberal, open-minded place if you want it to be. Surround yourself with the right people, and you’ll feel right at home. But log off, go outside, hold a girl’s hand in the mall, and you get some dirty looks. It’s hard to remember where it’s “acceptable” to be queer, and where you aren’t “supposed” to show it.

When something feels normal and natural to you and other people still balk at it, you wind up feeling kind of crummy sometimes. It takes a lot to get over it.

Having a community of people who understand some of thing you think and feel. Knowing that you’re not alone because there are organizations out there for you to turn to. I’m so happy that today’s queer teens have a lot more places to go to and rely on for help when they’re confused. Knowing how much we all care about each other is the most satisfying “community” feeling.

4. What do you wish people knew about being LGBTQ?

The fight for equal rights and protection is about more than marriage for same-sex couples. It makes me happy to see people coming around to support same-sex marriage because it’s long overdue, but there are so many other issues out there that need attention. There’s more to it than showing your support and changing your Facebook picture, and although I appreciate those gestures of solidarity, when they aren’t met will follow-through, it makes me wonder how far the support goes, or if it’s genuine.

Homelessness is such a big problem for queer and trans youth, and we need to see more effort to end that. Suicide, too. I want to see more support for ALL LGBTQ people, not just gays.

I usually get flack for this, but I don’t care about the input from allies. I don’t want to hear about how great of an ally a person is. To me, that’s just standard of acceptable behavior, and being a “good ally” is just something that people should stop seeking approval for. I wish people knew that being an ally means knowing when to step aside and let queer people handle discussion, and that speaking over us helps a lot less than they think.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

I think everyone’s familiar with the “gay boyfriend” idea, where gay men are used as accessories by upper class white women. Those are the ways people are most comfortable seeing gay men, and it sucks and it’s weird.

When it comes to queer ladies though, I always have to laugh at the notion that short hair makes someone a lesbian, or being a feminist means you’re a lesbian. And while hey, that’s true plenty of times and that’s cool, it’s just amazing how angry it makes people when others don’t fit into their boxes. My own mother saw a picture of one of my friends who’d recently shaved her head and said, “Oh, I didn’t know she’s a lesbian.” I scratched my head over that one for a while, because she’d heard me talk about that friend’s boyfriend a number of times.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

For being queer, there’s no one way a queer person acts. Or dresses. Or talks. We exist in all different ways, and you don’t have to make it a point to talk about how “boyish” a queer girl is, or how girly a queer guy is. Get to know actual queer people — don’t just go off what you think the media wants you to represent us as, and different things are going to be of different importance to us all. Oh, and remember that queer people exist in all races — it’s not just white people, and it doesn’t make it look like you’re “trying too hard” to include a lesbian woman of color. Forget about “trying too hard” and do what you think is best for the characters.

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