DiversifYA: Suzanne van Rooyen

SuzanneToday on the blog: Suzanne van Rooyen! Suzanne is a publicist at Entranced Publishing, YA / SFF / LGBT author (among others the stunning OBSCURA BURNING), peanut butter addict, blogger at YAtopia, and on top of all of that also runs a fantastic blog that include the new feature QUILTBAG heroes: “showcasing QUILTBAG role models from real life and fiction”. Awesome or awesome? Suzanne also graciously hosted me on her blog, to talk about Diversity in YA, during Pride Month last month.

Suzanne joins us with an incredibly insightful interview about being queer! Once you’ve read it, and have bookedmarked her blog, follow Suzanne on Twitter here.

1. How do you identify yourself?

Fluid. I’ve always believed that we define ourselves by what we do, that you’re either a musician or a lawyer or an architect or a swimmer – you can’t be more than one thing at a time. You’re either gay or straight. It’s only been in my more recent ‘adult’ life that I’ve started to see things differently. When I was doing my Bachelor’s degree, I was very clearly a musician, and when I started teaching, I was very clearly a piano teacher. I liked being able to put myself in a box and stick a label on it. It was safe and easy. I’d only ever been in relationships with boys and therefore I was straight.

But, I’ve since discovered, that who I am can’t be put into a box and labelled. When I finished my Master’s in music, I went through a major identity crisis because I couldn’t find a job in my field. I was no longer a musician, I’d lost my box and label, and therefore I was no longer me, I had failed. It took my more than a year to figure out that I can do whatever I want with my life, I can be with whomever I want to, and still be me, that not having a label doesn’t mean being a failure. Life is ever changing and that flux now makes me happy. Hence, I’m fluid when it comes to career, lifestyle and everything else.

In terms of the LGBT tag for this, queer is probably the closest and least restrictive label. I’m ok with being labelled queer because I am rather odd – sort of a goth-geek-hippie-pagan – I also believe that souls are genderless and that when I love a person, I love their soul – the packaging is immaterial, be it male, female or something else entirely, which I guess makes me queer too. I’ve always been drawn to androgyny. Sure, I can appreciate J-Lo’s curves or beefy Chris Hemsworth but it’s the Andy Biersacks and Katherine Moennigs in real life that I’m truly drawn to and find the most physically attractive. I like girls who look like boys and boys who look like girls – how much more queer can you get?

2. What did it feel like growing up being queer?

It wasn’t something I was really aware of growing up. In all my pretend games as a kid, I was always a boy – even at nursery school when I had a bunch of boy friends, I was always a boy too. When we played ‘Lion King’ at my all girl’s primary school, I was Simba. When my best friend and I reenacted scenes from Free Willy, I was always Jesse. It was only in my late teens that I started to understand that the reason I was so drawn to boys, to male characters in books and TV series and movies, wasn’t that I was a horny, boy-mad 16yr old with raging hormones, but that I was fascinated by what it meant to be a boy. Part of me always wanted to be a boy and still does.

It was only when I went to university and started hanging out with a seriously diverse group of people of varying sexual preferences and practices that I began to realise that I was a gay guy trapped in a girl’s body. And while that may be an amusing, t-shirt worthy slogan – it is genuinely how I feel. I suddenly understood why I battled to get on with girls my age, why I struggled to relate to females in general and always gravitated towards boys. I wanted to be one of the guys and that’s mostly how I was treated. Of course this didn’t always work out so well because guys were intimidated and even scared of me… I’m convinced it’s my fearsome 5’3 stature.

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

The biggest challenge was self-actualization, realising why I felt different and why I didn’t – and still don’t – always get along with people I think I should. Another challenge is trying to explain it to people. Most people just assume I’m bisexual and afraid to say it. Very few people know how I really see myself (I guess they will after this 🙂 ) and fewer yet can probably wrap their head around it. I’m not sure I’ve completely wrapped my head around it yet either. The perks? Being one of the guys! Growing up I always had guy friends and I loved every minute just hanging out with them. At university, one of the happiest years of my life was when I was the only girl (not a girlfriend) in a group of about 13 guy friends.

One of the biggest challenges I’m going to face, now that I’m married and heading towards 30, will be explaining to people that I have zero interest in ever being pregnant. It’s not that I don’t want kids, I just don’t want to be pregnant.

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

That being queer is probably the most open-ended and least easily defined sexualities. Not everyone who identifies as ‘queer’ will be the same, in fact queer people are probably going to have very different reasons for identifying as such. I honestly wish there was less of a need for labels and that people of any sexuality were happy just to be who they are, and to live label free.

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

That anyone who identifies as queer is obviously gay and still in the closet. This view annoys me so much because it presumes so much about a person. Sure, some people who identify as queer today might identify as gay or lesbian or even straight tomorrow, but that’s not an assertion for anyone but the queer individual to make. The other is that a queer person is really just bisexual and afraid to own up to batting for both teams. Again, I find this both idiotic and offensive, because it ignores the complexities of human sexuality.

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

Authors shouldn’t be afraid to eschew labels. It’s ok for a character, like a real person, to not know where they fit in the QUILTBAG box. It’s ok for characters, like real people, to not want to fit in the box and to live a more fluid life, free from the constraints a label might impose. The best way for an author to write a queer character – or a character in any way different from them – is to personally get to know similar people in real life. Just as straight people can be a great myriad other things than their sexuality so too can QUILTBAG individuals. Sexuality and sexual preference should not be the all-defining characteristic – it’s just one aspect of a person and many writers (not only of books but of TV series and movies too) seem to forget that.

2 Responses to DiversifYA: Suzanne van Rooyen

  1. Cracking interview. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne!