RT: Diversity and sexuality, part one

divYAHey guys! I’m so excited to share this first DiversiTheme Roundtable with you, in which the wonderful Cait Spivey talks with five panelists about diversity and sexuality in (YA) fiction. I’ll leave the floor to Cait for the discussion, but just a short note or order: we have so much information (yaay!) that I’ll spread the DiversiTheme out over this week and the next. And to use the words of one of our wonderful panelists:

“I’m so excited for this event.  I think it’s so important for discussions to happen about sexuality, diversity, and how those relate to YA/NA etc…because I feel discussion and is the first step in awareness and changing things.”

To start with, introductions, part one!

“Hello, everyone! I’m really excited about this discussion. Sexuality in fiction was a concentration of mine in undergrad, and it’s fun to get back to these kinds of discussions. Very thrilled to have you all involved!

About me: I’m Cait, YA/NA spec fic writer, freelance fiction editor, Girl with the TARDIS Tattoo. I’m also a queer (specifically, bi or pansexual) white woman.

Let me insert a disclaimer here now that you are welcome to share as much or as little information in response to each question as you like, and you can certainly choose to answer some and not others. If there’s something you’d like to comment on that isn’t brought up by one of the questions, please go ahead and mention it!

So, for this DiversiTheme we’re going to try and structure our discussion in three parts. Part one is about us: our backgrounds, our sexual education and experience. Part two will be about the fiction: sexual stereotypes we’ve seen in YA/NA–maybe even upper-MG–and whether those are harmful, etc. Part three will look toward the future and what we hope to see about the representation of diverse sexuality in our categories.

Since part one will sort of tie in with our intros to each other, I’m going to go ahead and share the first set of discussion questions! Don’t worry about answering these strictly, just use them to guide your responses.

  • How do you identify yourself?
  • What was your sexual education like (school, parents, friends, self-educated)?
  • Did/do people have expectations of what your sexuality was/is like because of being [identity/identity/identity]?
  • What were your first sexual relationships like? (For example: how old were you, how old was your partner? Was sex openly discussed between you, or not? Feel free to go into as much or as little detail as you like.)

For me, I had what I think of as “mechanical” sex ed in school, and the rest came from my mom. School taught me what all the parts were called. Mom helped me figure out the when, the why, and the condom condom condom. Haha, that was her mantra for me from when my sister was born, when I was ten and did not want babies ever. I was very lucky; Mom always told me that it was up to me, that no one could force me, and only I would really know when I felt ready–a far cry from the way her mother talked to her about sex, which was to say, “You’re doing it, aren’t you?!”

I grew up in a small conservative farm town. I didn’t really experience much in the way of harassment or expectation in high school and college, which I attribute to my boyish figure. Small boobs equals no sexuality, apparently. And for a long time, no one knew I was queer. There were a select few friends in high school, one or two more in college. I got to be the shy heterosexual prude.

I didn’t touch a penis until I was 19, and even then I was pretty not down with it. After that, there was another boy I wanted to have sex with for the first time, but it just never came to pass–we were too busy, I was still too nervous. I had sex for the first time when I was 21 (I’m 24 now, for reference), because I finally felt comfortable enough to actually say, “Let’s do it!’ It was pretty great.”

“Hi everybody! I’m Kayla. I’m a co-admin of Disability in Kidlit, a freelance editor, and a YA/MG writer. I’m also a disabled, bisexual, heteroromantic, cis, white woman.

My sexual education until college consisted almost entirely of one high school sex ed class, which spent a lot of time on showing us pictures of STIs and very little on actually educating us about sex. My parents never had “the talk” with me. I knew embarrassingly little about anything to do with sex or even basic anatomy. I knew how babies happened—that was about it. (This led to a horribly embarrassing conversation where my younger sister had to explain what was so funny about some Popsicle joke…)

Once I got to college, my new friends took it upon themselves to educate me, mostly because I made hilarious embarrassed faces. It was quite a shock, but I also loved it. I had one friend in particular who was very experienced, and we’d have sessions where she’d tell me increasingly explicit stories, and I’d ask questions while trying to hold in my hysterical giggles. Later in college, I started seeking out information on my own (yay for the internet!), and spent the next several years learning everything I possibly could about sex, sexuality, gender, etc.

People definitely have expectations of my sexuality because I’m disabled. Specifically, they expect a) that I have no sexuality, and b) that it doesn’t matter since no one would ever find me sexually attractive anyway. I internalized both for most of my life, and still have to battle the latter, even though I now recognize it as bull.

Probably largely because of those assumptions (though certainly not entirely), I have yet to have any sexual relationships. I’ve had exactly one kiss, which I don’t even count for a variety of reasons, and that’s the extent of my experience. It’s frustrating because I want to have sexual experiences. I’ve been ready for a while, but I can’t find a partner. I realize that’s a reality for a lot of people, that’s it’s not a unique situation, but it’s hard when I know so many people automatically discount me because of my disability. It’s difficult sometimes not to slip back into believing I’m wholly undesirable and that I’ll never have any sexual relationship.”

“Thanks for sharing, Kayla! The idea that disabled people have no sexuality or aren’t sexually attractive IS total bull, but it is also really pervasive! Hopefully this roundtable can help start to break that stereotype down. :)”

“My name’s Patrice, and I’m a writer (specifically MG/YA SpecFic), marketing intern for Spencer Hill Press & Contemporary, and a junior in college.

I run the blog Whimsically Yours, and recently I’ve started to focus a lot more on diversity in YA (& MG) especially since I am a queer black woman.  The characters I write aren’t only straight white characters because that’s not the world we live in/what I see.  I really appreciate the interviews Marieke does as a part of DiversifYA, and I’m glad I got to be a part of one, because I think they give people a wider view of what diversity looks like.  Also, I’ve found that once writers realize they only write one type of character they are usually willing to change.

Like I said, I identify as a black queer woman, more specifically bi or pansexual but I prefer to identify as queer just because it’s a great umbrella term and pansexual and bi mean very different things depending on the person you ask.

A lot of my sexual education has been self-educated.  I really like how Cait put it, in school I got the mechanics, what the parts were called but not much more than that.  My mom’s a nurse but interestingly we never had the talk, until the night before I moved into my freshman dorm, but even then that wasn’t really “The Talk”.  My mom more often than not was just like be careful, don’t end up pregnant before you’re ready.  I think that’s mostly because her mom pushed all of that down her throat so much, she talks about how at a young age, her mom took her to get on birth control and my mom has never wanted that to be my experience.  However I do wish we would’ve had more of a talk because I entered college well aware of some things but not aware enough about others.

I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and attended a predominately white top private school there for most of my educational experience.  Interestingly I switched to a public school my senior year because my family moved and boy was that an experience.  Specifically in terms of speaking about sexuality, I realized my private school had shielded me from a lot of things.  I never considered or at least openly stated I was queer until college.  I got to Wellesley college and sexuality is a very free thing here but I never felt comfortable to say that in high school nor did I even know what those feelings were, I just pushed them aside.

I think a lot of people assume because I’m a black woman that I’m straight.  I’ve always felt torn to either my “black side” or my “queer side” but I’ve started to realize that intersectionalities are beautiful and that I and others need to accept both parts of my identity. I’ve never had sex but I have had a few sexual relationships. My relationships with guys never ended or went well and that’s partially how I realized I like girls much more than guys sexually speaking and emotionally.  My relationships with girls have always been brushed off by others as a fling and ended before they became something serious partially because I wasn’t ready for what entering into a relationship with a woman in terms of my background would mean.  My dad knows I identify as queer but the rest of my family doesn’t and I know a lot of them, very southern black family, would not be okay with it.

I would like to say that though I don’t believe it’s my job to speak on behalf of all black women who are queer, I do think it’s important for younger black girls feeling the same way I did when I was a girl to know they’re not along.  More specifically as a writer, I believe it’s important for me to speak up and out and to write in the characters that reflect the world I/we’re apart of.”

Tomorrow, come back for Introductions, part two, to meet Natalie, Sarah, and me 🙂

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