RT: Diversity and sexuality, part two

Welcome back for the second day of our DiversiTheme Roundtable discussion about diversity and sexuality in fiction! Read part one of the introductions here.

Cait“Thanks for sharing, Patrice!

A couple of things I’m finding interesting so far: how parental sex ed changes over time. My grandmother basically assumed that my mom was being a slut, even though they never had anything amounting to a sex talk until Mom got her period and had to go to the gynaecologist–at which point my grandmother asked the gyno if Mom was still a virgin. Because of that, my mom made sure to let me know that she would answer any questions I had and that I could talk to my friends all I wanted, but if I ‘wanted the truth’, I should go to her. Patrice, it sounds like your grandmother was very progressive (hopefully?) and wanted your mom to take advantage of all of her options, which made your mom uncomfortable, so because of that she took a hands-off approach with you. Iiiiinnnnteresting.

Another thing: we’re all queer so far at least to some degree, but it doesn’t sound like any of us had that YA high school coming out experience that’s been featured in plenty of amazing novels (I think I remember from your interview, Kayla, that you didn’t really figure things out until college?). We weren’t in high school that long ago, either! (Well, maybe we were. Is ten years since 9th grade a long time?)

This is a tangential question, of course, but did anyone you went to high school with come out during your time there? How was it received, how did it affect your view of yourself? I knew one gay boy who was two years older than me, so he was out by the time I got to high school. The other two queer people I knew, two bisexual girls, kept it very under wraps and both had boyfriends. No one else was even a little ‘out’, though we had suspicions.

Obviously the politics of recent years have affected how kids come out. In some places it seems like it’s no big deal, but as some places become more reactionary and conservative, it might be even harder for kids there to get the info and support they need. Which makes me sad.”

Sarah“I’m Sarah. I tweet for DiversifYA, teach creative writing to young people, and write diverse contemporary YA.  I’m white, British, female, and queer. Or mostly-gay. Or ‘I don’t fucking know leave me alone already’. I’m mostly attracted to women, but there was one guy amidst all that, and maybe there’ll be more. And there are people I’ve fallen in love with at nothing more than words – a discussion, or a piece of writing – so I guess I’m also a little bit sapiosexual maybe?

My sexual education at school was ridiculously poor; basically just covering reproductive systems and how to use a condom. I don’t remember anything but heteronormative experience even being alluded to. I do remember one whispered, giggly conversation across the table from me in the science lab, though, where my classmates asked each other “what do the lesbians do?”

It’s not surprising, in this environment, that lesbo-dyke was hurled around as an insult in the corridors. I got that a lot, although as far as I know, nobody actually knew I was queer, it was just the worst name they could think of.

I was quiet, and shy, and few people at high school really new me, but at 16, I was accidentally outed by my best friend. Mostly, it was great. My group of friends – all music, am-dram and literature nerds – stuck together. And it turned out that 5 of us identified somewhere on the queer spectrum. I guess you kind of gravitate towards similar people J. My first girlfriend was a classmate. We argued over Frankenstein’s monster, and things led on from there. There was a lot of… experimentation, and all-night discussions about who we were and what that meant. And it was awesome. Until some fuckwit from school found out about us and she got a petrol bomb through her letter box.

I think that kind of ruined things for both of us for quite a while. Relationships were suddenly way too risky and terrifying.

Outside of school, I grew up in this weird dualistic environment. A lot of my family are insanely religious and still don’t know I’m gay, even now. They still expect that I’ll get married and have kids (although I’d better hurry up because I’m almost past my sell-by date -____- ). But there were also my uncles, and by extension, a  very outwardly gay community. Many of them quickly became my alternative family, people I turned to when nobody at home understood. As a young-ish teen I stayed with them for the summer. My parents thought we were camping, and I guess we were, but camp was an alternative LGBTQ haven, where drag and leather and nakedness were as normal as jeans & t-shirts. Where it didn’t matter who you were, or who you loved, or how you expressed that. I have WAY more stories and encounters from that glorious summer than any teen should probably have amassed. :D”

Cait“Another common theme emerging: TERRIBLE school-based sex ed. I would love, some day, to see sex ed spanning multiple years, with units and everything, all about normal sex all the way through fetishes and how they work, about gender spectrums and sexual orientations and all that fun stuff, plus other stuff I’m probably forgetting right now, all centered around the idea of consent-based interactions as the awesome things they are.”

Marieke“I’m Marieke, admin of DiversifYA, MG/YA writer, and all-round geek. I generally identify as all those things, and as autistic, disabled, and gay. Most interesting for the purpose of this discussion though, is that I also identify as gray asexual. To me, that isn’t so much an identifier in itself, but closely related with those previous points–but I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point during the questions 🙂

My school-based sex ed was very, very basic to the point of being non-existent. It was meant to be more, but the first real lesson drowned in giggles and our teacher decided we weren’t ready for it yet. So most of my education happened at home or, specifically, through reading.

And frankly, I was intrigued and eager to learn, but it began and ended there. It simply wasn’t an issue for me. I went through high school without falling in love. I wasn’t interested in guys. I was marginally more interested in girls–though I only realized that later. I’ve never been in a serious relationship. In fact, I rarely, if ever, experience romantic and/or sexual attraction. It’s happened, which is why I identify as gray-A instead of asexual, but I can easily count the number of times on one hand.

And the weird thing is, talking about expectations, I think that’s what a lot of people expect, but for all the wrong reasons. Because the number of times I’ve had people tell me how hard it must be for me, as an Aspie, to build a relationship. Because autistic people don’t do emotions (and by extension, other people?), right?

Uh. No. On average, we struggle interpreting social situations and social clues, which makes it harder to read people. Our emotional regulation strategies–the way we process emotions–are less effective. But guys. In most cases, we have exactly the same range of emotions. Trust me, we feel. And looking at myself, I find there’s no stereotype that hurts more than being told I don’t feel anything. Fuck that.

Having said that, statistically speaking autistic people have the odds stacked against them when it comes to building a stable relationship. And yes, there are challenges. But doesn’t that hold true for neurotypical relationships also? I’d venture a guess and say those odds are due to stereotypes and myths more than actual facts.

Speaking of stereotypes, people also assume being single only makes me happy because I haven’t met Ms. Right yet. It’s a “just wait and you’ll see” mentality. Occasionally, that still bugs me, but I try to let it go 🙂 I need my fighting spirit for the next time someone tells me people with autism don’t feel anything.”

Natalie“I’m Natalie *waves* I wrote a play on knife crime which is being presented across the UK next year. Currently adapting the play in novel form. I’m also training to be an adolescent counsellor – I will be qualified in a couple of years and my dream is to work on a psych ward.
I’m a 30 year old straight female from London, England. School sex ed was just the mechanics of reproduction, not a lot else. Quite the opposite to when I was younger, but I now can only have sex with someone I have a strong connection with – however I absolutely don’t judge on other people’s choices because I think it’s up to us all, individually, how we do or don’t indulge in it. Because of my experiences, I think it’s very important that young adults have an education on sex that doesn’t just include ‘how to make babies’ and that education may not always come from schools or parents so that’s where YA writers come in – it needs to be broad, diverse, accepting but it also needs to educate on the resulting emotion and, most of all, that they can be whoever they want to be…unapologetically…as long as they are not intentionally hurting someone else.”

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