Tag Archives: gay

The Payoff of a Lonely Childhood

“Gay kids grew up alone, attentive to all the ways in which they did not belong. It tends to make one an extremely good observer, the first step in becoming an artist. Never underestimate the payoff of a lonely childhood.”

—Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book

I love that idea: “the payoff of a lonely childhood.”

lonely childNot every children’s writer grew up as an outsider, of course. But many, many of us did. The reason seems pretty obvious. Those for whom childhood was lonely find ourselves compelled to go back and live it again, to fix it.

Thus we give a character the kind of difficulties we struggled with, however well disguised, but this time we have the power to make everything come out right!

Irritating the Ones You LoveIt’s the same principle as the one rearticulated in an intriguing book called Irritating the Ones You Love by Jeff Auerbach. (I say rearticulated, because the concept is certainly not new.) The premise is that we choose our life partners out of an unconscious need to replay and consequently “fix” the unsatisfactory aspects of our primary relationship with our parents. So if you are a woman who had an emotionally distant father, for instance, you are apt to take on an emotionally distant husband out of an unconscious drive to solve the problem you had no control over in childhood.

I grew up gay having no idea I was gay. In fact, I didn’t have the courage to face into and acknowledge my sexuality until I was middle aged. But the discomfort created by my invisible-even-to-me orientation contributed greatly to making me an outsider.

Certainly there are other factors—many of them—that create outsiders. And others were in play in my life, too. But being disconnected from my own sexuality was a profound one. As I realized when at last I came to understand and accept my own, our very core is created out of our capacity to love in a deep and intimate way. Those who aren’t in touch with that core because it isn’t permissible to be so—or who are in touch but have to hide what they know from the world—will almost inevitably be outsiders.

Pain, deprivation of all kinds feeds art. Probably more surely than our more positive experiences, though all come into play. That’s easy to understand. Until I read Roger’s words, however, it hadn’t occurred to me that my early status as an outsider taught me to be an observer, to gather the material for my art. But it’s true. It did. And that’s a truth I embrace with gratitude.

(Incidentally, the deep changes in our society for lesbians and gay men and the changes in my own psyche that have come with maturity have allowed me to shed that outsider status—most of it, anyway—without diminishing its power to feed my work.)

The power of observation, the first step in becoming an artist. The payoff of a lonely childhood.

I like that!

Hate Enshrined

In this new and sometimes bewildering world of blogging, bloggers are advised to stake out a territory. Define who you are, what your topic is, where you have credibility, what will draw your audience to your words and stay there.

That hasn’t been difficult for me. I write for children and young adults. For years I have also taught those who want to write for children and young adults. Writing my own books and teaching developing writers forms the core of my experience and thus the lens through which I approach my blog. But occasionally when I sit down to tackle the next blog, I find myself drawn to a topic that isn’t about a recent book or about craft or even about children, and then I pause, not sure what to do. I’m in just such a pause today.

I live in Minnesota, have lived here for nearly forty years. Minnesota has been a good home for me.  I love having four dramatically changing seasons. I love the wilderness that has been so carefully preserved, especially in the far north of the state. I feel both supported in my own work and challenged by the commitment to the arts that exists here. And there was a time when I could have said that I loved the feisty politics in Minnesota that have kept a continual tug-of-war going between those of different views.

Vote No Amti-Marriage AmendmentMinnesota politics are harder to love these days. And with the upcoming election, I find my admiration for my state stretched pretty thin. We have an amendment on the ballet to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, in other words to write into our state constitution a prohibition against same-sex marriage. Apart from the serious question of whether such a matter should be defined by the constitution at all, apart from the fact that millions of dollars are being spent in an attempt to pass/defeat this amendment that are desperately needed in other pockets, even apart from the fact that same-sex marriage is already outlawed in our state so that the amendment is entirely redundant, the whole shibboleth is both maddening and impossible to ignore.

I am a children’s writer. That is the face I bring to the world. But I am also a lesbian in a committed relationship. In the early 90s I edited and contributed to a collection of young-adult short stories on gay and lesbian themes called Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence.  I used that book to come out professionally, despite solemn warnings from editors that such an acknowledgement could end my career. But I was acutely aware that young people were dying—quite literally—because of lack of support and information about their sexuality, so how could I make any other choice? I also knew that by being open about my own life I could demonstrate that being lesbian or gay doesn’t stand in the way of being an ethical, productive, normal human being. 

Am I Blue? made its way into the world and did its good work, and to this day, I am more proud of that book than I am of any other that has passed through my hands and my heart.

But here I am facing a public question concerning sexuality again, and what is my responsibility now? Thousands of children in Minnesota have gay or lesbian parents who are forbidden to marry. Many more thousands are discovering or will discover that they are themselves lesbian or gay and will find themselves looking out at a landscape of laws designed to impede their lives. Something more than stories is needed this time. 

I have attended church services and rallies where we are urged to go out and knock on doors to defeat this restriction on same-sex marriage, to bring up the topic with grocery store cashiers, to make phone calls. But I am not a knocker on doors, a converser with strange cashiers. And while I’m glad to receive phone calls, I don’t like making them even to people I know. (My daughter complains that I never call, though I e-mail often.)

I am a writer. And a blogger. Only that. And so I bring my thoughts to this page.

We should on every level of society and government be supporting commitment, not standing in the way of it. We should be nurturing love, not shaming it. 

In this world of climate chaos, of war, of sexual slavery and rape, of starving children, of homelessness, the issue of same-sex marriage shouldn’t have to be the center of anyone’s attention. There is so much more we need to be doing. But, nonetheless, in Minnesota we have a very public choice to make. 

Do we want to enshrine hate in our constitution?

For whatever it’s worth, my small voice says NO!