I used to be a voracious reader as a little kid. I'm sure this comes as no surprise to most of you. One of the things I most looked forward to was roaming the aisles at the library and coming home with a heavy pile of books I'd spend hours reading.
So reading YA books now as an adult is something I love as well--it reminds me of the open-minded enthusiasm with which I engaged books when I was younger.
Books were my teachers, my hip older sister. They taught me things I never knew--not just factual things, about planets or insects. But about people and how we live.
When I was younger, there were many book-series geared at young adults that were kind of like little "after-school specials," books about teen pregnancy, having sex, dating, race issues, disabilities, etc. And--albeit not grand in number--there were books about teens falling in love with other teens of the same sex. None of these books were fantastically written by any means. But they were there to say, Hey: these things happen. This is what goes on. Be aware. We're telling you the things your parents might not, so listen. Like I said: they were kind of like hip older sisters.
It's because of these books that I never even blinked an eye at the thought of girls loving girls or boys loving boys. It was never a subject I'd been introduced to prior to reading about it in a book, not something I'd ever given thought to because--as a child--I didn't have reason to. My world as a child (like most people's) was heteronormative. My family knew no one who was gay, so the subject never came up. Boys loved girls. Girls loved boys. That's the way I understood these things, simply because I had no reason to think otherwise. (Just like, as a child, you don't think about sex until it's finally brought to your attention. Until then, it doesn't exist.)
I remember very distinctly reading this book about a girl falling in love with her best friend. I don't remember too many details about it now, but I do remember that the girls were kind of weird and alternative, and that they used to hang out in a graveyard together. I think one of the more memorable moments of the book was when one girl takes a photo of the two of them laying together on a grave. And I remember very distinctly thinking, these girls are me. And understanding them.
The thing is, I'm not gay. But I understood them. As clean-slated children, we have an amazing capacity for empathy. They were weird. They didn't fit in. They were children. They were me. I understood this. And the girls loved one another. Easy enough. Made sense to me. I moved on. Simple as that.
Consequently, homosexuality's not an issue I ever found myself morally conflicted about growing up, and I do think it was because of how the subject was introduced to me--not with the nervous uncomfortable explanation of parents, not with hate-slurs from fellow-students, not with whispers and pointed fingers, none of that. I read it in a book from a series of book that said: Hey, this is the way things are. These teenagers (pregnant, gay, black, disabled) have the capacity to be you and you them.
Because of this, I was able to bestow the same nonchalant understanding on my younger sibs as well. And for that I am thankful. I still distinctly remember being cooped up in a tent with my sisters and my mother, talking before bed, and having a long conversation about homosexuality. And I remember my sisters being quiet but wide-eyed, listening listening listening and absorbing absorbing absorbing.
Children's capacity for understanding is amazing. They ask a billion questions, but not out of skepticism. They just want to know. They want to understand. They haven't yet hit a brick wall with how they read and interpret their world. They are a universe expanding.
Kids don't see anything as abnormal. Until you tell them it is.
I mean, it's almost obvious to the point of not warranting comment, but they're learning the world, they're developing values, and nothing is set yet. They are creating themselves. They accept things with an ease that is enviable to us as adults. We worry so much about whether or not they'll understand the things we explain to them. But in the same way that they accept that Saturn has a ring around it or that 2+2=4, they accept these things.
Unless, that is, someone beats us to the punch--until the boy in the schoolyard shouts Faggot and in that one simple word they are told: This is wrong.
Once that's said, it's over. Everything that would've been easy will now need to be worked at double-time, triple-time. It's easier to teach than to correct. Because the first thing a child hears of something is the one that sticks with them, in whatever capacity.
We need to beat them to the punch.
Where am I going with all this? I'm not quite sure.
I just finished up the Weetzie Bat series yesterday, and I was just so touched by the final book--Baby Be-Bop--a story about a young gay boy coming to terms with his sexuality. And I ached the whole time I read it because I was thinking to myself how much it would mean for a young gay boy to have this to read while struggling. And how so few will.
So I guess what I'm saying is, Let your kids read. Anything. Everything. Don't think certain things are out of their bounds or that they won't understand. They will.
Speak to your kids. About anything. Everything.
'Cause if you don't, someone else surely will.