From the Closet: Realistic Depictions?

Warning: This post will include some spoilers; primarily, characters coming out of the closet. This was also an older draft I never got around to posting (like, from Feb. or something). Eh. Life is crazy.

I’m actually planning to wrap up the blog and wanted to post a few old drafts before I quit. 

In my church small group, we were talking about book controversies and what Christians are and are “not allowed to read.” Clearly, this is subjective, but we were using a local private Christian school’s library for an example. The group has a mutual friend, this school’s librarian. She cannot have Harry Potter in the library, presumably because it goes against their beliefs.  The librarian CAN have Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus series in the library. While children of Greek gods running around New York City doesn’t sound Christian to me, this exception is made because it deals with Greek mythology and as this mythology has been a major part of Western Civilization, it’s okay. (Clearly, it’s tough to be a censor/selector.) I’m glad Percy Jackson is in this library, so please don’t get the wrong idea.

So, anyway, this librarian was reading House of Hades with a student group, as all the Greek and Roman mythology clears the school board. Then she discovers, one of the characters is gay. This will be interesting to talk about.  I don’t remember what actually happened during or after this book club discussion. When my friend was retelling this book club story, I said, “Oh…. that makes so much sense!” My friend didn’t know the book, she didn’t know the character’s name, but the second she said, “A character comes out in the most recent book,”I knew it was Nico.  I hadn’t gotten to read House of Hades yet, but all my prior knowledge clicked with this revelation.  “Oh, poor thing. No wonder he’s a loner. A goth son of Hades, he’s got a lot going on.” It was no surprise to me because Riordan has built up this character over time– Nico was introduced seven books ago. Nico is NOT a stereotype, at least not the stereotype we usually see. He’s not sure of himself, he struggles relating to other kids, he hides in the shadows. I thought that his depiction was beautiful and Riordan did an excellent job being sensitive and introducing this trait for Nico without being overdone or thrown in for the hell of it.

So. I’ve read a few “coming out” scenes recently in YA novels, and I haven’t been impressed with all of them like I was House of Hades. For example, I started the Divergent series over the holidays. I’ve only read the first two in the series and frankly, Insurgent did not impress me. I passed the sequel on to my nephew already, so forgive me for not knowing all the details. Basically, there were hints that a minor character was angry and eye rolls over PDA a couple was displaying, but her deathbed confession that she had feelings for the girl in the relationship made ME roll my eyes. I think the girl she liked was already dead, it was so hard to tell with the amount of characters Roth threw in. It felt forced. It felt tossed in just to get a “Woah! I wasn’t expecting that!”

*Having a gay character should not be put into a book for shock value or for a novel’s version of Affirmative Action.
*It shouldn’t be a complete surprise out of the blue that a character is gay. At least, not to the reader.
*Gay characters shouldn’t be ONLY stereotypes. (Want to be fabulous? Fine. Have another hobby other than shopping and theatre, please.)
*Sexual preference shouldn’t be the only thing we walk away knowing about the character.

Orientation IS NOT A MOTIVE. Real life example: I went to Germany with a tour group, and we visited Neuschwanstein Castle. If you asked any of the boys why the castle was built, they would say “BECAUSE Ludwig II was totally gay and he wanted to impress his lover!” 1– not confirmed, although reasonable suspicion, 2– would anyone say, “He was straight and wanted to impress his lover”?  Our British tour guide was really annoyed at this because it just didn’t matter, and the boys were obsessed with it. I was continuously face-palming. Idiots. 

I mentioned Harry Potter at the start of this post, so I shall bring this full circle with Dumbledore. JKR thought of him as gay as she was writing. Did it come through in the books? Not really, except perhaps his hilarious enjoyment of knitting magazines (his friendship with Grindlewald was extremely close, but if you choose to read it as “they’re good friends,” you could feasibly do that. JKR said Dumbledore was in love with Grindlewald, so now you know.)  Was it relevant in the books? No. Was it worth mentioning in the books? Nope. Therefore, Rowling didn’t have a dramatic coming-out scene. Does the fact that Dumbledore was gay change how I see him? He was kind. He was a genius. He was brave. Straight, gay, doesn’t affect those qualities. He just wasn’t hitting on McGonagall, no problem with that.

Am I saying, being gay doesn’t matter? Not exactly. When it’s part of who you are, it’s important. But does your whole life revolve around being gay? Probably not.  Basically, one character trait or one thing that you’ve done does not define you permanently. “Don’t tell me. SHOW me.”  I don’t want a sudden reveal and be super surprised. I don’t necessarily need the “shade of weird to be pink,” but most of the time, someone’s homosexuality is not a surprise. It may be a surprise to the characters in the book (cough Drama by Raina Telgemeir) but not to the readers. (To be fair to Drama it’s about middle school theatre, so there’s going to be gay characters and it’s going to be a surprise because middle schoolers are naive in some ways. But it’s totally realistic. I actually was told a line in the book before when I was the dumb teenager without a clue.)

I admire Riordan for writing such a moving scene, where Nico fights with Cupid– Love– because Nico is struggling to make peace with this.  I didn’t feel blindsided by the revelation. I didn’t think to myself, “He threw that in there to cause a stir.” I think it was just the clues coming together to make sense.  I think other authors need to take note. I’m not saying you have to impress me with dramatics, but deathbed confessionals are a cheat and feel like quota-filling nonsense. Make it real. Your characters deserve that much, and so do your readers.

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