Gay characters in non-gay stories

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Gale Haut

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Um... I think there are plenty of coming of age books that are whiny without having a single LGBT character in them. Blaming it all on "teh gays" is not exactly fair.
 

Shady Lane

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Um... I think there are plenty of coming of age books that are whiny without having a single LGBT character in them. Blaming it all on "teh gays" is not exactly fair.

I don't think the OP ever said that.
 

Gale Haut

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I don't think the OP ever said that.

And I wasn't only speaking to the OP. Notice I didn't quote anyone in particular. It's the implication that several people have made that I'm speaking to. Many here have said or gone along with the idea that writing gay characters outside of a "coming out" story is in some way "moving beyond" that other kind of story. That implies that the one is better than the other.

For a gay character to be depicted in a novel or story as no different than any other character in that story is great! I love seeing that. But I strongly disagree that they are superior to the unique conflicts characters face in issue books. It's just different.
 

Robocracy Now

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There's always a need for any type of story that can help a person overcome difficulties in their life, but over-saturation is never a good thing. There are different coming out experiences. And so far, 90% of the LGBTQ books that I've read deal with the same coming out experience. It's not a question of them dealing with gay characters. I don't care. It's a question of me reading the same story over and over again to the point that they've bored me to death.

I so agree with you.

All experiences aren't the same. I talked about this over on Goodreads with a fellow black reader. We're pretty much fed up with reading about the "urban" experience as if that's the only experience black people can go through.

I AM SO KISSING YOU THROUGH MY MONITOR RIGHT NOW!

I'm black too and I was raised in a stinking suburb of New Jersey and never saw a drive by, never had a mother who worked two jobs just to keep our slum lord off our back and never sold drugs.

It's as if suburban blacks don't exist as far as most novels are concerned. The closest thing to an "urban" experience I went through as a black kid was sneaking into goth clubs in NYC when I was sixteen (it was the 90s, forgive me)

You know, it's funny. In real life I was a gay black kid who liked heavy metal and goth music, read HP Lovecraft, loved the UFC since the beginning and converted to Zen Buddhism. If someone were to right a character like me in novel, it would be rejected as being "unrealistic."
 

Robocracy Now

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The question makes no sense to me. I'll illustrate why by switching out one word: "I know that there are plenty of christian characters in YA. My thing is, how many of them appear in books that aren't about the character being christian?"

Being gay is only one facet of a person, just like religion and race. All these things have meaning and change the way the character acts, but none should be treated as the be-all-end-all of a character.


Exactly.
So basically, I'm just saying what people above have been saying. Don't made a huge deal out of it, just do whatever you need for your story.

Yeah, it isn't as hard as I'm making it out to be.
 

Gale Haut

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you know what. i was too late into the conversation to say crap like that. i retract my stupid comments and will now show myself the door.
 

zolambrosine

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This is true. But in certain environments, race and sexuality won't matter. Around certain people, my race matters to them. And it might effect our discussion topics. But it doesn't change me. It might effect how I might act around them but not me as a person.

On a daily basis, here in New Mexico, it doesn't effect me. Somewhere else, like Birmingham or Florida, it might effect me more frequently. I will say that race was more important in those places than it is here. NM is very pro-LGBT. I can't say the same about other places that I've lived.

I don't think race and sexuality should be ignored in any way, but making a book an issue book because a gay character or a person of color is present is not a good thing. It usually makes me put the book down because I can't stand issue books. They're too preachy IMO.

I think they have their place, but I do get tired of them when they're the only thing with minority characters and gay characters getting published.

If you are a race that makes you "the other", then that automatically gives you a different experience than a person who isn't. A study was done recently. White people realized they were white in their pre-teens, for the most part. People of color realized they were of their race in ages five to seven. That's huge. That alone is a topic to write about.

It does matter where you live, I agree - but that doesn't change the nation's overall climate? A character would have to be living under a rock (and maybe he/she is, that could be a story) to not know that people accuse him/her of crimes against humanity, that hate crimes are committed, that people HATE them just because of that sexuality. It'd be ingenuine for anyone to say that they're unaffected by hatred aimed towards them. There has to be some sort of reaction from that character.

You know, for the last part I also agree. I dislike issue books. It makes race, gender, sexuality an issue, instead of something that should also be taken into the mainstream. But it's not black and white. I'd say there's an important gray area where characters (in this world) can't just ignore that racism, sexism, homophobia exists. (And of course, this should extend into all "issues." Class, religion, disability, anything that makes a person the "other.")
 

zolambrosine

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It's a factor; being queer doesn't have to be someone's dominant ID in life anymore than being Swedish has to. It's one facet.



No, really, being queer doesn't have to be a primary factor any more than being straight has to be a primary factor.

Nor do you have to have a hand-waving moment. You can simply have two same sex characters dating each other. You can have a spouse come home to a same-sex spouse and say "honey, I'm home."

Sometimes it's not all about teh gay. Sometimes it's about "I can never have the car because my older sister always has first call." Or I need a job so I can buy a car but there's no work to be had because of all the zombies in town disrupting business.

It is a factor - an imporant factor. See my response to thebloodfiend.

Being queer and being straight are two wholly different identities. Being staight/heteronormative means you (and not you personally, just you in general) fit into a specific non-other identity. Being queer makes you "the other" in the USA nation. If you are "the other", people fear you. You are attacked because you don't fit the white, heteronormative standard. That's seen as threatening. This is the base for hate crimes, racism, sexism, homophobia. It shouldn't matter, but it does. To ignore this with a character completely I think is ingenuine, making the novel unsuccessful.

I disagree that it's as simple as you say. These two characters coming home to each other - are they on a television program? In a character's imaginiation? It's hard to see a scene in any novel where that would be a passing moment, and not have to have any development further than that. And not even only for that specific scene. Development of experience is necessary, and in this day and age in the USA, it would be insincere to make characters who are completely unaffected by hatred against them that is blatantly seen everywhere.
 

Shady Lane

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If you are a race that makes you "the other", then that automatically gives you a different experience than a person who isn't. A study was done recently. White people realized they were white in their pre-teens, for the most part. People of color realized they were of their race in ages five to seven. That's huge. That alone is a topic to write about.

It does matter where you live, I agree - but that doesn't change the nation's overall climate? A character would have to be living under a rock (and maybe he/she is, that could be a story) to not know that people accuse him/her of crimes against humanity, that hate crimes are committed, that people HATE them just because of that sexuality. It'd be ingenuine for anyone to say that they're unaffected by hatred aimed towards them. There has to be some sort of reaction from that character.

You know, for the last part I also agree. I dislike issue books. It makes race, gender, sexuality an issue, instead of something that should also be taken into the mainstream. But it's not black and white. I'd say there's an important gray area where characters (in this world) can't just ignore that racism, sexism, homophobia exists. (And of course, this should extend into all "issues." Class, religion, disability, anything that makes a person the "other.")

1. Maybe it's a consequence of being the only white kid in my grade at my first school, but I was aware of my whiteness from the age of six, if not far before. I'd like a link to that study?

2. Just because someone is affected by something doesn't mean it goes into the story. Someone writing a story about a character who was like me wouldn't have to mention my creepy obsession with the Holocaust if the book were about the time I got lost at my school and camped out all night in front of the art building. Or vice-versa. Both of those things are true and I'm sure both say something significant about my personality, but it's just not right to say that as writers we're obligated to show all of what makes our characters who they are. We just have to show you who they are. We do not have to show you the strings. This is a magic show.

We just don't have to. You can damn well assume that my gay characters have to open up the newspaper and read about someone else trying to stop them from getting fundamental human rights or open up their email and see an invitiation to sign a petition to stop gay people from being killed in a country far far away. You can assume that they have that awareness and a zillion other things because those are aspects that are absolutely part of the current gay experience. But I do not have to show them to you, as long as my character makes sense as an individual from that context. I don't have to prove that any more than I have to show you my character's birth certificate.
 
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Gale Haut

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Shady, you're right on so many levels. But I can't get this "move beyond" business out of my head. Do you think that writing outside of the trials of a character's sexual identity is superior to addressing them directly?

***The novel I've been working on for the last ten months is a borderline issue book, and I'm having a mild crisis at the idea that I'm not going to stand a chance at publishing it because everyone has decide in the publishing industry that we have "moved beyond" LGBTQ issues.
 

Shady Lane

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Shady, you're right on so many levels. But I can't get this "move beyond" business out of my head. Do you think that writing outside of the trials of a character's sexual identity is superior to addressing them directly?

***The novel I've been working on for the last ten months is a borderline issue book, and I'm having a mild crisis at the idea that I'm not going to stand a chance at publishing it because everyone has decide in the publishing industry that we have "moved beyond" LGBTQ issues.

I so totally get what you're saying and I'm trying to figure out a way to put my thoughts about it into words. So....yes and no. Isn't that always a great answer?

I think that on an individual, book-by-book scale, we are not/will never be/should not ever be "beyond" coming out stories. A beautiful coming out story is beautiful and, like A.A. Levine said, will be necessary as long as coming out is necessary. And I think we can unfortunately assume that will be quite a while. And coming out stories are so great and they're so crucial.

On a larger, YA-as-a-category, scale, we're getting beyond in the sense not that we're getting *better* queer YA books, but that we're getting *more* different types of queer books, from coming out stories to gay superhero books. So think beyond in the sense of expanding but not in the sense of surpassing. And that's a really great thing, I think. Does that make sense?
 

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1. Maybe it's a consequence of being the only white kid in my grade at my first school, but I was aware of my whiteness from the age of six, if not far before. I'd like a link to that study?

2. Just because someone is affected by something doesn't mean it goes into the story. Someone writing a story about a character who was like me wouldn't have to mention my creepy obsession with the Holocaust if the book were about the time I got lost at my school and camped out all night in front of the art building. Or vice-versa. Both of those things are true and I'm sure both say something significant about my personality, but it's just not right to say that as writers we're obligated to show all of what makes our characters who they are. We just have to show you who they are. We do not have to show you the strings. This is a magic show.

We just don't have to. You can damn well assume that my gay characters have to open up the newspaper and read about someone else trying to stop them from getting fundamental human rights or open up their email and see an invitiation to sign a petition to stop gay people from being killed in a country far far away. You can assume that they have that awareness and a zillion other things because those are aspects that are absolutely part of the current gay experience. But I do not have to show them to you, as long as my character makes sense as an individual from that context. I don't have to prove that any more than I have to show you my character's birth certificate.

Just to use the same numbers to organize, not to be patronizing...

1. But it's the same thing. You were "the other", and so was made aware of it. There are plenty of stories reflecting this - a white person as the other, because of where they grew up - but I wouldn't say that this experience is the same as every "other"experience. (In fact, good time to emphasize that not one experience is the same.) Perhaps a white person was "the other" for their race - but I'd still say that, outside of that town/area, they are not. They would still have the media's support, where most of the characters of movies/novels/etc. look like them. There's a trend in low self-esteem in young "others" because the media does not reinforce that they, too, are beautiful - or they, too, are important enough to have a lead role, not just the lead role's best friend.

Different links:

http://blogs.clarionledger.com/jmit...at-was-your-first-encounter-with-racism-like/ (referring to the survey that was done)

http://www.teachingforchange.org/files/027-A.pdf (background information)

2. It's not black and white. Having a creepy obsession doesn't make you an "other" in this society. Now that you've got me on links...

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html

Also, when it comes to character development, you wouldn't allude to the fact that you have a creepy obsession with the Holocaust and then not develop it further. This is what the thread is suggesting writers do - allude to the fact that a character is gay, and then not develop this any further. Like I said above, it doesn't have to be an "issues" book, but I don't think the character would be sincere in this world to not be aware of outside issues that affect him/her - not having the same rights, hate crimes, etc. Maybe there's a character that really doesn't care - but then, that character's indifference would also need to be developed and explained further.

I'm also not sure I understand the reference to Obama's birth certificate. Bringing up the Birther movement brings in the topic of inauthenticity and authenticity.

http://books.google.com/books?id=dE...=onepage&q=authentic inauthentic race&f=false

Are you trying to say that, by wanting to hear the gay character's experience, I'm saying that all gay characters who do not have development focusing on their experience as a gay person makes that character an inauthentic gay person? I wouldn't say that I am. I'm looking at this from a craft point of view. Like I said, I think it would be ingenuine to not develop that character's experience as the other any further- ingenuine, not as in inauthentic, but as in insincere to the writing itself. I don't think the writing would have true feelings, experience, emotion. The writing wouldn't be defamiliarized.
 

Gale Haut

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@point#2
But people who are other'd by society find acceptance in many places. Not every interesting conflict this kind of person deals with is essential to their being other'd. So essentially it would be like writing about a conflict they are involved in that has nothing to do with what sets them apart as different. Is there really something wrong with that?
 

Gary Clarke

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Further to what Gale Haut has said. I think what the OP may have been looking for, and what we may be trying to discuss here, are stories that include gay characters in a plot in which their sexual orientation does not factor as an element. So the fact that they are gay informs them as characters but doesn't impact on the story or their participation in the plot itself. In other worrds, it is part of what makes them them, but not part of what drives the plot.
Or am I wrong here?
 
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zolambrosine

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@point#2
But people who are other'd by society find acceptance in many places. Not every interesting conflict this kind of person deals with is essential to their being other'd. So essentially it would be like writing about a conflict they are involved in that has nothing to do with what sets them apart as different. Is there really something wrong with that?

This is true - but usually, those places are then other'd (I like that) by society too. For example, "gay colonies" aren't accepted by society. That's why it's a separate colony. There are many instances where race-identified support groups face overt racism on college campuses. Those places/groups are necessary for support from within, but that doesn't mean outside society supports them as well.

I think that it's important to be aware of this outside world, else - again, from craft POV - the story suffers. I actually don't know the words to describe this one, maybe someone can help me out... but think about M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE. The story started out in the village - and if it'd stayed there, the story itself would not have expanded out into the real world - literally the real world. Another example where the plot returns to the real world is PLANET OF THE APES, when the characters come across the statue of liberty.

Returning to the outside world, the real world, is also important, I think, for the same reasons as developing sincere characters. If the plot doesn't relate to real-world issues - if the entire book is just about, I don't know, plants on a foreign world - then it's not going to be very good. It won't be an important book.

I think the same is true for characters in their supportive community. The outside world - the real world - must be referenced. I say real world here because that small community is still the other, and outside of that small community, the same support does not exist - not because they are inauthentic.

Gary Clarke: You're right. I'm not suggesting a character's identity drive the plot. I'm suggesting that a character's identity should be a part of their development.
 

AyJay

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I'll attempt to tie some of the excellent observations above together, or maybe reflect on them in a different way...

Unless you're writing a novel exclusively for a gay audience, and your MC is gay, it's is going to be perceived as a "gay" book. As kcallender points out, gay = other. The portrayal of the non-heteronormative draws attention to itself. If you're writing about someone gay (nevermind the angst route or matter-of-fact route) you are breaking from convention, or put differently, writing something queer.

This is actually the main reason I love LGBT lit, the stories that thumb their noses at the heterosexual imperative. Sure, some are written better than others, but I love the spirit in each and every one of them.

(Robo, by the way, a story about a gay Black suburban tern who likes goth and Zen Buddhism sounds pretty brilliant, and I think would do quite well in certain literary circles).
 

Gale Haut

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This is true - but usually, those places are then other'd (I like that) by society too. For example, "gay colonies" aren't accepted by society. That's why it's a separate colony. There are many instances where race-identified support groups face overt racism on college campuses. Those places/groups are necessary for support from within, but that doesn't mean outside society supports them as well.

You definitely can't write a character in a vacuum, and for that reason I agree that a writer who makes a supporting character (or even MC) gay could end up surprised at where that takes their story. But I really don't think there are universals to the gay experience. And just because there are some examples of these things you've mentioned above doesn't mean they have to be included in every single story.
 

zolambrosine

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You definitely can't write a character in a vacuum, and for that reason I agree that a writer who makes a supporting character (or even MC) gay could end up surprised at where that takes their story. But I really don't think there are universals to the gay experience. There because there are examples of these things you've mentioned doesn't mean they have to be included in every story.

No, not at all. There is not one gay experience. But what I'm talking about - being "the other" - is a universal quality of every person's experience if they are not white, heteronormative, no matter where they grew up, because of the nation's overall response to "the other" that can be found in the media.
 

Gale Haut

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Huh... This whole conversation is making me think of The Cosby Show. When it first came out it was criticized as being unrealistic, and now many people accredit it as a milestone in creating social change by showing what race could/should be rather than what it was at the time.
 

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I disagree that it's as simple as you say. These two characters coming home to each other - are they on a television program? In a character's imaginiation? It's hard to see a scene in any novel where that would be a passing moment, and not have to have any development further than that. And not even only for that specific scene. Development of experience is necessary, and in this day and age in the USA, it would be insincere to make characters who are completely unaffected by hatred against them that is blatantly seen everywhere.

Here's an example for you.

Elizabeth Bear said:
Frederick Valens let himself in the front door, expecting a silent house and darkness. Instead a puddle of light fell over the easy chair, an afghan-swaddled figure lying through it. The holo flickered in the corner, sound turned off. Valens felt around for the remote, unwilling to raise his voice to command it to darkness.

It snapped off on its own, and Valens's husband shrugged off the blanket and came across the faded Persian carpets. A sleepy African gray parrot—Valens couldn't tell whether it was Dexter or Sinister—clucked in the cage that took up the west wall of the room. "Georges," Valens said. "You waited up."

"I can never sleep when you're in space." A stocky man, bald as an egg now but with a twinkle in pale eyes that lay deepset behind spectacles he refused to give up for surgical vision correction.

"The whole time I was on Mars. You didn't sleep then either?" Valens bent down and kissed Georges on the mouth.

"Not a wink. Seven years. I wasn't bald when you left, remember?" He gave Frederick a squeeze and stepped away. "You look exhausted. Tea's hot. We've got stuff for sandwiches."

"Thank God."

"Thank Georges."

This is from Elizabeth Bear's Scardown. It's SF, but it was the excerpt I had already keyboarded. I could have used any number of other novels, for instance, Nicola Griffith has similar scenes, and so does Robert Parker.

What's interesting about the way Bear does this is that Valens is a not-sympathetic character in most of this book and the previous book. He's presented now as sympathetic because he's suddenly a real person with a pet parrot and a home and a spouse, and not "the enemy." His sexual orientation isn't even the point of the scene—though this is our first indication of it, since Valens' home-life or lack wasn't important before.

Being queer is a facet; it's not the most important facet of a person all the time. If you ask people--at any age--how they identify themselves, they will generally present some other aspect besides their orientation as their primary identifier.

Being queer an adolescent has some extra tribulations over what is often general misery in that you are a minority, so yeah, finding a date for the prom might be iffy, never mind actually going to the prom at all.

But you know, a straight kid can have problems getting a date too. So can people who only dates people shorter than they are . . .

But you're still going to be more concerned with the other facets of your life--can you pass Calculus? Will you get financial aid? Will your older sister ever stop leaving her cosmetic crap all over the bathroom? And how you can you get your own car if you can't even get a job?

Yes, you get hatred. But you also get the opposite--like when you go shopping for a pair of shoes with your partner and the sales lady whips out pictures of her son and his husband at their wedding the previous week.

It's quite possible, and perfectly reasonable to write a YA novel about a character coming to terms with the fact that their orientation is not heteronormative; I think John Ford's Last Hot Time does this brilliantly, though it's not a YA novel per se, it does feature a YA main character.

If you compare Delany's biographic memoir about his adolescence as a gay black male with those of others from the same generation, his is a very different experience; it doesn't mean he was doin' it rong. It means his experience was different, for a number of reasons.
 
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thebloodfiend

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I state this in a simple way, and hopefully I won't come off as sounding like a condescending brat. I never like comparing race to sexuality, but for the sake of this example, I will.

When I was young, I lived in Chicago. Pilson to be precise. The neighborhood is mainly Puerto-Rican, with a few Irish people and a few black people. I never realized that I was different till first grade.

Now, being black was NOT a part of being different till much later. I was different because I was the only kid who could read. I was different because I was the only kid who skipped a grade. I was different because the teachers made a big deal out of me being "smart". The same thing can be said for when I moved to DeKalb. Kids didn't care.

Then, in Alabama, things changed. Yeah, dramatic I know. Not only was I the smart kid, but I was the smart black kid. And with that goes tokenism and those stupid patronizing comments about race.

I have been to almost every single state in the US. When I meet someone, the first thing going through my head isn't "I'm Black". That's what I dislike about issue books. They revolve around the character being gay. It's like a straight character always thinking about being straight. That's annoying too. It has nothing to do with teh gay. If it were drugs, music, anything, I wouldn't like a book revolving around the same thing. No matter how helpful it might be, it's annoying.

And I don't want you guys to think that Hannah is paying me to advertise Gone, Gone, Gone, cause she's not. But in that, being gay is just one part of the character. In Perks, being gay is just one part of who Patrick is. I don't care how helpful coming out books are. If they don't show a character as being a fully realized three dimensional human being that doesn't revolve around their sexuality, they aren't good books. They might as well be self-help manuals.

So, I'm not against coming-out books per say. Nor "issue" books. You could even say that Perks is an issue book. But I am against one dimensional boring books that make teh gay the most important thing about a person. It does nothing for gay rights to show that a person is nothing but gay. As a reader, it makes me never want to pick up a LGBTQ book. And as a black reader, I can already tell you that many black people are very homophobic. In Alabama, they're still many of them against inter-racial marriage. Making race or sexuality your defining trait is NEVER a good thing.

I'm not saying that it should never be brought up. I just don't want to be beat over the head about it.

Yeah, that's my "rant". And keep in mind that I'm still seventeen, so technically I haven't experienced many things yet. But, I'm guessing that age has nothing to do with intelligence. We don't discriminate, right?
 
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Gale Haut

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There's a ton of amazing literature that deals with the race issue in the US in a very heavy handed way. The first example that comes to mind is Ellison's The Invisible Man. And most of the race issue books I can think of are from a time when being black was an issue in more places than it is now (not that that's any kind of ipso facto proof). Oh wait, I just thought of one... Monster by Walter Dean Myers. It's pretty good too.

Then, in Alabama, things changed. Yeah, dramatic I know. Not only was I the smart kid, but I was the smart black kid. And with that goes tokenism and those stupid patronizing comments about race.

I don't mean to make light of your situation, but I wonder how you would feel if you grew up solely in that situation in maybe something equivalent to a foster home with white parents who also focused on your race. Do you think that without the backdrop of a diverse learning environment and a supportive family you would still have the same sense of identity?
 

thebloodfiend

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One of my favorite books is Black Boy. I've never read Invisible Man or Monster. Because of the time period, I didn't feel like race was presented in a "heavy" way. In I Know How the Caged Bird Sings, I didn't feel that way either. Then we get Push and Tyler Perry. Don't even get me started. You don't want to hear it.

I don't mean to make light of your situation, but I wonder how you would feel if you grew up solely in that situation in maybe something equivalent to a foster home with white parents who also focused on your race. Do you think that without the backdrop of a diverse learning environment and a supportive family you would still have the same sense of identity?

My experience is far from a diverse experience. I moved to Alabama when I was eight. Granted, I did live in a very diverse area from 1 - 8, but my parents were into a lot of black consciousness stuff then. And from age eight and on, I've lived in predominantly white neighborhoods. I did have a brief stint in New Orleans before Katrina, but that's about as diverse as I've gotten in ten years.

Race has been ingrained into my psyche for a very long time. A lot of that has effected me, simply because most of the schools that I attended were 90% white and I was very much a minority. I've actually had someone tell me that I "act white", whatever that means. But as a person, it's the last thing I think about unless someone else brings it up.

It's hard for me to see myself as having a different sense of identity because my background isn't very diverse. My surroundings were, but my home life wasn't. Perhaps that's why I don't like making race or sexuality the most important thing about me.

I hope that answered your question though I don't think it did.
 
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