Saying Gay In Our Household by Padma Venkatraman
“Mom, what’s a gay person?” When my child asked me this question, some years ago, when she was about eight, my first response was to give her examples of gay couples who are our friends.
“You know, like ___ and ___, or ___ and ___,” I said.
She knitted her brows for a while, and then she said, “A kind person?”
My first impulse was to congratulate myself. I could pat myself and my husband on the back for having raised a child who did not see our friends who are LGBT+ any differently from those of our friends who aren’t.
And then, I realized that my response and her question reflected our cis-gendered privilege.
I’d not only given books such as Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies to our LGBT+ friends when they had children, so they could see their families reflected and respected; I’d also added them to our shelves. Since babyhood, my child had been showered with love by people with a variety of identities and been surrounded by books that featured diverse families – but because of our family’s gender privilege, she had absolutely no idea of the prejudice endured by people who self-identify as LGBT+. It was time, I realized, to start introducing her, in an age-appropriate way, to yet another sad aspect of human bigotry.
I began to consciously expand her reading list to include authors within the community who had written moving and beautiful stories – both celebrating their identity – and also, in some cases, reflecting on trauma to which they had been subjected because of who they are. Because these books and these authors, could do far more than I: they could show what I could only tell.
Together, we read work featuring LGBT+ characters by authors I respected: Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within and Phil Bildner’s High Five For Glenn Burke among them (both of which, unfortunately, have been challenged recently). We went from sharing Jacqueline Woodson’s immortal picture books to discussing The House You Pass On The Way. And now that my child is a teenager, she has, on her own, enjoyed novels by authors such as Anna-Marie McLemore (The Deepest Red) and Malinda Lo (Ash), because of the sheer talent with which their storytelling shines.
In our current climate of fear and hatred, much has already been said about the importance of diverse books and our need to speak up against censorship of children’s and young adult literature. I plan to say more, even if I’m merely underscoring points made by others, or preaching to the choir. But today, I want to do something different.
I just want to say thank you.
I want to express heartfelt gratitude to my LGBT+ colleagues who have added their brilliance to our shelves and broadened my and my child’s world. I want to raise the voices of incredible writers I’ve been lucky enough to meet, those mentioned above among them, and others like Eliot Schrefer (author of Endangered, and two-time National Book Award finalist), Chris Tebbetts (author of the superbly inventive Young Adult novel Me, Myself and Him), and Alexander London (who is not only the author of Black Wings Beating and several other titles that have sold over 2 million copies worldwide, but also one of the most upstanding human beings I am blessed to know). And I want to share my appreciation for those I haven’t met except through the pages of books, including A. J. Sass (Ana on the Edge), Kyle Lukoff (Too Bright To See) and Foz Meadows (An Accident of Stars).
Namaskaram to each and every kidlit writer who is also part of the LGBT+ community (and to those who are, in addition, part of my BIPOC family, namaskaram once more). We need your faces. We need your voices. I see and salute the divine within you.
Padma Venkatraman is the author of 5 novels for young people: Born Behind Bars, The Bridge Home, A Time to Dance, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs. Together, her novels have garnered over 20 starred reviews and won numerous awards (Walter award, Golden Kite, two South Asia Book awards, two Paterson Prizes, two Nerdies and many more) and several honors (ALA Notable, NYPL Best Book, Kirkus Best Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Junior Library Guild, Publishers Weekly Flying Start etc.). Her poetry has been published in Poetry magazine and other places, and she is the founder of Diverse Verse. Connect with her via her website www.padmavenkatraman.com or on social media (@padmatv on twitter; @venkatraman.padma on ig/fb).