It’s an old trope, a cliche, that an older generation shakes their collective head and sighs, “Kids these days . . .”. It’s hard not to think that the generation following you is somehow more shallow, more messed-up, more irresponsible, etc, than you ever were. But sometimes, those who come after us can be incredibly refreshing, innovative, and dare I say it, inspiring.
I’m thinking about this because I was at another library conference on Thursday. This time it was the Massachusetts Library Association’s Teen Summit where the whole day was focused on teen services. The theme this year was creating ‘safe spaces’ for teens at the library. Safe spaces can be physically safe, mentally safe, philosophically safe, creatively safe for all sorts of teens. It’s an important concept that I think is crucial to teen services. At the start of the day, author Ellen Wittlinger, spoke to us about writing books with GLBTQ characters as a non-GLBTQ person and how that can be as controversial as writing those characters to begin with. Her goal is to “normalize” the lives of gay characters in her books, that their lives don’t end after they come out or that they aren’t punished for coming out (as was a trend in YA lit for a while). There’s so much more to her characters than their sexual orientation or gender identity, just like straight characters in other novels. She’s an incredibly sweet lady and since I haven’t read any of her books yet, they are definitely on my to-read list.
She talked specifically about her book Parrotfish which has a trans character transitioning from female to male throughout the book. She wrote it with the help of a friend in Massachusetts who had undergone this process and lent his voice and experience to her narrative. At this point, she mentioned in an aside that she was once at a high school where a student asked her if she had ever collaborated with anyone on a book. She said she did with Parrotfish. The boy’s jaw dropped. “You wrote Parrotfish?” he asked. It was one of his favorite books and helped him as he was transitioning himself. He was born as one of three triplet girls. He has now undergone a transition and lives like the boy he always knew he was.
This visit was at Methuen High School last year and that boy was Puck in the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream put on at my library by a group of local kids. He was great. His two sisters also helped out with the production. They are truly an amazing family. I had heard about this family in my book group at the library when I first started. The whole process was no big deal to this young man’s friends. They encountered it, helped him, and now it’s a part of their normal life. I learned from the librarian who I replaced at my library, that this teen now speaks about his experience as a transperson at other schools and organizations giving hope to others in his situation.
So back to kids these days. I couldn’t have been prouder of the town in which I work when I heard Ellen Wittlinger talk about how thrilled she was at the accepting and loving nature of the environment there. It’s not perfect but it seems another world than the high school I went to. We had no Gay-Straight Alliance, I recall a few students that some suspected were gay but they weren’t out. I don’t think they would have felt comfortable or safe being so. Gay slurs were tossed around carelessly. I don’t think the majority of people were trying to be cruel, just ignorant. I didn’t really know any gay people until I got to college. Perhaps others were in that situation, too.
There could be a lot of problems with the generations after us, but I think that there’s a good chance that they will be more accepting, tolerant, and loving than a lot of us. That said, intolerance and hate is everywhere even in liberal Massachusetts, just as love is everywhere, too. I just hope that there are more kids like the ones I know and more books like Ellen Wittlinger’s.
Before I go, on an unrelated note, I’m reading Life as We Knew it wherein the moon gets knocked closer to the Earth by an asteroid. Environmental and cultural havoc ensues: volcanic ash blots out the sun, the temperatures plummet, crops die, diseases benefit from the lack of infrastructure and take many lives. It’s good and an interesting take on what it would be like for a family to try and make it with no electricity, little food, and small hopes. The problem with it is that I’m reading as Hurricane Sandy is coming up the coast. My roommates and I are all home from work today and most of the eastern half of the state has shut down. I think we will be ok but reading about food shortages and no power is creepy in the middle of a hurricane!
That’s all for now. Be safe my fellow East-Coasters!