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Guest Post: What Gay Marriage Means for YA

With June being National Pride Month, and the Supreme Court set to announce historic rulings regarding same-sex marriage tomorrow, there's no better time to reflect on the importance of addressing the wide range of LGBT issues in Young Adult literature. To put these issues in perspective, YA Highway is psyched to welcome Robin Talley, YA author whose historical debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, comes out next year. Robin is also a (recently engaged!) lesbian, and long-time advocate for LGBT stories in YA.

One evening several years ago, when I was but a young’un and still in the process of learning to accept my gayness, I walked past a store window featuring a big, poufy white wedding dress. The display had all the accessories fake flowers, monogramed invitations, giant pretend-diamonds, the works. I looked at the dress and thought, “I’d never want one like that. Too poufy. Maybe the flowers are kind of cute. But ” And then I burst into tears, right there on the sidewalk.

Up until then I’d been having a good evening. It was a warm summer night, and I was walking through my favorite D.C. neighborhood, on my way to or from some fun activity that I’ve long since forgotten. But I’ll never forget how it felt, seeing that wedding dress in the store window, and thinking, “It doesn’t matter if I like it. I can never have that. Because I’m gay.”

That used to be how it worked. Being gay meant you’d never get married. At least not to someone you loved.

This wasn’t a particularly long time ago, either. Just a few years back, marriage equality for LGBT people was still considered a far-off dream in most of the U.S. That’s still the case in most of the world today.

But in the U.S. and a handful of other countries, things are changing now. And with the about-to-be-announced Supreme Court decision, they’re changing even faster.

Kids growing up in the U.S. today don’t have to automatically assume that being LGBT means accepting a life without marriage and children. The way most LGBT kids have grown up believing. In every single generation before this one.

It’s actually pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.

In the 1982 novel Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, generally acknowledged as the first gay YA story with a happy ending (btw, it’s also an awesome read that still holds up beautifully today), the protagonist, aspiring architect Liza, listens to her well-meaning father say:

“I've never thought gay people can be very happy ― no children for one thing, no real family life. Honey, you are probably going to be a damn good architect ― but I want you to be happy in other ways, too, as your mother is, to have a husband and children. I know you can do both.”

Here’s what Liza thinks in response:

“I am happy,” I tried to tell him with my eyes. I'm happy with Annie; she and my work are all I'll ever need; she's happy, too.”

It’s a lovely romantic sentiment, and I have no doubt that Liza believes it with all her heart. But it still saddens me that in 1982, in Liza’s mind, being alone with Annie was her only option. She was 18 years old and ready to resign herself to a life of solitude in an unrecognized relationship ― because she had no reference point to dream for anything more.

The world is so much bigger for LGBT teenagers in the U.S. today.

For those teenagers, marriage means something different from what meant to me as a kid. I grew up viewing marriage as a strictly heterosexual institution. Sure, there were fringe depictions of same-sex unions out there ― I recommend re-watching the 1996 lesbian wedding episode of Friends if you ever want to see some truly hideous fashion displays ― but those were considered extremely out there. Gay marriage didn't enter the mainstream until really, really recently. And now we’ve got Blaine proposing to Kurt on Glee and it’s not even a big deal.

This doesn’t mean LGBT teenagers today are problem-free. Far from it. The same stuff that’s been plaguing us for generations ― parental rejection, bullying and harassment, the loneliness that comes with being closeted, and all the rest ― are still very much with us.

But there’s a light on the horizon that wasn’t there before.

Marriage seems far away to most teens. It’s for adult life, way after you’ve done all the fun teenage stuff.

But for a chunk of the teen community, the idea of marriage once seemed so far away it might as well have been another planet. If you were gay and 16 in 1995, like I was, the idea of getting married someday was unfathomable.

Last week I bought my wedding dress. It’s light blue brocade with an A-line skirt and a shantung sash with an empire seam. It looks nothing like the poufy dress I saw in that store window years ago. Not that I’d want it to, because I am not so into pouf. (Though I think pouf is lovely for those who like it. I do not discriminate based on pouf preference!)

My fiancée and I are getting married outside under a tent on a Saturday afternoon next May. I am crossing my fingers for a warm spring day, but even if it turns out to be cold and rainy that’s totally fine, because I am going to be getting married to the woman I love. And I don’t even care how sappy it sounds to say stuff like that, because, whatever. I am getting married, and it is going to be legal, because I live in the District of Columbia, which recognizes such things. And if the Supreme Court has the good sense to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act this week, my future wife and I are going to be just like any other married couple when it comes to federal taxes and benefits, too. The extra penalties same-sex couples pay now thanks to DOMA will be a thing of the past. My wife and I will be able to go on our honeymoon and throw away just as much money on fancy champagne and posh brunch entrées and day-long parasailing excursions as a straight couple would, because that’s our right, dang it.

Years ago I mourned what I thought I was missing out on. Today I’m planning a pretty darn traditional wedding. And you know what? It really, really rocks.

And it rocks even harder that so many of today’s teenagers will get to grow up in a world where these things happen, and it’s not even a big deal.

And me? I get to write books for those teenagers.

I am basically the luckiest person ever.
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  1. Congrats on your engagement, Ronin!

    I write historical YA too and it's hard to imagine what LGBT teens (and adults) in the past had to endure. Still have to endure. *shaking my head*

    Marriage, dating, families, the ability to walk down the street hand in hand, these are things that hetero couples take for granted. Hopefully DOMA being overturned will go a long way towards normalizing unions that aren't just a man and a woman. I'm skeptical, but I'm an optimist at heart. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience, and HUGS!

  2. LOVE this post and congratulations! Here's to champagne and non-pouffy dresses and true love. You are right that there's still a hard path for gay teens, but the sense that there may be options that only recently felt impossible is huge. My upcoming middle grade book is a silly family story that happens to be a family with two dads, though that's not what the story's about. But to me it's vital that kids even younger than teens, who might be questioning, or who might be living happily with their own gay parents, see their silliness, their school adventures, their life as part of the wonderful world of stories we share. Fingers crossed on SCROTUS, but no matter what, things are changing...

  3. Ahh, congrats on the engagement! This is such a moving story. And you're right, it definitely puts things into perspective when you look at just how recent LGBTQ rights (and other equality movements) have been established. And it's in the general mindset of society, too. I'm so glad that marriage can mean something for all people now, and I desperately hope that the US continues on this path. We're going to have equality someday. Wonderful post, Robin!

  4. I always think of LGBTQ YA books as typical YA romances where the romance is same sex. Thankfully, those books are becoming a lot more common. But I no longer even bat an eye when YA books have same sex parents, because the parents never really matter in YA. Lola and the Boy Next Door is the first book that jumps to mind for this. It's a super cute romance that is very heterosexual, except Lola has two dads. And they are great parents. And I like knowing straight kids who want to read cute romance novels and dream about one day wearing big wedding dresses can read books like that and easily accept that some families have two dads and others have two moms. And if they, or one of their friends, is LGBTQ well then one day they can grow up and have a great family with quirky kids too.

  5. Congrats! And fantastic post. Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Congrats on the soon to be wedding! Great post by the way! Really loved it! I used to think I'd never be able to get married, and if I did I would be a lot older, but after the decisions today it seems like I may not be that old when I get married! I guess I better start hounding my boyfriend for a ring. :P

  7. This is an amazing post, and congrats!!!

  8. I love this post! You are just wonderful! (And congratulations on the wedding!!)

  9. Love this article. :) Congrats and I hope your wedding is as wonderful for you and your partner as mine was for me and mine. It's your day. Indulge it to the max! :)


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