BY B.J. EPSTEIN
More countries around the world now allow gay marriage, so it seems as though same-sex marriage is becoming a more accepted phenomenon. But do young LGBTQ people see it as an option? According to books for children and young adults (“YAs”), the answer is “no.” Robin Reardon, who has written several YA novels with gay male protagonists, has her main character in “A Secret Edge,” Jason, consider gay marriage.
He thinks, “I’ve never given [marriage] much thought before. But now–I guess it’s out of the question for me. I mean, you hear about two guys getting married, sort of, but it seems a little far-fetched to me. And suddenly a lot of things most people take for granted seem a little far-fetched for me. Living with someone you love. Having kids.” Jason’s sad ponderings might make a reader pity gay people and their limited opportunities for a happy and fulfilling romantic relationship. Jason’s uncle, who raised him, is sorely disappointed when he learns that his nephew is gay. He thinks, “No one should have to live like that. He’ll be hated, ostracized.
He won’t be able to marry or have children.” Like Jason’s uncle, Liza’s father in Nancy Garden’s “Annie on My Mind” worries about what being gay will mean for his daughter. Although not as disgusted by her lesbianism as some of her teachers are, Liza’s father says that he doesn’t want this for her, because it will mean she can never marry or have children. In Maureen Johnston’s “The Bermudez Triangle,” Avery thinks about her girlfriend, “’What if Mel wanted to get married and have a commitment ceremony and play Ani DiFranco and k.d. lang songs and have cats as bridesmaids?’ That would be great for Mel, but it just wasn’t something Avery could picture.
The thought scared her. A lot.”W hile it’s great to see that there’s some recognition that there are opportunities for gay couples to show their commitment to one another, this passage stereotypically mocks what lesbians are like (cat-mad avid Ani DeFrancolisteners) and also suggests that the idea of a ceremony isn’t too appealing. If you look at preeminent queer writer for children Lesléa Newman’s oeuvre of picture books (including “Mommy, Mama, and Me,” “Daddy, Papa, and Me,” and “Heather Has Two Mommies”), you won’t find any marriages. Similarly, Michael Willhoite’s “Daddy’s Roommate”—which relies on the euphemism “roommate” rather than employing “boyfriend,” “partner,” or, heaven forbid, “husband”—and Hedi Argent’s “Josh and Jaz Have Three Mums,” don’t seem to consider the possibility that the two mothers or two fathers could actually be wife-and-wife or husband-and-husband.
One of the few picture books to feature gay marriage is Ken Setterington’s “Mom and Mum are Getting Married.” The story here is about how Mom and Mum just want a small ceremony while their daughter Rosie wants to be the flower girl in a big event. It’s a refreshing change to see a picture book normalize gay marriage and show a gay couple making a legal commitment. One could argue that authors reflect society within their writing and if young people are taught to believe that marriage is not an option for gay people, there is actually little incentive for a government’s policies to change. Regardless of whether it’s up to the authors or the politicians to take the first step, the solution is clear: legalize gay marriage and portray it in books for children and young adults. It needn’t be “out of the question” any more.
B.J. Epstein is a lecturer in literature and translation at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom), where she specializes in children’s literature, queer literature, and literary translation.