I was trying to think this weekend, due to all the posts flying around about the recent decision to declare California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional and Rick Santorum’s strident anti-homosexual overtones, about where it was I first learned about homosexuality.
For as long as I have understood the concept, I have had no issue with it. The choice (or natural imperative) to find a same-sex mate has never bothered me on a philosophical, emotional, or existantial level. I choose (or am naturally drawn to) something else, but your lifestyle in no way affects mine, ergo I care not what that lifestyle is. I am not disgusted or offended by homosexuality; I am disgusted and offended by people who want to dictate how other people live their private lives, and, even worse, seek governmental coercion for it.
But you can be tolerant of something that makes you uncomfortable (my philosophical point of view demands tolerance even of things that do make me uncomfortable), so my comfort with homosexuality is a different issue from my tolerance of it. And what got me curious was not my tolerance but my comfort. See, I was raised in an era before the widespread “token gay friend” on TV shows, yet I remember knowing what “gay” meant by the time I was 13 and it became something my classmates giggled over on the school bus. My parents did not have any openly gay friends. We never saw a gay couple that made them sit down and give me the “other people have other lifestyles” talk. I didn’t know anyone who self-identified as homosexual until I was in high school.
So where did I learn the concept?
Then it hit me: a book (hardly a surprise for a bookworm-cum-butterfly).
Specifically, Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy, which I read when I was around 11 or 12. The hero of that series is gay. In the first book he discovers that about himself when he meets his true love, and in the context of the story and Vanyel’s journey of self-discovery it seemed…completely natural. Just exactly what he was, what he was meant to be, who he was meant to be with. His homosexuality was a part of him, but it wasn’t the defining struggle of the story, or really even an ancillary part to the defining struggle of his story.
That presentation, as much as anything, is probably what planted the idea in my mind as other but not repellent or unnatural or really even particularly noteworthy. It simply was, but he was such a strong character and his problems so very much did not revolve around issues of self-acceptance because of his homosexuality (there were self-acceptance issues but they had almsot nothing to do with his being gay) that I never thought twice about his sexual orientation. That is not to say the lifestyle was accepted in the fantasy world where he existed…I believe his family was stridently disapproving, and he did not always wear his homosexuality on his sleeve. But some people around him knew it an accepted it, and generally his life problems were so much bigger than his sexual orientation that he just…didn’t really have much angst left over to devote to it. All of which led me to the place where I just assumed if that’s what you naturally are, what’s the big deal?, because it was presented to me in such a way that it did not seem like a big deal.
Which is still my attitude today. I think what this reflection really hit home to me is the intrinsic power of stories to inform young readers about aspects of the world they have never considered, in ways that will shape how they view that aspect for years–possibly for life.
Words are powerful. Stories, empathatic examples, have the ability to change minds.
And it’s absolutely beautiful.