I’m going to try avoid editorialising this as much as possible. This is an email I was sent today, and this is my response to it. And my heart is raging through my shirt.
We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.
I have nothing personally against you and it sounds like a touching story that would love to read, however I feel it isn’t appropriate. If you want to promote The First Third on March 30, you are more than welcome however I have been advised we can’t promote your new book. I understand this isn’t in your best interest so we can cancel the meet and greet.
I spoke to [your agent], we still absolutely want you in June, but if possible can you please do the same talk as last year with focus on becoming an author and The First Third?
I appreciate you taking the time to email, and I understand it probably wasn’t the easiest email to write.
I was worried about this happening with The Sidekicks. To be honest, I was worried about this happening with The First Third – which in addition to zany Greek hilarity, features a gay character coming to terms with his sexuality in the context of his disability. That gay character engages in casual sex through an app, fearing rejection, but yearns for something more. In the end of The First Third, he gets it.
That plotline wasn’t for Catholic schools, it wasn’t for parents, it was for students, students like me, who felt less than adequate because they loved someone “they weren’t supposed to”.
I am thankful for the leadership my high school showed in selecting texts that championed diversity. Some people were uncomfortable reading about two boys kissing, but it prompted discussion and working through prejudice. And even though I was not out, I felt like less of an outsider. I felt safe.
Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as “friends”. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.
Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, but I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal.
The First Third dealt with queerness only slightly less than The Sidekicks, both are written carefully and with respect to students (and their parents) who may find confronting the idea of two people of the same gender kissing. The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.
And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.
All the very best for the future, and I hope you find the courage my teachers did.