Monday, June 30

Am I Blue? - Marion Dane Bauer (ed)

Subtitled Coming Out From the Silence, this 1994 collection of young adult short stories covers an array of gay and lesbian (not so much bisexual) awakenings, set over a range of eras, substantially American, and strongly coloured by the spectre of AIDS.
I first read Am I Blue? not long after it's publication, and was interested to see it on the library shelves last week. I had already read other works by some of the contributing authors, including William Sleater, ME Kerr, Lois Lowry, Jane Yolen and Leslea Newman, and I've since read several of Gregory Maguire's novels. In the intervening decade and a half I've developed as a reader, and now can't remember if I uncritically enjoyed all the stories. On this reading I found the quality a little uneven, skipping over a few altogether but really enjoying a few.
Most notable was the title story by Bruce Coville, where a young man questioning his orientation is offered three wishes by his fairy godfather (the spirit of Melvin, who was killed by gay bashers) and decides to fulfill the only great gay fantasy appropriate for a sixteen year old - everyone who is anything but 100% straight is shaded blue, the hue dependent on the extent of their orientation.
Lois Lowry's "Holding," about the son of a gay man finally coming out about his dad to his best friend, made me cry. The characters were exquisitely drawn, the pain of Willie's father, grieving the unexpected death of his partner, was sharp, and the rapport between Willie and his best friend was textured and compassionate.
Other stories explored parental conflict and acceptance (and sometimes rejection), questioning orientation and confirmed orientation, experimentation, education, or drew parallels between homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Times have changed since the publication of this anthology, partially in acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, though there's still a long way to go. More significant a change is the impact of HIV/AIDS, at least in the West - no longer the rampant killer it was then, many HIV +ve people are able to keep the disease in remission with a complex medication regime and have a more normal life. This is not to say it isn't still a terrible disease, that it doesn't still kill, or that it doesn't matter, but for many people HIV/AIDS is now a chronic disease.
This is still a great collection of stories for teens, not only those questioning their sexual orientation, or confirmed in their non-heterosexuality, but also those interested in expanding their reading and conceptual horizons. - Alex

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