As I write this, the snow is coming down thick and fast and the landscape is white, and I hope you have an equally pretty, if a bit warmer, start to the new year. 2012 is going to be a very exciting year, with the paperback publication of a book that turned out to be so personal to me and one that I had such fun writing, Sing You Home, and then the publication of my new novel, Lone Wolf – the first book that I have visited the UK to research, so it is also very special to me. Then there is the surprise I have for you in July – but you’ll have to wait for that one!
When I started writing Sing You Home, I wanted to create a lesbian character that readers could truly get to know. Which is why Zoe Baxter is so – well, normal. She has a failed marriage and countless attempts to have a baby behind her when she meets Vanessa, a guidance counsellor at the school where she works as a music therapist. Their relationship moves from business to friendship and then – to Zoe’s surprise – blossoms into love. But as they start to think of making a family – something that ‘normal’ couples do naturally, they bump up against the rigid prejudice of Zoe’s ex.
After college, I had a friend who, like me, was naturally, and whole-heartedly attracted to boys. His name was Jeff. A friend and I spent a lot of time with Jeff and his partner Darryl, catching the latest movies and dissecting them over dinner afterward. Jeff was funny, smart, a technological whiz. In fact, the least interesting thing about him was that he happened to be gay.
Something happened during the writing of Sing You Home that truly made the subject hit home. My son Kyle, a brilliant, talented teenager, was applying to colleges while I was working on the book. One day, he brought me his finished application to read. The essay was about being gay.
Did I know Kyle was gay before he came out in his essay? Well, I’d had my suspicions since he was five. But it was his discovery to make, and to share.
Gay rights are not something most of us think about – because most of us happen to have been born straight. But imagine how you’d feel if you were told that it was unnatural to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. If you weren’t allowed to get married; if you couldn’t adopt a child with your partner, imagine being a teenager who’s bullied because of your sexual orientation; or being told by your church that you are immoral.
Learning that Kyle was gay didn’t change the way I felt about him. He was still the same incredible young man he’d been before I read that essay. I didn’t love him any less because he was gay; I couldn’t love him any more if he weren’t. His boyfriend is a smart, sweet guy who has accompanied us on vacations and who makes my son incredibly happy. Still, it breaks my heart to know that, unlike Kyle, there are teenagers today who cannot come out to their parents because of deep-seated prejudice – which is too often cloaked in the satin robes of religion. Gay teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide as straight teens. I wish they knew that there’s nothing wrong with them; that they are just a different shade of normal.