So I woke up the past couple of mornings thinking about sex. And, no, it wasn’t like that at all so just get your mind out of the gutter 🙂
And I guess this is the perfect time to discuss sex since everyone seems to be away for July 4th and no one is hanging around this dump, that’s for sure 🙂
So what I was thinking about is how hard it is to write about sex in stories featuring youthful gay characters without going to one extreme or the other. I mean, take Geography Club and its sequels, The Order of the Poison Oak and Split Screen, by Brent Hartinger. All three of these are great stories by the way and I highly recommend them to you.
The hero of the stories is a high school boy named Russel Middleton who just happens to be gay. Now I like Russel, even if he does spell his name kind of funny, so don’t get me wrong. But, the thing is, Russel isn’t really allowed to have much of a sex life at all in the stories even though he’s a teenage boy and gay as well.
And I suppose one reason for that might be because Mr. Hartinger is writing for young adults specifically and the public more generally; and books about gay boys having sex, explicit sex, are probably never going to be the easiest to get published. I mean, after all, those large corporations that publish books are not philanthropists. They’re trying to make money. And yeah, sure, everyone knows sex does sell in America. It sells really well. But sex involving under 18 boys or girls? Well, now, that’s a whole different hypocrisy, isn’t it? We want our sex and we want to glorify it too. But for underage boys and girls? Forget about it. We try to pretend we can glorify sex and somehow keep it away from everyone under 18. Do we think kids are idiots? Apparently we do.
But the point is that, unlike clothing, for example, where we’re only too happy to let fashion designers sexualize kids, the written word is somehow different. We don’t want books in our libraries that show kids under 18 having sex, real sex, and publishers know this. That could spell trouble and corporations don’t usually go out of their way looking for trouble.
So that’s one possible explanation for why poor Russel has such a terrible sex life. And then another thing too is that these three books were published 11, 8 and 7 years ago, respectively. So times were different back then.
Or perhaps they were written the way they were because that’s just the way Mr. Hartinger preferred to do it; and I can respect that too.
But some folks might say it makes the stories a little unrealistic. Not bad or wrong or uninteresting or not worth reading, mind you. Just a little unrealistic. And I think that’s probably true. But, of course, what book is totally realistic in any event?
Now, to be fair to Mr. Hartinger, he does seem to be getting a little bolder with each new story. At least that’s the way it seemed to me reading each of them in turn.
Still, even in the last sequel, Split Screen, here is how the big scene between Russel and his boyfriend ends: “We stayed near that pond for a long time. In fact I didn’t get home until almost 5 A.M. After all, we only had this one night together in who knows how long? What did we do in all that time? Let’s just say Otto and I made the most of our time together, and leave it at that.”
In other words, in that last sequel, there is implied sex. Congratulations, Russel and Otto! I’m really happy for you, guys 🙂 But, as you can see, it’s not very explicit and it’s not treated at length and it leaves you wondering exactly what happened out at that pond. But that seems like the norm for published works.
Now if I was Mr. Hartinger I might be getting a little exasperated at this point. And I might even pipe up and ask something like this: “Look, Kit, what’s your point, son? Can you tell me exactly how the stories would have been better if I went into what happened in more detail and more graphically?” That seems to me to be a fair question for him to ask.
And I’m not sure I can answer it specifically because I don’t know exactly what Russel and Otto did out near that pond. But I’m guessing that at the very least they hugged and they kissed and maybe did some other stuff too. So I think the stories might have been better, for me, personally, if Mr. Hartinger could have shown some of that. Shown just how passionate and hungry and enthusiastic and overwhelmed and happy and funny the boys were when they finally touched each other after months of being apart (because Otto lives 800 miles away from Russel). Shown how violent and powerful and yet how tender and sweet they were about kissing and hugging and the other stuff they did that evening.
To me that would been a little more realistic. More importantly, it would have been totally awesome, at least to me. But, look, that’s just me, personally. And here’s another view from a 17 year boy who reviewed one of the books on Amazon.com: “I am a 17 year gay guy from ohio and let me say, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I felt and feel like I AM the character of Russell in the book, I’ve gone through so many of the things he has. I even cried after reading the sequel after this one because it made me look at my own situation and how hard it is to be gay and love someone who might never talk to you again if they knew. I feel like this book deserves several awards, it certainly had a touch to me.”
That’s a pretty powerful endorsement, don’t you think?
And I know doing what I’m suggesting would not have been easy; and I know I’m not a good enough writer to pull that off so I hope all of you will forgive me if and when I try to do something like that and fail. Just like I need to cut Mr. Hartinger some slack about not trying. He’s a terrific storyteller and you should definitely go read his books if you haven’t already. You’ll like them.
So that’s one end of the spectrum. Now, on the other hand, go to a site like Nifty and pick any story in the high school section at random. Most likely you’re going to run across teenage boys who are having sex like a gazillion times every day. I mean, for crying out loud, some of those boys have a more active sex life than me 🙂 Which isn’t all that hard to imagine, I suppose; and, yes, you’re right. I am jealous. I’m definitely jealous. Still, I kind of think those stories aren’t very realistic either.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t any good stories on Nifty because there are. It’s just a real hit or miss kind of thing finding them. Nor is it to say that a little bit of fantasy is a bad thing. Hey, I fantasize all the time myself. So, yeah, sure, read the stories and enjoy them for what they are.
Now the reason I’m talking about all of this is because by now, hopefully, you’ve met Nolan, one of the heroes of my story. And as you know, Nolan is a little obsessed with sex at the moment. He thinks about it. He plays with himself. He’s filled with lust. He tries to find ways to get his new friend, Josh, to touch him. But he’s scared too about letting his friend know he’s a pervert. In other words, he’s a very conflicted boy. Which I think is realistic enough given when the story is taking place. But the problem for me is how to get the right balance between those extremes I mentioned above. Because teenage boys are like anyone else. They actually do stuff other than have sex or obsess about sex all day long.
Or at least I think they do. If you’re a teenage boy and know I’m wrong about that, post a comment below and let me know 🙂
And even if you’re able to get the balance right, there’s also the problem of just how much detail to go into. I mean, is it really important for you as a reader to know just how long Nolan’s, um, well, you know what I’m saying. How long it is or exactly what he is doing with it at any given moment in time? Or whatever?
Now when it comes to sex I suppose there are a lot of people out there who are kind of like Oliver Twist: “Please sir, can I have some more?” And that’s fine. No problem. Hey, I actually like sex myself! But writing about it? It’s a lot harder. Especially on a blog like this where I don’t really know who my audience is.
So that’s all I wanted to say right now. I just want you to think about some of this stuff because I’ll probably be coming back to it from time to time. Or to similar stuff. And I’ve included another poll below that tries to find out what you think. Or you can just post a comment below or even send me an e-mail if you don’t want to say something publicly. There isn’t a correct or right answer so feel free to be honest. Because I’m not promising to do whatever you vote for, but I’m interested in what you think, what you honestly think. That’s why I’m asking you to help me out. So, please, FILL OUT THE POll if you can and the two polls right below it. Sorry for talking too much and for shouting 🙂
In any event, thanks for listening. Like that dude says in that radio commercial, we’ll keep the light on for you.
Oh, yeah, there is one one other thing I wanted to say. Unlike that boy up above, have a SAFE and happy fourth of July weekend.