Through YA literature, authors Miranda Kenneally and Steve Brezenoff promote that love is genderless. Regardless, male, female, gay, straight, or lesbian…the emotions we feel when we love someone are the same. Gender doesn’t matter.
I’ve always been the first to say, “I don’t have a problem with gay people. Lesbian people. Whoever you want to be with, it doesn’t bother me”. Well this last quarter at UCLA, I read Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff and I learned that it doesn’t bother me when someone is gay, or lesbian, or straight, or whatever…but it does bother me when I don’t know. As a product of society, I’m uncomfortable when I don’t know what someone “is”. Day by day, society makes strides towards acceptance of the LGBT world. However, it’s just that. Why do we have to categorize people based on sexual preference? Why do we need to know?
Brezenoff and Miranda Kenneally, author of Stealing Parker, both use the power of their literature to prove that a relationship is a relationship, and when you love someone, you love them, despite society’s desire to label and distinguish by gender and sexuality.
In Brooklyn Burning the protagonist, Kid, is never identified by gender or sexuality, and neither is “Scout”—Kid’s summer love. Nevertheless, it is obvious that prior to meeting Scout, Kid had engaged in intimate relationships with both sexes. Last summer, there was Felix. He was a drug addicted, rockstar, and he broke Kid’s heart when summer ended. There is also Konny. Konny is Kid’s best girl-friend, but they too, have shared a few “more-than-just-friend” moments together. As a reader it was aggravating, I wanted to know. Is Kid a guy, or a girl? Which way does Kid swing? However, I wasn’t alone. Other auxiliary characters in the text reflect my frustration. Kid battles the stares from others, while walking next to Konny. People wondering what their relationship was, and Dad for example says, “I’ve got the only kid I know who doesn’t know whether to be straight or gay or a girl or a boy or what” (Brezenoff 121). Dad desperately wanted to give kid a label. It didn’t matter what Kid “was”, but he wanted to know that Kid was “something”.
Kid was well aware of Dad’s opinion, “I made Dad uncomfortable, virgin or not . . . maybe it would have helped if I brought someone home so my parents would be able to put me in a box, a check mark on the census form” (Brezenoff 58).
Kid is a heartbroken and homeless sixteen-year-old teenager. A character that is deserted by parents because they don’t know what their kid “is”. Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, Kid’s relationship with mom is rekindled. She learns to accept Kid—guy, girl, gay, or, straight. More significantly, Mom learns that this information doesn’t actually matter. When her child is hurting from heartbreak, or trying to control the butterflies from falling in love, those feelings are the same feelings she felt at one point. The turning point for Kid comes when mom is finally back, and when Kid and Scout take their relationship public and comfortably display it to the eyes of strangers. Worried eyes were now just meaningless stares. No one mattered, and it didn’t matter if anyone knew; as Kid realized, “We’re in love . . .You can’t hurt us” (Brezenoff 194).
In juxtaposition to Brooklyn Burning, I also read Stealing Parker, which is a completely different novel is terms of addressing gender. The protagonist, Parker, is a teenage girl that paints her nails bubble-gum pink and kisses boys just to prove to others that she likes, boys. On the first page, Parker states the “problem”. Her mom is a lesbian that ditched her family and divorced Parker’s dad, so she could runaway with her “friend”. Later, the reader finds out that Drew, Parker’s best guy-friend is in love with the same guy that Parker is falling in love with.
Without losing its complexity, this text clearly places each of its characters into a category. Parker tries to divorce the feelings that she has for her mom, like her mom divorced her dad, because she doesn’t want people to label her as, “A lesbian, a sinner,” (Kenneally 14) like they have done to her mom. The way the narrator clearly defines everyone, works as a reflection of society. I, for example, was more comfortable reading because I knew what everyone “was”. Even Parker was troubled by Drew, when she didn’t know if he was gay or not. He was her best friend, she would love him regardless, but she wanted to know.
In the end, Mom and Parker revive the mother-daughter relationship that they once shared. Parker realizes that her mom is still the mom she has always loved, with hugs that, “feel like the warmest blanket on the coldest night” (Kenneally 230). Additionally, as Parker is beginning to grow up and experience a new kind of love herself, she apologizes, “I’m sorry . . . for how I’ve acted . . . For judging you. For not thinking about your feelings” (Kenneally 208). Parker realizes that Mom was never trying to hurt her; it was just the way she felt towards someone. Parker learns that despite anyone’s ridicule, “I can do whatever I want” (Kenneally 242). She can love her mom, just like anyone else loves their mom and she can fall in love with Will, just like her mom fell in love with Theresa.
In each of these texts, the protagonist learns that he or she cannot escape society and its power to judge and discriminate. Nevertheless, he or she can do, as Susan Stryker declares in her essay, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”; “though I cannot escape its power, I can move through its medium” (Stryker). Gender is something one is, “assigned at birth,” (Stryker) but unfortunately, it is also something that allows society to construct gender binaries as the “norm”. The characters in these novels learn that they might not gain everyone’s acceptance, but if they can accept themselves for whomever they choose to be, they will be just fine. Looking through a dictionary of twenty-eight different definitions of love, I did not once see a definition that defined love by gender. Like I realized through the work of Brezenoff and Kenneally, society finds comfort in categorizing people by gender and sexuality. It is easier to label, but it isn’t necessary. Love is genderless.