Is writing about coming out still relevant?

Perfect is a book for young adults by Ellen Hopkins, a New York Times bestselling author who writes in verse. It’s the story of four high-school seniors, how they define perfection and what they are willing to do to achieve it. One of the characters, Cara, is in search of perfect love. She discovers it, to her surprise, with a girl.

My current WIP (work-in-progress) is a coming out story. The pitch for it might read like this: Emma’s façade of style and heterosexuality crumples when she hosts Maja, a gay Swedish girl, who makes Emma confront her decision to stay closeted out of fear – and her crush on her best friend Kaitlyn. There has been much discussion in my critique group and among my online writing community about whether or not coming out is still something teenagers struggle with. For every person who says, “That’s an important story to tell,” there is someone who says, “I don’t think it’s such a big deal anymore, certainly not around here.”

One of my writer friends, supportive of my contention that a story of a girl who is unwilling to risk friendships and social status by stepping outside the norm is still pertinent to today’s teens, suggested I read Perfect as proof that the topic is still timely.

I got a copy out of the library and set to reading. I was on page 107, where Cara meets the girl she will fall in love with, holding my breath for what I hoped would happen next, when I turned the page and was distracted by a small pamphlet that someone had left in the book. I finished the page, which ended with an electrifying kiss, and picked up the pamphlet.

The front showed a young person sitting on the ground, their head on their arms; the picture of dejection. The headline was, is there something missing in your life? My first thought was that a sad teenager had read the book last. Then I opened the pamphlet and realized it was a religious tract. I couldn’t read any further than, “If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ on a personal basis, that is the problem.”

What an incredible coincidence, I thought. Someone left the tract at the exact place in the story where Cara kisses Dani. Then I thought, hold on, if it was a bookmark, did that mean whoever left it there never finished the book? And then it hit me. Someone left the tract there on purpose. Someone who disapproved of the character’s storyline and felt the need to make a statement left a “helpful” note for the next reader. A note that says, in part, “My friend, repent!”

I’m not that worried about my WIP’s relevance anymore. Apparently, there are still people who would make it difficult for a teenager to feel comfortable coming out—even around here.

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4 responses to “Is writing about coming out still relevant?

  1. Excellent post. Maybe your friends think the coming out story isn’t such a big deal because acceptance is so prevalent…but clearly non-accepting people will come out of the woodwork (or book) if they have reason to.

  2. Oh, my dear, believe me, your book is most definitely still relevant.

  3. Absolutely still relevant. You and I may come from very liberal backgrounds, but most kids aren’t that lucky.

  4. Yes, it’s still relevant. A character’s struggle between her facade and her self can always drive a story, especially if other characters can muddy the issue while trying to achieve their goals. And Hannah is right; un-accepting people still jump out from the woodwork (or between the pages).

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