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L. C. Rosen on gay stereotypes

L. C. Rosen on gay stereotypes

I like to think my YAs are ways of reclaiming and humanizing the stereotypes of gay men I was inundated with as a gay teen. Jack of Hearts – the naughty femme slut. Camp – the WAY TOO MUCH theater kid. And my forthcoming Emmett – the condescending prep. But my most recent YA, Lion’s Legacy, doesn’t really fit in with those. For one, I definitely never experienced the stereotype of the gay adventuring archeologist as a teen. But it also doesn’t even fit in genre-wise. Those other three are contemporary realism (two romances, one a sexy thriller). But Lion’s Legacy is something else – adventure, magic, history. And most of all, it’s taking a straight archetype – one I love – and gaying it up. Creating the sort of figure I never saw as a teen, but one I think I would have really marveled at.

I’ve been lucky to be a New Yorker all my life, which I appreciated even then for the depth of culture and relative safety it offered me. But it also forced me to face a fundamental truth: queer history just doesn’t work like other cultural histories, because unless your parents were queer, you’re on your own. Our history is always something we have to uncover for ourselves. In that sense, almost every queer person is Tennessee. He may not be a stereotype, but somehow, his quest is a version of one we all undergo. Having to unearth any hint of your own history is part of our story, as is the uniqueness of queer history across any number of eras and countries, a universal constant no matter what else was going on in the world and almost as universally erased by one repressive government or another.

That archetype – the adventuring archeologist, solving puzzles, avoiding traps – is to me, one that should always have been queer. Because that hunting for history, our history, is all about uncovering puzzles, and avoiding traps. The puzzles are what heteronormative society has set up, asking us to prove the queerness of history while assuming the straightness, and the traps are wondering if maybe you’re making it up, maybe queer history doesn’t exist, maybe you’re really alone. And finding out you’re not, finding our history, is so much more rewarding than a gold statue or magical compass.

As we enter an era where real-time trans erasure is happening and conservatives have their sights set on every queer, there’s a new urgency to Tennessee’s mission – the haunting idea that someday a kid like him would have to look us up the way he’s currently looking up the ancient Greeks – as people he didn’t know existed, and who he is taught to doubt really did. This is a book about the idea that history is alive and must be fought for, even now, about now.

Tennessee might not be a stereotype I’m giving humanity to, but if he were a stereotype – or if we saw his universalness in relation to our own queerness – we could see our own humanity more clearly. That’s what we need to fight for right now – preserving our own humanity by saving our own history.

Lion’s Legacy is out in hardback now via Union Square & Co

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