Check out my guest post on best-selling author Mia Kerick’s blog about how bullying has become institutionalized in America. You might find it enlightening or it might make you angry. Truth can do both.
Mia Kerick is a best-selling author I had heard a lot about on Facebook, and our paths often crossed in commenting on the same pictures or articles. As she points out below, because I saw her name so often I thought we were already FB friends and was startled when she sent me a friend request and I realized we were not. That has been corrected, much to my delight. She is an amazing lady filled with compassion, boundless energy, enthusiasm, the ability to multi-task so well that I’m envious, and she’s a terrific and successful writer.
To celebrate the unfurling of her newest, and already a best-seller, book for young adults, The Red Sheet, I offered to host Mia on my blog because she and I are very much on the same page. Be sure to check out the links to her book and (YES!) there are giveaways at the rafflecopter link. I have not yet read The Red Sheet, but it is on order and I will dig in as soon as it arrives.
Mia’s post is about the definition of “normal,” a subject I address in my own trilogy of books that began with Children of the Knight. I’m going to add my own little spin to what she said and then you will hear from this great lady yourself. Having worked with special education students for most of my life, and being one myself in the sense that I have always been hearing impaired, I sought to make a distinction for my kids. They always felt abnormal, as did the gay kids I worked with in the Gay Straight Alliance, because people kept telling them that, often their own parents, siblings, or relatives. I would tell them to keep this in mind: people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired or gay or learning disabled or physically disabled or whatever are not “the norm” in life because “the norm” would be considered what is standard or typical. But they, and myself, are completely normal because these things are part of how we were born and are thus “normal.” Everyone one of us is normal because every human being is unique and special, even the ones who think they are perfect because they fit the arbitrary “norms” society has created. The bottom line is, people need to stop trying to make everyone exactly like them and accept inherent differentiations from “the norm” as normal. There, that’s my little soapbox to piggyback on Mia’s post. So without further adieu, I bring you the one, the only, the magical Mia Kerick! Yea!
Hello and thanks for inviting me over…
I recently “met” Michael Bowler during a Facebook conversation about YA books. I must admit, I tried to tag him and I couldn’t. We weren’t friends! Well, not in the FB “official” sense of the word, which came as a surprise to me. We quickly remedied the not-friends thing, and since then we have very quickly come to be real friends. We certainly have a lot to talk about.
So I would like to thank Michael for allowing me to post on his blog, and I don’t think he’ll be too surprised by what I say.
Anybody have a soapbox I can stand on? I think I’m gonna need one.
What makes something seem “normal” to us? Well, first of all, let’s take a look at the word “normal”. (I love examining definitions!)
For the most part, I trust Merriam-Webster, do you?
Here’s what MW had to say:
1nor•mal adjective ˈnȯr-məl
: usual or ordinary : not strange
: mentally and physically healthy
Synonyms can tell you a lot about a word’s meaning. Here is Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for the word normal:
average, common, commonplace, cut-and-dried (also cut-and-dry), everyday
But do you want to know what can tell you even MORE about a word? What it is not. In other words, a word’s antonyms. (Also very informative!)
MW’s list of antonyms for the word normal:
abnormal, exceptional, extraordinary, odd, out-of-the-way, strange, unusual
And these “Near Antonyms” further illustrate the point I plan to make:
Near antonyms for the word normal include:
curious, funny, peculiar, quaint, queer; aberrant, anomalous, atypical, irregular, untypical; rare, recherché, scarce; fantastic (also fantastical), phenomenal; bizarre, far-out, Kafkaesque, outrageous, outré, wacky (also whacky), way-out, weird, wild; eccentric, idiosyncratic, kooky (also kookie), nonconformist, oddball, offbeat, unconventional, unorthodox; freak, freakish
There were a lot more…
So, can we agree for the sake of argument that the word normal refers to that which is usual? That which is ordinary? Something that is not strange. And for something to be considered ordinary, we must see it a lot. Cheeseburgers are ordinary. You can get one (or two-who’s counting?) at every fast food store and cookout you attend. You never stop and stare when you see a guy eating a burger. It is NOT a strange sight; you see it every day.
But chowing down on a Witchetty grub? I can tell you this much: if you stand on the corner of Main and Maple streets, and sink your teeth into an oversized, juicy white moth larvae, you might solicit some strange looks. A fair amount of staring would be directed your way. Let’s admit it: in the United States of America the consumption of Witchetty grubs is unusual. Bordering on peculiar.
Dare I say abnormal? Yes, I dare. Eating grubs is abnormal behavior in our neck of the woods.
SO now that we have a working definition of the word normal, let’s apply it to an important topic: relationships. What constitutes a conventional romantic relationship? A normal, ordinary, garden-variety love affair… We should start with a boy and a girl, right? You see standard M/F couples like this absolutely everywhere in real life—and also in fiction—including in movies, television, books. The more you see and read about the boy and the girl—entwined on a hammock, holding hands on a beach, kissing on a sidewalk—the more commonplace it becomes. So normal.
Let’s, for today’s purposes, focus on reading material, though. Would it be fair to say that almost every time we crack open a book, from the age of infancy (“that’s a mommy and that’s a daddy”) to school age (Fun with Dick and Jane) to high school (much less fun with Romeo and Juliet) to YA parent-approved free reading books (Twilight’s Edward and Bella), all kids see is the “conventional” male-female couple. And thus, this pairing becomes “normal” to us. Usual. And somehow, usual morphs into acceptable.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I never came across two boys kissing in any of my middle school English literature books. I never had the option of choosing a novel about a girl discovering her feelings of attraction to other girls in my high school summer reading book options. Were there books covering those topics? I didn’t know. I never thought of that. I never thought of them. “Them” being gay and lesbian young people. Bisexuals and transgenders? Huh? Books about trans-what certainly weren’t on the Young Adult shelf of my local town library.
I never read about these kinds of relationships. Seeing a gay couple, up-close, live and in-person was rare for me, as well as for most of the kids I knew. Reading about them in any of the literature to which I had access was practically unheard of. It is not a very far leap from rare and unheard of to weird and strange. And from weird and strange, it is a mere hop, skip, and jump to abnormal.
I have illustrated that due to the fact that preteens and teens rarely have exposure to LGBT young adults and their love relationships, it has become widely considered NOT NORMAL to be LGBT and in a same-sex relationship. (Hold the applause… there’s more.)
NOT NORMAL= odd, bizarre, funny, aberrant, freakish. Hmm….
Now, just say you are an LGBT young adult. How does feeling peculiar, weird, and abnormal—simply for being who you were born to be—affect your emotional growth and development? Your ability to form relationships with friends as well as with possible romantic partners? Not positively, I’d wager. People who feel weird and abnormal tend to hide or act out because being who they are is, in its very essence, wrong.
Next, say you are not an LGBT young adult. When you see a student you suspect is gay, or a gay couple, how do you react? Well, you stop and stare, never having had much exposure to this unconventional type. You giggle because it is funny and peculiar. You become uncomfortable because what you see in this person or couple is freakish. Because this sight is not NORMAL to you.
See where I’m going with this?
For something to be normal to us, we must be exposed to it. We must allow our youth to be exposed to it. We, as adults, must offer to young adults a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, showing protagonists and heroes, lovers and friends, saints and sinners, lovers and enemies, in all of the sexual diversity that exists in the real world.
We must integrate LGBT literature into Young Adult literature.
Mainstream LGBT literature in school and libraries and everywhere.
Because LGBT IS normal.
One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.
Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.
Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.
Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.
With a foreword by C. Kennedy
I was back to being the very same guy I had been before the change—
insecure, lazy, selfish, uncharitable—
a guy I didn’t like….
and a guy I didn’t want to be….
but here he was again.
Looking at the world with his frightened and egotistical eyes.
And that’s when it hit me. I popped up off my bed and walked rather hurriedly over to the dresser. I gazed into the mirror that hung above it, and I saw Bryan Dennison.
I reached out my hand and placed my fingertips lightly on the image of the person looking back at me—the vulnerability in his eyes revealed how very lost he was. The person who looked back at me, my very own reflection, had absolutely no direction in his life. None whatsoever.
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five non-pedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.
Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
My themes I always write about:
Sweetness. Unconventional love, tortured/damaged heroes- only love can save them.
Rafflecopter Giveaway: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/91bbb15/
Today’s posting is a bit of a rant, but Sir Lance says it’s a legitimate rant, especially with everything going on in Russia with the upcoming Olympics and the country’s new law forbidding people to be gay. So here’s Sir Lance’s thought for the day: every so often random photos pop up on Facebook, very innocuous and usually romantic shots of two boys kissing. Maybe they’re at home, on a park bench, or leaving the prom. They’re just random boys kissing each other. Every time I see these kinds of photos, they are accompanied by some of the most horrendous, vicious, poisonous vitriol I’ve ever seen on FB, the kind of vitriol that inspires laws like they have in Russia. These comments attack the two boys as though one was Hitler and the other Stalin! Are these boys eviscerating children? Are they committing mass murder? Are they plotting some huge act of terrorism? No. They’re kissing. Why are they kissing? Probably because they love each other. Why do they love each other? Their brains are wired that way, because they were born to love others of the same gender. Wow! What a heinous crime, right? Worthy of hate, right? Obviously some people think so! We have enormous problems facing this country and this world and two boys kissing is what gets people fired up? Those people need a life.
Well, here’s a message to the haters out there, and any of you reading this may feel free to share it with haters you know personally: If all of you males out there hating on gay boys are so sure they simply woke up one day and decided to be attracted to other boys, I challenge you to try it yourselves. Do your homework. Show the world that same sex attraction is simply a choice by eschewing all attraction to females and turning all of your drives toward males. Let us know how that works out for you, huh? Oh, and while you’re at it, let us know how you enjoy being hated on by people like yourselves, how much you like being bullied and called names and mocked and ostracized. Give us FB users a full account of how “deciding to be gay” works. It should be quite instructive.
Since I know none of you will do this (because it can’t be done), then may I humbly suggest you get your hate off the Internet and get yourselves a real life. Obviously, your own relationships must be so bad that you can’t stand seeing two boys happy together. Too bad. Get over it. Get out into your community and do some volunteer work. Actually get to know people other than yourselves and maybe you won’t be so ignorant. And if you can’t do this, maybe the U.S. should start its own version of “Battle Royale” and throw all the haters into a big arena so you can wipe each other out. Sounds brutal, but then, you all should relish the violence since you already enjoy spewing so much of it with your words, and often your physical actions, when you bully and beat up boys who love boys. It seems to me that eliminating evil from the world could only be a good thing. After all, evil always begins with hate.
As for you so-called religious haters out there – bear in mind Jesus’ number one commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Also bear in mind that he only condemned one group of people as a “brood of vipers,” and that was the Pharisees. Why? Because they were hypocrites, just like you. You claim to follow Christ, who did not condemn people and did not address the issue of same-sex love, but who did decry fornication among heterosexual couples, i.e. “hooking up” (I’m sure none of you good Christians have had multiple sex partners in your lives, right?), and yet you do exactly what he never did – you condemn. That makes you hypocrites, a brood of vipers. So don’t start taking lines from the Bible out of context to feed your own personal bigotries – that’s the last refuge of haters. And please note the line from the previous paragraph, because it applies to you, too: evil always begins with hate.
I don’t know who any of these kissing boys are. I don’t even know if any of them are still together. The part of me that loves seeing happy people hopes that they are. But them being happy and, yes, EVEN KISSING, doesn’t hurt me or you or the world. In fact, as a rule, happy people make the world a much better place. And this world has MUCH bigger problems than two boys in love. So does this country, and so does your own community. So turn off your hate meters and get out there to contribute something positive to your community. Make this world better for your having passed through it, rather than doing what you’re doing now – making it worse.
The story of King Arthur and his Round Table of knights has great relevance to modern America in the 21st Century, especially within the context of my new novel, Children of the Knight.
First of all, the Britain of Arthur’s time was a fractured, divisive land with disparate groups of peoples like the Gauls, the Gales, the Normans and others vying for power and prestige. In America today, many in the public sector make their livelihood and base their political survival on pitting this group against that group or this race against that one and they never allow for real unity because with unity might come an end to said public person’s career and funding base. The media is even worse, always stirring the pot, often by dispensing inaccurate or incomplete information in the hopes of generating controversy. In simpler terms, divisiveness is profitable.
When Arthur became High King of Britain his first order of business was to unite all the distinct groups warring against him and each other, which he eventually did through numerous costly battles. However, once done, he had to keep the peace, so as he tells young Lance in Children of the Knight, “I gave them all a purpose in life other than hating one another.” He brings that same purpose to the warring gangs and unrelated street kids he recruits as his new Round Table in the newly released novel.
America of today has systematically failed her children in every area of life, from education to criminal justice to media influences. The one-size-must-fit-all-or-you-can-get-out approach to modern public education is disgusting and antithetical to human nature. Since we can never all be the same, what happens to those kids who just don’t “fit” that one size? They drop out, join gangs or crews, do drugs, make babies they can’t take care of, and engage in all manner of anti-social behaviors they have learned from adults. And what about the war adults have waged against gay youth with their preposterous notion that these kids willingly made a choice to love someone of the same gender and thus willingly chose the hate, mockery, bullying, and marginalization that go with being gay in America today? Let’s face it, there are a lot of stupid, selfish people in this country, and kids are paying the price.
In my book, Arthur returns from Avalon and finds all of this discarded and wasted “might” at his disposal, kids no one else wants, most of them boys with a lot of potential energy within them for good or ill. There are a lot of homegirls on the streets, as well, but most gangs are male-dominated because of the sense of empowerment these usually poor, ethnic, marginalized kids desperately seek. Before Arthur, all the combined might of these gangs and street youth has been directed toward the detriment of society because that’s all they’ve been taught by the adult world that raised them. They make war on each other and on the innocent. But Arthur comes along and teaches them discipline through mastery of swordplay and archery, and he convinces them, as he convinced the various factions all those centuries ago in Britain, to put aside their own petty rivalries and use their collected might for right in order to finally gain the power they had previously sought through violence and mayhem.
Arthur’s objective is to win the approval and support of the voting public and use that support to take on the feckless, self-absorbed politicians who run Los Angeles. From LA the crusade will then move on to all of California and then to the country as a whole. Its ultimate goal: restoration of the right of children to be children, and human beings, and not the mere property of adults. Will he succeed? You have to read the book to find out.
Oh, and why did Arthur come to America rather than Britain? Since his purpose is to save childhood it is also, by extension, to save this most promising child of Britain from itself. After all, a country that fails its children is ultimately doomed to assume a well-earned place on the scrap heap of history.