Friday, February 22, 2013

LGBT Lit on NPR

NPR has a couple of pieces on LGBT literature this week. The first is Benjamin Alire Saenz's YA-novel Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

"Some boys just know they're gay," writer Benjamin Alire Saenz tells NPR's Michel Martin. "I don't know how that happens. And I think other boys don't know, and then they start discovering that. And that's the book."

Saenz's young-adult novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a big winner at this year's American Library Association awards for children's literature.

Despite their grand names, Aristotle — who calls himself Ari — and Dante are teen loners who are trying to find their place in the world. "I think when you're 15, you kind of are a philosopher, you are a thinker," Saenz explains. "And I wanted to give their names some weight."

The second is a selection - basically an introduction - to gay characters in graphic novels.

OK, yes: To gay comics fans like me, DC Comics' decision to hire an anti-gay activist like Orson Scott Card to write Superman — an iconic character who exists to represent humanity's noblest ideals of justice and compassion — is deeply dispiriting.

But it doesn't change the fact that today's mainstream superhero comics contain more LGBT characters than ever. Surely this is a good (if, let's agree, weirdly specific) thing. After all, superheroes remain the comics medium's dominant genre, and having the characters who populate that genre more closely resemble those of us who populate the world at large must count as progress.

Northstar. Batwoman. Hulkling. Wiccan. The Green Lantern of Earth-2. Bunker. Midnighter. Apollo. Shatterstar. Daken. Billy the Vampire Slayer. None of them is a household name, yet they're making their way into more and more households as an increasing number of storylines deal matter-of-factly with the sexuality of LGBT heroes. To organizations like GLAAD, which campaign for greater LGBT visibility in pop culture, that's what counts.

But visibility is a first step. And while I'm happy that the superhero genre is finally taking it, it must be noted that creators of manga and independent comics like the ones below have already taken many steps down this road, telling nuanced, compelling and at times discomfiting stories about the varied and complicated LGBT experience.

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