As a gay youth I spent countless hours looking for myself in the pages of the books on the mandatory reading list at my Catholic school. Much as they tried to suppress anything even remotely queer (in both senses of the word) there it was, that certain something in the subtext that read a little different, a little more than the other characters, a little... gay. Ponyboy and Johnny in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders shared something between them I coudn't quite articulate but I knew it made me feel a funny. Ferdinand and his refusal to stop smelling the flowers and toughen up was basically me at every team sport I ever played. The Little Mermaid and her forbidden love were almost exactly how I felt when I started to feel the first pangs of same-sex attraction. Thank God for the X-Men and their demonstrating that in spite of society's bigotry I had inner resources I could call on when times got tough, that what made me different was what would eventually give me the strength to fight. In honor of Gay Pride Month take a look at some of my favorite pieces of young literature that I believe have a secret message for gay kids. These books make perfect gifts for the child in your life that seems a little different, a touch set apart from their peers and a bit too fabulous to grow up to be anything but gay.
1. S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders
S.E. Hinton's classic young adult fiction reads like the Brokeback Mountain of middle school lit. Ponyboy Curtis lives in a world of Greasers and Socs (pronounced "sew-shhhh" as in "social") where the poor kid/rich kid struggle constantly asserts itself into daily life. In this case the greasers are the "poor kids" and are looked down upon by Socs and society alike for their socio-economic accidents of birth. There's also almost no adults in this world and ONE GIRL with a speaking role. Instead of high school football games and dances, Ponyboy and his brothers Daryl and Sodapop and greaser buddies Dallas, Two-Bit, Steve and Ponyboy's best friend Johnny, live in a world of rumbles, switchblades, hair product and rolled jeans and leather jackets which are so incredibly in right now. The sexual tension between young Ponyboy and Johnny when they're shacked up in an abandoned church for the second half of the book jumps off the page as does their unintentionally funny, Lucy and Ricky-type domestic set up while they're in hiding. Dallas's bad-boy-tough-but-secretly-sensitive character reads like a John Rechy hustler with a heart of gold and Ponyboy's inability to fit in completely in greaser world and his longing for something better is an age old story for every kid trying to figure out where his place is. The 1980 film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola hints at the novel's gay subtext but doesn't come near capturing it on screen. Dare I say it, maybe it's time for a remake? My choice to direct: Ryan Murphy.
Mutants. AKA black people. AKA immigrants. AKA nerds AKA GAYS!!! Crack just about any issue of the long running superhero comic and you see the "mutants as gays" metaphor. Mutant powers first reveal themselves around puberty (sound familiar?), the government repeatedly tries to limit mutant rights, anti-mutant groups commit mutant hate crimes, mutants sometimes choose to hide or "closet" their mutant identities (which is not a possibly for some of the more "obvious" mutants); it's a very long list. Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted is a sanctuary for young mutants just figuring out this new aspect of their identities where they can safely discover their mutant gifts and eventually aid progress for mutant kind by joining Xavier's X-Men. Doesn't that sound like the Harvey Milk High School, or Fame? The comics are notorious for letting ambigious hints to chacters same-sex inclinations slip in (Storm goes through a very butch phase and lives with women on and off before her eventual hetero marriage, Magneto and Xavier share a past that occasionally has hints of failed romance) and the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand even includes a scene where Bobby "Iceman" Drake "comes out" to his family as a mutant. In a world where gay kids are bullied and bashed at school and home it's important that with the X-Men comics they see characters as persecuted and "other" as themselves battling homophobic, err, I mean "antimutant" foes and WINNING.