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Canadian Gay HIgh School Experience Lacking In Literature
IconEmpire | August 18, 2013 at 07:22 amby
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Canadians, as a society, are more progressive towards human rights and personal respect for privacy than our neighbors to the south. As early as 2003, the majority of the population in the three major provinces in Canada saw gay marriage enacted by provincial court orders. When the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in 2005, marriage equality to include the LGBT community nation wide, the United States fell embarrassingly behind on LGBT equality.
So, it is only fitting that the experiences of our Canadian youths would be so inherently different. In 1987, Canadians got their first exposure to the pressures of being gay in high school with the premiere of the subject matter in season one of Degrassi Junior high, where, Ms. Avery's,a popular teacher at Degrassi, is rumoured by the students at the school to be a lesbian. Caitlin,a student in her class, insists that her teacher isn't gay. However, after dreaming that her classmates think that she is also gay, Caitlin begins to act self-conscious and paranoid at school.
The TV series gave many the opportunity to openly discuss the topic of being queer at schools in ways unheard of before.
However, the Canadian literary world missed this opportunity to bring forth the LGBT experience in high school. The importance of bringing about an understanding of our experience in high school helps us to learn, heal and grow as a community.
With that said, there are only a handful of books written where the Canadian LGBT experience in high school is lightly touched upon.
Since the 1980s, there are only six books that touch the topic of being gay in a Canadian High School. The first being Bad Boy by Diana Weiler in 1989. The story reveals the problems of a high school hockey player during his first year on a Triple A team. A. J. Brandiosa's elation in making the Cyclones ( along with his best friend) is undercut by the fear he will not measure up to the other players. The 17-year-old's hot temper and aggressiveness in the game soon bring him the wrong kind of notoriety. Trying to dispel his reputation for being a "bad boy" on the ice is not the only challenge A. J. faces. Even more difficult is his struggle to accept that his best friend and teammate, Tully Brown, is gay. The book is terribly dated and sets a negative tone about being gay and inter personal relationships. It would not be recommended reading for people dealing with being gay.
Another book that is worthy of an honourable mention is by author Susan Juby who is synonymous with Canadian young adult literature. In her book entitled, Another Kind Of Cowboy, Alex is a high school student who has a love of horse dressage and shares this passion with fellow female teen horse rider Cleo O’Shea. As Alex discovers the difficulties of being gay in a small town, we come to discover that he is not alone. Alex does find another youth and a romance between teenagers ensues but remains on a teenager level and isn’t really touched upon in depth.
To round out the collection of Canadian fiction books that touch upon the LGBT experience are Author Leann Liebermann’s Gravity and two books by Carrie Mac Crush and The Beckoners.
This great void lead Icon Empire Press to see if there was a need for Canadian focused literature. When Robert Joseph Greene invited a group of gay youth to talk about their interests and lives. It was clear that many of them knew they wanted relationships but most didn’t understand the semantics of relationships. They wanted Mr. Greene to give a day to day example of what to expect.
With that in mind, Greene wrote “This High School Has Closets” which is a detailed portrayal of two young Canadian teenage boys who fall in love during a tumultuous time in Canadian LGBT history.
The story is about how Mark Thomas, the protagonist, and his boyfriend Barry Stillwater first met and takes the reader through the ups and downs of their relationship until high school graduation. It’s set in Oakville, Ontario during their Senior year in 2002 which is relevant to the stories historical Canadian perspective.
In 2002, Marc Hall sued the Durham Catholic School Board for the right to bring his male partner to the prom. “It was the match that lit the fire in terms of LGBT equality that paved the way for marriage equality” say Greene.
The lawsuit is in the background where the two boys, although a couple, decide not to be public about their sexuality or relationship given the enormous pressure one character feels to fit in at school.
Marc Hall ultimate becomes a hero for Marc Thomas because of his courage and perseverance.
When the book was published in 2012, Greene was disappointed at the reception that it received and attributed the fact that he was a literary outsider to the passive reception the book received in Canada.
Furthermore, because of the realistic details of the book, it caught some controversy by review panels and librarians who were hesitant to endorse the book. The story addresses dating, expectations, first sexual experiences, disappointment and understanding. One walks away with a complete and clear view of how the protagonist viewed his relationship with his partner.
This High School Has Closets has slowly gained acceptance as one of the top literary examples of the gay Canadian high school experience.
Greene hopes that the success of this will pave the way for other fiction authors to reflect a more Canadian reflection of the LGBT high school experience.
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