Fifteen-year-old Treasa Prescott thinks she’s an alien. She doesn’t fit in with the preppy South African private school crowd and feels claustrophobic in her own skin. Treasa is worried she might spend life as a social pariah when she meets Gabriel du Preez. Gabriel plays the piano better than Beethoven, has a black belt in karate, and would look good wearing a garbage bag. Treasa thinks he’s perfect. It might even be love, as long as Gabriel doesn’t find out she’s a freak.As Treasa spends time with Gabriel, she realizes she might not love him as much as she wants to be him, and that the reason she feels uncomfortable in her skin might have less to do with extra-terrestrial origins and more to do with being born in the wrong body.But Gabriel is not the perfect boy Treasa imagines. He harbors dark secrets and self-destructive tendencies. Still, Treasa might be able to accept Gabriel’s baggage if he can accept who she longs to be.
“You haven’t been on a first date yet, and you’re worried about kissing him?” Jordan sits on my bed, watching me fight with my hair.
“How do you know if you’re a good kisser?”
“People tell you.”
“I’ve only ever kissed one guy.” I twist and pin a strand into place.
“Really?” She looks at me in mirror. “Trent in grade eight?”
“Tell me about it.” I examine my makeup. It’s not much, but at least the foundation quiets the riot of freckles across my face, and the mascara accentuates my otherwise pale eyes.
“You need to practice.” Jordan swings her legs over the edge of the bed.
“Me, of course.”
“You want me to kiss you?” I do a final twist at the back and jam in half a dozen pins.
“Not particularly, but I’m willing to do this for the good cause of improving your kissing skills.”
“Are you serious?”
She rolls her eyes and spins me around on the wheelie chair. “Stand up.” Jordan places a hand on my waist and another on my neck. “Lean in slowly and just let your lips touch.” She does, and her lips are sticky with gloss. “Then you pull back a little and gaze into each other’s eyes.” We do, and a startling warmth spreads up from my belly as she places my hands on her waist. “Then you go in for the real deal.”
She kisses me, her lips slightly parted, and then her tongue slips between my teeth and she tastes of toothpaste and strawberry lip gloss. I pull her closer and kiss her back. Her fingers tighten on my neck, and we’re getting really into it. Too into it. I’m not sure who freaks out first. We both pull away and don’t say anything for a few awkward moments.
“You’ll be fine,” Jordan says as she twirls a strand of dark hair around her finger. “You’re not a bad kisser. Definitely room for improvement, but certainly not bad.” Her face is uncharacteristically flushed, and her hands are shaking as she reapplies lip gloss.
by Suzanne van Rooyen
Whenever someone asks me why I write LGBT YA, my knee-jerk reaction is, ‘why not?’ My second is, ‘wait – I write LGBT YA?’ I just write stories about people and some happen to be members of the LGBTQ spectrum. I never made a conscious decision to write LGBT stories in a way that might be seen as making a statement. While I have pretty strong opinions on how LGBT rights are human rights and have even stronger opinions about political institutions denying those human rights, that’s not why my characters sometimes love members of the same sex.
Around about the time my older sister came out as lesbian, I started hearing this adage: gays are people too. It terrified, saddened and infuriated me! I grew up in South Africa, a country with a violent history of racial segregation and hatred. We’d come so far, embracing the rainbow nation (a name taken in reference to the various cultures and races in SA; it had nothing to do with the LGBT rainbow), and yet here we were hating on another group of people, having to remind ourselves that yes, they are in fact still human beings – as if that was ever in doubt.
It was only at university and thanks to my arty-farty free-thinking friends, that I began to understand my own sexuality and where I fit on the LGBTQ spectrum. Suddenly, ‘gays are people too’ was a source of comfort. I wasn’t weird, I wasn’t a freak, I was just a person who happened to live outside the heteronormative idea of ‘normal’. This resulted in a major, personal paradigm shift. It was also around about this time that I started writing in earnest.
Some of my characters were straight, some weren’t. Some of my characters were white, some weren’t. Some of my characters had perfect eye-sight and pristine skin, others wore glasses and had acne. It was while creating characters that I came to see sexuality as nothing more than an aspect of the whole, much like whether or not the character was going to be musical or have red hair. This in no way trivialized sexuality or the struggle so many face when embracing their sexuality, but I suddenly understood that people don’t need to be defined by who they love, the same way their ability to play ball sports or their eye colour doesn’t define them. People are people in all their myriad manifestations.
So why do I write about LGBT characters? I don’t. I write about people. Some happen to like other people of the same sex the same way some of them like heavy metal or hate asparagus. Why did I write The Other Me, which is essentially an issue book about a teen coming to terms with their sexuality? Because I was that girl, and perhaps if I’d read this sort of book then, it might’ve saved me years of confusion and emotional turmoil.