The Power of Story is That Stories Are Real

Stories are genuine. Stories can feel real, even when we don’t feel real to ourselves. Stories reflect who we are back at us and make it easier for us to know it’s true. This is especially important for those of us who aren’t cisgender, heteronormative, non-disabled white men from traditional families. That is, for most of us.


 

I know, that sounds like the kind of truism that passes for wisdom on a motivational poster with puffy clouds in the background. And it’s exactly the kind of saccharine statement that would have left a cloying taste in my mouth as a kid. But at 42, if I can get out of my literal mindset just long enough, it’s also a statement that sparkles with truth.


Yes, many stories are fiction, including the ones I write, so they’re not accurate renderings of events that took place on planet Earth, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. Or at least truthful.


Stories are genuine. Stories can feel real, even when we don’t feel real to ourselves. Stories reflect who we are back at us and make it easier for us to know it’s true. This is especially important for those of us who aren’t cisgender, heteronormative, non-disabled white men from traditional families. That is, for most of us.


Sometimes, it’s easier to have empathy for others than it is to treat ourselves with the same care and dignity. Stories allow us to merge the two. The empathy is externalized to someone else, but someone who only exists in our minds, and in that sense is part of us. Stories allow us to care for ourselves by caring for the characters who share their lives with us.


I first found the word genderqueer when I was 19, in Gender Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. When I read it, I consumed it. I became it. Because I already was it, even though I hadn’t had the language to name it as such. And more importantly, seeing the word genderqueer on the page made it real, made my genderqueer existence real. And yes, I know, the more common nomenclature these days is nonbinary, and I absolutely claim my nonbinary status proudly. But in that way that our early experiences form us, my home is in the term genderqueer.


Those early experiences are important, and that’s part of what draws me to writing middle grade. I get to add to the wealth of information kids use in forming their views of the world, so that the first time they see themselves on the page is way earlier than 19.


When I set about writing my first book, George (a.k.a. Melissa’s Story), it was a purposeful choice to write a middle grade transgender character, for transgender and cisgender people alike to know that she and trans girls like her are real.


And now I’m excited for my new novel, Rick, coming out next April. If you have read George, you might remember Rick as the bully Jeff’s best friend. Rick is in middle school now, with opportunities for new friendships, and a choice to make about a friend who is, frankly, a jerk. Plus, intergenerational family connections. Melissa is in the background, happy and without enough conflict in her life to need her own sequel.


Rick doesn’t just show LGBTQIAP+ kids that they are real. It shows that they can meet other people like them, and unlike them, and have community. They (and you) can learn new language, develop, change, grow, and have lots of fun along the way. If the motto of the first book is to “be who you are,” perhaps the motto of Rick is that “you don’t have to know who you will be forever to be yourself now.”


In a lot of ways, Rick’s story still isn’t my story. That’s where the “fiction” part comes in. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write my story, unless I write a historical piece. Far too many kids still experience ageism on top of transphobia when they’re told they’re too young to know who they are. But the levels of unawareness I experienced? Where there was no possibility a kid like me would ever run across anyone who reflected my genderqueer existence? My goal is that such a life is a thing of the past.


I write stories because they are real. I write stories because my writing them makes them real. And that is powerful.


Alex Gino loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive. George was their first novel. George was a winner of the Children's Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Children's Choice Book Awards, among a host of others. George was also featured on several Best of the Year lists. Their upcoming book Rick is a companion novel to George. It will be available April 21, 2020. For more about Alex, please visit alexgino.com.

 



This article is part of the Scholastic Power of Story series. Scholastic’s Power of Story highlights diverse books for all readers. Find out more and download the catalog at Scholastic.com/PowerofStory. Discover new Power of Story articles from other guest authors, including India Hill Brown, Rosiee Thor, Kacen Callender, and more.

 

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Kristine Oulman

Alex Gino is as wonderful as always. Such a deep and caring writer for readers of all ages. I can't wait to read "Rick." Thanks Alex!

Posted : Nov 13, 2019 05:44


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