Notes & Queeries
is a monthly column
that focuses on the personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual
On first glance, the two young adult novels Down to the Bone by
Mayra Lazara Dole, and Love &
Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger, both
published in 2008, seem quite different. Set in Miami, Down
to the Bone is written in an exuberant first person, complete with
Spanish-language, hip-hop infused slang. Set in Boston, Love
& Lies is more buttoned-up, and much more controlled.
But both books share some interesting characteristics. Both
are about Latina
lesbian teens — a somewhat rare find among young adult fiction. And both are
In Down to the Bone,
16-year-old Catholic school student Laura is outed to everyone when she’s
caught reading a love note from her girlfriend in class. Laura’s mother, a
factory worker, kicks her out of the house when she finds out about the
relationship, and she refuses to take Laura back unless she becomes straight.
Laura is expelled from school, starts working full-time, and
moves in with her best friend and best friend’s mom. She builds a network of
queer and straight friends in Miami, and she
deals with the pain of finding out that her girlfriend, who is forced to move
back to Puerto Rico, has decided to marry a man.
Laura is a world away from 18-year-old Marisol, the main
character in Love & Lies. Marisol’s mother, a social worker, fully
supports her out lesbian daughter, and although Marisol waitresses at a diner
in Harvard Square
to pay her rent, she could easily rely on her parents for financial support.
Marisol is aware, to some extent, of her own privilege. She
is self-confident and expects to be seen as the best, and she is comfortable
with the fact that she’s gay. But even Marisol is surprised when her gorgeous
creative writing teacher, a woman ten years older than her, is attracted to her.
The differences between Marisol and Laura are reflected in
the lies they tell. Laura faces homophobia across her community, and at first
it seems that the only way to avoid it is to be straight. She tells her mother
that she has changed; she insists to her friends that she only ever loved that
one girl; she dates a boy and tries to lie to herself about how she can fall in
love with him.
Many YA novels about queer teens deal with lying —
specifically, lying about being gay. Those are lies born of being in the
closet, and I think that for many LGBT people, that lie is the first big one we
In a way, they’re more forgivable than other lies. We tell
these lies until we learn to accept ourselves. Before that moment, we have very
little choice but to deny the truth.
In Love & Lies,
the lies are less forgivable. Marisol has been out for two years when Love & Lies begins, and she has no
need or desire to lie about her sexual orientation. Everyone around her accepts
her queer identity. She is free to lie about something else.
The lies in Love &
Lies are sometimes intentional, sometimes not. In a charitable
interpretation, these kinds of lies are the ones we tell to make others more
comfortable — to cushion the truth. On the other hand, these are also the lies
we tell to make ourselves feel better, or to make ourselves feel important.
These are the lies that hurt the most.
We’ve all lied before. Many lies arise in the context of
relationships, just as they did for Marisol in Love & Lies. There’s the lie you tell when you’re breaking up
with someone, just to soften the blow for them — the “it’s not you, it’s me”
But does anyone ever believe that one? Does it ever make it
easier? I know that when I heard that phrase or its equivalent, I never
believed the speaker.
One night, someone whom I had been dating for about a month
told me very earnestly that she thought I was wonderful, and she hoped we would
continue to be great friends. But since she broke up with her last girlfriend
fairly recently, she just wasn’t ready to be dating yet. I smiled at her, as if
it made complete sense to me, and told her, “I totally understand.”
But of course, I did not understand at all. I felt insulted,
because I knew she was lying.
It might seem like you’re being self-sacrificing, admitting
that you’re just not ready to date, that you need some “time alone.” But anyone
who has been on the receiving end of such a statement can hear, loud and clear,
the words that remain unspoken: “I’m just not ready to be dating you.”