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June 15, 2009

Lee Bantle on DAVID INSIDE OUT: What Enables David to Come Out While Sean Stays in the Closet?

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Today's guest blogger is Lee Bantle, a lawyer from New York who has also written two novels for middle-grade and YA readers. Below, he discusses characters from his latest book, DAVID INSIDE OUT, and shares his thoughts on the very timely subject of gay marriage.

In DAVID INSIDE OUT, the title character and his teammate, Sean, feel a powerful sexual attraction to one another. Confronted with their unwanted gay feelings, they handle the conflict very differently. What is it about David that allows him to integrate being gay into his identity while Sean fights and denies it?

Even though it’s 2009 and the school that David and Sean go to has a Gay/Straight Alliance, Sean is bombarded with messages that discourage him from accepting his identity. He has internalized these messages which come from society, his parents, and his peers. You can still be fired in 30 states because you’re gay and you can be drummed out of the military if you dare mention that fact. When his parents find out Sean is messing around with David, they send Sean to a shrink and make him cut off his ties with David. Sean knows that guys are still called faggot as an insult and that some on the cross-country team would not be happy about having any gays in their midst.

Sean wants no part of any of this. He quite honestly tells David he’s not going to be part of his “faggy life.”

Even though Sean is not a profile in courage, I still cared about him while writing this book. He may not be making the best decisions for himself, but it is understandable. Ideally, the reader has compassion for Sean, while realizing that he is a cautionary tale.

In contrast, David, while at first fighting his gay feelings, comes to accept them and lets other people know who he really is. I think there are a number of things that account for this. One of these is his mother. She’ll love him no matter who he is. David also discovers happily that there is a healthy gay community out there. His visit to the gay and lesbian bookstore and some chats on the GLBTQ hotline give him support and hope. But in the end, I suppose the most important factor is that David is someone who wants to know who he is. And he has the guts to go for it.

Although the question of gay marriage does not come up in the book, I think it is interesting to contemplate how the pitched battle over this issue may be affecting gay teens who are struggling with their sexual identity.

To me, I believe it has a profound effect. This fight is over a basic and essential human right --- who can we love, and what role the people we love can have in our lives.

In 44 states, gays and lesbians cannot get married even though under the Constitution, marriage is a fundamental right. By popular vote, California recently took away the right to marry and the state’s highest court upheld the vote. In my opinion, this sends a very powerful message that there is something wrong with gay relationships. And even if any given teenager might be thinking, “why worry about marriage now?” it’s really not that simple. I feel that the path to acceptance for gay and lesbian teens will be a challenge until people can love and marry whomever they want --- in all 50 states.

-- Lee Bantle