It was the early ’90s, and I had a dilemma. I was beginning to realize that I was a fraud.
I was earning my living writing novels for middle schoolers and young adults. I was known for taking on hard topics: sexual molestation, mental illness, abandonment, death. I wrote with honesty and compassion, and I was proud of my reputation as a truth-teller. Nonetheless, on a topic central to own my deepest truth, I had remained silent.
I am a lesbian. I am now and was then entirely open in my personal life. But as a children’s author I remained closeted. Coming out would have been professional suicide.
Everyone knew that was so. And yet, for lack of information and reassurance about their sexuality, everyone also knew that young people were committing a much more literal kind of suicide. Or living in fear and shame.
How could I go on conspiring to keep that kind of silence?
My first thought was to go to other writers in my field whom I knew to be lesbian or gay and say, “Come out with me. Let’s do a book together.” But I couldn’t do that. No one has the right to ask another person to take such a risk. So I took a different tack.
The book got starred reviews and awards. Even more important, it sold, opening the door for publishers to risk the topic again. No one was “outed” except me as the editor, and that was a choice I had made very intentionally. And by the way, my career survived.
Has the world changed for children’s writers since then?
Consider this. I have recently contributed an essay to a book called “The Letter Q.” It is a collection of letters by 64 openly lesbian or gay writers for young people, each one offering advice to his or her younger self, each one speaking out from the silence that has so long held young lives hostage.
“Am I Blue?” was only one of many forces that created this change, of course. But no book that has emerged from my career has made me more proud.
Does it matter whether children’s writers can be honest about their sexuality? If books matter, if kids matter, it does.
Marion Dane Bauer is the author of over 80 books. Her latest, a novel in verse, “Little Dog, Lost,” and a picture book, “Dinosaur Thunder” were released on May 1, 2012. She lives in St. Paul. www.mariondanebauer.com