A review of Absolutely, Positively Not by David Larochelle
Published 2005, Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
In the recently concluded National Children’s Book Awards, the judges for Kids’ Choice pleasantly surprised everyone with their bold choices as they included two LGBT picture books in their Top 10 list. So I think it’s about time for us Filipino adults to stop the pretense and give our kids the credit they deserve: they are reading and they are ready, maybe even more than us.
The worst thing that can happen at this point is for local publishers to realize that there is a ready market for LGBT literature and for them to release token publications—mediocre books with poorly written LGBT characters/insights, just to be able to say that they have a product to support gender rights, equality, and awareness.
So, to refer a really good example of an LGBT book, I invite everyone to check out David Larochelle’s Absolutely, Positively Not, which deservedly won the 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award. It’s a story told from the point-of-view of 16-year old Steven, who is struggling with the idea that just because he seems to be attracted to male people and likes square-dancing, people might consider him gay. And he is absolutely, positively not gay.
I cannot imagine what it is like to be gay. I think straight people who say they can are arrogant, self-righteous jerks and are only a little less worse than homophobic bigots. So it might be audacious of me to assume that this is an accurate portrayal of a teenage boy coming to terms with his sexuality. Do I really think every LGBT child seeks out self-help books and chooses to undergo aversion therapy in an effort to be normal? Definitely not.
Yes, Larochelle chose hyperbolic events as a backdrop to Steven’s coming-out process, from the hypersensitive and ubersensible best friend’s family all the way to Steven heeding Dr. Beachum’s archaic advise. But it all serves as mere examples—lighthearted and (to me) honest examples—of what LGBT children possibly go through. Including, but not limited to: rationalizing attraction towards a person of the same sex, denial of one’s sexuality to one’s self and to others, looking for a ‘cure,’ trying to date people of the ‘correct’ gender, being surprised that other people have always known, telling the people that really matter, and finally realizing that there are many others out there.
I really appreciated this book, because it doesn’t try to be a panacea to every LGBT issue and injustice in the world. It doesn’t even deal with sex, which understandably may be a completely different pressure point to someone who’s still trying to work out his sexuality. It doesn’t feature a brooding depressed teenager bullied or abused to the point of a suicide attempt. Let me be very clear: we need those. But if those are all we have, then we’ll end up with a pretty bleak and ultimately incongruent picture of the LGBT young adult.
We all have a long way to go when it comes to equal rights, and the presence of LGBT literature means just a little but important step further. It’s at least a step towards telling our LGBT kids that they are not alone, and towards telling straight people that members of the LGBT population are not at all that different. This book is a gem in its humorous and simple narrative and in its success in delivering a key message. It says yes, Steven is gay, and yes, he doesn’t know what that means. It says, like every other teen, Steven’s just trying to figure himself out. And there’s absolutely, positively nothing wrong with that.