In recognition of Gay Pride Month, today we are chatting with YA author Lauren McLaughlin who is best known for her non traditional series, Cycler and (Re) Cycler. In these books the heroine, Jill, lives for four days every month as a boy named Jack. Says RT’s Kate Girard of the series first, Cycler, “There is nothing about this story that is ordinary, and yet this tale about struggling through life as a teen will feel as familiar to readers as if it is their own while simultaneously inspiring deep reflection on what it is to be ‘normal’.” Today the author talks about her tales of love and identity, and offers three good resources for teens (and families) that want to learn more about transgender issues.
A lot can go wrong when you’re a teenage girl who spends four days a month as a teenage boy. And a lot can go wrong when you’re the author who has to develop these two competing protagonists. There’s the ever present hazard of falling into tedious gender stereotypes (“Oh no, Jack, you left the toilet seat up again!” Snore.) There’s the challenge of designing each character’s individuality in a way that is both believable and narratively rich. For me that meant turning them into antagonists. What was never challenging, however, was writing from the point of view of a boy.
As a writer, I’ve created dozens of characters who are vastly different from me--male and female, old and young, aliens, talking dolls, sentient software programs, and in one instance, the collective unconscious of New York City--so having to write from the point of view of a teenage boy was relatively easy. I was a teenager once. I had a teenage brother. I have a husband who still sometimes acts like a teenage boy. In short, my life is full of reference points that helped me flesh out the character of Jack as a believably lovelorn, sex-starved, imprisoned teenage boy.
In fact, once I had written the first few chapters of Cycler, I began identifying so closely with Jack and his libidinous desires that I found it difficult to relate to his rival and alter ego, Jill. They are very different people, and this is only partially the result of their difference in gender. Jill is a conformist at heart, desperate to bury Jack’s existence so that she can have a model teenage girl’s life. Jack, on the other hand, only wants to be free. He doesn’t care about acceptance or conformity and finds Jill’s concerns trivial. The irony is that although Jack is the one in a physical prison, Jill has created a prison of her mind. She is so obsessed with complying with the heteronormative mandates of mainstream society that she utterly fails to see the beauty of this separate persona who shares both her bedroom and her body. She could learn a lot from Jack if only she had the courage to see him for what he truly is.
A number of readers have asked me if I saw Jack and Jill as separate people or as facets of the same person. And the answer is both. This is the essential conundrum at the heart of Cycler and (Re)Cycler. We have not created space in our society for a person who is both male and female, which forces a character like Jack/Jill into an existential bind. “Who am I?” They both wonder. “What am I?” There is no box that will hold them. But though Jack and Jill’s situation is a fictional one, I hope it will resonate with readers who feel marginalized for other reasons. For gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens, as well as for transgender and questioning teens, I hope that these books reflect their struggles while reinforcing the notion that things are getting better. We are a long way from full acceptance. And, sadly, I fear that society will always invent new reasons to marginalize people. But you don’t have to look that far back into history to realize how far we have come. My biggest hope for Cycler and (Re)Cycler is that they demonstrate how much more beautiful, sexy, and fun the world can be when we stop treating gender like a prison.
For teens and their families who want to know more about gender identity and transgender issues, I’ve found the following websites to be full of useful and supportive information:
Transactive: A support organization that provides educational, advocacy, and research services to transgender and gender-nonconforming children and teens, as well as to their families and communities.
The Trevor Project: The leading national organization providing crisis and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Their suicide hotline is 866-4-U-TREVOR.
- Lauren McLaughlin