As Pride month comes to an end, we are back with authors who decided to put realities into words to convey their message and depict the lives of the queer community in front of the world. Whether its their own story or the tale of someone they know, it raises awareness and realization of what it is like to survive in a segregated society and how survival is upheld.
Elliot Kreloff, Tuesday is Daddy’s Day
Elliot Kreloff is an award-winning designer and illustrator. He has worked on a broad range of children’s books including early readers, fiction and nonfiction picture books. Inspired by his own experiences raising his family, he writes from the heart, creating a story that’s sure to resonate with readers. Celebrating LGBTQ+ parents, coparents who live apart, and the shared love that keeps families together no matter where they live. Tuesday is Daddy’s Day is a sweet story, perfect to share during Pride month and year-round. With a message about appreciating everything you have and being open to change, paired with bright, kid-friendly illustrations reminiscent of crayon drawings, this is a great title to share with the young readers you love.
Raven Undersun, The Last Summer
Written by Raven Undersun, The Last Sun is a coming-of-age novella about a romance between two female bisexual characters. Set in her hometown of Shrewsbury, the two leads Ava and Mary are two halves of Undersun’s personality between the age of 16-18. According to Undersun, it’s like the character is an archetype, etching out the similarities between these real life individuals. A story inspired by her own life where, “a friend and I really did have the fire department called out to rescue us while we were watching the sunset from a high-up haybale (they thought we had drowned), and while Mary left for Cambridge at the end of the book, I left for Oxford. “
Arabelle Sicardi, Queer Heroes
Arabelle Sicardi is a writer and brand consultant who focuses on the intersection of beauty technology and power. Queer Heroes is a children’s book on queer folks throughout history. The book celebrates the achievements of LGBTQ+ people through history and from around the world, featuring dynamic full-color portraits of a diverse selection of 53 inspirational role models accompanied by short biographies that focus on their incredible successes.
George Azar, Coming to Jesus: My Gay Church Days
George was your average American kid born to traditional Middle Eastern immigrants. Curious about life but tortured by vicious bullying in middle school, he found what seemed like a solution: evangelical Christianity. It appeared to have the cure for his most “shameful sin.” Believing his homosexual feelings were an abomination before God, he committed his life to a church community that accepted him … conditionally. While hiding the scariest truths about him for fear of losing their love, he went from Bible study to Bible college, committing every aspect of his life to his faith – even forsaking important relationships “for the sake of the Gospel.” Little did he know that the steady trickle of relinquished identity would create a psychological dysmorphia that allowed his oppressors to keep him in dangerous isolation.
Walt Meyer, Rounding Third
San Diego-based writer Walter G. Meyer’s novel, Rounding Third, continues to sell 10 years after it was published. It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, was a finalist for a San Diego Book award, and an Amazon best-seller. The book tells the story of Rob Wardell, a seventeen-year old who feels like he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere–not at home, not at school and not on the baseball field. The small, shy boy stays on the high school baseball team only to please his father since he knows he will never get to play. He’s living his life alone until he finds himself drawn into a friendship with the team’s new star pitcher, Josh Schlagel. The two boys hit it off instantly; maybe it’s because Josh isn’t exactly welcomed by the team either. But as Rob and Josh grow closer and start spending more time together away from the field, Rob realizes this his friend is hiding something. The bruises on Josh’s body and his reluctance to let Rob know about certain parts of his life have Rob suspicious. When Josh’s secrets are finally revealed and become life threatening, Rob and his family must step up to the plate.
What was your inspiration behind writing this book?
Elliot Kreloff: My inspiration for this book came after asking a friend, who is a parent of a three-year-old, what she would like to see in a children’s book for her son. What hasn’t she been able to find easily on the bookshelves? She answered that she’d like to see more diverse families featured. I thought, “Well, my family is certainly diverse!” So, I started thinking about my daughter’s experience growing up in two households with a gay dad.
As I reached my late thirties, my desire to be a dad felt even more pressing. A gay dad? Back in 1988? Not possible. I thought about trying to find a woman to marry… but the thought of living a lie, pretending to be something I wasn’t, felt awful. And living a lie was no way to bring up a child.
I was very lucky to have a wonderful friend, a woman, who also wanted a child, but she too, was not interested in being married. We decided we would adopt a child together, from Mexico, the rules were a bit looser back then, than in the US. After a lot of research and paperwork, with the help of a foreign adoption expediter (don’t ask!), after three months, we were told there was a newborn waiting for us in Mexico.
We had decided that we would continue to live in our own apartments (luckily just a few blocks from each other) and share all the necessities of childcare in both homes. How many times I pushed the stroller back and forth between our places, with our little baby girl happily watching the world go by.
As our daughter got to school age, we worried that she might feel upset about having parents that did not live together, since most of her friends lived with both parents in one home. One day, when it was my turn to pick her up at school (Tuesday!) I heard her say to her best friend. “I’m lucky! I have two bedrooms. The one at my mommy’s is big and blue, and my room at my daddy’s is pink, and has a loft bed.” Her friend asked, “And you get to have toys at both places?”
I never forgot that moment. We were the ones that worried about what the other parent’s might think, but for our daughter, what was important was that she felt loved and cared for by her two parents who adored her. She was lucky!
After a few years, I met my partner. He was also a dad, with older kids from a marriage that didn’t work out. After dating for a while, we decided that we wanted to live together, so he moved into my place. It wasn’t an easy transition for any of us. We are still working on it, 25 years later.
Raven Undersun: I wanted to take a simple story and often-repeated story where a shy narrator meets this charming eccentric hero and gets their life turned upside down and changes themselves and subvert it. This is the manic pixie dream girl trope where this quirky girl comes along to teach the mediocre male lead that life is worth living. And I think there is actually some truth in this trope – every so often, someone completely out-of-the-box comes along and changes how you look at the world. But I wanted to inject some realism into those experiences: usually the manic pixie isn’t your dream girl. Why is she the way she is? She’s a real person, so she deserves a motivation. She’s not always good for you. You shouldn’t always follow her lead blindly. I wanted both my characters to be women: I’ve always observed that romantic relationships between women start on more even footing than those between a woman and a man, even if they don’t end that way. There’s also an idea that our shy narrator can sit there passively and have their life saved by love, but I think if someone makes you realise you need to act to live your life, then that’s the best case scenario.
Arabelle Sicardi: I was inspired by the lives of so many queer people throughout history; it actually took a lot longer to narrow down the people we could technically include than it did to write up the biographies. Which is a nice change from queer people being constantly forgotten about. We simply couldn’t include everybody.
George Azar: During the height of the pandemic, I began facing some of my greatest enemies with more intensity than usual: self-loathing, body dysmorphia, internalized homophobia, and fears of being alone. As I started to rely on old addictions to numb the pain, I realized that there was a root to these feelings. Although seven years removed from Evangelical Christianity, belief systems that were once used to justify why I wasn’t acting upon my homosexuality were propping up these insecurities. A belief system that told me I was disgusting and needed saving; that my friends, family, and very good people were going to hell because they didn’t say a specific prayer or believe the man in the sky was their true lord and savior. I reached out to my therapist for guidance on healthier outlets. Rather than rely on my additions, I started to journal about my time in the church. It became evident to me that this was the root of my pain and needed to get it out. After completing it, I realized that this book was a powerful tool for helping others heal from similar systems of antiquated belief. Also, after hearing the increase in an already disturbing number of suicidal teens taking their lives because of this formative, destructive belief system, I was moved to come full force against the church and tell my story to the world. I believe so strongly in this mission that a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project, which helps suicidal LGBTQ youth.
Walt Meyer: I had wanted to write a book about my experiences on the high school baseball team ever since I lived them. As I went through my coming out process, I met more and more guys who had similar experiences to mine and I decided to weave them together to create my novel “Rounding Third.” It seems to have worked. The book sold well, and I still get messages and reviews from people I don’t know saying, “Did you follow me in high school? This is my story!”
How do you relate yourself to the character?
Elliot Kreloff: This is my family’s story. I wanted to be a dad and did not listen to those who told me it was not possible.
Raven Undersun: I relate to Mary in her hesitancy, her sentimentality, and the sway other people’s ideas sometimes have over her. I relate to Ava in her frustration with how we waste our lives staying on the straight and narrow, the temptation to try to think your way out of feeling, and the difficulty she has relating to people.
Arabelle Sicardi: I actually didn’t write about myself in this book, but about many people I look up to or learn from; They are part of my queer community but it’s not about me as a person.
George Azar: I am the character – I see a wildly insecure boy who just wanted to belong. He feared his greatest “sin” of homosexuality, which drove him to the depths of deception by the Evangelical belief system. He eventually broke away from the control and grew up to think for himself, despite it being the hardest thing he has ever done. Disconnecting from his community, he built a new community that loved and accepted him for him. But the greatest accomplishment was the acceptance of himself.
Walt Meyer: Every author puts some of themselves in every major character they create, but in the case of Rob, the protagonist in “Rounding Third” there was quite a bit of me. But Rob is an idealized version of my high school self. I wish I’d had the courage he does and accepted myself when I was much younger and been able to use that self-acceptance to live a stronger life.
What is the message you want to deliver through your writing?
Elliot Kreloff: There’s no “right way” to create a family. The only prerequisite is love.
My hope is, that the more children see the diverse world that we live in today reflected in their books and on their screens, the more we can hope for a welcoming world in their future.
Raven Undersun: For this book, I wanted to deliver the message that yes, we need to step out of our comfort zone. Yes, if you play with fire you will get burned. Yes, we often fall out of first love and yes, it’s meant to hurt: but that’s good and it’s beautiful too.
Arabelle Sicardi: Be the person you needed when you were younger.
George Azar: I want to let my readers know that regardless of how deep you were or are still in an antiquated belief system, there is always hope. I’m living proof of that. I want my readers to see my widely insecure youth and subsequent plunge into the faith as a source of inspiration to form their own identities and claim their sexuality. I want them to know they are not a mistake – that they are perfect and beautiful just the way they are. I want them to hear their own voice through my story, bringing light and context to why they think so horribly about themselves and how to change that.
Walt Meyer: I wanted “Rounding Third” to convey what it took me a long time to learn—that if you stand up for yourself, you can live openly and proud as and LGBTQ+ person. And the more you do it, the stronger you become and the more you are able to help others on their journeys.
How the underrepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community can be prevented?
Elliot Kreloff: More visibility! In every aspect of media. The more we all see LGBT+ characters and their lives as part of our everyday experience, the less a member of our community will be experienced as frightening and strange. People always fear the unknown and the different. Let’s make ourselves known.
Raven Undersun: I think there’s a few issues here. Sometimes creators worry that having too many LGBTQ+ characters in a narrative is “unrealistic,” which is why we often end up with the “one token gay friend.” But it’s not unrealistic: so many of the people I know belong to the LGBTQ+ community. Also, LGBTQ+ individuals sometimes gravitate together because it’s affirming to spend time with people who have had similar experiences and can empathise, as well as gravitating to open-minded cishet people who are also more likely to have LGBTQ+ friends. The second issue is that sometimes there is representation of the LGBTQ+ community but people straightwash it or play it down because they’re worried about the reception if it becomes more than subtext. People worry about being pigeonholed into their creation being labelled LGBTQ+ and nothing else. But the thing is, love is love, and hopefully by creating more well-written narratives with that theme we can help people beyond the LGBTQ+ community see that.
Arabelle Sicardi: Write your story, share it with others. And know someone needs to hear it.
George Azar: I believe bringing power to truth and fighting for our equality is the best way to prevent underrepresentation. The media for so long has stifled the voices of the LGBT+ community through underrepresentation and, more harmfully, misrepresentation. Living our truths and not caring about the haters is the first step to owning our narrative. Being confident in our sexuality and fighting relentlessly to elect politicians, board members, and other elected officials to positions of power that can impact our community for the better.
Walt Meyer: It would be nice to have all minorities added to television shows, books, and movies, even if in the background to show that we really do live in a much more diverse world than is too often depicted. Adding major characters who are LGBTQ, without that being the focal point of the story will do a lot to normalize their place in society as well as in the media.
What is your message for pride month?
Elliot Kreloff: Live your true life. As difficult as it may be, be brave. Live your truth out loud, not only for yourself, but to educate and lift up others.
Raven Undersun: My message for pride month is this: it’s allowed to be complicated. You’re allowed to be fluid and to express that fluidity proudly. Just because we have labels doesn’t mean we have to fit ourselves into them. For Mary, her attraction to Ava throughout the book shifts between hero worship, friendship, love, and love retrospectively realised. Your attraction does not have to be pure to be valid: I sometimes worry that in trying too rigidly to create good representation rather than characters that stand alone as people, we reinforce the message that LGBT+ people are only allowed to be proud if they are socially respectable in other ways. For example, there’s a stereotype that bisexual people are ‘promiscuous’, so we shouldn’t write bisexual characters like that because it reinforces the stereotype. But that hinges on society’s idea that being ‘promiscuous’ is bad, and wedges LGBTQ+ people further into a box of what they’re allowed to be.
Arabelle Sicardi: Representation isn’t enough, actually – we need equity. And weneed to show up for each other and fight against anti-trans policies being passed around the world.
George Azar: Own your identity! Take pride in who you are and let your confidence be a guide to others. Confidence is the sexiest trait, so own your identity like your life depends on it (because it does.)
Walt Meyer: I think Pride month is a good time to remember the struggles that got the LGBTQ+ community to this point and note that it is not ancient history—many of the pioneers who led the protests over the years are still with us. I participated in many rallies to support marriage equality and fight to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and other forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. The loss of some rights and respect we experienced under the last administration are a reminder that it will not take a lot of time and effort to strip us of our hard-fought gains. Yes, it’s okay to party, but don’t forget there is more to Pride than a good time. It should be a celebration of past victories and a reminder to remain vigilant.