Windows and MirrorsChase Night
The following is a guest post by Asymmetrical author Chase Night.
Books can be windows, and books can be mirrors.
I’m not the first person to write an essay about this, and I won’t be the last. It’s an idea that crops up again and again in think-pieces about diversity in literature, but unless you’re the sort of person who goes looking for think-pieces about diversity in literature, you might have missed it. So that’s what I want to talk about today—my debut novel’s launch day.
Chicken is the story of a boy who falls in love with another boy. It’s about other stuff too—unpleasable parents and weird religion and the politics of fried chicken—but mostly it’s about love. First love. The first time you want someone so much it makes you sick. The first time their hand lingers on your shoulder a little longer than it should. The first time they make you laugh so hard you forget to be afraid.
Those strike me as very universal feelings, things to which anyone of any orientation ought to be able to relate. But very early in the writing process, I shared a draft of a chapter in a college workshop class. My professor was enthusiastic, and the majority of my classmates were positive or politely silent, but one student returned their copy with the following note:
“Straight people won’t like this.”
Whoa. I had prepared myself for moral outrage, but this blunt honesty caught me off guard. For days, I was angry, but now, looking back, I can see this comment was my story’s saving grace.
See, up until then I’d been trying to write a window into a brick wall. I wanted to show people who’d never been queer teenagers in the evangelical South what it was like to be a queer teenager in the evangelical South. But those five little words made me realize that as ridiculous as it was for that classmate to believe they could speak for all straight people, it was even more ridiculous for me to believe I could lead a person to a window and make them see.
After that, I stopped planning and started listening. I stopped trying to write the story I thought straight people needed to hear and started writing the story my protagonist wanted to tell. And while that story contains all the things I mentioned—parents and religion and fried chicken—it’s mostly about falling in love. And if straight people don’t like that, it’s really not my concern.
Because the thing is, if you’re heterosexual, then every bookstore and cineplex you walk into is an infinite hall of mirrors. You could live a thousand years and never finish reading every single book and watching every single move about people like you. But if you’re not heterosexual, then those same buildings are made almost entirely of windows. You could roam the halls forever, pressing your forehead against the glass, straining for a glimpse of someone like yourself who isn’t just there to be sassy or get murdered. You might find enough to tide you over for a year or two.
So in the end, I wrote Chicken to be a mirror. I wrote Chicken to show queer teenagers in the evangelical South that they are brave and beautiful and their love for each other is real and joyful. I wrote this book for them and for the adults that used to be them. I wrote this book to say, “I see you and you deserve to be the heroes of romantic star-crossed stories.”
As for the straight people out there, I didn’t write Chicken for you, but I still hope you’ll give it a chance. Because no matter how different you think you are from the characters in this novel, I believe there are some feelings we all share, some experiences so magical that in the light they cast, you may find yourself face-to-face with your own reflection in the window.