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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

A lot of LGBT readers have a mountain to climb when summoning the courage to pick up a new book- a mountain of dead gays. The Bury Your Gays trope has its origins in lesbian pulp fiction, but persists across the entire LGBT spectrum to this day, with Out magazine reporting 62 lesbian and bi WLW killed onscreen in just two years.

I would therefore forgive people for hesitating before picking up Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. But only briefly.

The premise is this: on the day a person dies, they get a telephone call from Deathcast letting them know- this is it. Mateo and Rufus, both strangers, have had their call, and now they need a Last Friend to make their final day special.

It goes without saying that the book isn’t a laugh a minute. But Silvera conveys a believable optimism- that it is possible for the right person to change your life in a single day. I must admit to not liking either of the protagonists at first. Mateo is weak, frozen by indecision, and terrified of the death that the front cover deems inevitable. Rufus is selfish and reckless, and his first scene is shocking and repulsive.

However, they redeem themselves- or rather, each other. Over the course of the book, we get to learn more about each boy through the other’s eyes, as well as how the world they live in is shaped by the fact that everyone is aware of their impending death.

Although one character is gay and the other bi, this goes beyond merely tackling LGBT concepts. Yes, Silvera made the decision to meet the Bury Your Gays trope head-on, but the key themes are death and isolation rather than either character’s sexuality. It pains me that non-MLM readers might overlook this book on account of it being “gay”, when actually it has a lot to say to anyone who has been touched by terminal illness or loss.

Both boys are already familiar with death, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to grieve for themselves. They muse on the afterlife while facing the impossible challenge of living their entire lives in a single day.

This book is clever, but not pretentious- its concepts are universal, presented from the perspectives of two teenage boys who know no more about death than any of the rest of us. Therein lies Silvera’s genius- none of us have either the time or the answers. We are Mateo and Rufus, and we aren’t going to make it out alive.

This book is far more uplifting and inspiring than I ever could have prepared myself for. There’s no getting away from the fact that They Both Die at the End– but so do we all.

The Long Littleness of Life

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Today, one of the year 7s at the school I work at asked me if I would rather be a gay man or a lesbian. Which, faced with having to explain my decision to a group of earnest eleven-year-olds, is a pretty hefty question.

See, having walked the twin lines of genderfluidity and bisexuality for a number of years, I am in a perfect position to answer. However, I found myself caught a little unawares.

These children are, of course, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”. How the hell do I explain the hideous Venn diagram of homophobia and misogyny faced by both groups?

In the end, after a moment’s consideration, I said I’d rather be a gay man. Which is true.

Neither is a walk in the park. Neither is a choice many would make willingly. But, having seen both sides of the coin, I know what I’d pick.

I’ve been harassed in the street for being in a gay male couple and for being in a gay female couple. I know what made me feel more intimidated.

The year 7 in question kind of hit the nail on the head when he asked, “but how do lesbians even have sex?”

I replied, “I think there’s something you all need to know. I know we teach you about sex in school, so you think it’s the most important thing, but it’s not. There’s so much more to meeting a person, falling in love with them and enjoying your time with them.”

“But none of us would be here without sex!”

True, small child, true. But if the continuation of the species is the meaning of life, then all of human endeavour is ultimately pointless and we may as well build a rocket that will fire us all into the sun to save global warming the bother of killing us all off.

That’s why I felt frightened being perceived as a lesbian. Because queer people don’t love, they fuck. Type “lesbian” into a search engine, and the chances are you’ll be offered “porn” as your next word. Doubly true for the word “bisexual”.

If perceived as a lesbian, you’re inherently a sex object, there for the male gaze. It’s frightening.

When harassed as part of a gay male couple, the story is a little different.

The lone hetero Neanderthal male spots you. He frowns. He approaches your friend: are those two gay? Your friend replies in the affirmative. The Neanderthal frowns again before retreating.

It’s less darkly confrontational, less exposing. That’s not to say that horrors don’t befall gay male couples, because they do. Just- less often.

Again, you’re treated as a sexual being. But because the Neanderthal male sees himself as the object of your desires (the arrogant fuck), he’s actually afraid of you.

Not to mention the fact that he definitely couldn’t take both of you in a fight.

I couldn’t explain all of this to the kids. I explained that gay women, or women perceived as queer, are more likely to be denied jobs.

This definitely surprised them, and I wonder if any of them will think on it a little longer- why is it exactly that women get less than men when in an apparently similar position?

This is why I love working with children. They’re exposed to so much about the world, and just don’t have the experience to comprehend it. Consequently, they’re full of questions.

Questions like, “How do lesbians have sex?” are tricky, because there’s absolutely no way I’m explaining the clitoris to an eleven-year-old. I think it’s important to consider instead why these questions arise- overwhelmingly, I feel it is because relationship education in schools starts at sex and works backwards.

I know why. Because sex is easy, and love is complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

I am frightened for every single child that walks through our education system, and that’s why I work in it.