Spotlight on Homeless LGBTQ Youth


While casually perusing my GoodReads mail, I came across this startling statistic. It stopped me short. I’ve read quite a few M/M books where one of the protagonists is or was homeless and had to prostitute himself for a time, but I never really thought about the reality. They were, after all, romance novels, and a host of horrible things happen to protagonists in order to create dramatic tension. I bet the 40% in that poster wouldn’t mind if some of their hardship was merely dramatic tension, easily resolved by the story’s end.

Instead, here are a few sobering statistics I learned after a cursory search:

-LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.
-LGBTQ youth, once homeless, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices.
-58.7% of LGBTQ homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%).


I also learned that there are precious few shelters that cater to LGBTQ youth. I found a few in the United States, one in the UK and a related charity in Canada. The Toronto city council was recently petitioned to create more options for homeless LGBTQ youth, because of “normalized oppression” in the general shelter system. To quote Alex Abramovich, a research coordinator with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (and this CBC news story):

“It’s come to be expected that the shelter system is homophobic and transphobic so LGBTQ youth will frequently avoid the shelter systems and find themselves in situations such as sleeping on a park bench or in alleyways.”

Rejected by their families and their communities. Subjected to sexual abuse, homophobia from all corners. Deprived of the fundamentals, such as food, shelter, education, love, respect, all because of outmoded social conventions and bigotry. We can tell them it gets better all we want, but that isn’t going to put a roof over their heads, get a meal in their bellies, give them somewhere to feel safe and accepted.

Donations can. Volunteering can. Public pressure can. In the US, you can donate to Lost-N-Found Youth in Atlanta or ALSO Youth in Florida or the Ali Forney Center in New York City. In the UK, there’s the Albert Kennedy Trust. If you or someone you know runs a shelter, and they are interested in learning more about how to cater to LGBTQ youth, loads more information can be found here. Here in Canada, there’s Egale.

Canadian Thanksgiving is in a little over a month. Wouldn’t it be great if some of these kids could be spending it in a shelter, enjoying a hot meal, with others like them, watched over by sympathetic staff and volunteers? I hope one day kids whose only crime is to love who they love, or be who they are, are relegated to the world of fiction.

(Much thanks to Moderatrix Lori from the GoodReads M/M Group for shining a light on this issue.)



Author Interview – Eresse

Today, I’d like to help shine the spotlight on a longtime friend and fellow writer, the indelible Eressë!

As enthralled by her writing style as by the gracious way she has always navigated both fandom and author-dom, I have been a fan hers since I read the first chapter of her classic fanfic, Greenleaf and Imladris. She was the first of my writer friends to parlay her fandom success into original novels, which are among the most inventive and engrossing that I have read.

Her series, The Chronicles of Ylandre, is set in a fantasy world where everyone is dual-gendered (albeit very masculine hermaphrodites. I would classify the books as fantasy M/M). You would think this would eliminate the need for a strict caste system, devious politicking, and prejudice. You would be wrong. Part coming-of-age tales, part dramadies of manners, part family saga, all heart-rending romances, The Chronicles of Ylandre books cast a spell that you are more than happy to be under. The characters are flawed but compelling. The world she has created is beyond unique. Best of all, the books have heart without skimping on drama and—my favorite—angst.

It is a thrill and an absolute privilege to help Eressë celebrate the release of the sixth book of the series, In Fine Form. I invited her to submit to an interview, so, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Eressë!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

I’m from Southeast Asia, married with three sons and one beloved pooch. I chose to use a pen name because I want to separate my writing identity from my personal one. Since I started writing publicly through Lord of the Rings fan fiction, I picked a name from the elvish language J.R.R. Tolkien created for his magnum opus. And the reason I was drawn to Eressë is because it happens to have the same meaning as my nickname and I like the way it rolls off my tongue.

I’ve always loved spinning tales. But it didn’t occur to me to set them down in writing until I got to high school. I started to experiment then, jotting down plot bunnies as they came to me or writing short stories. The latter was often in response to the lack of themes or plots I wanted to read but couldn’t find in the local bookstores. In those days, variety and diversity in fiction wasn’t the rule in this neck of the woods.

Anyway, once I got started, I just kept on writing. But these early pieces never saw the light of day. Then I discovered online fan fiction and decided to put my writing out there and see how it would be received. Everything took off from there.

2. Ah, the good old days! Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How long does it take you to write a book? What kind of schedule do you keep?

It takes me at least six to eight months to write a book depending on how involved the plot is and the amount of research required. I always start out with a detailed outline and, in the case of Chronicles of Ylandre, with its almost concurrent storylines, a very comprehensive timeline, which includes events from previous books. For me, it’s the best way to ensure continuity. Once I have all the basics in place, I start writing in earnest.

When I write fan fiction, I produce the chapters in linear fashion because of the serial nature of posting fanfic. But when I write original work, I don’t necessarily write chapters in order. I sometimes do the last chapters and epilogue first or start in the middle, then go back to the beginning. Or I might write different scenes and later figure out which ones belong to what chapter. I find it depends on my mood at the moment or whether I’m in the proper frame of mind to write about something I’m uncomfortable with, such as violence and infidelity or scenes I’m not that knowledgeable about, like warfare and military life.

I try to write something every day even if it’s just a page worth of stuff—keep the momentum going, so to speak. Of course, the occasional bout of writer’s block can disrupt that. When that happens, I reread every book to re-immerse myself in the Ylandre universe and hopefully get back in writing mode.

3. So you may actually have read your books more times than your devoted readers? Cool!

The world that you’ve created, Ylandre, is so unique and so vividly rendered in your books. How did you come up with it? Was there something specific that inspired you or that you wanted to get across?

Thank you. I honestly don’t know how I came up with it beyond my love for historical and fantasy romance. I suspect it was there all along and probably influenced my fan fiction stories. In a sense, LotR fanfic became the means by which I explored themes and storylines I was intrigued by. But I had to fit those ideas as plausibly as I could into the existing canon. Of course, that wasn’t always possible and the unexplored ideas could only find a home in an original work.

I did incorporate my own socio/political background into the series—the rigid class divisions, my Roman Catholicism, the colonial history of my country and the political upheavals I’ve lived through. And come to think of it, this is also my way of presenting a different sexual orientation as “normal.”

Heterosexuals far outnumber the LGBTQ population, but I don’t believe being in the majority gives anyone the right to marginalize those in the minority. I can’t abide the prejudice against gay people any more than I’ve understood bigotry based on gender, the color of one’s skin, or religious beliefs. It’s ridiculous to stand by something just because the majority believes in it or practices it. Majority isn’t synonymous with right—Christ’s crucifixion was demanded by a majority.

Okay, getting off the soapbox now.

4. Nah, stay up there! Nothing wrong with a good rant. Can you give us some examples of real-life events and how you transformed them to fit into your books?

Well, the social and economic divisions hereabouts are the basis for conflict in a number of books. People very rarely stray outside their respective circles in society. If there’s a crossing of class lines, it’s usually between people from not too divergent backgrounds. A slum dweller isn’t going to come into considerable contact with a rich family’s scion, much less marry one. So that’s one influence on my writing. The major difference is that the way my characters are written, it is possible to cross the social divide in Ylandre. Not so much in real life.

Coups d’état and government destabilizations have occurred frequently enough in my part of the world. So I worked this theme into several books albeit in different guises. It also plays a major role in the external conflict of In Fine Form.

The colonialist history of the world of Aisen is a nod to my region’s colonial past, while the monotheistic faith practiced by the Aiseni is loosely based on Judeo-Christianity and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church. On a personal note, Book Four’s medical setting is something of a tribute to my father.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve made having concubines or paramours an accepted practice among the upper crust. Again, that’s a reflection of the patriarchal society I grew up in. But the concept is also prevalent throughout European and Asian history from which I drew much inspiration with regard to world building.

In a nutshell, the stories in Chronicles of Ylandre may be the result of pure imagination, but most of the settings and cultures are founded on actual history and/or personal experience.

5. What’s especially smart about the hermaphroditic aspect to the people of Ylandre is that you have an endless supply of couples to write about and you don’t really ever have to explain why there are so many male-male couples in your books, unlike some contemporary series where it seems like the entire population of some small towns is gay. But were you worried in the beginning about that aspect, since it is atypical of most M/M fare and more in keeping with the sci-fi and fantasy genre?

It’s funny, but back in high school I related a long and elaborate multi-couple romance to my sister (she’s the only one who knows I was already dreaming up romance stories way back when) wherein one couple wasn’t heterosexual but gay. However, I took it a step further because I made one of the gay characters a hermaphrodite. To this day, I don’t know why I did it; I just remember having such fun with that storyline and being satisfied with it the most when I finished it. And my sister must have enjoyed it the most too because it’s the only pairing she could recall in detail years after. Anyway, it’s obvious I was fascinated by the concept even then.

I love romance fiction, both M/F and M/M. My first attempt at original fiction was a M/F historical romance, specifically the Regency era in England—I’m a bit of an anglophile, something I share with my eldest son. Well, that didn’t work out due to the abundance of Regency romances and historical M/F romances in general. Anyway, I now realize I didn’t write the heroine with quite the same enthusiasm as I did the hero, not to mention the hero had more chemistry with the other male characters in situations of mere camaraderie than he did with the heroine even in the middle of a torrid love scene.

LOL, I’ve been there.

The same thing happened when I wrote my seminal fan fiction piece Greenleaf and Imladris. There were two heterosexual romances featured alongside the main M/M storyline. While I enjoyed writing those, I didn’t imbue either with as much detail or passion as I did the M/M story. I don’t know why this happens and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out and just concentrate my efforts on writing.

I do agree it’s startling to read stories wherein whole communities seem to be composed of only gay people. That’s incredibly unrealistic. I wind up abandoning series because the sense of disbelief overcomes my enjoyment of the stories. So, yes, writing about a masculine, hermaphroditic race certainly solves the problem of having a host of M/M couples and trying to explain their improbable numbers. But it also introduces other problems because one has to come up with a plausible explanation for the existence of a race of androgynes. That means pretty extensive world building. It’s a good thing I enjoy that aspect of writing.

Was I worried? Well, I think every first time submission to a publisher induces some anxiety. And had I not got involved in fandom and fan fiction first, I would indeed have been very worried. But fanfic has introduced some of the most outlandish concepts and plotlines and continued to thrive. So I knew there was an audience out there for something like this. Maybe not a huge one—straight romance will always dominate the genre for obvious reasons and gay contemporaries will probably top (no pun intended) LGBTQ romance for the foreseeable future. But since I just wanted to see if I had what it takes to get published, the existing audience was big enough for me.

6. Even more interesting than the dual-gender aspect is the fact that the society you’ve created is actually a very medieval-Renaissance-ish one, with rank and social status of premium importance. Your books are almost romantic dramedies of manners, in a way. Was that deliberate?

It wasn’t deliberate if you mean did I consciously set out to write them that way. I never really do. I start out with a basic plot and characterizations but from thereon whatever currently intrigues me takes hold and informs my writing. Since I’ve always been fascinated by the way culture and society influence or dictate behavior and especially in history, that fascination wove itself into the fabric of my stories by way of, as you put it, “dramedies of manners.” However, the medieval-Renaissance setting was a conscious choice because I felt it best suited the stories I wanted to tell and, as mentioned earlier, because of my love of historical fiction.

7. Do you do a bit of research for each book, especially as regards particular aspects of the setting, or just rely on your prior reading/knowledge?

Oh, yes, I always do research whenever I’m writing about something I’m not very knowledgeable about. For instance, I don’t know how battles or treaty negotiations play out, so I read as much as I can about the pertinent facts. On the other hand, my father was a doctor and my family was very much involved in politics at one time, so I have a smattering of knowledge regarding both fields. Nevertheless, I still do research because the last thing I want is to receive feedback accusing me of ignorance or laziness or worse, misleading readers into believing what I wrote is true.

I know I won’t get everything right, but I try for plausibility at least if not authenticity. And I think that’s possible only if most of the basics are correct.

8. So the MCs in Book 6 are Jareth and Yandro. What made you want to tell their story, as opposed to that of some of the other secondary characters in your previous books? And also tell us a bit about In Fine Form.

My passion for any given pairing dictates whose book I’m going to write next. I have to sustain a certain level of enthusiasm for a story for several months. Otherwise, the lack of it will show in my writing. I don’t ever want to “phone in” a story that I’ll be embarrassed to acknowledge later on. I want to be satisfied with the effort I put into every book and proud that I did my best each time. It so happened Jareth and Yandro’s particular story called to me very strongly when I was figuring out which book to tackle next.

In Fine Form
is my take on the world of diplomacy as it is practiced in Aisen, the world in which Ylandre exists. It’s also another look at the traditions and social prejudices that permeate Ylandrin society. This story is mostly seen through the eyes of Yandro, a Half Blood and a bastard of unknown parentage and indeterminate racial origins. Providence allows him entry into the company of the higher ranks of Ylandrin society, but he still must put up with the intolerance of those who think him beneath their notice.

To complicate matters, he is appointed the aide of Jareth, who isn’t just a True Blood of noble birth and a high-ranking Ambassador, but also a scion of the Royal House. So the extremes of their respective backgrounds come into play here and influence how they interact with each other. It doesn’t help (at least from Yandro’s standpoint) that Jareth is an incorrigible flirt and has no qualms about turning their professional relationship into a personal one as well.

There’s romance, humor, and diplomatic intrigue, barriers that need to be torn down, and secrets that have to be unraveled. And there are substantial glimpses of protagonists from previous books as well as appearances by characters who will take center stage in later stories.

You know, I enjoyed writing all the books in the series, but I have to say this is the one I really had a lot of fun doing.

And we look forward to hours of fun reading it! Thank you, Eressë, for giving us an in-depth glimpse into your process and for agreeing to be the first author interview on this blog!

Gentle readers, if you really want to escape to a faraway destination unlike anywhere you’ve been before this summer, consider a trip to Ylandre. A fantasy world of scheming, double-dealing, class struggles, and romance galore! I promise you, it will be worth the trip!

In Fine Form by Eressë will be released on June 23rd from Liquid Silver Books. Pre-order it here. If you want to start from the beginning of the series, her first book is Sacred Fate , which can be found here. On the web, Eressë can be found at Tales by Eressë: and

Thanks again, and continued luck with all your writing endeavors, my friend!

The Normal Heart


In the tradition of And the Band Played On…, last night HBO aired the film version of the 1985 agit-prop masterpiece by Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart. If you haven’t watched it yet, especially if you are an M/M devotee like I am, it is absolutely worth your time. (Spoiler warning from here on out.)

I’ll confess I had my doubts about the project, mostly due to the involvement of Ryan Murphy. To be blunt, I’ve never liked his work. Too camp, too lightweight, too silly, too trashy. But even Murphy admits that he restrained himself because of the importance of this project, to him and to the gay community at large. The fact that he can say that about his own work should perhaps give him pause, but anyway. He had excellent source material here, and, despite a few quibbles, I think he knocked it out of the park. If you aren’t sobbing by the end of this, I think you should go in for a chest x-ray to make sure you aren’t a robot.

The story centers around the ground zero for AIDS, the NYC gay community circa 1981, in the midst of unprecedented sexual and personal freedom for homosexuals. Ronald Regan publicly acknowledged the existence of the disease in 1985, but during the four years in-between, there was a lack of information, a black hole of support from governmental institutions, and even some resistance/disbelief within the gay community itself. And yet men young and old were dying by the hundreds, from a disease that wasn’t understood and that desiccated them from the inside out.

It might be fair to ask, “Why a movie about the beginnings of AIDS when we are so advanced, both socially and medically, now?” But when you consider how quickly the government reacted to SARS or H1N1, and how slow they were to address this out of prejudice and bigotry (not to mention the fact that 6,000 people get infected with HIV daily), the timeliness of the tale becomes clear. The Normal Heart is really a story about advocacy. What is the best way to make your voice heard? Some would say it’s through diplomacy, negotiation, awareness that doesn’t challenge anyone. But how much does that really get you, in the end? Isn’t it preaching to the converted? When it comes to life or death situations, to hate crimes, to racism, to a sub-culture that has no rights and no visibility, do you barter, or do you roar? And what are the consequences of that roar, even within your own community? The Normal Heart illustrates this conflict beautifully, and gives no easy answers.

It is also, in its heart of hearts, a romance.


Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer play one of the most enchanting onscreen gay couples ever. Their passion and their devotion gave me Brokeback-level chills (and tears!). Anyone who doubts that there should be more gay romances in film and on TV needs to watch these two woo each other. Their relationship anchors the film, underlining the stakes for all the men living in that time, both personally and socially.

Which isn’t to say that the movie is perfect. I would have liked some of the other men who worked at the Gay Men’s Heath Crisis Center to have been a bit more well-rounded. Taylor Kitsch’s Bruce Niles, in particular, sometimes seemed to put up a fight because that’s what the narrative called on him to do rather than because that’s what viewers felt he would do as a person. One of the most stirring monologues is given by a character who is little more than a background player. These moments land, but they could have been that much more powerful with a bit of backstory.

But I’ve not heard a better defense of how anyone who is different should be treated within their own families than the one Mark Ruffalo’s Ned makes here. And the ending is perfect: a defeat for Ned on the personal and career fronts, but he is undaunted. He knows that sometimes a series of little victories can ultimately win the war.

Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

With every film studio trying to get in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe game and a slew of new superhero televisions shows (most also courtesy of Marvel), the question of why there aren’t more gay superheroes in movies and on TV demands to be asked.

While it’s encouraging that we are somewhat beyond the point where we need to ask why there isn’t more LGBTQ representation on television as a whole—shows like Looking, Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Orphan Black, Modern Family, and others being on the front lines of that particular cultural war—we’re still a long way from universal acceptance. From a world where all forms of sexuality are categorized under the banner of mere sexuality, with no sense of otherness or alternatives to the norm. Still, many shows only have one token gay character, or one gay character plus a revolving door of love interests. This is hardly progress.

In the case of Arrow and Revenge, homosexuality is represented by a bisexual character who switches sides depending on narrative convenience. The depiction of bisexuality is a pervasive problem on television, since writers don’t make characters bisexual in order to say something profound, but because that way, they don’t have to add a bunch of other gay characters to the show and they can still have the character in question hook up with the opposite gender. It’s the television equivalent of getting some ass and eating it, too.

In film, unfortunately, the situation is bad. I was chatting with a friend and challenged her to come up with a movie that was about a gay couple—or had gays as the lead characters in situations unrelated to romance—in a mainstream film since Brokeback Mountain. She could not. I could not, either. Everyone thought Brokeback Mountain would open a floodgate of films where gay characters took the lead, but not one film since has dared.

Now comes word that an animated children’s fantasy film, How To Train Your Dragon 2, has a gay character. Enfin, some progress! But is it the lead character? Of course not. An important secondary character? No, not really. The comic relief? Duh. Because if anyone of significance were to be gay, then there would have to be other LGBTQ characters to support that person. They might even have to make a whole, entire film with gay characters. Break out the fainting couches, the executives are looking a little pale!

The state of affairs in non-fantastical film and television, while not exactly dire, is far from ideal. But as an avowed geek, the lack of LGBTQ representation in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories pains me all the more. The very nature of the genre is to explore new worlds and new ideas, to make us feel the humanity in the alien, to underline how people made to feel other are just like everybody else, to think as far outside the box as possible. To boldly go. These writers and creators dream up the most death-defying and time-bending scenarios for their characters, but they can’t manage to squeeze in a few who aren’t heterosexual?

It’s a little bit outrageous, when you think about it. Let’s break it down:
-Marvel (Disney styles) has Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hulk, Agents of Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z, Agent Carter, and four—count ’em, four—new TV series set to be streamed on Netflix within the next two years. Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (Joss, I’m calling you out for this. This isn’t like you and it stinks.)

-Fox has the X-Men—a fricking allegory about people being ostracized for being different! Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (I won’t add to your woes, Bryan Singer, but check yourself)

-Sony has the Spider-Man series, old and new school, which they are hoping to spin off into an Evil League of Evil franchise (actual name: Sinister Six). Total LGBTQ characters: 0.

-Warner Brothers/DC has Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder’s Superman film, Batman vs. Superman (with a cast of thousands) leading into an eventual Justice League, not to mention Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine on TV. Total LGBTQ characters: 1. (Bisexual, natch. Arrow is otherwise flawless.)

(Note: I may be forgetting someone here. A couple of these shows haven’t premiered yet, so TBD. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will update. Still, one or two additions do not a revolution make.)

This list isn’t depressing just because it confirms that the corporate overlords who control these movies and series have succeeded in whitewashing them (people of color being poorly represented to an almost laughable degree as well). It’s depressing because it shows just how much these talented filmmakers and showrunners are lacking in the imagination department. They pay lip service to themes of diversity, self-acceptance, and what being a true hero really means, but do nothing to push those boundaries in their own work.

It’s about past time, isn’t it, that we got a little action between Cap and Bucky? (Maybe women are a thing of the past for both of them.) That Batman takes Robin in because he pushes buttons that the cowled one can no longer ignore? That Rogue figures out the person she would most want to touch her is Kitty Pride, even if she’ll never be able to? That Loki admits once and for all just why he’s so obsessed with Thor?

In the immortal words of no less than Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield:

“I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?…I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!”

Now that is the kind of courage and imagination I like to see in my superheroes.

Of course, this entire post was written as an excuse to show just how amazing Mr. Garfield really is. Check him out in the new video by Montreal darlings Arcade Fire, for “We Exist”, a song about someone coming out to their parents and one of my current faves: