Jodi Picoult's Song For You
BY Advocate Contributors
March 09 2011 5:20 PM ET
It is! Though my first crush didn't have an iguana. He had a rock tumbler.
When I was interviewing lesbian couples for research, I found that while some of the women knew they were attracted to the same sex very early on, an equal number had had committed relationships with men before falling in love with a woman. I wanted to represent both angles, which is why Vanessa is the “gold star” lesbian but Zoe comes to her same-sex relationship after having a heterosexual one — and yet Zoe also reflects on a same-sex attraction as a child that she dismissed because it wasn’t “how she was supposed to feel” about her best female friend. So I guess that the answer to your question is all of the above.
Writing from three points of view, getting inside your characters, must have been challenging, especially when your characters are on completely opposite sides of their beliefs in the equality of gay people. Is there a part of you that felt a sense of danger in having your characters articulate antigay sentiments?
It was really hard to create Max. He had to be a sympathetic character but his views are, to me personally, abhorrent. I had to make him almost befuddled, so that he truly believes in what he's saying without realizing how hateful it is to some of the people who hear it.
That also meant doing research with an evangelical Christian group opposed to gay rights. I interviewed representatives from Focus on the Family, a group that supports the Defense of Marriage Act, opposes gay adoption, and (under the umbrella of Exodus International, which has since taken over) offers seminars to “cure” gay people of same-sex attraction. Like Pastor Clive in my novel, their objection to homosexuality is biblical. Snippets from Leviticus and other Bible verses form the foundation of their antigay platform, although similar literal readings should require these people to abstain from playing football (touching pigskin) or eating shrimp scampi (no shellfish). When I asked Focus on the Family if the Bible needs to be taken in a more historical context, I was told absolutely not — the word of God is the word of God. But when I then asked where in the Bible was a list of appropriate sex practices, I was told it’s not a sex manual, just a guideline. That circular logic was most heartbreaking when I brought up the topic of hate crimes. Focus on the Family insists that they love the sinner, just not the sin, and only try to help homosexuals who are unhappy being gay. I worried aloud that this message might be misinterpreted by those who commit acts of violence against gays in the name of religion, and the woman I was interviewing burst into tears. “Thank goodness,” she said, “that’s never happened.” I am sure this would be news to the parents of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Ryan Keith Skipper, or August Provost — just a few of those murdered due to their sexual orientation — or the FBI, which reports that 17.6% of all hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation, a number that is steadily rising.
It's always scary to give voice to an opinion that you feel spreads hate, but sometimes that's what you need to do to really hold a mirror up to the people in the world who really do think like Max and Pastor Clive, to get them to really listen to what they're saying. One of the great joys about Max is that he, as a character, espouses a journey I hope that these people also take when they read my book. He begins with an opposition to gay rights because of what he's been told to believe by others. But when he tries to hold these beliefs up against the reality of the gay people he knows — and has loved — he sees that disconnection and ultimately makes a decision not based on religious dogma but on personal ethics.