Welcome to another #BeyondTheBio interview here at Story Time Teen. Our website is in the middle of some pretty big transitions at the moment, so we won’t be posting a lot of new content until July. However, we simply had to bring you this email between bestselling author Amber Smith and teen reader Vanessa. Amber's new book Something Like Gravity comes out this Tuesday, and Vanessa chats with her today about what you can expect.
Alright, let’s get to the interview...
Vanessa: Hey Amber! I loved Something Like Gravity, and I really think it will help trans boys like Chris feel proud of who they are. How did Chris and Maia’s story first come to you?
Amber: Hi! Thank you so much for reading Something Like Gravity. I really hope it speaks to readers like Chris and Maia, and helps them to feel proud and accepted, as well.
It’s funny, SLG did not start out as a love story. I actually began writing Chris and Maia’s stories as two separate books. Chris’s story was about how his life was changing as he came out, both to himself and others, as transgender, and Maia’s story was largely about trying to figure out who she was after the death of her sister. At a certain point, I really wanted each character to have a love interest, and then I found myself thinking, “You know, Chris would be perfect for Maia…” And then my next thought was, “Wait a second, Maia would be perfect for Chris too!” It turned out the thing that was missing from each of their stories was each other, and that’s how SLG came to me!
Vanessa: Maia pretended to be like her sister Mallory. Why was that? Was it just a way to keep her memory alive, or was there something else going on?
Amber: I think I wanted to show Maia trying to step into Mallory’s life as a way to better understand the person she lost. But Maia was lost too. She didn’t really know who she was anymore, and it felt easier to pretend to be someone else than to face how scared she was to have to redefine who she was going to become after her sister died, now that such a big piece of her life was gone. Of course, someone can only keep that up for so long before it catches up with them….
Vanessa: Chris almost killed Maia when she was on her bike. I’d have freaked out. Why didn’t Maia?
Amber: At that point, Maia was so disconnected from everyone in her life – her family and friends, her close-knit community where she didn’t feel like she belonged anymore – that she desperately wanted to feel something. I think that near-accident, while scary, was also exciting in a way because it made her feel something other than sad and alone, even for just a minute.
Vanessa: Chris is embarrassed by the curves in his body. What would you tell someone who’s still learning to be comfortable in their body?
Amber: This is such an important question! And I have a long-ish answer…
Almost everyone has times when they don’t like the way they look or feel uncomfortable in their skin for different reasons. But for a lot a trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming people, like Chris, the feeling of your body not matching your gender identity goes much deeper than the physical, and can cause intense pain and suffering.
When Chris is reflecting on this, he remembers: “In ninth grade, I really started to feel like a stranger in my body, the body that had served me so well up until then…was suddenly weighed down with new softness and curves that more than embarrassed me; they made me want to hide away from the world, even from myself. It wasn’t that I felt ashamed, exactly, just wrong…. I wasn’t just losing myself; I was becoming someone I was not. And that scared me.”
Those are some pretty heavy emotions to have to carry around! And while I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all thing to say, there are many ways to let someone know that you support them. Here are few examples:
1. One small way to show acceptance that makes a huge impact is to respect and use a person’s chosen names and pronouns (imagine how frustrating and hurtful it would be if you were constantly being misgendered or deadnamed everywhere you went).
2. Another way to show support to a person who identifies as transgender or non-binary is to respect that person’s privacy (for example, just because someone may come out about their gender identity, doesn’t mean it’s okay to ask intimate questions about their bodies).
3. Look for ways to be more inclusive in your schools and community (maybe that means organizing or joining a LGBTQ+ Straight Alliance, or requesting a gender-neutral restroom where there isn’t one).
4. Allies can wear pride pins or attend parades to show support.
5. Speaking up when you see something like bullying or harassment going on can make huge difference in someone’s life (not only with trans, NB or GNC people, but anyone for that matter!)
I think the most important thing for all of us is to feel loved and accepted; love and acceptance are the greatest gifts we can give each other. Finding ways to simply tell people that they are not alone, and that we accept, support, and respect them, through both our words and our actions, are often the very best things we can do for another person.
Vanessa: At one point, Chris told Coleton that "Maia was changing everything." My heart started racing super fast when I read that. I was so excited. Who’s a person who has changed everything for you?
Amber: AHH, I love that part of the book too! While I’ve learned and grown in different ways with every relationship I’ve been in, that feeling of someone “changing everything” is something I felt early on in my relationship with my partner, Sam – and actually, I dedicated Something Like Gravity to her for that very reason!
Vanessa: Is your next book going to feature LGBTQ+ characters too?
Amber: I’m not exactly sure what’s next for me, but I do know that I will definitely continue featuring queer characters in my books. I remember what it was like growing up and not having books or TV shows or movies that reflected my life and my experiences as a queer girl, and how that made feel very alone. So, I want young LGBTQ+ people to know that they’re not alone, and there are people out there, like me, who have their backs!
If you haven’t done so yet, go order your copy of Something Like Gravity. It’s coming out this Tuesday, and you’re going to love it.
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