Making It Safe by Making It Easy

by Sara Ryan, author of Empress of the World

I was lucky to grow up in a progressive college town. There was a great women’s bookstore where I could stock up on Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, Diane diMassa’s Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, and the triangle pins and freedom rings that proclaimed my queerness to whomever understood those particular codes, whenever I was brave enough to wear them.

But even going into the women’s bookstore required a certain amount of bravery. By walking in, I was acknowledging my interest in the stories and — ahem — “lifestyle accessories” on offer. In a sense, I had to already be out before I could find the stories that might have helped me come out.

What if I’d been able to just walk into my school library and find those stories?

I wrote Empress of the World, which is about two girls who fall in love at a summer gifted and talented program, in part because I knew how few queer love stories had been published for teens. Empress was first published in 2001.

Ten years later, in 2011, author Malinda Lo analyzed the young adult books that had been published that year and concluded that less than one percent had queer content.So — obviously — we still need a lot more queer stories.

And the easier it is to find queer stories — for queer kids and straight kids and kids who have no idea yet what their sexuality might be — the more likely it is that readers will feel like it’s okay to be who they are, and that they’ll be inspired to write stories of their own.

That’s why I’m so glad the Make It Safe Project exists.