A story, and a lesson.

My girlfriend B told me a story today.

She works retail, and she’s not particularly happy there, but it’s a schedule that works for her while she’s finishing grad school and her town has an abysmal job market, so there she says for now. She has an interesting cocktail of brainthings that make her really temperamentally unsuited to retail, including anxiety and OCD, and it’s very draining for her to have to be “on” during her workdays. She tries to keep herself anchored by focusing on maintaining a meticulous organized system of one of their store’s walls of merchandise. She can get by, but it’s not ideal.

Today, while she was focused on fixing the wall (something her coworkers frequently kid her about, to which her response is usually a glib mention of her OCD), and a customer noticed her. He was maybe mid-40s, upper middle class probably. He seemed to think her cleaning was funny and said “Can I take you home with me?”

Her coworker laughed, and B said “No, I would not like that” while making what she refers to as her “I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of war” face, which is a paraphrase of a quote from the Song of Ice and Fire series, a scene in which Daenerys deliberately plays up her image as a naive young woman in order to conceal her true emotions. He laughed at this and continued to talk to her all throughout his transaction (she was not the one serving him). He was doing that thing that men do with attractive young saleswomen, the bantering, where they demand her attention even when she’s giving off soft nos. Finally he left.

That was hours ago, and she’s still rattled. She tells me she feels gross, and like he was thinking of her as an object rather than a person. She’s angry at that man for feeling like he was entitled to her attention and for making her so uncomfortable. She’s also angry at her coworker for laughing and playing along and not pointing out how fucked up it is for a man to ask a sales clerk to come home with him (albeit possibly not in a sexual context, BUT STILL).

I’m angry too. I’m angry that that guy didn’t realize that what he said was REALLY inappropriate, and I’m angry that he felt it was okay to banter with her even when she was staring back at him blankly, and I’m angry that it will never occur to him that that was not okay. I’m well aware that in his mind, it was a harmless joke, and there are probably contexts in which it would be a fine joke to make, but this was not one of them. This was a guy ignoring common sense, social cues, and the other party saying “no” in order to get what he wanted, which was the attention of a pretty girl. Then he went merrily on with his day, not even bothering to consider the effect it had on B, who was creeped out and unhappy and continued to be so for the rest of the day.

So. I don’t have the energy to write a long screed in this post about all of the reasons this is bad, so instead you get a very short thesis statement: men, consider your actions. Consider how you would feel if you were a retail worker and someone said that to you. Consider if the person was someone of your preferred gender(s) and then if they were someone of a gender that you are not attracted to. Consider. And then act accordingly in the future.

A Long (but Incomplete) List of Diverse Reads

Diversity is an ongoing topic in the world of young adult literature, one which often brings forth fruitful discussions and (unfortunately all too often) exposes some of its participants as harboring prejudiced beliefs that they haven’t examined or attempted to change. But in many cases, it does help to highlight books which have told stories about minority characters, whether that be because of their race and/or ethnicity, their gender, their sexuality, their religion, their disability, or a myriad of other personal traits. I have taken it upon myself to collate a list, using resources from YA Interrobang and Diversity in Kidlit (along with my own reading experiences), of diverse YA novels that feature diverse protagonists or some other significant element of diversity.

Obviously, some novels feature multiple diverse elements or characters and have thus been sorted into the categories I feel are most appropriate, although this should not be taken as an indication that the other elements are less important to the novel (e.g. I feel that the Asian-inspired world of Huntress is as important to note as the sexualities of the lead characters). Also, in most cases I tried hard to vet the books and include only those written by authors I felt were either writing about their own experiences, or had done the proper amount of interpersonal research about the sorts of people they were writing about. If I have overlooked something or included a book which is considered offensive in some way, please let me know.

All novels that I have read and will personally recommend and/or vouch for are marked with asterisks.

Racial/Ethnic/Religious Diversity

Fake ID by Lamar Giles (black male lead)

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (black male lead)

Pointe by Brandy Colbert (black female lead)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley* (interracial queer relationship, black female lead)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (black female lead, autobiographical)

On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers (black female lead)

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (centered around community grief for a murdered black boy)

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (black female lead)

X by Ilyasaha Shabazz & Kekla Magoon (Malcolm X biography)

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson* (Brazilian female protagonist, bisexual male love interest, story set in future Brazil)

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson* (black female protagonist)

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode* (Jewish lesbian female protagonist, Indian female secondary character, heavy focus on racism, sexism, and homophobia)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie* (Native American male lead – Spokane tribe)

I am Apache by Tanya Landman (Apache female lead)

Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson (Metis female lead)

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Apache female lead)

The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp (First Nations male lead)

Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki male lead, Muslim female secondary character)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Tuscarora male lead)

Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon* (Chinese female lead)

Serpentine by Cindy Pon (Chinese female lead)

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Japanese female lead)

Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper* (black female protagonist, Hispanic male protagonist, interracial relationship)

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Mexican-American female lead)

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Mexican-American male lead)

The Summer of the Maripozas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Mexican-American female lead)

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo (Mexican female lead)

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani (Indian female protagonist)

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (Sikh female protagonist)

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Indian female protagonist)

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (queer female Indian protagonist)

Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (multiracial half-Native female lead)

Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena (half-Mexican male lead)

The Shattering by Karen Healey* (half-Maori lesbian protagonist, Samoan male protagonist)

Liar by Justine Larbalestier* (biracial half-black bisexual female lead)

The Legend trilogy by Marie Lu* (multiracial Asian male protagonist)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (biracial half-Korean female lead)

We Were Here by Matt de la Pena (biracial half-Mexican male lead)

The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee (Chinese-Jewish male lead)

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Palestinian-Australian Muslim female lead)

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Adbel-Fattah (Lebanese-Australian Muslim female lead)

She Wore Red Trainers: A Muslim Love Story by Na’ima B. Robert (Muslim male protagonist, Muslim female protagonist)

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saleed (Pakistani-American Muslim female lead)

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sam (Muslim female lead, set in France)

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham (Muslim female lead)

Sexuality

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden* (queer female protagonist)

Ash by Malinda Lo* (lesbian lead)

Huntress by Malina Lo* (Asian lesbian protagonists)

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland* (lesbian lead)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth* (lesbian lead, queer secondary characters)

If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan* (Iranian lesbian lead)

Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole* (queer female lead)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray* (lesbian protagonist, transgender secondary female character, multiple characters of color)

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeline George* (queer female protagonists)

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King* (lesbian lead)

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (Korean lesbian protagonist)

Adaptation and Inheritance by Malinda Lo* (bisexual female protagonist, Asian male lead)

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour* (multiracial queer female lead)

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (queer female lead)

Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen (bisexual female protagonist, lesbian lead)

Far From You by Tess Sharpe (bisexual female lead)

Bi-Normal by M.G. Higgins (bisexual male lead)

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (black bisexual female lead)

Over You by Amy Reed (bisexual female lead)

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block* (bisexual female protagonist, transgender boy secondary character, various queer characters and characters of color)

About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (bisexual female lead)

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (bisexual female protagonist)

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue* (multiple queer protagonists)

Clariel by Garth Nix (asexual female lead)

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey* (asexual secondary character, inspired by Maori legends)

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce* (asexual female lead)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz* (Mexican-American gay male protagonists)

Hero by Perry Moore (gay male protagonist)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan* (gay male protagonist with depression)

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Hispanic gay male protagonist, content warning: suicidal idealation)

Gender

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (genderfluid protagonist)

I Am J by Cris Beam (transgender boy lead)

Being Emily by Rachel Gold (transgender girl lead)

Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews (transgender boy lead, autobiographical)

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (transgender girl lead, memoir)

Pantomime and Shadowplay by Laura Lam* (intersex bisexual lead)

Disability

Crazy by Amy Reed (bipolar female protagonist)

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd* (male Indian protagonist with Asperger’s Syndrome)

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz (autistic male protagonist)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Latino autistic male protagonist)

Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara (female protagonist with depression)

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (male protagonist with epilepsy)

Among Others by Jo Walton (physically disabled female protagonist with PTSD)

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (autistic male protagonist)

Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson (female lead with OCD)

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (female lead with Asperger’s, anxiety, and ADHD: content warning: internalized ablism)

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler (female lead with anorexia)

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (autistic female lead)

Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith (physically disabled male lead, multiple characters of color and queer characters)

The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell (physically disabled male protagonist)

Who are you to tell me what friends I can and can’t have?

I was on Facebook the other day, casually scrolling along, and as Facebook does, it offered me a glimpse into what my friends were liking and commenting on. That day, this post happened to pop up as something one of my friends had liked:

nope

[texts reading: Bro, you busy?

Nah, what’s up?

Be real, would you be cool with your girl having guys as friends?

If I had a girlfriend, she’s allowed a maximum of three male friends… The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.]

I’m aware this is supposed to be a joke. It’s a “clever” reply designed to make Christians chuckle and nod along. (Upon trying to find the screencap of this text conversation for this post, I came across three or four graphics that had basically the same joke, so I’m not sure of the origin.) But I don’t find it funny. Let me explain why.

1. If I’m dating someone, they don’t get to tell me who I can be friends with.

I’m aware that in modern culture, and especially some segments of Christian culture, it’s assumed that when you start seriously dating someone and head down the “marriage road,” they basically have a say in all your major decisions. If you suddenly find yourself faced with the option of moving cross-country, for example, most people would be shocked if you didn’t involve your long-term significant other in that decision-making process, or at least ask them for their opinion. But this sort of assumption that the boyfriend (it’s most often the boyfriend in Christian culture, but I do know of jealous women who refuse to let their boyfriends have female friends too) controls his girlfriend’s social life to the extent that she can’t have any male friends is ridiculous.

In fact, it’s downright impractical. What if she already has male friends? Is she supposed to never talk to them again while she’s dating you? That’s rude. And what if she happens to meet a guy she wants to be friends with – is she supposed to say “oh, sorry, I can’t talk to you anymore, my boyfriend wouldn’t like it”? That sounds creepy. It sounds like the boyfriend has more of a say in her life than she does – and in this case, he would. It would be different if the boyfriend were discouraging her from, say, excessive drinking or reckless behavior, but it is literally him forbidding her from having male friends.

On top of everything else, the way this joke is presented comes off as sexist. It’s a man saying “What I want is more important than what the woman I’m dating wants. And I’m the man in this relationship, so I get to decide.” His opinion matters more than hers because he’s a man, and for no other reason. Christian culture in particular has long held with the belief that the man’s word is law in a relationship, which is just not how good relationships should work. It would be different if, for example, this boyfriend expressed discomfort in the idea but said, “I would talk to my girlfriend about it and see if maybe she’d be okay with only hanging around her guy friends in groups.” Still kind of a weird request, and it would make me pause, but not nearly as controlling as the above statement. The writer of that text gives the hypothetical girlfriend no say in a matter that very much concerns her.

You know who gets to decide who I’m friends with? Me. Not my parents, not my other friends, and certainly not my hypothetical boyfriend.

2. I’m tired of the assumption that guys and girls can’t have platonic friendships without an undercurrent of sexual tension.

Western culture in general has a huge problem with this, but it’s exaggerated to the point of parody in Christian subcultures. (I went to a private Christian university and they literally had to create an extracurricular plan for students to be exposed to the opposite sex* in a non-dating context, because they were discovering that students were graduating without knowing the slightest thing about how to interact with someone of a gender other than their own.) Everyone knows guys and girls can’t be friends! There will always be an underlying attraction! Even if you’re both happily taken, sooner or later that attraction will come out!

This is presumptive for a lot of reasons, but the silliest one is that every heterosexual man will be attracted to every heterosexual woman, and vice versa. That assumption only works if you figure there is no difference between individual men and women, and that each person’s not going to have preferences about their preferred gender. For example, some guys don’t like blondes. Some girls don’t like men with beards. Some girls only like men with beards. And so forth. It’s entirely possible to just not be attracted to someone of your preferred gender (and, I would think, preferable to ogling every single person you see throughout your day). Most heterosexual men are not going to be attracted to every woman. Most heterosexual women are not going to be attracted to every single man.

But suppose they are? Let’s just suppose a guy and a girl are friends and one or both of them finds the other attractive. That does happen sometimes. Well, there’s this handy little thing called self-control. A lot of people don’t understand this because they either don’t think about it or no one tells them about it, but it is possible to be attracted to someone and not act on it in any way. In some cases (i.e. crushing on a taken/married friend or coworker) this may be preferable to confessing one’s feelings and making it awkward for everyone involved. And even if the object of your attractions isn’t taken, there may be reasons you don’t want to act on those feelings – risking losing their friendship, perhaps. That’s okay! Having a crush/attraction can be really fun, especially in the butterflies-in-stomach stage where everything is rosy and you get excited every time you see them. You don’t have to do anything with it, you can just let it happen and not get swept up in grand romantic gestures and thoughts. Maybe make yourself a blog where you write short posts about your feelings. Maybe write them a letter. Just let yourself feel the feelings but don’t put yourself under pressure to confess. It’s possible, I promise. I’ve done it.

3. I’m tired of the assumption that if a guy and a girl hang out, it will lead to sexy things.

This is piggybacking off of the last point, but the guy making this joke is making it because on some level, he feels insecure about his girlfriend’s ability to be around other guys without cheating on him in some way. And I’m sure that if I asked him about that, he would say “Oh it’s not her I’m worried about, it’s the guys!” But the thing is, that’s not really fair to her or to the guys. It’s assuming that she’s a helpless pawn to male sexual advances and it’s assuming that the guys are mindless horndogs (and yes, I know Christian culture teaches this, basically, but they assume that you can go from being casual friends to making out with someone just based on one hangout).

This is also a terrible assumption because it sexualizes all male-female relationships, when that’s just not the case. Over my twenty-three years of living, I’ve had at least half-a-dozen guy friends, some closer than others, but all of whom I spent at least a few minutes with alone at some point during our friendship. And you know what? Never at any point did I feel like we were going to jump each other. One of my best friends is a guy, and we’ve repeatedly had talks about how we’re so not attracted to each other, ew, the very idea is gross, because we’re friends. It’s not denial or rudeness, it’s being honest. But my mother told me recently that she doesn’t feel comfortable with me having him stay the night in an entirely different floor of the house, and it’s because of those stupid assumptions.

5. It’s bad theology.

This point is more of a joke, but I was always under the impression that the three branches of the Trinity were meant to be the personhood of God, in three forms. So technically wouldn’t they only count as one person? I’m the furthest thing from a theology scholar so please enlighten me if I’m misunderstanding that.

When I was looking up the original image for this post, I saw that a great deal of commenters had responded negatively to it, from making pithy jokes (“That still only counts as one!”) to actually attempting to explain why it’s a bad joke. The people behind the page posted a comment saying something like “A Christian meme page posting a joke, how unheard of!” But the problem is that it’s not a funny joke, and it relies on harmful assumptions to work.

See, the thing is that when one person says “That’s not funny,” you can assume that you and they don’t share the same sense of humor. When two people say “That’s not funny,” you can shrug it off as a bad audience. When multiple people tell you your joke’s not funny, maybe you should listen to their reasons why.

*I use the term “opposite sex” here as it is the one most readers of this post will be familiar with, but you may notice that I have tried to use gender-inclusive language in the rest of the post.