By Laura Preble
Reviewed by Walter G. Meyer
Out is inside-out.
West Hills High School teacher and East County resident Laura Preble has authored a new book, Out, which turns society inside out. The book’s publication is well-timed to coincide with the Supreme Court hearing two cases about gay marriage, because at the heart of her book is an alternate universe in which being gay and same-sex married is the norm and being straight, or as the book puts it, “perpendicular” is the aberration.
In this dystopia, the church and state have united to make sure that gay people stay in control. They note that there is no such thing is unwanted pregnancies among LGBT couples and that things are neater all around. So straight people are forced to hide their opposite-sex attractions and sneak around. Getting exposed as not being “parallel” could land one in a deprogramming camp. Such unthinkable things would seem crazier if they were not based in the real world. There were, and still are, de-programming camps that use everything from drugs to shock therapy to try to correct being gay. Even a brilliant scientist like Alan Turing was subject to chemical castration.
Writing the book was a labor of love for Preble. She had written four other Young Adult novels that deal with other aspects of teen life, but her years as the faculty advisor to the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) at West Hills, and having a gay son have given her insight to the struggles of young people trying to conform to a heteronormative society.
She finds it sad that the people in the GSA can’t openly talk about it except behind closed doors and that when they do yearbook photos or make videos, some students won’t show their face for fear of the reaction of their peers and families.
She had been playing with the idea to write something about gay youth, when at a writers’ conference in Big Bear she start doodling the parallel and equal signs. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…all of things I’ve gone through with Austin (her son) and the GSA played into that.” She worked on the concept for four years.
This is the kind of book you could read and change minds. Some people don’t understand it on an emotional level.” She voiced hope that people will feel what it would be like from the other side, the opposite point of view, adding, “It grew from doodles to a bigger idea…It is in the Young Adult genre, but it crosses over into adult. I geared it toward teenagers.” She hopes it will get readers to open their minds to other possibilities.
She chose gender-neutral names for her main characters in order to further obscure her intent and blur the lines between gay and straight and what is considered “normal.” Chris knows he is different. He doesn’t feel the same attraction to members of his own gender the way he should and when he discovers he is not alone in these aberrant feelings, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery made much more complicated because one of his two fathers is a religious leader with powerful political connections and aspirations. The book is first-person from Chris’s point of view and at one point Chris shares feelings that will seem familiar to gay people who don’t see the world the same as most of their peers: “I’ve looked at guys, but I’ve never had that soul-crushing adrenaline rush people talk about where your heart kind of stops, you forget to breathe, time stands still, and you’re in a movie musical in soft focus.”
She says, “I didn’t write the book with a sequel in mind. But I’ve had a lot of people ask about it.” So she is running possible scenarios around in her head.
The position that gays have been arguing for gay marriage is in this upside-down world, stated by Chris’s girlfriend about their forbidden love: “What kind of place, what kind of people would say that love, any kind of love, would ruin a country?”
Preble hopes that her book will encourage readers of all ages and sexual orientations to ask that question even as those same questions are asked at the Supreme Court.
Walter G. Meyer is the author of the critically-acclaimed gay novel Rounding Third.