February 4, 2013

Brittany Fonte on Fighting Gravity

Guest post by Brittany Fonte

Readers often ask writers: Is this work autobiographical? When I started writing Fighting Gravity, I was working from the point of view of a protective parent and aunt, the kind of obsessive helicopter parent who has decided she will never let her children cruise the Internet or questionable chat rooms -- as she did as a child. And so, in creating Calliope and Farrah, I had to include who I had been as a teenager in some capacity, yes; I didn’t want either character to come across as na├»ve, or ignorant, or as a victim. Callie and Farrah choose the Internet to find other halves for very logical reasons: Callie chooses it because she feels there is no one in her high school who A) hasn’t known her since elementary school (and therefore is like a sibling) and B) isn’t already linked to another thespian/band geek/pot head. Farrah journeys online because she feels alone and isolated as a newly-identified lesbian in a high school setting seemingly filled, only, with heterosexuals.

As an adult, I can say that I met my spouse of ten plus years (and two kids) online; it isn’t so taboo, today, with Match.com and EHarmony commercials flooding late night tv. This, too, was logical. I taught middle school in a conservative county, then. I didn’t go to bars and the “ladies nights” at local gay establishments were few and far between. My options for meeting other like-minded women was whittled to, maybe, weekend trips to PetSmart and city Starbucks locations where I would obviously read My Antonia. In an HRC shirt. With rainbow socks. I understood that I had to take a chance on love, and this isn’t so very different than I felt as a high schooler in the same situation -- looking for companionship.

As a parent and aunt, I wanted to show readers the reality of SOME interactions online, because safety comes first. My niece was thirteen when I wrote this book. Oprah Winfrey had just done a scary show on pedophiles and how they groom their victims for abuse. Dateline had shown innocuous-looking rabbis, teachers, coaches, etc. luring children to their homes with white picket fences and family pictures adorning the walls. Too many teachers had made headlines for sleeping with sixth graders. This, too, is real. This, perhaps, is more real than vampires and werewolves and zombies, oh my!

In addition to the online predator storyline, I wanted to breathe life into the world of family. Young adults, like grown-ups, have little control over their families and home environments. Sometimes they complain, wish they had a different home universe. And I am a lesbian mom; my son, at almost seven, has never questioned how he got here, but he feels a bit different, I’m sure, having two moms. Who are still together. Who only have one house to choose from. He has friends who have divorced parents and two houses, which they ping-pong back and forth to every other week. This is confusing for a first grader who simply wants to fit in. He asked my wife and I why he didn’t have two houses, once; we thought long and hard about how we could get every-other-week breaks without divorcing, but the answer has yet to appear. So I birthed as many different family situations as possible into this story: a single mom who parents both her child and her terminally-ill mother, a pair of gay men looking to adopt, an Evangelical couple who has a hard time with their child’s sexuality, but ultimately embraces the daughter they love, and a devoutly Jewish woman who is married to a husband with two children -- and becomes a Christ-like savior for Callie. This is our beautiful patchwork of family diversity in this country; we should teach young adults to value their families, whatever their make up, however they are formed, however loud the Westboro Baptist Church should scream against them.

Finally, I abhor stereotypes. I don’t believe that all high school cheerleaders are dumb, or that teenagers with disabilities are conclusively less popular than those with all of their body parts/mental capacities/learning abilities. Callie is not a popular kid; she is a thespian and show choir girl. In this way, Callie is autobiographical and delightfully quirky. (My jock wife has, on occasion, told me never to share that side of myself, however.) Farrah is a Buddhist despite her parents’ Christian obsessions; this, too, is close to my heart. Lynn has a disability, and tries too hard to get people to like her. She is not a “slut” or “easy”; she is a teenaged girl, worried about her body image as we all were -- and still are at 35 -- when we eat an entire pizza and a bag of M&Ms before trying to squeeze into that new dress for an important event. Lynn, in many ways, is the epitome of what I see all human beings as: vulnerable, complicated, instinctive, fragmented. And yet, she is utterly gorgeous. These are the characters, and parts of myself, who can tell young readers: Be who you are. It’s simply perfect.

So, yes, I am that young girl, inside, who desperately wants others to like her. I am a woman who was once severely irritated by her mother when rules kept her from putting herself in danger, i.e. fun. I am a practicing Buddhist -- practice being the most relevant adjective. I am a dorky thespian and show choir participant who knows every word to every contemporary musical song. Ever. I am in love with that statue of Gandhi in DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C., and non-violence; I would toss a gun away if handed to me, too. I love my grandmother more than life, itself. And, perhaps most importantly, I know what it is like to seek love, as complicated, messy, and devastating as it can be.

Brittany Fonte

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