This post was written by Kacen Callender, author of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story »
Confession: I’ve never had an epic love story.
A big part of this is because for a long time, like my main character Nathan Bird, I didn’t believe in happy endings. How could I? The only happy endings I’d ever witnessed in books or film involved people who didn’t look like me: white, cis-gendered, straight. There was a clear message: not only were happy endings not for people like me, but people like me weren’t even important enough to exist.
A brainwashing effect begins.
From a young age, I saw that this world, and all of its love and happiness, wasn’t made for me. I was five when I told my parents that I wanted to be white. My mom gave me books as I grew older to help, and they did: The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, along with novels like Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, helped me find the pride and beauty in my ancestors, my skin color, my race, even through the lens of hardship. As I grew older and discovered my own queer identity, I was introduced to the LGBTQIA classics: The Well of Loneliness. Maurice. Giovanni’s Room. The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was rare for a queer character to survive their own stories; happy endings were non-existent.
Each marginalization I read about added a layer of hopelessness. Another effect soon began: one where I could only experience my identity through pain and conflict; one where I did exist, but where my marginalization was tied to unhappiness. Unfortunately, unhappiness caused by prejudice is something most queer people of color face every day—but it becomes a little too easy to believe that pain is all I’ll ever experience. That, still, even when I see myself in stories, happy endings aren’t meant for people like me.
Slowly, over many years, I began to see a shift: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan offered me, for the first time, a world where queer characters weren’t defined by their pain; years later, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Sáenz shattered and rebuilt my world by offering not only queer characters, but queer characters of color—not only the pain they endured, but an ending with hope. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli finally offered a romantic comedy filled with joy, and a groundbreaking love interest who looks like me.
But I still wanted more: a book with queer characters of color whose identities weren’t tied to pain; whose identities brought them love and joy. A book where the character’s races and sexualities weren’t considered shocking or groundbreaking. A book where I knew that the queer characters of color would get their happily ever after.
Books that explore and reflect pain are, and will always be, important—but just as important is a balance. A reminder that being a queer person of color doesn’t mean that I’m fated to a life of loneliness. A reminder that my identity as a queer person of color doesn’t cause pain; my identity is an opportunity to create connection, happiness, joy. A reminder that queer people of color are magical—that we’re not only worthy of love, but we deserve happy endings.
This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story is a love letter to queer people of color. The book is a love letter to myself. My way of reminding myself that I do deserve the same love and happiness I never believed was meant for me. I’ve never had an epic love story—but for the first time, I know that I can.