Pop culture advent calendar, Day 8: Autoboyography
Updated: Dec 9, 2018
Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting
a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about my favourite book, Autoboyography.
For the protagonists in Autoboyography by Christina Lauren is a lesson in how not to break your own heart.
Autoboyography is the story of Tanner Scott, a high school senior who also happens to be bisexual. While he technically out and proud, after his family relocated from California to Utah three years before the start of the story, he is nudged temporarily back into the closet. The book is set in his last few months of high school, where he takes a novel writing class, and meets legendary alumni and class mentor Sebastian Brother, who also happens to be a Mormon, north star of his church and on his way to be inducted into the Melchizedek priesthood. What unfolds is a really moving, sweet, sad and lovely love story.
This was one of the first books I read this year and I loved it, like wholly, completely, with my whole body. It felt like I had swallowed a star. I’ve said and written about how when romance is well written, it is my favourite thing to read. (Although, I acknowledge that this is a problematic view, because it presumes that romance by default is Not Good, when the reality is that romance is like any other genre, a lot of good, a lot of duds. It has its reputation because its aimed towards women and we live in a society that devalues anything marketed towards women, especially young women, but that’s a rant for another day)!
Autoboyography sets us up for quite a dramatic story, and even though there are classic elements of a forbidden romance here, and there is a lot stacked against Tanner and Sebastian being together, but this isn’t really where the story is. It’s much smaller, in their personal interactions and conversations, and the delicious but angsty guessing game of flirting with someone you like but you aren’t sure of the level of reciprocation, and what they are willing to give to each other, what they have to sacrifice. Christina Lauren takes the time to really tease out the connection that they have, how much they have in common, how they see the world individually and how they work as friends, as well as lovers. Tanner is confident, loyal, funny and sweet, with a propensity to big feelings and getting lost in them, whereas Sebastian is more level headed, extremely kind and giving, with a tendency to hide his more passionate side - really because it would open up a pandora’s box of feelings that wouldn’t please everyone, as he is wont to do, and buries himself instead.
Which is why his love story with Tanner is all the more tender and sweeter, as he opens up more, as they become closer, and really, truly fall in love. Tanner really sees Sebastian, past the compulsive need to please people, past the prodigy, past the star of the church reputation. I remember this line, or some variation of it, when Tanner says about his best friend Auddy ‘the first thing I noticed is how much worse Auddy is at fake smiles than Sebastian is.’ The guy notices!
Often in stories all over our culture, we pay a lot of heed to the person who performs in order to keep people away. Who is biting and witty to all around them, so they cannot get hurt, so people don’t get close enough to see them – and for good reasons, because these characters make good content. But not so much attention is paid to the performer who constructs themselves out of honey and niceness and all the good things, so they are not rejected, but as a result, they forego real intimate connection, as they only show to people what they think the person wants to see, rather than who they really are.
And you can completely see why they are they way they are. Tanner, although in the closet to the wider world, has a supportive, loving, calming and financially comfortable family who are a perfect springboard for risk, whereas Sebastian has also grown up in a loving family, but a family whose love and validation and support, although not explicitly confirmed, is conditional on Sebastian being the perfect son, the wonderful boy they have been presented with, the one they all played a part in making – an extension of their collective effort, rather than his own person, someone with wants and desires and aspirations that may not fit their own vision for him, or their family. Hence why it takes him so long to even even use the word in reference to himself – even though at the point he says it it’s like…pretty obvious, for reasons.
Christina Lauren’s afterword said that they had started talking about this book years ago, when Christina worked in a school counselling office in Utah, and saw teen after teen who honestly believed that their parents would rather have a dead child than a gay one, which is devastating. They also did a huge amount of research for this book, which again, content about teens written by adults who have done careful qualitive research always shows.
It also made me reflect on my own upbringing. I was brought up in a very religious household, and my views on LGBTQ+ people have gone from the patronising and benevolently hateful ‘hate the sin not the sinner’ to what they are now – no more benevolently horrible, with my eyes much more open, with the view that this is a community, with its many, many many intersections, that has been historically oppressed, silenced and persecuted, and this has led to many devastating things happening. And despite all the progress that has been made, all around the world, there are still many bad things happening to people who are not straight systemically, and this has a damaging affect on people’s personal lives. There are loads of Sebastians.
Not only do I think that ‘hate the sin not the sinner’ and all its variants, especially the ones starting with ‘I’m not homophobic but…’ is Not Good Enough, but I also think it leads to a more silent form of violence, that which starts from self-loathing.
Stifling yourself in any way has so many adverse affects, and leads to so many startling and devastating things – violence, self-inflicted or otherwise, many many mental health problems, and a whole host of other issues.
Part of me writing this was because I really loved this book and have wanted to but also partly in response to the aimless anger I got at watching this SoulPancake video, and especially reading the comments section. You may not be kicking a gay person in the face, but your views can lead to self-loathing, which can have deadly consequences. Bigotry with a smile on its face is still bigotry!
But back to Autoboyography. It’s a really special book, and I think about it often. I pine for a sequel!