Well, the story, University of Southern Georgia: Davy and Tony, is out there, and I've gotten some nice reviews, for which I am grateful. I've also had a few that voiced concern about an adult dating a seventeen year old...and for good reason. The concept of consent in a relationship is tricky when both parties are willing, but one could seriously ask who is capable of giving consent.
Initially, the publishers questioned whether or not I'd be willing to change Tony's age to eighteen, and I seriously considered it because I was uncomfortable as well, but after a short email exchange, and several points came to light, they agreed to accept the story as it was.
While I am truly awed that so many women have embraced this type of story, my main reason for writing is not to entertain or titillate women who find this as an interesting sub-genre of the romance novel world...my primary audience, at least in my mind, is the LGBTQ community. Let me first state that I am not gay, but I have several close family members who are, and I watch them walk through minefields, and it impacts me when they hurt.
I grew up in a small Midwestern town, and I've lived out west, up north, and now I live and plan to continue living in the south. I love the United States, but I'm not blind to the issues we face here. I wrote this story after a particular family incident, and I wrote it for people I love.
Growing up in the Midwest and in the South, it was very common, and it is still very common for small town kids to date someone in high school and get married within a year after graduation. It is also common for teenage girls to be encouraged to date older men and, especially if the guy is in the military, to send letters and packages if he is overseas. I know that because I have seen it with my own eyes.
This behavior raises the issue of the double standard for male versus female in stories. Why are people comfortable with this behavior if a girl were the one meeting and dating the guy? The old line "girls mature faster" is often given, but in this story, I specifically state that Tony is mature. He is, in fact, capable of making adult decisions and demonstrates it. Many people in the LGBTQ community are forced by circumstance to grow up quickly, and they have to make those choices and those decisions before anyone would want to...but it's survival. Because we have two males, we are able to parse out the issue of gender roles, and that is a good thing because THIS IS A FICTIONAL STORY AND NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF TAKING ADVANTAGE OF SOMEONE.
The second, and perhaps more important fact that comes up in the story, is that Davy comes from California, and he is used to the idea that eighteen is "legal"...but Tony comes from Georgia where the legal age of consent is sixteen. The USMJ, the law of the military that would have followed Davy wherever he went, is sixteen as well. Under the color of law, there was no crime, and everyone involved was legally capable of consent...but the current culture in our country is that this was wrong because Tony was young. There should be discomfort for a reader when he or she realizes that, though the laws are arbitrary, there should be some question as to the participants' judgment. The saving grace is that Davy truly had no way to know before he had fallen for Tony...and he was upset and bothered by that fact.
I don't believe that having statutory laws about legal age of consent is wrong. I like that the law is willing to draw a line and say, no, it doesn't matter that you "love" someone if your love is hurting them because they are too young to make a good choice. The laws protect those who would not necessarily be able to protect themselves. The issue is that consent, in the United States, is vague and arbitrary because of our traditional approach to these laws. It causes major issues, and the idea of consent will show up again and again in my stories because it's important to realize you have the right to say no, and you need to be talking to your sexual partners...if you can't open your mouth to talk...well, I want to keep this PG rated, so you get my point.
Another issue I didn't touch on was that the average age for an American to begin having sex is seventeen, Tony's age. That doesn't mean that I think that people should run out and have sex at seventeen, it means that many of them already are. It's important to realize that fact because it means the story is relevant to at least some people. It's also important to realize that sex education often doesn't prepare them for that reality. It's certainly rare in the geographic regions that I am writing about for anyone to give basic information about homosexual sex. It's unfortunately not rare for young people to be kicked out for being LGBTQ or mocked or bullied. What is right for a teenage gay man to know? To do? What's healthy? What's socially, at large, acceptable? What's socially acceptable in the gay community? We are failing these people miserably because we refuse to acknowledge the truth. Why don't we try and change that in a meaningful way?
I don't kid myself. This is first and foremost a novel...in a sub-genre...of romance...for gay people. If it gets one person to sit and seriously think about even one of these issues or brings comfort to one soul wondering in the wilderness asking if he or she is all alone in how they feel, what they want, their questions...that's a bonus. Because, frankly, I write for them. I want them to know at least one person out there is rooting for them and wants them to find that kind of love. You know...the storybook kind.