Spoiler alert: this blog explores one of the character’s secrets in my book, I Like You Like This as well as the book’s outcome.

We often see in fiction a gay character being bullied, but what if the bully was the one who was gay? Enter Gillian, a mean girl carrying around a big secret. One of the major themes of I Like You Like This is that we never fully realize what someone may be struggling with until we know his or her story. Couple this with the fact that when it came to Gen-X teens and homosexuality, most of us didn’t have a clue what it was like to be a gay in the 80s.

I Like You Like This takes us back to 1984. Hannah is bullied by Gillian most of her life, and by high school, it’s only getting worse. Hannah finally stands up to her during a confrontation at school. She whispers in Gillian’s face that she knows her secret and threatens to tell it, if she doesn’t stop.

At that point, Hannah’s not even sure she’s right about Gillian until she sees her nemesis’s face drop. And for a while, it seems to work; Gillian leaves her alone and her secret is kept.

A threat with rippling effects.

The scene in I Like You Like This is not one character “outing” another – nor should anyone ever be outed. That’s never okay. Later on, Hannah tells Gillian’s girlfriend, Jade, that she would never have revealed Gillian’s secret, no matter how much she loathed her. Unfortunately though, as events unfold, Hannah’s threat creates an even bigger enemy in Gillian that results in a terrifying outcome.

Because of her lack of knowledge of gay culture shared by most teens during the decade, Hannah can’t grasp the weight of her actions. She can only empathize with being different and having to keep secrets as she contemplates in the book:

Though the thought of Gillian liking girls was so foreign and completely unexpected, but then, everything about Gillian had always put her on edge. She realized now that she really didn’t know Gillian at all, and few people, if any, probably did. Was it possible that behind Gillian’s wicked persona was a misfit just like her? Maybe that’s why she worked so hard at ganging up on people—to gain power and control over them so they couldn’t do it to her first. Who knows, Hannah thought. She felt naïve when it came to girls liking girls. No one ever talked about such a thing at school. But she knew all too well what it was like to have secrets no one else could understand. How exhausting it was.

A different mindset.

Growing up in the 80s, I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay. The first gay character appeared on primetime TV in 1977 on the sitcom Soap. Though Billy Crystal’s character was endearing, viewers didn’t receive an education on what it was like to be gay. And we didn’t think to ask. We didn’t ponder the sexuality of Prince vs. George Michael. Both were sexy, flamboyant, and awesome to watch. Of course they’d date us!

We were basically ignorant of what it was like to grow up gay, especially during a pretty homophobic time in history with the scare of AIDS and the misguided notion that it was somehow a “gay disease.”

Friends who I met as an adult shared their stories of what it was like being a gay teen in the 80s, and it deeply affected me. Gillian’s inner turmoil is inspired by their stories.

Thanks for reading. My new novel, I Like You Like This, is a poignant young adult read about addiction, sexuality, peer pressure, and first love. If you’d like a guest blog post from me, an excerpt from my new novel, or you’d like to interview me, feel free to email Heather@HeatherCumiskey.com and we’ll make it happen!