In this historically accurate period piece, the book follows two childhood best friends, Nora Lee Sutter and Jo Waterman, who struggle with understanding violence, death, femininity, sexuality, and familial secrets in the 1940s and ’50s. Beyond The Screen Door pulls from Robertson’s own experience with contacting spirits and the ancestral line of women in her family who have passed along her gift. The author lures the reader into the era with realistic depictions of a country at war and lacking civil rights for Black and LGBTQ people. Throughout the book, Nora and Jo struggle with many things lesbian women are all too familiar with.
GO Magazine caught up with Julia to talk about writing lesbian characters in YA fiction and why she included spirituality and magic as part of her novel.
*Editor’s Note: We have updated this article, and deeply apologize for any original issues that were evident in the original piece.
GO Mag: Why is it important for LGBTQ folks to be the writers of our own narratives and experiences?
Julia Diana Robertson: Lesbian storylines almost always have a tragic ending. We never get to see the romantic realism straight couples get in the media. And nowadays we only see ‘the right kind of lesbian’ portrayed in the mainstream….a warped depiction as seen through man-goggles: ‘feminine’ with a hint of pliability. Young lesbians need to see themselves represented more accurately. And older lesbians, who dwelled in darker times of oppression, deserve to finally see themselves represented too. If there was more positive representation out there, and a more accurate representation of our lives, the stigma that’s been attached to our culture might finally change.
GM: Beyond The Screen Door follows Nora and Jo throughout their whole childhood and discovery of their sexuality. Why was that important to you?
JDR: I wanted to start at the beginning, so that people who are outside of our world could get a deeper understanding of the characters. An understanding of the beauty that’s found in lesbian relationships. And I wanted to break the bizarre stereotypes perpetuated by our mainstream media, that leads people to think ‘androgynous’ girls are playing at being boys. When the reality is, they’re just girls who are being authentic to their own sense of styles and interests. There’s so much beauty there.
Mainstream media has always portrayed ‘androgynous’ and ‘butch’ women as something to be ridiculed or solved. There is a major lack of understanding and it’s extremely harmful to our community. When young lesbians don’t see a reflection of themselves, or worse still, that reflection is always a side note or a punching bag, it’s harder to come into your own, realize you’re okay as you are, that you don’t need to change. What needs to change is the rigid stereotypes and roles that society consistently shames girls into following.
GM: What would it have meant to you to have stories catered to LGBTQ youth as an avid reader?
JDR: There were only a handful of really well-written lesbian novels when I was entering Grown-up-ville. And they all ended tragically. I was constantly reading, so having more well-written lesbian books would’ve meant a lot to me. Others revolved around coming out, and that kind of storyline didn’t hold my attention. I wanted lesbian characters that existed organically.
After I got through the handful of great lesbian books, there was nothing left for me to read… so I decided I’d write my own novel to add to the teeny-tiny collection that was already out there.
GM: Who do you hope to reach as an author?
JDR: I want to give young lesbians something good to read, but I also hope to reach a wider audience. I want people who aren’t part of the lesbian community to read my novels as well, in order to gain a better understanding of our lives. Lesbians are misunderstood, misrepresented and underrepresented. When I was writing Beyond The Screen Door and its sequel, I was still kind of naive. I truly wanted to change the world and I thought maybe I could. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get a lesbian book published, or that reaching the mainstream was a somewhat unrealistic goal in my genre.
GM: Do you feel magic and identities as mediums or spiritual beings plays a role in sexuality?
JDR: I draw so much from real life when I write fiction, so it really made sense for me to include the spirit world in my writing. My grandmother, Edith, inspired a lot of the story. When Betsy reads Mrs. Murphy’s palm, that comes from a true story (based on my grandmother reading a stranger). My grandmother died before I was born, and she was the first spirit I ever saw.
Beyond The Screen Door is available on Amazon now.