Ariel Schrag on “Adam,” queer identities and writing for “The L Word”

It’s refreshing that Ariel allows her characters to be as real as possible, even if that includes some negative aspects of the queer community. Despite the backlash she might receive from some (though she says it hasn’t been too bad thusfar), Ariel said she knows she is ultimately doing the community justice but making us three-dimensional individuals vs. flat portraits of unrealistic and flat bores.

“In my heart, and at the end of the day, I believe that my politics are in the right place and the book will ultimately promote ideas that I believe in which are basically the idea of celebrating diversity,” Ariel said. “And, really, it doesn’t have to be more specific than that. Let people do what they want to do, let people be what they want to be, let them change what they want to be. And so I felt that if that was the sort of core, you can at the same time create realistic portrayals of how people talk about these issues. I just wasn’t interested in writing anything that was sugarcoated or sanitized or boring, basically. All the conversations in the book are conversations that I’ve witnessed or been a part of of so I thought it was important to put all these different perspectives on the issues out there.”

When it came to selling the book, which has a few sex scenes but nothing more graphic than you’d find in Fifty Shades of Grey, Ariel said it was initially pitched as YA, which elicited some funny responses from publishers.

“I was like ‘I honestly don’t care. Whatever you think will sell the most books or get it the most attention.’ And I thought it could be great to educate people,” Ariel said. “I think it would be awesome if all sorts of teenagers read it. The sex might be graphic but it’s also all consensual, it’s not actually that disturbing. If you think about it, it’s queer so it’s unfamiliar, but it’s not actually that weird. So she sent it out to a bunch of young adult editors and they were all freaked out. And I think that they actually–because she would send me the responses–and some people were like “Whoa, I don’t know! I’ve never read a young adult book with lavender dildos!” And what’s so bad about a lavender dildo? You can have a penis but not a lavender dildo? Why?” Anyway, Some people responded to the sex but a lot of people seemed to respond to the depictions of queer people. One wrote back and said, ‘My daughter has gay friends and they don’t act like these stereotypes.’ It’s like, ‘OK, first of all, straight lady, shut up. This is actually my life, and this is what it’s like.'”

The character of Gillian was based on Constance McMillen, the teenager who wasn’t allowed to bring her girlfriend to prom in Mississippi. Ariel took inspiration from the idea that Candace was very publicly declaring her lesbianism at such a young age, and wondered what might happen to her in the future.

“All I kept thinking was, ‘What if in a year or two this girl is into guys'” How and what sort of shame or what sort of anxiety will that cause her and how fucked up it is that could happen and she had become this poster girl,” Ariel said. “I think labels are fun and they can be useful but really am very anti the whole label phenomenon. If anything, I would say the book is an attack on labels across the board.”

Without spoiling anything, it’s fair to say that Adam does not get any kind of terrible repercussions for his lying to Gillian.

“I’ve been reading a lot of reviews where people who are nervous about the premise want Adam to be really punished, and they’re not happy that he, in their sense, gets away with it,” Ariel said. “I don’t see it that way. … I think it’s the whole idea of Adam being punished is really interesting because he’s deceiving somebody — he’s lying, that’s wrong. But people are really angry specifically about appropriating an oppressed identity. I just think that’s fascinating to think about because what is so terrible about appropriating an oppressed identity? And what’s terrible is that people are oppressed. But ultimately his deception is just a deception. He’s also lying about his age but no one seems to care about that. Why is one deception worse than another? I just think it’s interesting to think about that.”

Ariel’s including a group viewing of The L Word in an early scene in the book is very meta, as she said she had input into several storylines Max/Moira was a part of, although she didn’t write the specific episode they are viewing in the book.

“I was 25 and it was my first real job and I got to move out here and work with so many cool people,” Ariel said of the experience. “It was really really great. I really love the process. Just being in the writers room and writing scripts. I found it really really fun.”

Ariel said it was a very collaborative experience in the writers’ room, but shared a few episodes she outlined and is proud to recall.

“I definitely contributed a lot to the trans benefit party, to what sort of things would be happening there that somebody would have cupcakes that looked like breasts,” she said. “I wrote a large part of Season 3, Episode 3 when Moira who turns into Max, when they all go to dinner and she worries about how expensive it is and tells this really awkward lobster story. I think that came up in the room and I wrote the outline, so a fair amount of dialogue in that episode of mine.”

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Being a writer for the series also afforded her the opportunity to visit the set in Vancouver, although it did break the spell of the show a bit for her.

“It was so cool but also a little depressing because you think Bette and Tina live in this amazing house and it’s half the front of the house inside a dark warehouse,” she said. “It’s all taking place in a dark giant warehouse in Canada. Everything!”

Ariel is hoping to continue in her graphic novel work, TV writing and novel careers, but is also still waiting for a film adaptation of her graphic memoir Potential.

“It’s still in the works,” she said. “I’m working with a new director right now so we’re kind of doing drafts on the script. Hopefully it’ll happen!”

And if there were to be a feature made about Adam, even better. But it would definitely have to be told from the point of view of the teenage boy and not, as many have suggested to her, his queer older sister, Casey.

“I wasn’t interested in just telling a story about what it was like to be queer in early 2000s New York,” Ariel said. “I mean that’s certainly a huge inspiration for the book and where it takes place. But I was ultimately interested in why would a cis guy passed as a trans guy and what would happen if a cis guy passed as a trans guy and that story had to be told from Adam’s perspective. I also wanted to make this world accessible to everybody and doing it through the eyes of a newcomer was a way to do that.”

Adam is available now.