So, I read (and write) a lot of YA starring LGBTQ characters. It’s my thing, as it were.
Lately, because of several factors but especially the hoopla over the now-canceled Wicked Pretty Things anthology, people have been talking a lot in the blogosphere about LGBTQ YA. Which is fabulous. More dialogue translates into more book buyers, which, hopefully, translates into more LGBTQ YA being published, which translates into more LGBTQ YA for teen readers to choose from, and everybody wins.
So I feel bad for even thinking the way I am in this post. Shouldn’t I just be thrilled these conversations are happening in the first place, and not let myself get bothered by the odd detail?
Ah, but writers spend our whole lives noticing and being bothered by the odd detail. It’s why we scream when we pick up our book in Barnes & Noble and spot a glaring typo on page 64. (Or, in the case of us not-yet-pubbed authors, it’s why we dream about doing so.)
So in that light, I’ll just list a couple of my personal pet peeves when I see people talking about LGBT YA.
Pet peeve #1: “Coming out stories are overdone.”
I’ve never once heard anyone argue that coming-of-age stories are overdone in YA. That’s because YA is ABOUT coming of age. Well, for LGBTQ kids, coming of age IS often coming out. See where I’m going with this?
Coming out tends to be part of books with LGBTQ characters in some way or another, whether it’s considered a “coming out” story or not. Hero by Perry Moore? The book about the gay superhero? Is about him coming out. And saving the world, but guess which storyline resonated with me more. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the bestselling LGBTQ YA of all time, is about lots of things, but I would argue the most powerful scene in it is Will coming out to his friends in the cafeteria.
Not to mention that nothing in LGBTQ YA can possibly be overdone. There have been too few YA books with openly LGBTQ main characters for that to have been the case yet. If you’re tired of reading about kids coming out, well, I’m tired of reading about heterosexual girls falling in love with sketchy paranormal beings, and look where that’s gotten me.
Look, kids will always be coming out. Unless the book is set in an Ash-like alternate universe, coming out is something every single LGBTQ character will have to deal with at some point. And usually it’s a pretty big deal for them. It’s usually a pretty big deal for LGBTQ teen readers, too. If an LGBTQ teen character is narrating the story of their life, odds are, coming out will be a part of it, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a realistic thing.
Pet Peeve #2: “Avoid stereotypes.”
I would scream this from the rooftops if I could figure out how to get up there. This is how strongly I feel about it:
It is totally OK if your gay male character is a lipsing cheerleader who wears nothing but pink and loves Barbra Streisand.
It is also totally OK if your lesbian character has a crew cut and rides a motorcycle. It is totally OK if your bisexual character sleeps around a lot.
What matters, the only thing that matters when you’re writing ANY character AT ALL, is that all those people are REAL.
So often I see people in Twitter chats asking which LGBTQ stereotypes they should avoid. As if they’re making a checklist so they can feel satisfied that they’ve written a strong gay character, just because he doesn’t have a lisp.
WHETHER OR NOT YOUR CHARACTER HAS A LISP HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER HE’S THREE-DIMENSIONAL. HE’S ONLY THREE-DIMENSIONAL IF YOU’VE GIVEN HIM OTHER CHARACTERISTICS TOO. IF YOU WANT TO WRITE A THREE-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTER, YOU NEED TO WRITE A THREE-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTER.
I’m not going to bring up Glee as an example here, since we could be here all night arguing about that, so instead I’ll use Scott Pilgrim v. the World. Awesome teen movie. It includes a gay-male-best-friend character who exhibits just about every stereotype every gay-male-best-friend character has ever exhibited since the beginning of time. He sits around in the background of every other shot, a martini glass permanently in hand, stepping in to offer sassy commentary on the action and offer insightful heterosexual love advice. And yet he’s as three-dimensional as every other character in that movie. Because the writers made an effort to make him so.
Pet Peeve #3: “More YA authors should write about characters who ‘just happen’ to be gay.”
I wrote a whole post about this a while back, so all I’ll say here is:
No good book is only about any one aspect of a character’s life. I have never read a single YA novel that I would describe as being only “about” a character’s sexual orientation or gender identity or, for that matter, their race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, etc.
But it’s impossible to write a fully developed character who “just happens” to be any one attribute, and have that attribute be otherwise irrelevant to the book. Every attribute of a character dictates other things about that character. Every aspect of a character’s identity is part of their story. Whether the A-plot of your book is a girl coming out to her parents or a girl colonizing the planet Xenu, if she likes other girls, that’s going to affect her life sooner or later.
Pet Peeve #4: “There are more books about gay boys than gay girls because no one is writing gay books about girls, and/or because most readers are straight girls and straight girls don’t want to read about lesbians.”
That’s not why. There are lots and lots of writers writing books about gay girls. And plenty of straight (and “straight”) teen girls are interested in reading about characters who are different from themselves.
But for whatever reason, books about LGBTQ girls don’t get published as often as books about LGBTQ boys. As for why that’s the case, I don’t know, but I’m sure there are a million contributing factors (and I have lots of theories, but I won’t go into that without a few glasses of wine first).
All right, that’s enough ranting for seven in the morning. I should note that this isn’t targeted at any one person or site in particular; this is all stuff I’ve been thinking over for years as I’ve read discussions about LGBTQ YA on the Internet (which I’ve been doing since 2007 or thereabouts).
And as I’m still actively thinking all this through, I could very well be wrong about any of the above. So if you disagree with me, please let me know! I am totally up for having my mind changed.
Except about the lisping.