GLBTQ characters in YA (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When I was growing up, I could count on one hand the YA novels I knew about with gay characters: Trying Hard to Hear You, by Sandra Scoppettone. Happy Endings Are All Alike, also by Sandra Scoppettone. I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip, by John Donovan.

There were probably a few more out there, but the pickings were slim. These were the ones I found myself. I can’t think of any books with transgender or intersex characters. And the same-sex relationships in these books wrought such havoc: dead dogs, dead lovers. Rejection. Abuse, even rape, by peers. The fact was that being openly GLBTQ was—and sadly, sometimes still is—risky. I don’t fault these books for reflecting that. And in fact, Scoppettone’s books also argued not just for tolerance but acceptance. “As long as people love instead of hate, what difference does it make who they love?” asks one of the characters in Trying Hard to Hear You.

But GLBTQ characters were largely invisible in the literature, especially happy thriving GLBTQ characters. Eventually readers got coming-out stories, an important and necessary step along the road, but coming out is not all that GLBTQ people do in their lives. Readers began to ask: Where were the gay characters in romances, mysteries, thrillers, fantasies, historical fiction?

The past couple of decades have seen real growth in this area. We now have the books of Brent Hartinger, David Levithan, Julie Anne Peters, Alex Sanchez. We have a gay hero (Hero by Perry Moore) and a Cinderella who doesn’t choose the prince (Ash by Malinda Lo). We have a main character in a quirky dystopian novel who is attacted to both sexes (Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith). We have transgender characters (in Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills). We have stories where the gender of the characters isn’t even specified (Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff) and stories with characters who reject labels and check-boxes for sexual orientation (Ask the Passengers by A. S. King) and stories with characters who are questioning (My Invented Life, by Lauren Bjorkman). I. W. Gregorio’s upcoming None of the Above features an intersex character.

Still on the wish list are: more stories where the main character is GLBTQ, not just a secondary character; more stories where sexual orientation and gender identity are incidental or subordinate to other plot issues (that is, “coping with being GLBTQ” isn’t the only storyline); more stories with female lead characters; more stories dealing with the increasing fluidity of labels and identity, and the growing rejection of binary categories.

Readers looking for more books in these areas may enjoy the blogs I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? and Gay YA.


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