LGBTQ Characters in YA and Why They Matter

Posted by on Aug 29, 2012 in General Discussions, Guest Posts, LGBTQIA, The Blog | 3 comments

“LGBTQ Characters in YA and Why They Matter”

by Allegra Davis

 

Before starting to write this article, I went on a Google quest for young adult books with LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer] themes. “Great Books for Gay Teens,” one header touted. Another article boasted a directory of “Gay Books for Teenagers and Young Adults.” Of course this was what I was looking for, but upon reading them, something about most of these pieces gave me pause. Yes, it’s true that teenagers on the LGBTQ spectrum may be particularly interested in reading books featuring characters they can relate to, but must we really limit the audience for such novels to that extent? If a book features a gay or bisexual character, must we label it as a “gay book” and put it into a specific category? One of the best ways to raise awareness and general acceptance of a so-called minority group is through popular media, widely-read literature in particular.

Currently, LGBTQ individuals belong to a group that’s just starting to step out of the shadows, so to speak, and into the general view. Media that accurately portray members of this community are some of the most needed elements of the struggle. Since teens will be the ones to make real changes in the next generations and are at a crucial developmental stage, young adult books with relevant and true-to-life LGBTQ themes are more important than ever. They should be read not only by teens who are gay, bisexual, trans, et cetera and are seeking characters to relate to, but also by teens who need to develop a deeper understanding of their peers. If LGBTQ characters become well integrated into mainstream literature, then, ideally, LGBTQ individuals will become more widely accepted and understood.

The amount of such characters and how well they’re portrayed in YA [Young Adult Fiction] has, admittedly, increased in recent years. Personally speaking, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number, however small it is, of relatable LGBTQ characters I’ve found without particularly searching for them. Some books, such as Ash by Malinda Lo and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, present a hopeful utopia completely devoid of intolerance. Others—Shine by Lauren Myracle, for example—deal with the eye-opening reality of homophobia and hate crimes in today’s world. One of my own all-time favorite books, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, strikes the perfect balance: it presents a veritable rainbow of diversity in characters, acknowledges society’s intolerance, and manages to rise above it with humor and empowerment. There is, though, one group that is hard to find well-represented in YA—transgendered individuals. I asked Dirk Correia, a transgendered teen and book lover, for insight into his observations on the subject.

“I’ve never, ever read a book with someone who is transgendered as the main, or even a side, character,” Dirk said. “I’d like to see a story [with] someone doing a quest, or whatever someone would usually do in the book, with the added ‘challenge’ of being transgender.”

When asked whether he thought that having more transgendered characters in popular media would raise awareness, he said, “I sure would hope so. People are so concerned about gay marriage and gay equality, but most people don’t even know what being transgender or genderqueer even means. The ‘T’ section of LGBTQ is extremely under-recognized.”

LGBTQ characters need to be in YA—as well as general or ‘adult’—literature. Teens seeking comfort and advice or relatable role models in their favorite books should be able to find that; others should read these books and come away with a deeper understanding of the LGBTQ community. These characters shouldn’t be a rarity, but a commonly found and perfectly ordinary group.

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Allegra Davis is a student, teen writer, and award-winning blogger with a passion for women’s rights and LGBTQ equality. Her fiction has appeared in Black Lantern Publishing, and she blogs weekly at All I Need Is A Keyboard. Allegra is also one of the founding members of Teens Can Write Too!, a group that supports and encourages young writers. Follow her on Twitter @ThatAllegraD.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for your article, Allegra. It’s a really interesting topic, and important for writers to understand.

    I’m interested in writing YA fiction, and would like to include LGBTQ characters, but admit I’d be nervous about making the characters and situation believable to teenagers looking for role-models in fiction.

    I’ll make an point to read some of the books you’ve recommended.

    Thanks again for sharing. I really hope to see this website become and informative place for both YA readers and writers 😀

  2. Allegra you’re the best. I can’t thank you enough for featuring me in this article. You’re an amazing writer, and i’m so honored that you thought to interview me.

    Again, anytime you need my insight, I’m here.

    Love you!

  3. A well-written article, Allegra. I couldn’t agree more about the visibility of LGBTQ books not only being important, but that the portrayal is just as important. It shouldn’t just be a LGBTQ book, or a gay book or a book about LGBTQ people /characters. They should simply be good books that feature those characters, as integral and relative and “normal”
    as any other character in a book. I think that with sites likes these, featuring articles and interviews such as this, we’ll be moving toward an inclusive take on fiction that will hopefully become the norm.

    Thanks for sharing this and the suggested titles.

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