Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, & Biphobia.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about homophobia and… you guessed it, books. I’M SO PREDICTABLE THAT WAY. This post was inspired not only by this occasion, but also by a lovely post on Barnes & Noble’s teen blog that I read a few days ago.
I’m not going to go into a HUGE amount of detail about that post because A) you should go read it and see for yourself how awesome it is and B) there is enough awesomeness in that post that I might very well talk about its ideas some MORE in another blog post of my own.
The post was written by Becky Albertalli, who recently published the YA LGBTQ+ novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – which sounds AWESOME, by the way. I’ve heard so many good things about it and can’t wait to find a copy at my library!
Anyway, the post in question is about how readers (…mostly straight ones, in my experience) want – demand – no more stories about coming out. (“We’ve had enough!”) And more characters who “just happen” to be queer.
And then Ms. Albertalli goes on to say how much she disagrees with that attitude, and OMG I ADORE HER FOR STEPPING UP AND PROTESTING AGAINST THAT ATTITUDE. Because it makes me super uncomfortable as well, and I’m tired of seeing it, and she gave a very eloquent rebuttal of the “don’t make your gay stories too gay” argument.
Simply put, we need stories where being gay (or bi or trans or ace or anything else) IS a major factor in the story. Because like it or not, being LGBTQ+ does affect one’s life in many, many ways. I wish being a lesbian didn’t cause people to see and treat me differently, but you know what? It does. And ignoring that reality, pretending it’s Not A Thing, does absolutely freaking NOTHING to improve that situation.
I would go so far as to say that all it does is breed ignorance about how one’s LGBTQ+ identity affects so many different aspects of one’s life.
Stories about coming out are still relevant. Stories about homophobia are still relevant. Characters who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about being queer are super super super important because that is something many queer teens do daily, especially if they’re struggling to determine their identity or trying to come to terms with who they are in a world that still sees/treats people differently for being queer.
THAT’S why I’m so frustrated with this attitude of “characters should ‘just happen’ to be queer.” This attitude of “I don’t want to read about LGBTQ+ characters dealing with situations that are relevant to LGBTQ+ people in real life.”
And Becky Albertalli understands that perfectly. I’ve heard that Oreos play a major role in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, so here is a huge stack of Oreos for your insight, Ms. Albertalli.
I don’t mind if some LGBTQ+ stories (YA or otherwise) aren’t about coming and homophobia and stuff like that. I have a BIG problem with people saying they don’t want to read coming-out stories, or stories about homophobia, or any type of story in which being queer is an Issue.
I have only read one story where being queer was a non-issue.
The story in question is Ash by Malinda Lo, and it quickly became one of my favorite novels EVER (my overall favorite from last year, in fact!) for its high fantasy setting and gorgeous prose and a RIDICULOUSLY adorable girl/girl romance between Ash and a girl who works for the royal family. (Plus, it’s a retelling of “Cinderella”!)
In Ash’s world, there is no such thing as homophobia, and no one needs to come out: Being queer is accepted by all. (And none of the characters made assumptions about who Ash had a crush on, either! Whoo! Yay!) One of the fairy tales mentioned in this story featured a girl/girl romance, and there are references to women kissing. (In public!) OMG YAY!)
…it was really, really good escapism.
Escapism is good. We need escapism. I think a moderate dose of escapism is key, though, because sometimes you need to face reality. I ADORED Ash – heck, I stayed up all night reading it. It was just THAT good. I fell asleep that night dreaming about princesses and fairies and girls kissing girls in in fairy-tale-ish worlds.
And then a few weeks later I split up with a homophobic friend (now ex-friend) after a HORRIBLE fight that occurred when I came out to her, and had a nasty reminder that life is not all sunshine and roses and super-gay, super-sweet fairy tales. That homophobia does affect my life, and that I can’t ignore real life. That I can’t just pretend I live in Ash’s world, because that’s not how my world really is.
I struggle with my desire to have a bit of escapism in LGBTQ+ stories (books, movies, TV shows, et cetera), but not too much. Because I think us LGBTQ+ teens need a little cheering up, but we also want to see ourselves accurately reflected in stories. And one of the best ways to do this is by actually acknowledging that coming out and homophobia and Other Big Important Queer Issues make up a large part of our lives.
One way we can experience some of that escapism is by reading stories in which Big Important Queer Issues – such as homophobia – have no bearing on the plot.
But another way we can experience that – and what I consider the better way – is by requesting stories in which Big Important Queer Issues are prevalent, but are not allowed to make the story too sad/angsty/et cetera.
I spent like half this post talking about one of Malinda Lo’s books, and now I’m going to end by talking about two of her other books. Her science fiction duology, comprised of Adaptation and Inheritance, is about a bisexual girl named Reese who meets aliens and discovers government conspiracies and falls in love.
And she deals with biphobia. She deals with the awkwardness of coming out. I loved those two novels because they felt so REAL. I could relate: I’ve dealt with homophobia, and I’ve come out. The novels actually talked about Big Important Issues That Affect The Day-to-Day Lives of Queer Teens.
But they also talked about adventures. And great friendships. And cute romances with even cuter people. And intrigue. And ALIENS.
There was escapism… and frank discussion of some of the issues real-life LGBTQ+ teens face each day. AND I LOVED THIS. It was basically like, “Hey, sometimes being a queer kid sucks, but it’s not all bad – here are some fun adventures! And great friendships!”
LGBTQ+ novels need not be entirely about coming out, homophobia, et cetera, but I think they should acknowledge that such things vastly impact the lives of queer people. For every one LGBTQ+ novel that doesn’t make mention of Big Important Queer Issues we need, like, ten that do discuss these things, because that grounds those stories in reality and helps us find ourselves accurately reflected in stories.
And that’s why I disagree with wanting LOTS AND LOTS of stories with characters who “just happen” to be LGBTQ+, whose identities have no real bearing on the plot. I want to see a lot more LGBTQ+ stories being published in days to come, and I hope that many of those novels will devote at least a few pages to the discussion of things that actually affect the lives of queer teens – things that affect MY life.
I DO want to read books that talk about homophobia, even though it’s an unsavory topic. I DO want to read coming-out stories, even if they bore straight people. I DO want to read a lot of stories about heternormativity and transitioning and being closeted and a thousand other LGBTQ+ topics, because THIS THINGS ARE STILL A HUGE DEAL.
Until homophobia and coming out (and whatnot) cease to affect us, such topics will continue to be relevant in the stories about our lives.