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I was interviewed by Hugh of the Way of the Buffalo this past week, as part of the series he is doing on my novel, The Dark Wife, my YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth–an interview that will go live next week, along with the first chapter of the book, as read by the fabulous voice actress, Veronica Giguere. Suffice it to say that I am vibrating with joy, and can’t wait to share it with you. Vibrations of joy aside, during the interview, there were many points that I touched on that I realized needed to be expanded into blog posts. So here we are!
It’s no secret that there are pitifully few YA books that contain queer protagonists. It’s insulting and frustrating. Insulting, because there are lots of queer kids out there, I promise you, and frustrating because we aren’t doing better by them. We have absolutely no problem writing about zombies feasting on flesh or end of the world scenarios involving cannibals, but the thought of two girls creating a lasting relationship is an impossibility in YA literature? Really? Really?
I want to know why. I want to know why this is such a difficult concept for us to grasp, why our gay youth not only have no choices in the literature they read, they’re expected to read the straight ones. Like: gosh, they won’t mind! They’re not stupid. They know the world caters to the straight population, because it has for so long and it keeps on spinning–why throw off that center of gravity? (Said with the ultimate of sarcasm.) But I can tell you, absolutely, without a doubt, that they are desperately looking for people like them in literature and finding hardly anything to read.
I’m not a secondary character in my own life. I’m the protagonist, just like every queer kid on the planet is the protagonist in the story of their own lives. Yet, we seem to think it’s okay to throw gay secondary characters at them. Not only that, but most gay secondary characters have the misfortune of unrequited love. Not because they have to live on different worlds or because the dimensional portal is closing or there are renegade unicorn stampedes–but because they’re gay (It won’t work out! Maybe I’m not really gay! Maybe I was experimenting with you! Maybe I’m going to leave you for a boy BECAUSE THAT’S TOTALLY NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE IN LITERATURE).
If you’re a writer, writing gay characters, you can not write them based on the fact that they are gay and that would be a totally awesome tragic angle in your story. When you’re writing gay characters in a YA book, you must–let me underline that one for you–must ask yourself why you are writing this character as gay.
- Because you’re gay, you knew what it was like growing up with absolutely no positive reflections (or, hell, ANY reflections) in media, and you want those stories desperately so you’ll just write them yourself.
- You’re an advocate who is passionate about gay rights and gay kids and know that they need stories.
- You know that gay kids need stories, and you want to do your best by them.
- It would give your secondary plot a TWIST and be TOTALLY TRAGIC if the secondary character couldn’t be with the girl of her dreams because they’re GAY and that’s always REALLY SAD, RIGHT?
- You want to tell a tragic story, and–guess what?–gay people are always totally tragic!
- You can’t think of any other reason that your character would have conflict. (Please don’t do this. For the love of the gods, don’t do this. “Gay as conflict” can be done well, but if you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing [or just doing it for the hell of it] or can’t think of any other reason for conflict, FOR THE LOVE OF THE GODS DO NOT DO THIS. Also, by the way, most gay YA books contain this, so let’s try to move away from that, shall we?)
Gay kids aren’t a “plot point” that you can play with. Gay kids are real, actual kids, teenagers, growing up into awesome adults, and they don’t have the books they need to reflect that. Growing up, my nose was constantly stuck in a book. Growing up as a lesbian, I was told over and over and over by the lack of gayness in said books that I did not exist. That I wasn’t important enough to tell stories about. That I was invisible.
Why are we telling our kids this? Why are we telling them that they’re a minority, and they don’t deserve the same rights as straights, that they’re going to grow up in a world that despises them, that the intolerance of humanity will never change, that they’re worthless.
It’s not true. It’s so fucking far from the truth that it’s laughable.
But, every Tuesday, YA books come out with straight heroines and heroes, and–every Tuesday–gay kids comb the stacks with a hunger unrivaled, desperately seeking out any heroine or hero like them. That hunger’s not going to go away. It’s not going to stop. It’s never going to stop until we wake up and realize that they need these books.
I will never stop writing queer books. I will never stop putting out queer stories in the world. I know I’m not the only one.
Authors–we need to do better. We need to tell these kids that they’re just as important as their straight friends. We need to tell their stories, we need to give them hope, we need to give them stories that end happily, because I’m a writer and I understand, better than anything else, that stories change lives, and gay kids need good stories.
And to the queer kids–please never stop combing those stacks. Please don’t stop believing that we’ll do better by you. Every day, there are queer books being written, there are authors trying to get them into the world, stories for you, stories where you are not a secondary character or a plot point.
They’re coming. I promise.