The world of Young Adult fiction is a dazzling array of any plot combination you can think of. It’s brilliant and varied, and I love being a part of something that’s constantly changing and growing. There are thousands and thousands of books with picture perfect happy endings, and there are thousands of books that end tragically, and there are thousands of fluff books and books that make you think and books that inspire and books that make you smile and books that tear your heart out, and…really, you want it, you got it in YA, and that world is growing every day.
So, I write lesbian young adult books. That’s what I do, and I love doing it–I’m a lesbian myself, and all I want to do in this life (besides love my wife fiercely and make pretty shit and sparkle. SPARKLING IS IMPORTANT.) is write the lesbian books I didn’t have when I was growing up. I want to write them for an up and coming generation that I believe, with every bit of my heart, will change the world. I’ve talked a lot about why I write what I write–I have lots of reasons.
One reason is that there’s not much gay YA. There are some with queer secondary characters, some gay books, VERY few lesbian books and very few bi books. This is obviously distressing to me as a queer author, and a young adult author, something that I am actively changing by writing queer YA. But it’s not the MOST distressing part.
To me, one of the greatest alarming and disappointing aspects of current gay YA is that they end “realistically.”
What does that mean? “Realistic?” It’s actually not the greatest word choice, but it’s used so often in talking about these books that I’m saying it here. “Realistic,” according to Ye Olde Dictionary means “interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical.”
So, let’s throw out the gay YA that has secondary queer characters. I’m talking, right now, about the gay YA that has MAIN queer characters.
Most gay YA with gay main characters ends with the main character not getting the boy or girl s/he has been thinking about/wanting/in a relationship with. The relationship ends badly. The boy/girl turns out to be straight or “just experimenting” or falls in love with someone else. Things don’t work out.
Let me say that again. Because it needs to be emphasized: Most gay YA with gay main characters ends with the relationship not working out.
These books are lauded, over and over repeated forever, as “realistic.” “The relationship was so realistic!” “The ending was perfectly realistic.” Realistic is used so often in reviews of gay YA that I notice when it’s NOT used.
Almost all gay YA ends with the relationship going south.
It’s alarming and it’s frustrating. But, more to the point, has no one else noticed this? There are shockingly few gay YA, so if you’ve read one, you’ve probably gone on to read many. Was there ever a point where you stepped back and said: Huh. This ends the same as the other ones I’ve read. That’s…odd. I think that the relationship-not-working-out thing is even more obvious, because if you compare it to the amount of straight YA books that contain happy endings, it’s actually one of the saddest things in all of young adult literature. In YA that contains straight romances, thousands and thousands more end happily than those that don’t. But in the world of gay YA, the number of those that end “unhappily,” (ie, “realistically”) is staggeringly larger than those that end happily.
Is it because it’s harder to be gay than straight? Obviously, in a world that’s still alarmingly homophobic, no one’s contesting that. But what about in a book where magic happens? So people can fly and petunias can grow out of your ears, but it’s absolutely impossible for a gay person to get a happily ever after with their sweetheart? I’m going to say it because it needs to be said: THAT MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER AND IS, IN FACT, FULL OF RIDICULOUS.
Is it because the author wanted the novel to be “realistic?” I can’t say what an author may or may not have been thinking when it came to trying to make their novel realistic–obviously, every author wants their novel to be BELIEVABLE, no matter what it contains, but why does “a realistic ending” happen consistently, across the board? (Also, “believable” and “realistic” are not the same thing.) As a gay woman married to the most amazing lady on the face of this planet, I’m living proof that gay people can get their happily ever after, too. Almost all of my gay friends are in unconditionally loving relationships that are every bit as awesome as my straight friends. The argument that “gay people trying to find The One” have it harder than their straight counterparts works SOMETIMES, but NOT EVERY TIME.
Perhaps all of this wouldn’t be so noticeable if there weren’t other relationships in these gay YA novels. Almost every single time, in a gay YA novel where the gay relationship ends “realistically,” the straight relationship ENDS WELL. Again, let me say that one more time: the gay couple breaks up, and the straight couple stays together.
And, perhaps more pressingly: what is that saying to the gay kids reading these books?
“Straight people have it easier, will always have it easier.”
“Straight people always find the love of their lives–you won’t, or it will be REALLY fucking difficult.”
“Not only will it be REALLY fucking difficult, IT WILL PROBABLY END BADLY!”
By the way, what the storylines of “gay people not ending up together, straight people totally end up together” are reinforcing are things that are NOT true.
So why do these storylines always end up in gay YA books?
I don’t think that a “realistic” ending is necessarily bad. I love tearjerker books, too, and obviously, there is a place for books with realistic endings in this world. That’s not what I’m pointing out here. I’m pointing out that almost all gay YA follows this pattern, while straight YA books absolutely do NOT.
Obviously, there are many, many, many more straight books than gay YA books, and it could be argued that the different plotlines and endings of straight books are so varied because there ARE so many more than gay YA books. But I don’t think it’s a valid argument. If you took a broad swatch of straight YA books, you would STILL end up with many more “happily ever afters” than “unhappily ever afters.”
If you read five random gay YA books, it could be almost guaranteed that you would get four to five unhappy relationship endings.
To ask “WHY” eighty billion times is purposeless. The books that are already out can’t be changed, I don’t know the authors’ motivations, don’t know what the publishers asked of them…it’s an alarming thing that is consistent across the board, and it’s frustrating, but this is not a purposeless post to simply point out a fact.
As a YA author, I am putting out novels that are believable AND realistic. Because I’m sick and tired of “realistic” meaning “obviously this isn’t going to work out, they’re GAY.” FUCK that realistic. MY realistic means “a gay relationship has just as much of a shot as a straight one.”
If you’re a YA author writing/working on a novel that contains gay characters, I ask that you consider how that relationship ends. Are all of the straight ones awesome with true-love-cartoon-hearts, and the gay relationships end with amicable shaking-of-hands-of-course-it-couldn’t-work-this-is-probably-for-the-best? If so, you might want to rethink this. It’s been done. Often. And people ARE going to start noticing.
If you’re a YA author who has written the “realistic” gay ending book, I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not frustrated at any individual person or book. It takes a fuckload of courage to write and publish a gay YA book, I am not discounting your story, your journey, your struggle one little bit. Your wrote the story that was in your heart to write. I can understand that. And, very obviously, there is room in the world for some gay YA not ending happily. Or yes–even ending “realistically.”
But almost constantly ending “realistically?” That’s been done to death, now. What all of these books, consistently ending the way they do, tell gay kids, stacked one on top of the other? That’s kind of crap.
And it really, really, really needs to change, going forward.