DISCLAIMER: In this article I, as a bisexual woman, reclaim the Q slur many times (as may be obvious by the title). If the slur still makes you uncomfortable, you might wanna skip this one. If not, onward!
On Tuesday afternoon I stopped by my favorite local bookstore to pick up something I’d put in an order for (The Godfather. Don’t ask). When I walked in, an employee I’m relatively good friends with said he was glad I came in, because he was making a display for Pride Month and was having a hard time finding adult LGBTQ books to put on the display. He showed me the cart of books he’d picked out already and a good 80% of them were, indeed, YA. There were even more middle grade and younger books than adult contemporary.
I had a couple of suggestions, but, given that it is me we’re talking about, they were all horror. Side note: Queer Fear and Night Terrors, the two best queer horror anthologies you will ever read. Possibly the only ones. But I digress.
It got me thinking, even as I left with my Italian mobsters tucked under my arm. It was true; most mainstream LGBTQ literature falls under the YA category. Sure, there are some classics (Brokeback Mountain, Maurice, Tipping the Velvet) but those are getting on in age. There haven’t been many mainstream queer contemporaries for adults. Why is that?
Well, there’s a few things to consider.
Firstly, there’s the fact that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender is much more accepted in this generation than it has been in the past. And those four identities are just the beginning. We got our pansexuals, our homo, bi and panromantic asexuals, our nonbinary bretheren, and more. The concept of identity in regards to orientation and gender is much more open for my generation (millennials) and those that come after it.
So it really only makes sense that the lit marketed toward people my age and younger reflects our identities. After all, queer YA wasn’t always as big a subgenre as it is today. When I was in my early teens, a wee babe all the way back in 2007-ish, pretty much all I had were a few David Levithans and the Rainbow Boys trilogy. And while I loved Wide Awake and Boy Meets Boy with a passion, and Rainbow Boys was integral to my maturation as a queer teen, coming-out stories weren’t what I needed. Plus, I wasn’t a gay boy, I was a… well, back then I had no idea what I was, but I definitely was not a gay boy. And the majority of queer YA was centered around gay boys.
Now, LGBTQ teens have a plethora of books to choose from. Gay boys, lesbians, bisexuals… shit, there’s even a couple of ace and nonbinary books out there, and the variety and numbers are only growing. And the readers are gobbling it up, which makes publishers even more motivated to sell them. Which is amazing!
Another thing to think about is this: people like me, those kids who raked the YA shelves at our libraries, who drank up David Levithan and Alex Sanchez but wanted more… those kids, we’re growing up! And a lot of us are becoming writers! And what are queer writers who wanted more representative lit when they kids gonna write? Do I even need to answer this rhetorical question?
I mean, and I don’t mean to make this all about me, but take me for example. Something I really wanted when I was a teenager (and now!) were fantasy and sci-fi novels that weren’t classified as ‘queer lit’, just a fantasy novel that happened to have a same-gender-attracted character in it. Since then, I’ve had multiple sources of inspiration: Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle and Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series come to mind. Even then, though, the queer characters are supporting, not main. Well, you could argue that Ronan is the main character of The Dream Thieves, I guess.
The point is, I’m using that desire to work on a book of my own. I’m writing what I wanted when I was younger. And other LGBTQ authors are doing the same thing. And why wouldn’t we? Isn’t the point of writing to write what you would want to read? If you’re not writing something you would want to read yourself, you ain’t doing it right. We’re giving the next generation the gift ours didn’t receive. And all we ask for in return is that these readers grow up to do the same. Shit, who knows, maybe we’ll chase all the straighties out of YA by 2030.
Another thing to consider when thinking about why more people turn to YA for queer lit as opposed to adult contemporary is the fact that adult contemporary centered around gay relationships is just depressing! One of them dies, both of them die, they’re closeted and tormented, there’s a creepy age gap, the list goes on and on. I’m aware I haven’t read every single piece of LGBTQ adult contemporary out there, but I can’t off the top of my head think of a single darn one with a genuinely happy ending. Whereas I can think of plenty of YA queer stories with very happy endings indeed. Compare Brokeback Mountain to Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Compare Maurice to We Are The Ants. Compare despair to hope.
There are some really sad YAs out there. More Happy Than Not, for example. But it’s different, reading something sad when you also have the option of reading something happy. It’s more of a choice. So even adults like me gravitate toward YA when we want to read stories that reflect our own, because they give us hope. That we could have an ending like Simon and Blue rather than Jack and Ennis. And it doesn’t help that for a really long time, gay cowboys were the first thing people thought of when they thought of gay men. It was more than a little fucked up when “I wish I knew how to quit you” became a running gag for straight people.
There was a time I was self-conscious in regards to being an adult that still read YA more than anything else, until I really started thinking these things over. So if you’re a queer grown-up, and the target audience is stopping you from reading LGBTQ YA stuff, consider this me setting you free. Free to read what you needed when you were a kid. Because it’s not too late to get it!
I’ll see you guys next time, probably with a review of New 52 Wonder Woman, if I can finish it all before next Top 5 Wednesday! If not, I’ll see you then!