Tell me if this sounds familiar: In a world where the government is up to no good, one young woman stands poised on the brink of childhood and adulthood. She’ll have to use all her cunning and resourcefulness to tear apart the government’s Evil Plot to keep her apart from Brock or Chet or Sage, the male object of her affection, and the world as she knows it will never be the same.
Dystopian novels, especially of the YA variety, have been talked up (or down) to death at this point. Everyone from the New York Times to School Library Journal has written articles about a genre that has taken the market by storm. Whether you believe The Hunger Games started the snowball effect or whether you’re insistent that YA has been pioneering dystopian fiction since the beginning, most people have an opinion about the whys and wherefores of dystopian fiction. I’m no exception, but I’m also a grumpy lesbian with a lot of thoughts and feelings about compulsory heterosexuality and how deep our politics run.
(Also, sometimes I just like laughing at straight people, okay?)
Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium all have much more in common than being books I like. They are also all about a world in which the government has taken an inappropriate interest in people’s personal lives, regulating everything from how people look to how they fall in love to what they do for a living. It’s a scary thought, and one that compels a lot of people to keep turning the pages.
It’s also, for us gay people, a reality. Imagine a world in which the government won’t let us marry who we want to marry? We don’t have to! That’s already happening. Brock and Chet and Sage aren’t the only ones who have to fight for their right to fall in love. Thousands of us are doing that every day, across the country, as we speak.
Here’s the thing, straight readers and writers: the government wants you to fall in love. They want you to get married have 2.5 kids and a dog and live in the suburbs and give them lots of money and work for GE, but they are certainly not invested in stopping your love with another straight person, and I doubt much will change in the future. If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or living below the poverty line, the government is probably still annoyed with you, but your straight love isn’t the problem.
Nobody is trying to “cure” you from looking a certain way, or having certain desires or interests. But they are trying to cure us — for being trans and having different gender expressions and “same sex attractions” and for simply daring to be ourselves. I know that many Americans support the LGBT communities. But when organizations like Exodus are still perfectly legal and when I can’t get married in thirty-eight out of fifty states or in the church I grew up in and Supreme Court Justices are still baffled this fight is happening, you’ll have to forgive me for erring on the side of oppression.
You’ll have to forgive me, also, if I don’t immediately understand where your dystopian perspectives are coming from. It’s not that I’m not afraid of what our future holds. I, too, am deeply afraid. That’s why dystopian novels are such an important exercise in examining what our values are — and what they aren’t. Dystopian novels have to feel plausible in order to work. And for the most part, the dystopian novels that I have mentioned are truly excellent stories.
I just wonder why they’re all about government obsession with keeping heterosexuals from living their lives. Why aren’t there aren’t any gay protagonists? Why has nobody imagined a future where gay people play a key, pivotal role, where our loves and our lives are just as politically important as yours?
I guess at the end of the day, I want to know this, straight people: Where is my story about the forbidden love between Brock and Sage?
— Chelsea Condren, currently reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn