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The Government Can’t Stop Our Heterosexual Love: YA Dystopia From A Gay Perspective

2013 May 27
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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?)

Pictured here are troubled heterosexuals.

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

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13 Responses
  1. May 27, 2013

    Off the top of my head, The Butterfly and the Flame by Dana de Young had a trans* protagonist and The Culling by Steven dos Santos has a gay protagonist.

    Paolo Bacigulpi wrote an article similar to this one, which Nora Olsen countered here.

    • May 27, 2013

      Bacigalupi- sorry I’m posting from my phone!

    • Chelsea Condren permalink
      May 27, 2013

      Thanks for the info! I’m glad there are some gay protagonists in dystopia. However, I feel like the major point I’m trying to drive at is that ultimately the notion that the government would want to regulate love between heterosexuals (by banning love, or regulating emotion, or whatever the theme is) feels pretty ridiculous.

  2. May 27, 2013

    I think the reason that this “you can’t love who you want, straight people!” thing shows up in YA lit is because it reflects a lot of teens’ experience: their parents keep a close eye on whom they’re dating and whom they’re friends with, so the extrapolation to YA lit is that the government would do that systematically.

    I agree that the possibility of that happening in “real life” is pretty slim, but I can at least see where the idea comes from!

    • Chelsea Condren permalink
      May 27, 2013

      I definitely get where you’re coming from. Government as parents is a really interesting notion, and I think there’s a diference between something like that and something like, say, The Hunger Games, which explores how the government’s systematic choices about poverty and class today make a difference in the future. That’s why I love dystopia–it really opens up these kinds of conversations.

      • Chelsea Condren permalink
        May 27, 2013

        On a similar note, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not there is a “gay gene” because, supposing science discovered it, would they also be able to discover a “cure”? If being gay is a genetic mutation then shouldn’t people want to lead a life that is easier and geared towards reproduction “naturally?” Has there been any dystopian fiction that explores this? I’m sure I’m not the only one who waxes poetic about this kind of thing!

  3. Jess J. permalink
    May 27, 2013

    Four stars says everybody!!!!!!

    No but actually- I definitely get the idea of regulating love in YA fiction because teens often feel like their love lives are regulated, but when it’s hetero love it does make it hard to suspend disbelief for a novel depicting a dystopian future you’re preeetty sure has no shot in hell of ever happening.

  4. Mars permalink
    May 28, 2013

    Not to flip this around on you, as you make an excellent point – but I think to some degree you’ve quietly pinpointed the reason you do see this plot everywhere.

    Lots of genres are highly metaphorical; dystopia is one. It’s precisely because the government already does, as you so aptly point out, dictate the love lives of many of its citizens and deny them normal choices that help make some of these stories pertinent. The neat thing about dystopia is that it questions the status quo through exaggeration and expansion of elements already there; it helps illuminate the wrongs we already face.

    I’m not disagreeing at all that more LGBTQ protagonists in dystopia would be great; that lack of visibility is really a problem. But I think it’s worthwhile to note that this sort of story may actually be creating allies among heterosexual teens by bringing up that very question and making them examine it. Why is it acceptable to tell ANYONE who they can or can’t have feelings for? Why should this ever be dictated by society rather than the individual? I think a lot of teens are catching the subtext there, and the conversations raised by those books are a net positive towards LGBTQ issues.

    • Chelsea Condren permalink
      May 28, 2013

      While I’m definitely happy to see that readers are picking up on the metaphors (we always knew YA readers were smart!) and I’m glad your comment provides that perspective, I do think its important that we are still assuming a heterosexual/white/whatever else readership when we explore these metaphors. By this I simply mean that my own life is not a metaphor, even if it might be for someone else.

      However, that being said, I do appreciate the conversations dystopian novels open up when it comes to issues like government regulation of our hearts, minds, and bodies, whether they are realistic or not.

  5. May 28, 2013

    What’s ironic about this post is that I was going to write one almost identical to this topic on my blog but it would have also included the lack of disabled, non christian , non white characters in dystopia. I’m still working on it as i’m trying to word it so that it doesn’t offend any one. As much as i feel like it’s important to voice how i felt about it, i know that some people don’t see it as a “problem”. But thanks for sharing and making others aware of this.

    I’ve read a book in the past with transgendered and gay characters but for the most part they were never the main characters. I’m working on self publishing a book and i want to be mindful of what isn’t rarely included. I don’t feel the pressure of making a gay character just to meet some kind of quota but if it came naturally to me, i’d certainly be open to it. I think sometimes i can forget that this is just as big of issue because i’m so busy noticing the lack of black/latina/asian women in dystopia. But I do think it’s important to have a strong representation of everyone that’s different. I’d take any suggestions of some books that feature this, as on my blog I mainly review books that showcase diversity in all aspects :)

  6. June 1, 2013

    What a great article! While I understand the metaphorical issue of restricting love in YA fiction, I do agree with Chelsea that we need to broaden these metaphors to include characters of diverse backgrounds.

    I’m not going to get into the challenges I faced when trying to get my novel, THE CULLING, published because of the gay protagonist, but I will say that in my dystopian future, I tried to create a world where LGBT people are equal to their heterosexual counterparts in all things. It’s clear that with the advancements in marriage equality, etc. things are thankfully heading in the right direction. It would make sense that hundreds of years into the future this would be a non-issue.

    In setting out to write my series, I found it very disturbing that LGBT characters did not exist or were not prominent in many of the YA dystopias being released, and I felt that issue needed to be addressed. So I tried to create a dark, dystopian future where sexual orientation is a non-issue, and readers of any orientation could relate to the themes of oppression, etc. While THE CULLING features a gay male protagonist, future installments will include prominent lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters battling for freedom alongside their heterosexual brethren. :-)

    Thanks again for addressing this very important issue!

    Steven dos Santos

  7. Sarah permalink
    July 10, 2013

    I find the idea of an actual political government oppressing straight love highly improbable. Not that YA Dystopia (as suppose to the adult variety) is exactly known for probable or likely plots. *cough gladiatorial games. *cough

    This is why books like Little Brother are so refreshing. It shows YA dystopia can actually be taken seriously.

  8. September 9, 2013

    My new series THE COLONY features gay YA characters in a dystopian world. You can read more on my site at http://www.j-tomas.net or on the publisher’s site here: http://www.queerteen-press.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=23&products_id=96

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