October is an exciting month for any YA lit fan, because it includes Teen Read Week! In honor of this annual celebration of young adult literature, YALSA invited book-loving teens all over the world to apply to share their enthusiasm for reading in a guest post for The Hub. Thirty-one talented young writers were chosen, and we’ll be featuring posts from these unique voices all month long. Here’s KT Massey.
When I was working my way through John’s Green books, I stumbled upon Will Grayson, Will Grayson. At the time I was a person who believed in gay rights the same way I believed my school should win its football games; casually and without much real knowledge or experience. I don’t want to say this book changed my life. But it introduced me to books that were unapologetically about queer people.
Another thing this book didn’t do: make me reach out for other books with non-heteronormative narratives. The novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Bejamin Alire Saenz did. When I picked it up I had no idea it was about two gay teens. But by the end I was struck by the depth of their relationship and the subtlety with which Saenz crafted their world and characters. He didn’t write a book about being gay or Hispanic or poor, so much as a book about being human. After this I scoured Goodreads, YA blogs, and tumblr for more. I can across and read Hero by Perry Moore, The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George, and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You: A Novel by Peter Cameron, among others. Then I realized something about these books that was different from Aristotle and Dante.
They were all white. All the teens were white. And most were male and gay. I realized the books I was looking at, reading, and being recommended lacked characters of color, characters who were bisexual, characters who weren’t cisgender, and characters who fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum rather than at the two ends. A lack of people who are somewhere in-between. I didn’t just notice this in books. I noticed this in TV shows, in news about only G in LGBTQ, in magazines, in movies, and so many other times of art and media.
If you look at the stats:
- 50% are male
- 25% are female
- 4% are trans/queer gender
- 83% are white
- 7% are black
- 3% of characters are Asian, Native American, Latin@
- >1% are Middle Eastern
If you look hard enough you can find books with characters who are both nonwhite and non-straight. Novels like Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez, I am J by Cris Beam, and Huntress by Malinda Lo are popular. However, they too often seem lonely because they feature narratives with characters who don’t just have one â€œdifference.â€ They cross the line that says you only need to be colored OR gay to fill a diversity quota. All too often the narratives we find comfortable, find exciting, find worth publicizing, are the ones with characters of easily definable single labels.
Looking back, the first characters of queerness I ever read were Daja(black and bisexual) from The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce and Magnus Bane (Asian and bisexual) from The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. They also turned out to be people of color and not just male and gay. Magnus is a effeminate man and Daja is a female. Daja’s struggle with the color of her skin, and later both her and Magnus’ openness about being bisexual were truly inspiring to me. However, both characters are either part of ensemble cast or a minor character. As complex and diverse as they are, we need more. We need more novels with characters like them and more people not only willing to read books with them, but seek them out.
I am both bisexual and biracial. I am an in-betweener. Somewhere between gay and straight, Chinese and American. Being one in no way demeans the other. But coming to terms with both labels took time, confidence, and a support structure. Books are, and were, a huge part of my, and others’, support structures. Without characters and authors we can look up to and see ourselves in, it will be harder be honest or proud or hopeful about who we are.
So if you aren’t an in-betweener; look at the books you’re reading. Are they only full of white cisgender straight males? If you are an in-betweener; don’t give up. Just look harder, be brave, and keep reading.
For further reading:
- A Guide to YA Novels with LGBTQ Characters (by our very own Hub!)
- Stonewall Book Awards List (by the ALA)
~ Between reading and writing, KT likes cooking Tiramisu and shopping at thrift stores.