New feature! ARE YOU GUYS EXCITED.
I decided that since I talk about queer books practically all the time, and it’s no secret that I’m queer myself, that I should do a feature about… being queer. Sometimes it’ll relate to books, and sometimes it won’t. I think it’s important because when we talk about diversity and representation in books, we’re talking about visibility. What it’s like to open a book and see yourself reflected in it. Your gender identity, your skin colour, your disabilities, your sexual orientation. What it’s like to know you’re not alone in the world, and that you too are normal.
I want to talk about what that’s like. I want to be more open about myself so that other people can see me and feel better about being whoever they are, too. And I want to do this because it’d be great if other people could come to these posts and share their own experiences with me. In a way, I want these posts to demonstrate why I think queer books are so important.
So, first of all, to make things clear, I’m bisexual. I also like to use the word ‘queer’ to describe myself. I think I’ll probably talk about what these terms mean to me in another post soon! But to start off with, I want to make this first post completely about books.
When I was 11, I realised I wasn’t straight. At that time, I had started to read fanfiction. And as you all know, most fanfiction is totally gay. Many fanfiction authors were still very reluctant to admit that bisexuality was a thing at that point, but at least there was gayness in abundance! And that was so nice for me to read, because it made me think that being gay wasn’t such a bad thing.
But I read a lot of books too. And queer characters basically didn’t exist in YA books back then. Bear in mind that I was studying in England, and I was mostly only exposed to UKYA. I think the very first LGBTQ YA I read was The Shell House by Linda Newbery, and this one I accidentally stumbled upon in the school library. I read it with quiet awe. It was pretty tragic, but beautiful and well-written. I haven’t reread it since, but I’m fairly confident that I’d still love it if I reread it now.
Then I managed to find and buy a couple of books from bookshops, these ones about girls who fall in love with girls, but they were even more tragic and in fact not particularly good books (I won’t name these) and left me depressed for days about my own fate. Plus, at that point, I’d realised that most people I knew in real life weren’t very okay with girls liking girls.
As I got older, I discovered YA from the US. David Levithan turned into my hero after I read Boy Meets Boy, a book that was just so much HAPPIER than I could ever have dreamed of LGBTQ YA being. I was also ridiculously excited to hear about Malinda Lo’s Ash! It turned out to be one of my least favourite books by Lo, but the fact that the book existed was still amazing to me. Queer girls in a book who can be together and happy! At that time, I knew a girl from school who was a book blogger, and we talked about books occasionally. I was not out to most people, including this girl, and I kept it a secret that I liked reading LGBTQ books. But we were talking about new books, and I told her I was excited to read Ash, and she said something to the effect of, “Oh, I don’t read books that have a gay romance.”
I’ll always remember that moment. I felt so crushed and defeated, and I just stayed silent. I couldn’t say anything in reply. I mean, I knew this was to be expected from most of the people I knew in real life at that time, but it didn’t hurt any less. The fact that nobody understood how excited I was, how monumental these books were to me and how much they meant, how much they gave hope to my entire existence. The fact that I couldn’t really even tell anybody about why I cared so much about these books.
Queer book-lovers don’t really get to say, “I don’t read books that have a straight romance.”
It’s been 5 years since that happened. I’m now at university, I’m out to pretty much anyone who asks (I’ll do a post on coming out another time!), and I’m a lot happier. And it’s so much easier to find queer YA now–even UKYA is improving a lot on that front. And I love reading it and talking about it and enthusiastically telling people I know in real life about these books. I’m so glad so much has changed. I’m glad I can talk openly about how much these books mean to me now and have always meant to me.
Now it’s your turn! Tell me about your own story with LGBTQ YA. What was the very first LGBTQ book you read? Did you enjoy it? Have you ever encountered anyone who didn’t want to read LGBTQ books, and if so, what was your reaction?