This week I received an email from Erin on behalf of a friend of hers who is a middle school teacher, asking me for recommendations of young adult LGBTQ books that were “not coming-out stories as much as dating and ‘regular’ adolescent stuff.”
I sent her a list of books that I have read and enjoyed:
- The House You Pass Along the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
- Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
- The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
- How Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart:
- Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea
- In Mike We Trust by P.E. Ryan
- I Am J by Cris Beam
After I emailed Erin with my list, I couldn’t help but contemplate the similarities of the books. While several of these are, at least on the surface, coming out stories, they also supersede the traditional coming out plots. In The Bermudez Triangle, for instance, the character who has come out finds support and an LGBTQ community with the help of an organization that assists LGBTQ youth (there’s even a scene where she meets a potential love interest at a dance help by the organization). I Am J is a trans coming out story, but the main character finds an LGBTQ organization and meets other trans people. While it’s rare for a young adult novel with lesbian, gay, or bisexual characters to have more than two who identify as such, it’s even rarer for a novel (both young adult and adult) with a trans character to have more than one trans person within the story*.
Another thing these books have in common is that none of the characters face gratuitous homophobic or transphobic hate crimes. Yes, LGBTQ folks have to contend with biases that straight and/or cisgender folks do not, which include hate crimes based on our sexual orientation, gender expression and/or gender identity. The violence and oppression that the LGBTQ community faces is a tragic truth that needs to be acknowledged and addressed, both in real life and in literature. That is not to say, however, that the fact that the significant majority of main stream novels that have LGBTQ characters contain at least one scene of brutal assault is not problematic.
LGBTQ people are not, in and of themselves, a tragic people. As I stated previously, we do face unique difficulties within society–but that does not mean that every single LGBTQ character has to be violently attacked because of their identity. Obviously in real life this is not true, so why do the overwhelming majority of books (and movies and television shows) depict it? Not only is it unrepresentative of real statistics, it gives readers, particularly young readers, that life as a LGBTQ person means that you are constantly being attacked, abused, and assaulted. I find this unacceptable.
Which books would you add to my list?
*While there are very few young adult books with trans characters–and one could argue that it would be harder to find other trans folks at that age–adult novels with trans characters tend to follow the “my husband realized she is trans and now I’m married to a woman” trope.While simply having a second or third trans person within the text does not necessarily make the book “good,” I would argue that it does make it better.