Can’t queer teens slay dragons too?

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I just read this article about attempted erasure of LGBTQ characters, as well as characters of color and characters with disabilities, in YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and I think you should read it too.

As a reader and a lover of sci-fi and fantasy (though I’m certain this happens in other genres too), this makes me really sad and frustrated.  The characters I want to read about exist, but I have no way to access them because they are being watered down into straight, white characters with no disabilities to please, well, straight, white readers with no disabilities.

It was so frustrating as a teen to have to go to a special section whenever I wanted to read about a character who was different.  I fully appreciate the fact that LGBtQ YA fiction (we’re working on doing something about the “t,” at least I am) is now becoming it’s own genre, don’t get me wrong, it’s an important genre and I am thankful it exists.  But as a teen, I always wanted to read a regular book that was not about the struggles of being queer, but where a queer character experiences something other than simply coming out, coming to terms with being queer, being bullied for being queer, etc.  Couldn’t a character deal with the reality of being queer while solving mysteries, playing sports, traveling through time or slaying dragons?  The message is, that if you are queer, the only story you have to tell is about being queer, and that’s all you’re worth–all you could possibly want in life is to come to terms with being queer and then go on to live a normal, peaceful, boring life.  That’s all queer people are, that’s all queer people are worth, queer people do not strive for excellence, we strive for the mundane.

As a library student interested in working with teens, this frustrates me too.  I want to develop collections and recommend books to teens that represent a diverse range of characters.  Having a strong collection of books that deal with LGBTQ issues and other issues which face diverse populations is really important to me, and when I have my own collections, this is something that will take priority and will represent small but substantial neighborhoods of my collection that I offer some level of priority which overrides simple market-based factors like circulation stats because, well, every time those books circulate is likely a million times more important and life-changing to the reader than other books.

But at the same time, that really sucks, to think that it’s okay to have diverse characters in books that, though intended for everyone, will probably only circulate well amongst people who are like the characters they describe (ie, books about queer teens will circulate with queer teens, books about teens with disabilities will circulate amongst teens with disabilities, etc).  Why would I want to give straight teens only books about straight teens, or teens without disabilities only books about teens without disabilities or white teens only books about white teens?  What kind of message does that send about what equals quality literature?  And I don’t really think it’s the teens who even care about this, it’s their parents!

  1. duospiritus says:

    I find this lack of diversity ESPECIALLY frustrating in the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres, if you are writing about fictional beings who is to say they have the same gender ideology as humans? If an author/publisher wanted to include trans/genderqueer characters without offending parents Sci-fi/Fantasy would be the way to go. But even in books where the Character sure seems to be setting hirself up perfectly to be queer somehow (The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce for example) at the last moment they end up being straight. In my fantasy readings I have found one book in which a person who’s gender identity/expression varies from biologically decided “norms” is in Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce, this is a sequel and in it Tamora Pirerce includes a secondary character who was “touched by the trickster god” meaning that while she was in the womb the trickster god altered her so her body opposed her soul, in short; She was trans and it was no big deal to the narrator or any other main character. She was in a happy, healthy relationship and became useful in plot development and keeping the narrator alive through to the end of the book. But that is the only book I’ve read, and I read voraciously, that had someone even resembling my gender identity in a YA fiction book.

    I’d love to know if you had more suggestions than you posted here, or have since gotten more suggestions, I want to do some more reviews on my blog of queer YA from a queer young adult viewpoint.

    Yours in Queerness,
    Duo Spiritus

    • Jackson says:

      Have you looked through my Goodreads “listopia” list? There are some sci-fi ones on there. Specifically Eon by Alison Goodman and The End by Nora Olsen. I think maybe some others too. I have not read either of them yet, but have both of them sitting there ready to be read as soon as my brain gets a small break from this term of school. I will probably review them on PrettyQueer and definitely on Goodreads once I read them. I have not read Bloodhound (actually, I haven’t read anything by Tamora Pierce even though it seems like she’s written so much stuff that seems fairly well received!) but I will check it out, so thanks for the recommendation!

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