Discussion: Why I think LGBT characters are important in YA

This week’s discussion post was brought about by Caroline’s theme week over at her blog Portrait of a Woman. The Lesbian Teen Novels week means a lot to me because I’ve always been interested in the subject. I like to see how different authors get different perspectives across and what is included.
I think LGBT themes within young adult literature are important for anyone regardless of their sexuality, sex or even age. In a world where gay marriage has just been accepted in one of the most popular and well known cities and is hopefully going to be the norm for many gay people everywhere soon I think characters that are gay should be a very prominent feature within YA.
LGBT characters in books have always been important for me, I grew up in a small village and went to school in a small town, I met very few outwardly gay people when I was younger but I don’t think I was ever naive about different people. I pride myself in this as honestly, you would have been stared at for being black in the village I grew up in… Thank feck I got outta there! I think that what aided me in knowing the goings-on of life outside my little cagoule was mostly books and TV. I can remember reading Pretty Things by Sarra Manning and though it probably wasn’t my first encounter of a gay character; Daisy will always stick in my mind for being ballsy and awesome. I think that reading about these characters made me realise that there was nothing uncommon or, more importantly, wrong about being gay and this is why, I believe, there should be more young adult books that feature gay characters.
 
Teen years are confusing times for everyone. I remember being confused about who I was, who I found attractive, what was happening to my body and everything. And trust me… from a girl that went from a size 8 girly girl to a size 14 goth over the course of one summer, no-one can tell me that life wasn’t confusing! I remember that just by holding my *girl* friends hand at a party once I was accused of being gay and whilst the girl in question dropped my hand instantly I stood there and went “and your problem with that is?!” I was so in touch with myself by this point that I wasn’t prepared to stand for people treating me or anyone else as a weirdo for being different.
I since lost touch with most the people I went to school with. I found that at 16 when they stayed in the little town most of them had grown up in and I wandered off to the not-much-bigger-but-certainly-more-diverse town nearby for college that they didn’t want to know most the time.  I never forget their reaction at that party though and often wonder why I reacted the way I did and I think it does boils down to the fact I read more than any of my friends and the stuff I read was more diverse in its characters.
I often feel like the LGBT characters I meet in YA novels are a very good resemblance of the type of people that you can meet in real life. I think that the thoughts explored when a character is discovering their sexuality and the experiences that they go through mirror what happens in real life beautifully. I read The Bermudez Triangle recently and when the friend of the two girls who had become a couple thought “does this make me gay!?” Which on the one hand seems a bit naive but on the other a perfectly plausible thought; think about what you would do at 16, finding out that your two best friends are gay!?
In a lot of LGBT themed books I have noticed that not only are the thoughts of the characters who are gay explored but the thoughts of those they meet and are close to show up too. I find that there are different reactions experienced and find that the emotions of the characters that experience those reactions are shown very well. I think this can really help someone know how to react when a friend confides in them every if they aren’t gay themselves. I would never go “OMG what are you even talking about you, big ugly dyke!” if a friend told me they were gay, for one I’m not that type of girl but also, I have read about what those sorted of reactions can do to people, and seen them first hand too.  
Although LGBT themed books aren’t real life I don’t think I have found a non-realistic experience in any I have read, though to be honest, I’ve known people who were actually chucked out of their homes after coming out to their parents so you really can’t say there’s a typical reaction to finding out someone is gay and from what I’ve gathered a non-typical feeling when you start to realise that you are!
I do think that sometimes the portrayal of a gay character can come across wrong though. I am forever finding out that “alternative” female characters are lesbians or “girly” male characters are gay and I think sometimes that puts the wrong impression out there. There can be perfectly “normal” girls who are lesbian and butch guys who are gay you know!
I love that some YA authors explore sexuality really well but I do think that books involving LGBT characters are scarce and they should be featured more. I often friend myself wanting secondary characters to be gay and it not be made a big thing of… like Dumbledore haha. If I was to wish one thing for YA lit I would wish that it would feature more gay characters and less stereotypical ones at that!
I hope I haven’t bored you by blabbing on about this for so long! I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything, I have probably read a limited amount of LGBT themed books compared to other people so please join in. Have you read about any LGBT characters and thought it was unrealistic and terribly portrayed? Do you think that this topic should be explored more or less in YA? 
  • Great post Raimy. I am with you on this one and they do need to be included more in YA fiction.

  • You’ve really written a beautifully honest and really interesting post.

    While I’ve never directly struggled with any of this, my best friend has – now she knows exactly who she is and is proud of it, but I could tell it was a real struggle for her at points.

    I think this is definitely something that YA could benefit more from.

    Great post!

  • What a fantastic post Raimy. Being a teen is really really confusing. The need for books to express how ‘normal’ these things are is phenominal. thank yo so much for writing this post <3

  • Such a wonderful post. I agree that there isn’t enough LGBT YA where the characters aren’t stereotypes.

  • Great post and really well put. I grew up in a fairly diverse town so anybody being gay has always seemed pretty normal and understandable to me. I didn’t even realise it was an issue until I was maybe 9 or 10 when somebody in my class made homophobic remarks about a couple from a soap which had been on the night before.

    I haven’t read any books yet (although I do have Bermudez Triangle and Ash, which I believe has a gay main character)with LGBT themes but I’ve seen plenty of secondary characters who have been gay.

    You’re really right about them being played up though. I often assume a character is gay (with no real evidence to back it up) because I stereotype the effeminate males to be gay and the butch/alternative girls to be lesbians. This is most probably because media portrays them like that :-/

  • What a thoughtful post – I don’t read a lot of YA, (it has been a really long time since I was Y ;D) but it is encouraging to learn that characters are so much more diverse than when I was Y. Positive for young readers of all kinds.

  • Oh I love this post Raimy, thank you so much for writing it and sharing it with us. I grew up in a very white community and always felt different and like I didn’t belong being mixed race. Especially when I was younger and my skin colour was quite a bit darker than it is now, and I’d be treated very differently.

    I grew to not notice it as much, but even many years later, when N came for a visit (N is of Indian descent) he always felt stared at and treated differently as well. And these sort of racial discriminations always made me feel sad and lonely. I’ve never come across a character in literature that felt like me. Parts of me, perhaps, but not really fully me.

    And it isn’t just LGBT themes that are missing from mainstream YA at the moment, it’s also ethnic minorities or mixed race characters, it’s differently-abled characters, characters of different religions and so much more. I’d love to see a more diverse world in YA fiction so that reading and literature can better reflect the lives of teenagers so that people don’t feel so alone or that they don’t fit in.

    That’s what I would like.

  • What a great post, I think you are right, they do need to be more in YA. There shouldn’t be stereotypes. x