For Asexual Awareness Week we reached out to bloggers who identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum to write posts related to asexuality and YA. We’re happy to bring you the third post in this series! Check back every day this week for more posts from other great guest bloggers.
I was seventeen when I read Mockingjay.
I’d read the first two books in The Hunger Games series less than a year earlier, a recommendation from my contemporary literature teacher who convinced me that it was worth my time if only because the protagonist was a woman of color. All the English teachers I had in high school knew that I craved young adult books with diverse characters and complex stories, and The Hunger Games met my interests perfectly. I bought the entire series the day Mockingjay came out and read it from start to finish during orientation week for my first year of college.
Of the new friends I made during that first week, I was the only person who had read the series and hadn’t hated the last book. I’d had issues that I wasn’t quite able to explain, but none of them had to do with the major complaints that I heard over which characters were killed and how they died, over the terrible pacing in the last few chapters, over the fact that Katniss ended up with Peeta. I had never shipped Katniss with Gale so the fact she and Peeta got married wasn’t upsetting to me. What was upsetting was the fact that she and Peeta had children.
From the first chapter of The Hunger Games, Katniss talks about the fact that she didn’t want children. It’s repeated multiple times in each book and she never shows any doubt towards her lack of desire to have kids, even if she lived in a world where having kids was a safe thing to do. And yet, fifteen years after the Games are over she agrees to have children for Peeta’s sake. It made me uncomfortable because while part of me thought that it was just her way of showing how much she loved him, couldn’t he have shown her how much he loved her by not begging her to have kids?
At this point I still wanted children, but I understood a lot of the reasons people had for not having kids. In time I understood that Katniss having children played into heteronormativity, which insists that being a cisgender, heteromantic and heterosexual individual who complies with all societally determined gender roles is the correct way to be. Everything else is wrong. Because she was physically able to bear children she was expected to, and that seemed – and is – completely unfair.
I reread The Hunger Games series at age nineteen in anticipation for the first movie.
During my reread I noticed that Katniss doesn’t express the standard feelings of confusion that most young adult heroines feel in regards to her ‘romantic’ interests in the books. In the vast majority of young adult fiction that I’d read that involved love triangles, the character in the middle has feelings for both potential partners and is stuck figuring who they care about more. And while there is a fair amount of trying to understand their feelings for the other partners, there’s never anything to indicate that the character feeling desire is unexpected or unusual for them.
It wasn’t something I’d noticed or thought very much about during my initial reading because I felt that she had more important issues on hand than what her feelings for Gale and Peeta were. However, I also hadn’t thought about how uncommon it is to see a fictional character without sexual or romantic feelings. Even with the young adult stories I’d read previously in the back of my mind, it didn’t completely hit me the first time around that one of the reasons I related to Katniss so well was because she wasn’t preoccupied with those relationship desires that were so frequently assumed to exist in everyone. At no point in time did Katniss see herself as weird for her lack of desire – it was simply a fact of her life that other people felt things she didn’t feel and she’s okay with that. The confusion that Katniss feels in connection to relationships is always in regards to the development of unusual feelings instead of in her lack of them, and in navigating how to pretend to be someone she’s not.
For all non-straight orientations, the redefining of personal relationships against what heteronormativity insists relationships should be is important in the journey to self-acceptance. People who identify as both heterosexual and heteromantic don’t have to worry about the societal expectations for their relationships in the way that individuals of all other orientations do, and while that’s sometimes more obvious for people who are attracted to the “incorrect” gender or genders, people who do not experience attraction at all do have to figure out what types of relationships are of greatest priority to them. For Katniss, it’s always her relationship with Prim, who was referenced in the first book as “the only person in the world I’m certain I love.” This familial bond is always more important to her than potential romantic or sexual bonds. Even if that relationship is ignored, Katniss prioritized friendship over the relationships Gale and Peeta wanted to have with her. A lack of desire for those types of relationships caused by a general lack of attraction is an issue that asexual and aromantic people frequently run into, so learning to understand what’s personally important in relationships and what types of relationships are wanted is extremely important.
At age twenty-one, I found my sexual orientation shifting.
I’d gone several years feeling secure in my identity as a panromantic demisexual, but it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that I no longer experienced romantic attraction and that I doubted I’d ever feel sexual attraction again. Eventually I found new words that fit me, but not after a cycle of questioning and confusion, especially since the change in my orientation was directly related to trauma. And it was hard to accept that who I am now is not exactly who I was before, even though who I was before has a great impact on my identity now. But my orientation now is valid, just like the orientation I had two years ago was valid then.
Katniss went the opposite route in regards to an orientation change – but that doesn’t negate or erase her status as a character in the aromantic and asexual spectrums. There are three points in the books where Katniss feels anything that can be understood as sexual desire in the series: during one kiss in the cave in book one, during a kiss on the beach in book two, and after the war is over and she’s started recovering in book three. As her feelings develop for both Peeta and Gale through the series, it’s still with the knowledge that romantic feelings are not the norm for her. This indicates her presence on the greyer areas of the asexual and aromantic spectrums but that doesn’t suddenly mean she’s alloromantic and allosexual.
Representation and diversity in young adult literature is necessary. I started actively searching for books with LGBTQIA+ characters when I first started questioning my orientation and as I went from struggling to acceptance, the types of books I needed shifted. I went from reading books solely about white gay men to reading every book with an LGBTQIA+ person of color I could find. Finding people with similar experiences and backgrounds is crucial in helping people feel like they belong, especially when they’re part of marginalized groups. At this point I haven’t read other books with asexual or aromantic characters yet, but I know as we’re recognized more and more by the LGBTQIA+ community there will be more works published and more things to choose from. Having Katniss Everdeen represent my communities is an important start and while many people might argue that she doesn’t count as canon representation because her orientations weren’t explicitly defined in the books, she’s consistently helped me feel not so abnormal.
Nakiya is a black, queer, greyromantic and asexual college student who currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s avoiding grad school preparation she can be found on Tumblr at lemonyandbeatrice where she blogs about diversity in media, asexuality, trauma, and mental illness. Oh, and lots of Marvel.
For Asexual Awareness Week we reached out to bloggers who identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum to write posts related to asexuality and YA. We’re happy to bring you the third post in this series! Check back every day this week for more posts from other great guest bloggers.
by Em Murphy
When I realized I was asexual, everything made a lot more sense. I was in my last year of college and when I finally acknowledged that I wasn’t attracted to anyone, it made me a lot more comfortable with myself and with how I interacted with other people. It helped me realize how my expectations regarding my relationships with other people didn’t always match what was actually happening, or what I had hoped would be happening.
Growing up, I read constantly. I read all kinds of books, but my favorites focused on interpersonal interaction and relationships. Sometimes I read books about characters older than me, and I took a lot of my social cues and expectations about what was to come from them. After all, if it was in a book, it must be true, or at least close enough, and I could expect that similar events might happen to me. A lot of the young adult books I was reading involved romantic plot lines, often a slow burn over the course of the novel ending with some sort of denouement at the end, like a dramatic kiss or lots of making out or more.
As much as I liked the slow burn, the building attraction, and the intensity of feelings, I could never really get on board with the making out at the end. When anything beyond kissing happened, on- or off-screen, I lost interest and felt detached from the story. I didn’t know why I felt that way, why I could be so invested and feel the same tingly feelings in my stomach when the protagonist of a book talked about the object of their affection, but suddenly lose interest when anything went beyond emotional attraction. The butterflies of early attraction, of interest before Anything Happened were very familiar to me, but the other feelings? The pants-feelings about other people? I couldn’t understand them at all, but I thought I should.
This feeling carried over into my real-life interactions, when I felt very emotionally attached to and invested in people, but completely disinterested sexually. I had crushes on people, I wanted to spend all my time with them, I wanted to hang out and hold hands and giggle with them. I didn’t mind kissing, sometimes, because it was kind of like holding hands and giggling, sometimes, but I felt sick to my stomach when it went beyond that. I couldn’t explain why, though, because I thought I was supposed to feel a certain way and I didn’t. Normal people wanted to do more than kissing, and I didn’t. For a while I wrote it off as being immature, or not ready for things, or just assumed that I was dating jerks and that I wasn’t attracted to them because of that.
When I somehow came across asexuality online, though, everything made sense. I understood why I felt some—but definitely not all—of the butterflies I had been reading about. All of the books I had read growing up, all of the models on the library shelf in front of me, involved straight couples with very heterosexual interests and behaviors, and I couldn’t relate to it all. But it turned out that not everyone feels that way! That not everyone experiences sexual attraction! That I wasn’t the only person who felt tingly in the stomach about people and nothing more, and that that was actually how I felt! By the time I realized this about myself—that I am, in fact, asexual—I had gotten pretty far into my own head about what was wrong with me, why I didn’t feel like everyone else. Knowing that other people also didn’t feel sexual attraction changed how I understood myself and let me be more forgiving of myself, especially regarding my interactions with people I was interested in or who were interested in me. I didn’t feel like I was doing everything wrong anymore. It was a relief.
I think that reading about different kinds of attraction could have really made an impact in terms of how I processed my feelings and desires. If I had read books when I was younger that portrayed characters that weren’t sexually attracted to anyone, I might have been more frank with myself about what I felt, I might have been more able to see what was actually going on in my head. If I had read books with asexual characters in them, I would have saved myself a lot of worry and anxiety. If there were more books with asexual characters, maybe more people would know what I mean when I say I’m asexual and wouldn’t think I was just making it up. As it is now, I’m glad that asexual visibility is increasing and that more people know what it is and are writing about it.
Em Murphy likes mountains, card games, and people not making assumptions about her sexuality. She would love to talk with you more about being ace. You can reach her at email@example.com.
For Asexual Awareness Week we reached out to bloggers who identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum to write posts related to asexuality and YA. We’re happy to bring you the second post in this series! Check back every day this week for more posts from other great guest bloggers. If you missed the first one, here it is!
Warning: This post contains slightly mature content. It may be inappropriate for young audiences.
by Dragon A
I discovered my asexuality through fanfiction. Put like that, it sounds slightly ridiculous. However, if I was not such an avid reader of fanfic I’m pretty sure I would still be completely in the dark about that aspect of myself.
I’ve been unabashedly bisexual since I was fourteen, changed my terminology to pansexual some time later, and became a cheerful adventurer in the world of kink as soon as I was allowed into clubs. I got used to dealing with the bullshit that comes with being in a mixed-orientation-but-outwardly-perceived-as-gay relationship (Can I watch? What will you do if you want children? Who’s the man? Surely if you’re both women and you’re together, then she’s gay not bi? What’s pansexual?).
So, when I first read a well-written Sherlock fanfiction in which Sherlock is asexual and in a functioning relationship with John where they trade experiment time for sex, I couldn’t figure out why it made me feel so strange. I was completely shaken, and ended up snuggling with my partner for hours while trying to verbalise exactly what it was that had thrown me so badly; I couldn’t.
The next day I went back on archiveofourown.org and carried on reading. I added “asexual” to the search tags and suddenly found a variety of fanfiction with asexual characters. The ones that really held my attention were the ones in which the asexual character was in a relationship.
All these little lights were going off in my head and I kept thinking things like: “This can work? Relationships like this can work? Other people feel attraction without the sex bit? Oh shit, is this why my previous relationships fell apart? How do I talk to my partner about this?”
My partner was completely chill. She gave me a slightly disbelieving look and said: “I thought you knew that you went through long phases of asexuality at fairly regular intervals.” I spluttered at her a bit, and managed to calm down.
Thing is, I was terrified. I absolutely hate having unknown bits of my personality leap out at me; it’s something that I sort of expect to happen sometimes, but I was very confident about my sexuality. So this whole thing threw me completely off kilter and I panicked and convinced myself that nothing was ever going to be the same.
Part of what was throwing me for a loop was that I was in a relationship and totally in love with my partner (still am, for the record). I knew this was something I needed to figure out, but I was also scared that it would fuck up our relationship.
As far as I could see there was no roadmap for having a relationship when one of us is always interested in sex and the other one goes through long periods of actual revulsion at the very thought of it. (Although to make things more complicated, it’s the thought of me being involved that makes the revulsion happen. I will happily read porn while in an asexual phase and enjoy it, but no no no to touching! There’s a word I use for this, which is autochorisexualism. Yay words.)
I couldn’t find role models. The problem that I had trying to find mainstream representations of asexuality was that, even when I did find them, the characters were generally portrayed as also being aromantic; obviously there are asexual aromantic people—I’m not one of them. Or, their sexuality was stable and they were asexual 100% of the time; again, I couldn’t relate. I am on the asexual scale, but it’s pretty fluid. Sometimes sex is great (read: fantastic), but often I’d rather have naked cuddles, read together, or get tied up (which for me is an intimate yum thing that does not translate to sex).
So I went back to fanfiction. I also spent a lot of time talking with my partner, but I really needed a frame of reference to bounce myself off before I could have a coherent conversation. Fanfiction gave me this. I have lost track of the times that I have ended up happily sobbing because some wondrous fan wrote a character in which I could recognise myself.
I read enormous amounts of MCU and Sherlock fanfiction; Phil Coulson became one of my favourite characters (alright, he was already a favourite) because people just seemed to be able to write him as asexual in a really sensitive way. Whenever I found a story that I particularly related to, there would be this physical sensation of lightness in my chest because it was such a relief knowing that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t going through this alone. Reading the comments sections on these stories was pretty enlightening too—I couldn’t have talked openly about my sexuality at the time, because it was too confusing. Talking about the sexuality of characters in stories provided a safe way of discussing a somewhat scary subject.
What is interesting is that, before my fanfiction-spurred revelation, I knew what asexuality was; I had heard of it, I had a distant friend who identified as asexual. I just never thought of applying the term to myself because I could not see how it related to my life.
What I needed was characters I could relate to, who I got to see in action, living their lives and experiencing conflicting emotions and building relationships in a variety of ways. It’s much easier to relate in a profound manner, to feel a sense of recognition, when faced with a complicated and human-seeming character than when faced with a dictionary definition.
There are some really awful representations of asexuality in fanfiction (The “I’m asexual for everyone except you baby” trope is very frustrating); most of it seems to be friendly ignorance rather than anything else. More than half a year after coming across that Sherlock fanfiction, I still mostly feel as if I am stumbling about in the dark and wondering if I’ve left Legos on the floor. My partner is endlessly supportive, and my friends are a bunch of fabulous nerds who have helped me coin the term “Dragon” to describe my sexuality (it’s easier to say than “Panromantic/pansexual with strong asexual tendencies and autochorisexualism, also demisexual/romantic, sapiosexual/romantic, mildly genderqueer with polyamorous tendencies; originally came out as bi”).
It’s because of all this support that I feel able to keep exploring myself, but the place that I’ve found to do that is fanfiction. I would love to see more complicated, real representations of asexuality in mainstream media. I’d love to just pick up a book and feel that thrill of recognition when I meet a character. For the moment, though, whenever I feel wobbly about myself, I run off to the internet to read fanfiction because even if the characters are superheroes or ex-military doctors, they are written in a way that makes me feel reassured and among friends. And that is something that everyone deserves to feel.
I can’t actually find the fanfiction I read that set everything rolling, but here are links to some of the fics I read while I was desperately searching for a frame of reference: be warned, they contain mature content!
Little and Broken, But Still Good (has an epic poly relationship that includes two asexual characters, two bisexual characters, and one straight one)
all different names for the same thing (asexual Captain America)
The Marvel Fractions (mixed orientation relationship, very interesting to read if you’re figuring out your sexuality, but be warned that there are enormous emotional rollercoasters)
Dragon A, 23-year-old nerdy nerd. Loves reading and writing, grew up listening to a weird mixture of Nirvana and Ani diFranco. Collected all the Discworld novels as a life goal and is now a little aimless. Lives with two cats, a dog, some chickens, and a luscious partner in a slowly crumbling house. Dragon A has a shared blog here: https://sexualitydragon.wordpress.com/
We’re thrilled to bring you our first guest post for Asexual Awareness Week! We reached out to bloggers who identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum to write posts related to asexuality and YA. Check back every day this week for more posts from other great guest bloggers!
by Teresa Santos
How many mainstream YA books have you read with canon openly asexual characters? None? Don’t worry, you won’t be the only one. After all, the number of such books is a shiny, round zero.
But, you might say, what about Liraz in Daughter of Smoke and Bone? What of Raphael in The Bane Chronicles? Or Charlie Weasley in Harry Potter? Or, you may add, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and the Hunters of Artemis in Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus?
Well, those would probably be headcanons. Saying that Liraz wears “asexual armour” doesn’t quite strike me as clearly saying she is asexual. Raphael, well, Cassandra Clare only said he was asexual in a tweet and not everybody follows an author’s twitter account religiously. And while I would agree that Charlie and Katniss read as being in the asexual spectrum, it’s not written down word by word. Besides, Charlie is a secondary character, and people often overlook Katniss’s discomfort with relationships in favour of “the love triangle” side plot. As for the Hunters, their oath reads “I turn my back on the company of men.” It does not say “I am asexual” or even “not heterosexual.” So they may not help that much in raising awareness.
Yes, there are a handful of other YA books featuring asexual characters, but, to my knowledge, none of them are mainstream. When libraries and bookshops in big and small towns are mostly populated by books they’re sure to sell, when people will rush to buy the “book version” of the most recent YA film adaptation, when everyone wants to read that book people won’t stop talking about, there’s very little time or space left to read non-mainstream books for the majority of people. And if there are no asexual protagonists there then…well, there’s nearly no visibility impact. And visibility is something asexuality sorely needs.
After all, relatively few people know it exists, including teenagers.
Being a teenager is never easy. Now imagine that, on top of all changes that come at such an age, your friends’ behaviours towards their crushes are puzzling, that you’re not shying from your “first time” because you’re not ready but because you have never wanted to do it, that you don’t understand the point of sexual jokes, maybe even that you’re the only one who finds the whole ordeal nauseating. Now imagine that books, the one place where you found refuge since childhood, won’t show you someone brave, witty, and friendly who doesn’t feel sexual and/or romantic attraction. Someone like you. Imagine that every book you read tells you that “love will win all,” “there’s nothing like being in love,” “everyone finds the one,” and so on.
Imagine that the whole world expects you to be something you’re not, something you could never be, and you don’t know why you’re so different. Because you don’t know of anyone, of any character quite like you, because speaking out your feelings might lead to ridicule.
Homosexual teens have YA books to turn to, to rely on when the world chooses to be unkind. Asexual teens have, well, nothing.
Can you imagine how lonely that feels? How broken one starts to think oneself to be? Having been there myself I can assure you it’s not easy. As an aromantic asexual, reading stories where the protagonist saved the world without once caring for non-platonic relationships would have made it all the more bearable. Even if others still thought me a freak, I would know I wasn’t. It would have meant the world.
By having asexual characters in mainstream books, books which might even be turned into films in the current YA Hollywood craze, thousands upon thousands of people all over the world would know we exist, teenagers, children, and adults alike. Surely hundreds of them would finally see their reflection and know it is okay to stop pretending. Because there are plenty of others like them out there. Others who live happy lives without sexual and/or romantic relationships. Perhaps that would give them hope too.
Otherwise, asexual teenagers who don’t know asexuality exists will trod on doing whatever they can to fit in, only to feel more broken with each lie they speak.
It’s high time we stop this from happening. Asexuality awareness has been growing exponentially, but there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of people to reach. With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it sounds like a great opportunity to sharpen pencils and start scribbling. I’ll keep you company. Shall we go save some lives?
Teresa Santos is a biologist, a writer in the making, and an aromantic asexual. When she isn’t busy eating chocolate or trying to catch up on reading, she can be found prowling Twitter @tessalsantos or babbling about books, photography and whatever tickles her fancy at http://tessellatedtales.wordpress.com/. Approach with caution to avoid second-hand embarrassment for she is prone to geeking out and singing in the middle of the street.
by Georgie Penney
Compared to my usual reading choices, this was the furthest out of my comfort zone that I’ve read in a long time, and I’m so glad that I decided to give it a go.
Pantomime starts as the tale of two apparently unlinked young people: the young would-be trapeze artist Micah Grey, and the noblewoman who calls herself Gene who’s about to be married off, should her parents get their way. These boy-girl dual storylines are increasingly common in YA so I assumed something along the lines of a love story, albeit an unusual one. But Laura Lam weaves her first surprise of many into the opening chapters, and we realise that Micah and Gene are the same person.
Micah is intersex, and this was exceptionally well demonstrated throughout the novel. The alternating stories got closer and closer to each other as the narrative continued. It also felt very natural to me: the fact that Micah is intersex didn’t stick out to me, and although it was obvious from things he said, it didn’t feel forced by the author. Instead, Micah’s character simply unfolded: rather than seeming like Laura Lam just fancied writing about an intersex character, Pantomime had the rare yet wonderful concept of a protagonist that has been discovered instead of being created. As someone who is cisgender, it still felt extremely relatable, which can sometimes put people off reading queer books but needn’t do so.
The story itself is gripping, getting more and more intense as it goes on and building to an almost explosive climax that is so unexpected I literally had my mouth open. (Sorry for the cliché. Sorry. I had to). Supporting characters are also very well drawn, and there is a love triangle that for once isn’t annoying and ridiculous and with a no-brainer decision at the centre of it. For my taste, the writing in the first couple of chapters was (for want of a better word) too dense, meaning that it took some pages before I felt fully absorbed in the story, but once I was past that point I was absolutely hooked to Micah’s story. And the worldbuilding was truly impeccable. Not all the details are explained, which can be frustrating (in a good way!) but makes for a much better story – rather than chunks of explanation, we have constant action and character development with a world being set up rather cleverly in the background.
I now have to mention the high point, which was the way I felt after I finished the book. It’s left me inspired: both in a literary sense, and also in a more abstract way – full of ideas and emotions and awareness of bigger issues that I hadn’t previously considered. Pantomime gets two thumbs up and I absolutely recommend that you give it a go if you’d like something to read that is challenging, intense and hugely enjoyable.
Georgie Penney is a teen writer and bookworm from England. At the moment she’s working on a gay YA novel of her own and can be found procrastinating on Twitter (@missgeorgie) or else ranting on her blog (georgiepenney.weebly.com).
Your fave is problematic; deal with it.
- I’m not here to bash authors or to tell you not to pick these books up. I’m just being honest about what I believe is not good LGBTQIA+ representation at all.
- Spoilers for WINGER.
- When I say queer I mean LGBTQIA+.
We have all been there. You hear about this AMAZING BOOK, everybody in the blogosphere/BookTube/Twitter is talking about it and giving it 5 stars left and right…so you decide you have to read it! And you do. You spend money on a book you feel is going to rock your socks off, you get comfy in your favorite reading spot, you have some snacks handy, and then you get down to the reading part. Except, the book sucks. Or, more accurately, is making you very very angry. Oh boy, wasn’t that a horrible decision?
It’s like being excited about a flight to a foreign country you have heard incredible things about. But then, when you actually get there: everything’s too expensive, the people are rude, you get food poisoning, and on your way back home the plane crashes…you were incredibly excited which somehow turned into being incredibly disappointed. And isn’t it worse when it happens with a book you picked solely because it of the ~QUEER REPRESENTATION~ you so badly need in your life and that’s exactly the part the book completely ruined?
That’s what happened to me when I picked up Winger by Andrew Smith (Simon & Schuster 2013). The book is VERY popular all over BookTube, which I frequent, and I decided to give it a try because it sounded interesting. Winger is not sold as a queer book at all; it’s a coming-of-age story of a white cishet boy in a boarding school, but every person who I saw recommending this book praised the fact that it had a gay character, and my brain thought, “Hey it must be an important part of the story if everyone keeps mentioning it, right?” Wrong. Well, sort of. There IS a gay secondary character, Joey, who becomes best friends with Ryan Dean, the protagonist, and that’s pretty much how far Joey’s story goes. He’s there to counsel and help Ryan Dean, while Ryan keeps reminding us that no matter how much they hang out HE’S SO NOT GAY OKAY, and to assure us that TWO DUDES HUGGING IS INCREDIBLY GAY BUT HE’S NOT GAY NOPE NOPE (just in case you forget he tells you every two pages or so, hahaha so funny!). Ryan is a 14-year-old boy, he’s immature, and we are reminded by him and others of this fact all the time. But that’s NOT the problem here. The problem is that by the end of the book we know almost nothing about Joey, who by then had turned into Ryan’s best friend, besides the fact that he’s gay. And in the last ten pages or so, to shock us, Joey is beaten to death in a hate crime. Are you going to tell me this is a story queer kids are supposed to be happy about? Are we supposed to be happy about a gay character who’s clearly just a prop in the story, that was simply put there to further the protagonist’s pain, and for this to be called representation? What message are you sending to queer people out there? Are we just here to make straight people feel better about themselves and then get beaten to death because that’s just the way the story ends? Because we don’t need or deserve happy endings, right?
LGBTQIA+ people are complex human beings who are more than their sexuality, and if your story does not get that across, then I’m sorry but why have queer people in there at all? (Or women for that matter, who in the case of this particular book are just other props in the story, only there to be liked and/or criticized by Ryan and the other boys.)
And this is not the only occasion where something like this has happened. I’ve found or been told about similar cases regarding other books, where a cishet character gets the front seat, telling the story about the queer character the book is supposed to be about (Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Shine by Lauren Myracle), and that’s where this turns problematic: queer voices are silenced while heterosexual voices are raised. The experience of a queer kid is told from the point of view of a straight character, who shares their “traumatic” experience, and it turns into how much this affects the “ally” instead of the actual person who’s going through this, and don’t we have enough of that in our daily lives?
You also have stories about sexuality where one orientation is respected and another is not (or maybe we should call it the case of the slutty, indecisive bisexual because god forbid your orientation is not seen as black or white). Examples of this: The Bermudez Triangle (Razorbill 2007) by Maureen Johnson, also called On the Count of Three (Penguin Young Readers Group 2013), and The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (Viking Children’s 2012).
While I’m sure these authors were not trying to be harmful with their books, the result was. And I for one am sick of the many amazing LGBTQIA+ stories out there being ignored, and the problematic ones praised. I know everything and everyone can be problematic or offensive one way or the other, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being critical about the media we consume. After all, representation matters, but shouldn’t it be accurate in the first place? In the words of Emily, we are not just a diversity checkbox.
And, if you are wondering about books that DO get minor queer characters right, you NEED to check out Georgie’s post. Books like that do exist, and it’s just as important to highlight those as it is to critique the ones that got it wrong.
So now I ask you: Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? Any other problematic faves you know of?
Nadia spends most of her day tweeting and daydreaming. Lover of books, comics, dogs and chinese food. Find her on twitter @heartless_tree
We interviewed Alaya Dawn Johnson author of The Summer Prince and Love is the Drug. Find the recorded interview here!
V: Hey everyone, I’m Victoria.
K: And I’m Kathleen. Today we have Alaya Dawn Johnson with us, author of our September book of the month, The Summer Prince. Alaya, thank you for joining us, all the way from Mexico City!
A: Thanks so much for having me.
K: The Summer Prince is a dystopian science fiction novel that takes place many years in the future.
V: We chose it for our September book of the month because it was incredibly well-written, took place in a futuristic world where no one had an assumed sexual orientation, and was polyamory-friendly. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was a very welcome addition. My full review is up on the site [LINK] if anyone wants to know more.
K: Alaya, our first question for you is, how did the idea for this book come to you?
A: Well, I have to say that my ideas tend to come from all sorts of directions, so I’d say probably the biggest influences–what I was trying to do, and what ended up becoming the novel–were…well, first, I had taken a trip to Brazil with my sister, who had studied there and learned Portuguese, and I went with my sister and my cousin when she was going to do some research in San Paulo, and basically, that trip was just one of these amazing, eye-opening experiences, I fell in love with Brazil, and I’d already learned a lot about Brazil before I went, but that, it just sort of solidified it for me.
It also kind of brought me to more conscious awareness of the African diaspora community within Brazil, the descendants of former slaves who had integrated in Brazilian society in ways that interested me so much just because of the parallels and the really stark differences I could see between how it had worked in the United States and how the African diaspora community worked in Brazil, because Brazil and the United States were, during the slave trade, two of the biggest importers of slaves and had two of the biggest populations of slaves–and, obviously, of their descendants.
So, how that society had moved past that point and how American society worked past that point were two things that really interested me.
I came back, I didn’t really think about it for a while, but meantime, I was writing other novels, and I was thinking about science fiction and how much I really wanted to write, like, this…super weird, trippy science fiction novel–like a social science fiction novel, kind of like the ones that Ursula Le Guin writes, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, which had a major impact on me.
And at some point this whole thing kind of came together, especially because I had been thinking about how oppressively white those futures were. Ursula Le Guin in Left Hand of Darkness 100 percent was playing around with ideas of gender, and she definitely was doing other interesting things with what we would now call diversity and trying to open up the whiteness of her world, but I kind of felt like aside from that example there wasn’t a lot going on, especially nowadays, especially with the boom of science fiction and what we’re calling dystopian fiction.
Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight. So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia. I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.
All these things are wandering around in my head, and then I was watching this program about futuristic building technology. [laughs] And for some reason this really interested me, because they were showing this amazing idea that a Japanese company had had for building…taking advantage, in that particular case, of the waves that come into Tokyo bay. You can have hydroelectric power, and you can have geothermal power, but you can also have wave power. So if you build generators that harness the power of waves crashing against a shore, you can actually power a lot of things with that, and I don’t think that there’s much happening right now in that way, but it’s a thing that this company had thought of, and so they constructed this giant pyramid that was a city, but it was kind of vertical, and so all these skyscrapers hung from the vertices of all these, like, mini-pyramids, and there were these parks, and so obviously you can see, this is exactly where Palmares Tres came from, and I just like, my whole brain exploded when I was reading about that, and all of those things came together until I had the first, first kernel of the book, and of course the book is doing all sorts of other things, too, so it’s not…that doesn’t even really come to it, but that’s kind of like the three main things that were kickin’ around in my head when I was coming up with the idea.
by Simren Handa
In My Date From Hell, book two in the Blooming Goddess Trilogy, Tellulah Darling has crafted a perfectly imaginative and witty novel filled with quirky, interesting characters which appeal wonderfully to the YA market. I laughed numerous times at some of the lively one liners and, overall, thoroughly enjoyed reading about Sophie, Kai, Festos, Theo, Hannah and Pierce. Each character was distinctive in their appeal and as a protagonist, I thought that Sophie was believably vulnerable; a sixteen year old with issues and complications, plenty of snark and feisty charm, battling through the trials of growing up in la la land with her friends. And while Sophie and Kai’s romance is the pivotal one (not exaggerating– Sophie and Kai’s romance is literally a main focus to the plot), this is GayYA. I’m going to focus on Festos and Theo who provide a running side romance that is equally, if not more, beautiful, complicated and fun to read about.
Tellulah Darling, as a writer, does not fail to disappoint with Theo and Festos’ characters; similar in their pedantic technicalities over Greek names, different in practically every other way and rich in background plot that touches on the theme of a rather painful betrayal on Festos’ part featuring a liver, a vulture and an apologetically bashful Festos. This couple grabbed me and kept me on their ride. Theo’s character: driven, rather moody and insouciant, complimented Festos and his bright, openly fabulous persona. Darling kept her readers on the edge with constant plot twists, sudden, exciting cliffhangers and choppy sentences that kept the pace of the story fairly fast. It worked hand in hand with her explosive romance-driven story-line; where Theo was initially unforgiving of his red haired former lover, it doesn’t take long for him to warm up to Festos and their love story to develop rapidly.
The reader doesn’t have a huge amount of time to investigate the nuances of Theo and Festos’ tumultuous romance, which was a slight let down. Anything that we read is through Sophie’s eyes alone as the book is in first person, however, the rather biased account is in the couple’s favour; as Sophie roots for the two to get together, the reader is drawn in to the energetic, vibrancy of the author’s writing and begins to get drawn into the fast-paced plot.
As a compliment to the story, A Date of Godlike Proportions, is a novella which precedes My Date from Hell, and is perfect for those who want to zoom in a little bit on Theo and Festos, their gorgeous, dysfunctionally perfect relationship. The short, sweet story tells the tale of Theo’s guilt, the reason behind his self-deprecating tightness and gives the relationship more vulnerability and a deeper, more meaningful reason to enjoy the two gods. I would recommend reading it after book one and two.
Tellulah Darling has sparks of talent that run through her story, creating characters that I genuinely began to care for. Even antagonistic characters such as Bethany and Jack had dimensions to them that is difficult for an author to pull off, it surprised me, somewhat, that such a rapid, action based, intensely plot-driven book had the time or the effort to pull off characters that had so much depth and variety in terms of emotions and backgrounds. Of course, the story is not perfect; the book had some excusable typos which detracted me from the plot and made me backtrack slightly, but typos are alright when you’re reading a book as riveting and entertaining as this one. As a writer myself, I find typos annoying but able to look over. And while I hate comparisons, I’ll make a positive one: this book really reminded me of a more adult, less intricately developed Percy Jackson with the Greek theme and the unique, interesting and imaginative take on the idea of Greek gods. I will definitely be reading the last book.
How can I not after that cliffhanger?
Find out more about Tellulah Darling and her books here.
Simren is an 18 year old student with a passion for reading and a glutton for romance, adventure and wit. She writes as much as possible in her free time, be it journalism, fiction or reviews.
Find her on twitter @Simren2105, or drop a comment down below.
In the summer of 1986, Billy Collins is sent to his own personal Hell – summer camp. The remote Camp Genesis offers desperate parents a place to “straighten” out their gay teenagers with the help of the puritanical Katherine Creevey.
Besides the typical horsing around, campfire tales and summer games, the Genesis program forces gay and questioning teens into humiliating gender-based lessons. While Billy wants nothing more than to escape Camp Genesis, he can’t help worrying that something even more sinister is hiding just out of sight.
Unknown to Billy, two campers were murdered three years ago. Just days after Billy and the new campers arrive, people start to go missing, and it’s up to Billy and his new friend Jem to find out what’s really going on. Is a maniac on the loose? Is history repeating itself? One thing’s for sure – at Camp Genesis, you have to fight to survive…
Camp Carnage by Elliot Arthur Cross and Joshua Winning starts out with a prologue, which is no problem, especially since it demonstrates the dark and bloody history of the camp. Prologues can occasionally take away from the story but in this book, it enhances it.
We then greet our young hero, William “Billy” Collins, as he is arriving at the Genesis camp with his father, is unceremoniously dropped off, and alone. He soon meets Jemima, “Jem”, and they begin to form a friendship over their shared misery of being sent to Camp Genesis due to their sexuality and being subjected to a program to “fix” them.
This book utilized a lot of the 1980’s horror movie tropes, even being set in 1986. There was enough blood to bathe in, especially in the later chapters. The villain was sufficiently psychotic but hid it well in the beginning. And you even have the typical horror movie trope characters: the jerk, the jock, the nerd, the punk, the one black guy, the slut, and the fat kid. And, of course, all of those who get murdered each find a way to get stalked and slaughtered while alone by the killer, up to the final bloodbath where the killer is more openly pursuing the campers. However, the writers did not follow some of the core horror movie tropes and that took away from the feel of the 1980’s slasher movies that some of us know and love.
The flow of the scenes and chapter to chapter went fairly well. The book was written in close third person. I did get thrown off when, a few chapters in, I began a new chapter and I was not reading from Billy or Jem’s standpoint but an entirely new character that hadn’t even been introduced yet. Judging by the plot summary used in advertising this book, I believed that I was going to follow along from only Billy and Jem’s point of view. Knowing that, the rest of the book didn’t throw me off again and the changing point of view between several of the characters enhanced the story, especially the last several chapters with the rapid sequence of events that were taking place.
The plot summary of Camp Carnage states that “puritanical Katherine Creevy” runs the camp. Given that, there should have been a lot more discussions about God and praying, by the priest, and by Katherine Creevy, but there is little to no mention at all of the Bible, God, and prayer. In the very least, they should have started every activity by praying for their immortal souls because this is what these camps were about in the 1980s. I do not approve of such things at all but I expected to read about it in the book because that is the kind of place that these camps were-you got the Bible shoved down your throat until you screamed for mercy and claimed that you were “straightened”.
The book gives a lot of 1980’s pop culture references to demonstrate the times. There is a problem with using this era and utilizing those references is that there will be some young adults reading in the Young Adult genre that just won’t understand those references. A lot of young adults don’t even know what a record player is. Depending on the reader, it may be distracting when the book mentions things that make the reader confused. However, the slang usage was totally wicked. And that is something that most people can follow because a lot of it has carried over.
Overall, the book was well thought-out and mimicked the 1980’s slasher films fairly well. The murder scenes were well played and full of blood and most of the writing was engaging, except for the unexpected initial point of view change and a couple of other minor errors that another proofreading may have caught.
Find our more about Night Terrors books here!
Rae Glenn loves reading so much that it has become a physical need. Supporting the LGBT youth has become as important to her as breathing. It is only natural for these to come together. You can find her @LovelyRedMuffin.
GayYA is thrilled to welcome one of our new regular contributors Nathaniel Harrington!
I’m going to do my best to keep this spoiler-free, which means avoiding talking about the main plot. Briefly, it’s really good. The action is engaging, the villains are excellent, and the resolution is satisfying and still has real, long-term consequences for the main characters. Tracey balances the main plot with fantastic characterization, and that’s really what I want to talk most about here.
First, let’s talk about the handling of Braden’s sexuality. A lot of LGBTQ YA is concerned either with the complexities of coming out (and, relatedly, telling someone you like them when you don’t know how they’ll respond to your sexuality) or with elevating queer romance—proving that “love is love”, regardless of the genders of the people involved, and that a romance between two guys or two girls can be just as compelling and “universally” meaningful as a straight romance. Many books do some combination of these two things.
The Witch Eyes series does neither, and I love it.
Instead, Braden’s sexuality is essentially unremarkable: as Dennis Upkins noted in his review back in 2011, “Witch Eyes could’ve easily have worked with Braden being a heterosexual”. This isn’t to say that Braden’s sexuality isn’t important, but rather that Braden’s sexuality is basically never a source of anxiety for him. Once, in Witch Eyes, he’s briefly concerned that Trey might be straight, but that lasts for about two sentences. There’s no is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay/bi with Trey, just as a character in a straight YA novel would never spend chapters angsting about whether or not their crush was straight.
Braden’s sexuality is also unapologetic in a way that spoke to me deeply. His first impression of Trey:
The guy on the bus had been all dark-eyed smolder and danger, but Trey was more like marble and gold woven together. Under the streetlight, his dirty blond hair started to shimmer; he was tall, and moved like someone with all the confidence in the world. Even his face was taut with cheekbones, hard lines, and angles. Sadly, I was a sucker for geometry.
Later, when Trey takes him out for dinner:
I needed to stop focusing on the way cheese slid around the curve of his lips, or the way his eyes twinkled when he thought he was being cute. Not to mention the way veins sprang to life in his hands when he moved too suddenly, straining against the skin. Strong hands.
I am often 100% exactly this shallow, and to see that aspect of my sexuality represented in a book was just…refreshing. I love David Levithan’s writing, but I don’t always need to be elevated or to grapple with questions of identity. In this moment, it’s not about Braden’s romantic interest in Trey and the universality of love, it’s about Braden getting distracted because Trey’s really attractive.
Braden’s anxieties about his sexuality revolve around his youth and inexperience (coming from a background as a homeschooled kid living in rural Montana to a medium-sized coastal city where he attends a school for the first time), rather than the fact of his being gay:
It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about sex, or more specifically sex with Trey. But the problem wasn’t so much about whether or not I wanted to have sex with Trey. I was more concerned with not wanting to have sex with Trey and have it be bad. I mean, he was most likely not a virgin. He’d done this before. And he’d know in an instant that I couldn’t say the same.
Braden feels honest and real to me in a way that a lot of prototypically “teenage” YA protagonists (LGBTQ or otherwise) don’t quite. This extends to other aspects of his character, too, from his sarcasm to his description of seasickness in the middle of Phantom Eyes:
I lowered my head down to my knees and spent the next forty minutes breathing slowly and surely, forcing myself to keep everything in my stomach where it belonged. It was a slow battle, and for some reason when the ferry docked on the other side of the bay, I felt like it was the best kind of victory. I was immeasurably proud of myself all for doing nothing more than keeping myself from throwing up.
As someone who gets badly carsick, I know that feeling all too well.
Basically everything about Braden resonated with some part of my experience, from his sexuality to his motion sickness to his struggle with the winter voice in Demon Eyes. He’s self-deprecating and sarcastic, and his narrative voice is a delight. There’s some comedy gold in these books, and most of it comes from Braden. (One choice moment: “The kiss started out incredibly gentle, just a random meeting of lips in the night.” Amazing.)
There are many other great things about the books, including the treatment of trauma in the second book, the complex parent-child relationships throughout the trilogy, and that one villain’s long-term contingency plan is specifically foiled by Braden being gay. I’ve seen several people describe the books as a Romeo and Juliet story, but I think that does the series a disservice: the Thorpe-Lansing feud is far better developed than the Montague-Capulet feud, and Braden and Trey’s relationship is more compelling than any version of Romeo and Juliet’s that I’ve ever seen outside of Private Romeo (which is, coincidentally(?), a gay teen adaptation of the play).
One final note: as someone who is picky about the portrayal of dreams and such in fiction, I thought Braden’s visions were very well writte
n; they captured the chaos and apparent incoherency while still giving pieces of interpretable information. I appreciated them for their atmosphere when I first read the series, and on rereading it, I can see how they add to the plot and characterization, as well—just little hints, but tantalizing ones.
Hopefully this rambling post has conveyed some of my appreciation for this series and will convince you to go read it; they really are excellent books.
Nathaniel Harrington was born and raised in suburbs of Boston, studied (comparative) literature in college, and is currently improving his Gaelic on the Isle of Skye. He has been writing gay YA since 2008 and reading it since 2009; someday he hopes to be able to share it with others in a format that isn’t half-finished NaNoWriMo first drafts and miscellaneous fragments. He enjoys working out the details of magic systems, doing citations for academic papers, reading in several languages (although he has yet to read any LGBTQ YA in a language other than English; suggestions are welcome), and obsessively categorizing books he reads on Goodreads.