By Kimberly Derting
I have three kids, and I’ve raised them all to be conscientious and loving—to see people as people rather for their sexual orientations or skin colors or religious beliefs. But it’s my youngest daughter—my 14-year-old—who is fierce about these principles, to the point of being rabid.
This was what she asked for as her 14th birthday.
She wears it everywhere, until eventually I have to sneak it into the wash. I think, secretly, she wants to overhear a whispered slur just so she can jump onto her soapbox and call the offender out for their narrow-mindedness.
She was thrilled to find out the high school she’ll be attending has a Gay-Straight Alliance. She’ll be the loudest activist. The most vocal. Possibly the most annoying.
I want to be her when I grow up.
In the past few months, my daughter and I have been secretly plotting a YA book with gay and lesbian protagonists who are still living in secret, but want to come out in a wildly big way. When I mentioned the idea to my daughter, she sunk her teeth into it and started telling me these characters backstories and creating plots and subplots for them. I think at this point, she loves them more than I do!
If I write the book, it will not only be because I think there’s a story to be told, but it will also be for my daughter and kids like her who believe everyone, regardless of who they are in this world, deserve to be championed.
by Danika Leigh Ellis
If you’re a bookish person, and especially if you’re a fan of YA, you should be exploring the wonderful world of Booktube by now. Booktube is the bookish community of Youtube. Hundreds of people make videos about books, from reviews to bookish tags to provocative discussion topics. It’s similar to the book blogosphere, but feels more interconnected. Being able to see people’s faces as they discuss book they’re passionate about makes it a much more personal interaction, and you quickly begin to feel like you really know the people you follow.
Booktube is also an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. Youtube is notorious for hateful commenters, but booktube offers a welcome oasis. People will often seek out new booktubers and leave nice comments on their videos. Make any kind of effort to reach out, and you’ll find a network of people to interact with. And the scope of booktube is broad: you can find all sorts of genres discussed. By far the most popular genre, however, is Young Adult, so if that’s your preference, you’ll quickly find your TBR ballooning after discovering booktube.
So yes, this is a call for you to check out booktube and fall in love with the community as I have… but there’s a catch. When I found booktube two years ago, I was having a lot of fun discovering new people to follow and books to read, but something kept nagging at me: I couldn’t seem to find the queer book community there. It’s not entirely surprising. As much as there are a lot of different tastes on booktube if you know where to look, the majority of the community is often talking about the same set of books. Lately there has been community discussion about diversifying our reading lives, and I do see queer books mentioned in wrap ups, but there are very, very few channels that make queer books a priority.
Which is where you come in! Booktube needs more queer voices. This is a subset of the bookish internet that is just starting to get noticed, and it’s growing. It needs a greater variety of voices, and one aspect of that is definitely queer readers. This a platform where you can make connections with other readers, and you can get the word out about your favourite books! Making a video and putting it out there seems scary, but the community is so supportive. I’ve been making videos for almost two years now and haven’t gotten any negative attention, but I’ve made lots of friends and traded recommendations for fantastic books. So give it a shot! You don’t need an expensive camera or studio lighting. Your iphone and natural light works just fine. And everyone starts off not knowing what they’re doing, but you’ll improve in time. So join the booktube party, and give queer books a louder voice!
Queer books on booktube are underrepresented, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Here are a few booktube channels that focus on queer books, to give you an idea of what booktube is like.
Jessie is one of my favourite booktubers, and I look forward to her Halloween-themed (complete with costume) book videos all year. (Check out her review of Carmilla!) She is thoughtful and creative in her videos, and makes it feel like you’re just hanging out with her, chatting about your latest reads. Her channel is on a hiatus right now, but there’s lots to dig through until she updates again.
Kyra talks about fandom, feminism, and books on her channel. As her channel name (Fangirl Flails) would suggest, she’s enthusiastic and passionate about the books she talks about. She discusses YA pretty often, so it should be a good fit for GayYA readers!
Joseph is new to booktube, but he’s reading all queer books in 2015, and is discussing them on youtube and his tumblr. He focuses a lot on Young Adult books, and his personality shines through in his video and blog.
Tara is another new booktuber, and she seems to discuss queer YA sometimes?
And the inevitable awkward moment where I promote my own booktube channel. I read a mix of genres with a focus on queer women books. I do read YA, but it’s not the main focus of my reading. I upload about once a week.
And those are not only my top booktubers who discuss queer lit: they’re all the ones I know of! Queer books are discussed offhandedly by many booktubers, but those are the only ones I know that discuss them fairly consistently (and one I’m not sure of and one is on hiatus). If you know of more booktubers who prioritize queer books, let me know! But more importantly, add your own name to the list! Personally, I would be so happy to see more queer book videos on youtube, so you can pretty much guarantee this subscriber. And I’d be happy to help with anything I can, though I’m far from an expert.
So go forth, and spread the word about queer books!
Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books on tumblr and at the Lesbrary, as well as chatting about all sorts of bookish things on booktube and Book Riot. When she’s not immersed in the bookternet, she’s running the kids’ section in the largest used bookstore in Canada.
by Elizabeth Wein
Occasionally, in the heat of a conversation and unable to quickly recall this week’s in-favor politically-correct acronym, I find myself saying, “So, I heard about this new LGBT-QRST book…” Then I think, OMG, that’s not right! What did I forget? Someone is going to be so offended!
My problem with labelling is that I don’t like boxes. I don’t like age-banding of books, and I don’t like genre categorization – I don’t like being branded. I write historical/fantasy/adventure/spy/Arthurian/mystery/war novels. The hero of four of my early books is mixed-race – half British, half Ethiopian. I was as astonished as anyone else to learn that my novel Rose Under Fire had been honored with the Schneider Family Book Award, which “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience.” At the lunch given for the winners, I confessed to a committee member that it had never occurred to me to think of the characters in Rose Under Fire as disabled. Her answer was, “That’s what makes them so wonderful.”
The same holds true for the sexuality of my characters. I don’t think of them as one thing or another. All my invented characters hold their cards very close to their chests, and that’s because they, like their creator, consider their sexual orientation to be a private thing. To me, what matters most of all in the sexuality of the characters I write about and read about, is not that they fall into any particular category, but that they be open and able to make their own choices – and to be able to make new choices. Not just one choice for all time, but appropriate choices as long as they live.
What I’d love to impress on young readers is that sexuality is not always clear-cut. I spent a healthy part of my teenage years in the headspace of my fictional male characters, to the point of dressing like them in daily life. It never occurred to me I was cross-dressing; if I wanted to be a boy, in my head I was a boy. One of my characters, a young magician, literally changed sex according to his or her current mission. It is true that people thought I was a little wacky when I’d come to school dressed as Norélon Enlé or Twill Devon or Mordred or whatever, but curiously, my own sexuality never came into question.
I have been in a heterosexual relationship for over twenty years, don’t really think of myself as gay or bisexual, and yet don’t feel I can ever rule out the possibility of a same-sex relationship. My grandmother, who died earlier this year at the age of 98 and was happily married to the same man for 46 years, said to me several times throughout her life, “I think we all have the potential for attraction to either sex.” My father, who was happily married to my mother for eight years and unhappily married for a further two, lived the last ten years of his life in an openly gay relationship with a considerably younger man. My father was Jewish, his partner African-American. Their relationship defied categorization. They made a sensational team.
But – it’s understandable that we keep trying to define ourselves, because it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t even have the freedom or the language to talk about these things.
Alexis Coe’s Alice and Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis (San Francisco: Pulp, 2014) is an unusual work of non-fiction aimed at young adults, beautifully illustrated by Sally Klann. It looks at the passionate and ultimately doomed relationship between two young women in the late nineteenth century. An extract from the jacket flap tells you what an incredible situation this must have been at the time: “Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again. Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice… On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat.” A trial ensued and was sensationalized in the press; Alice was imprisoned and eventually remanded to an asylum. Don’t come to this book expecting a happy ending.
But what I find so amazing about this true story is the resource of the two young women before their relationship went wrong. They met at school, decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and formed a plan that they thought could make it work. It’s easy to write them off as being delusional. But how incredibly brave of them to try! Without any kind of political, intellectual or emotional support for their love, without even the language to define themselves, how I admire them for their determination! I leave you to read the book yourself and make your own judgment as to whether, in our changed world over a hundred years later, they could have been happy together.
Just remember: words don’t define who you are. YOU define who you are. You don’t need a category to make true and right decisions about who to love. And don’t forget to stay open-minded about other people’s decisions as well.
(P.S. By way of happy contrast with this tragic love story, try Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith – dystopian YA fiction with a range of appealing characters who are comfortable and diverse in their sexuality. We’ve come a long way.)
by Robin Talley
Last week I spoke to a group of middle schoolers about what it’s like to be a writer. It was an all-girls school, and the students were earnest, smiling, and full of questions. For the most part, they asked the same sorts of things everyone else asks ― how do you deal with writer’s block, when did you first start writing, what made you want to write a book about school integration ― but quite a few girls also had questions about the fact that my books star QUILTBAG characters.
I was delighted. When I was in middle school, I never would’ve said the word gay out loud to anyone, and certainly not to an adult. I had only the vaguest sense at that point in my life of what it meant to be gay in the first place, but I definitely knew it wasn’t something you talked about out loud.
These girls, though, were perfectly happy to talk openly about sexual orientation, and they clearly knew a lot more about it than preteen-me had known. Most of them asked about why I enjoy writing gay characters (we didn’t get to talking about the rest of the letters in the acronym, unfortunately). Then one girl raised her hand to say, “Have you ever wanted to write a book about straight people?”
This actually wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question. (And, by the way, I’m totally fine with being asked about this. It isn’t as if there aren’t plenty of QUILTBAG authors who have written about characters who are straight, cisgender, and well outside our universe of acronyms.)
So I gave the girl my standard answer ― “Never say never” ― and went on to explain that, although I’m not opposed to the idea of writing a straight, cisgender protagonist someday, pretty much every book idea I’ve had so far has starred at least one character who fell somewhere under the QUILTBAG umbrella. My first book had two decidedly non-straight leads, and my next two books both star entirely gay, bi, and trans casts in the major roles.
At the moment, those are the stories I’m most interested in telling. It’s partly because I’m trying to make up for the historical lack of those stories, and I’m sure it’s also partly because my writing reflects aspects of my own experience growing up as gay/bi (I used to oscillate between those two labels when I was younger). But the truth is, these are just the characters I find fascinating. I want to read about queer kids coming out, or making trouble, or falling in love, or fighting crime. I want to write about those things, too.
There are plenty of books I’ve loved that star straight, cisgender protagonists. I don’t want to rule out the possibility of ever writing one of my own.
But for now ― I’m going to stick with writing about my QUILTBAG teens. I still have a lot of stories to tell about characters dealing with every facet of their lives, including these aspects of their identities. Eventually, I suspect, as the number of titles on shelves starring non-cishet protagonists keeps growing, we’ll start hearing complaints that there are “enough” of these stories already. (We’re already hearing that about “coming out” stories ― which always makes me grumble loudly.) But we’ve still got a long way to go to make sure kids and teens who aren’t straight and aren’t cis are represented in literature.
So, for me, it’s never say never ― but not right now.
May 1st: I’ll Write Queer Characters Forever by Francesca Lia Block
May 2nd: I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It but not in a Vapid Katy Perry Way Justina Ireland
May 3rd: They Turned My Gay Teen Novel Into a Movie. Here’s What I Learned. by Brent Hartinger
May 4th: Have You Ever Considered Writing About Straight People? by Robin Talley
May 5th: DOUBLE POST
- The Love That Does Not Know Its Name by Elizabeth Wein
- Booktube Needs You! by Danika Leigh Ellis
May 6th: Guest Blog by Kimberly Derting
May 7th: Guest Blog by Tanuja Desai Hidier
May 8th: On Building a Better Tomorrow by Ellen Hopkins
Stay tuned for Robin Talley’s post…
They’ve turned my 2003 gay teen novel Geography Club into a movie. It came out in 2013 (and it’s on Netflix now if you’re curious). Since then, people have asked me how it all happened and what I’ve learned from the whole experience.
The story starts when I graduated from college and decided to try to make a career writing novels and screenplays. It was the early 90s, and one of my first books was a young adult novel about a gay teen named Russel Middlebrook and his misfit friends. It was an extremely personal topic for me, because I had been a gay teenager, and I had also co-founded what we have since determined was the world’s third gay teen support group ever, in 1990.
For ten years, I (and later my agent, Jennifer DeChiara) tried to sell the book to publishers. A lot of editors wanted to buy it, but ultimately I heard the same thing over and over again: “I really like this, but the accountants at my publishing house tell me there’s no market for a book about gay teenagers.”
Maybe, but the fact is, if certain people hadn’t been willing to move heaven and earth for me and my projects at key points in my career, my book and the movie never would have happened, and right now I’d probably be asking, “Would you like fries with that?” That’s kind of sobering when I think about it.
But if I’ve learned anything at all over the years about selling books and making movies, it’s this: there are really only two ways books get published and movies ever get made:
On one hand, going with your heart is trickier: do you really want to devote years of your life to a project that a lot of editors and producers won’t even want to read? On the other hand, it’s a lot easier than trying to predict exactly where the crazy pop culture market and zeitgeist are headed. All you have to do is ask yourself: what exactly do I personally feel the most passionate about? What project would I desperately like to see that doesn’t already exist?
If you’d asked me my opinion earlier in my career, in the midst of all the rejection for Geography Club the book and later the movie, I would have said, “Do strategy number one! Go with your brain! Write that dystopian zombie-vampire book! There at least you have a chance for success! Strategy number two is for suckers and fools!” (And then I would have added, “Would you like fries with that?”)
by Justina Ireland
The first time I kissed a girl I was fifteen. It was at one of those awkward boy/girl house parties where everyone wants something (beer, weed, sex) but the parents are too near to properly get at it. We played spin the bottle, since this was before the Internet and that’s what we did for fun in the old days, and mine happened to land on a girl I barely knew. For a moment we hesitated, while everyone in the room collectively held their breath. Then I shrugged. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Secretly, I wanted to.
She shrugged as well. “I don’t care.”
“Do it!” some guy said, while a few others chimed in.
So we did.
It should’ve been completely unremarkable, the kind of kiss that happens and you instantly forget, like kissing your grandma. But it wasn’t. And I found myself spending the rest of the night hoping the Heinz ketchup bottle would land on her again.
Days later I was still thinking about it.
When I told a friend of mine she laughed. “Maybe you’re a lesbian.” But I wasn’t a lesbian. I had a sorta boyfriend, and I liked kissing him, too. Plus, in my mind all lesbians were super butch, like the girls who wore Doc Martens and flannel and shaved their heads and listened to Faith No More. Again, this was the old days, before Pearl Jam became classic rock (sob). Anyway, lesbians. They were cute, but they made me a little nervous, and I knew I wasn’t like them. Well, at least I was pretty sure I wasn’t like them. Because I liked boys, and everyone knew lesbians don’t like boys.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized that you could like boys and girls, that you weren’t confused or just easy. But it would be even longer before I read Far From You by Tess Sharpe, the first book I’d ever read with a bisexual protagonist, one who wasn’t portrayed as sexually available or a confused lesbian or a bored straight girl.
That is too long to wait.
One of the challenges with bisexuality is that society works harder to erase it than being gay or a lesbian, and this is obvious in the dearth of bisexual books in YA. When bisexuals do appear on the page in YA it’s usually just to add tension, their (temporary) identity a plot point, before they move on to the inevitable choosing of a boy or girl. Even as people are rushing to write the next gay boy or lesbian girl (but rarely butch lesbians, only the girliest lesbians in traditionally published YA) bisexual characters are still as hard to find as ever.
Part of this is the way people think of bisexuality. It is an easily erasable identity, a stepping stone to somewhere else or just fun experimentation before you settle down. As soon as you choose a partner (assuming monogamy is your thing) you are defined by your choice. If you even get to wait that long. Most of the time bisexual boys are portrayed as just being confused, closeted gay men, while bisexual girls are sexually adventurous at best, promiscuous at worse.
And yet, none of that is true. I’ve been married for a while to a dude, but I am just as likely to watch a cute girl walk by as I am a guy. Being married hasn’t changed what I find attractive. Not one bit.
But I also don’t talk about it. Because being bisexual feels like another burden to shoulder, another cause to fight. Bi-visibility is a real issue, both in books and society, and I am unfortunately part of the problem.
I spend a lot of time talking about diversity and representation, but I don’t talk about my bisexual identity nearly as much as I talk about being black. It’s because when you meet me you can tell that I’m brown, that facet of my identity is written in my features, but my bisexual identity is something people won’t know unless I tell them. I’m forced to confront my blackness on a daily basis, not so much my admiration for both male and female forms. And even now it feels like an uneasy thing to be. There are people on either side of the sexual orientation aisle, both hetero and homosexual, that find bisexuals to just be flighty and immoral.
Not exactly a team anyone is rushing to join.
This is why bisexual visibility, and GOOD bisexual visibility, is so important. Especially in YA, where everyone is trying on identities and seeing what fits. We need more bisexuals whose orientation isn’t illustrated by them being the point in a sexual triangle (as fun as that is, it indirectly reinforces the “slut” label). We need more bisexual characters, characters that are unapologetic for being who they are. Because somewhere out there is a teen playing spin the bottle who would be just as equally happy to land on a boy or a girl, and I’d like to think that maybe reading a book with a character like them will make them feel less afraid to admit who they really are.
by Francesca Lia Block
I’m often asked about my LGBTQ characters but it’s kind of like asking me about women and men, or teenagers and adults, in my books. They just happen to be who they are and they’re usually based on people I know and love. I don’t think about it consciously, though I do want to include a diverse array of characters and I believe it’s important to have more books about all under-represented people, including the LGBTQ community.
I guess I’m naive, or sheltered in my Los Angeles liberal world, but it always shocks me when controversy arises over my gay characters. For example, in 2009 when Baby Be Bop, a little coming out, coming-of-age fairy tale, fell under attack in West Bend, Wisconsin. A group of protestors wanted to stage a public burning. The librarians came to the book’s defense. Librarians rock.
When I wrote Love in the Time of Global Warming I wasn’t planning to make all four main characters LGBTQ but they just came out that way (no pun intended). One young reader said it bothered her that all four characters were LGBTQ. She said she thought at least one or two could have been straight. I’d imagine this is how LGBTQ kids feel like when they read books with all straight characters, over and over again.
Luckily my editor was supportive of the exclusively LGBTQ main characters in Love in the Time of Global Warming but other editors have been less so. One of them wanted me to remove a gay subplot. I fought to keep it, not only as a way to represent the gay community, but also as a necessary plot device to deepen the message of the book which was about the need for tolerance.
Recently, Michelle Tea asked me to tour with Sister Spit. I wasn’t able to get away for that long but I did appear with them at the Hammer Museum. As I read my poetry alongside Virgie Tovar, Nikki Darling, Myriam Gurba, Zackary Drucker, Mica Sigourney, Kate Schatz and Thomas Page McBee, I felt more at home in this warm, brilliant, sexy LGBTQ/feminist/outsider/artist community than anywhere.
I will keep writing LGBTQ characters as long as I love the LGBTQ people in my life. Which means: forever.
GayYA has many goals, but everything we do essentially comes down to one purpose: get more LGBTQIA+ YA published. We are more committed to this than ever!
This May, we’re thrilled to bring you a month long blogathon. Every day, you’ll hear from different authors, librarians, educators, and bloggers. We hope to use this opportunity to spread the love far and wide for LGBTQIA+ YA, and show anyone that might have any doubt that there is huge audience for LGBTQIA+ YA. (If we can accomplish these things, more LGBTQIA+ YA will be published!)
We so look forward to sharing these posts with you. If you’re feeling them, we’d love to have your help in promoting your favorite posts in this blogathon to your own networks! Spreadin’ the love far and wide, y’all.
Stay tuned for our first post….
Join us in our mission to provide a platform to discuss and promote queer YA! As a GayYA volunteer you can connect with our group of volunteers who are all extremely passionate about queer YA, create unique resources that support authors and enable teens to find queer books, and occasionally read queer YA before it is published.
We are looking for five new volunteers. The general time commitment for volunteers is 5 hr/wk, but it is subject to change as our busyness increases and decreases, and we can be a little flexible around your schedule. Volunteers may be asked to:
- Format posts on GayYA.org and promote them through Twitter and Tumblr
- Build the LGBTQIA+ Masterlist (currently we are working on part 2 of the masterlist– LGBTQIA+ YA broken down by genre)
- Collect contact info
- Find new people/groups for us to connect with (GSAs, book blogs, libraries, etc)
- Interview authors/research authors to help us develop interview questions
- Help us generate new ideas
- Co-write posts or reviews
You DO NOT need to have previous experience with any of the above to apply.
People of color, disabled people, people who live outside of the US, neuroatypical/neurodivergent people, ace/aro people, intersex people, and trans people (particularly trans feminine people) are especially encouraged to apply. Authors, editors, agents, publicists, teachers and librarians are encouraged to apply as well. All ages are welcome.
Please note that at this time we can provide NO MONETARY COMPENSATION. And that this will not change anytime soon. GayYA is run on love.
To apply, please tell us:
- Your name, age, location, occupation, identity/orientation, and a little bit about yourself
- If you have previous experience with anything similar to the things listed
- Why you are interested in being involved
- Anything else you think might be of interest!
If you’d like, include a link to your Twitter, tumblr, blog, and/or website, so we can learn a little more about you.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your application.
Please apply by the 25th of April.