Today’s guest post was written by Charlotte Johnson of Lady Charlotte’s House of Delirium. Enjoy!
Admittedly, my exposure to LGBT characters in young adult fiction has been less than desired. Perhaps the first gay character I met was in Holly Black’s second novel, Valiant, which of course was Ruth (and eventually Luis, but only in retrospect…actually, I wasn’t even sure Ruth was a lesbian because Jen, a girl who did not approve of Val, had called her so). Then, when I read Tithe, I met Corny. Oh dear, Corny, those scenes between him and Nephamael were almost as riveting as Kaye and Roiben (before I became desensitised toward kissing scenes), albeit in a different way. Darker and more dangerous. Holly Black, I find, has always been great when it comes to LGBT characters. It is far too easy to make one’s gay characters too flamboyant and lisping, and always handy with fashion advice. Characters like that tend to write themselves, because there is no creativity required. It’s almost an archetype (not to mention stereotype) now. In Black’s novels, the reader would never imagine the street-smart, hard-ass Luis to care about his weave or lusting on every penis that crosses his path. Neither would we press the stereotype on Corny. The great thing about his character and Luis’s character is that the fact that they are gay is not the biggest part of their character. Luis has a vendetta against the faeries and is primarily concerned with keeping everyone, especially his brother Dave, safe from them. Corny is a geek with a grudge of his own, and I do say that endearingly. The closest that Black has gotten to the sparkly stereotype is Rafael from her short story “The Coat of Stars”, a character who is a well-dressed costume designer in NYC. But she does not dwell on it. I think watching his morning routine was a way to hook the readers. I know I was, but I am obsessed with flamboyance.
As I write this, I am thinking of all the books I have read and trying to figure out what else I could write about. I think about Melissa Marr’s bisexual characters, Irial and Niall (the best solution to a love triangle is definitely a threesome); I think about Alec and Magnus from Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series (which I have not read, but I remember Magnus from Clockwork Angel). I had assumed I would stay within the realms of YA paranormal. But I remember other books I have read, where the characters don’t care if they appear gay to the world, such as Duck and Dirk from Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books, and Wallace from the Scott Pilgrim comics (do comics count?).
There’s Freak Show by former-club kid and drag queen, James St. James. He also wrote the novel Disco Bloodbath that was turned into the film, Party Monsters, starring the Home Alone kid (what’s-his-name…we share a birthday). St. James wrote Freak Show as a fictionalised account of his own childhood in Florida. The story is super fun, hyperbolised, and empowering to anyone who has ever felt threatened by their classmates. The summary is below:
“Billy Bloom is gay, but it’s mostly theoretical, as he hasn’t had much experience. When he has to move to Florida, he can’t believe his bad luck. His new school is a mix of Bible Belles, Aberzombies, and Football Heroes, none of which are exactly his type. Billy’s efforts to fit in and stand out at the same time are both hilarious and heartrending. In this novel from adult author and media personality James St. James, readers are in for a wild ride as he tells Billy’s fascinating story of bravado, pain, and unexpected love, inspired by his own experiences.” (quoted from Goodreads)
Did I mention that Billy is a teen drag queen? I love it. The book starts out with Billy’s daily makeup routine, and it is utterly ridiculous. Billy goes to great lengths to describe his outfits (layers of greasy greasy foundation, glitter, feathers, if you ever looked at something and thought “How Tacky!”, Billy’s got it), and he is rather reminiscent of the Victorian dandy in the 21st century. Billy is unafraid to flaunt his “gayness” and stands up to fight for justice in his very red school. I doubt we would even see Luis or Corny at a pride parade, much less drag a stick of glitter over their lips…or would we?
Anyway, to my point. This portrayal of a gay character is significantly different from Black’s characters. The thing I love about young adult fiction how it shows the gamut of personalities that gay characters can run. There is nothing that all LGBT people have. Some are thugs, some are fashionistas, some are laid-back artsy types. And who says that gay characters in YA have to be men? We have lots of gay men, but how often do we see bi, lesbian, or transsexuals? What about asexuals or intersexed? I would love see more LGBT of all flavours in YA fantasy. I get the feeling that because of the formula of to-day’s YA paranormal romances (girl meets mysterious, dangerous boy, boy turns out to be not-human, girl suddenly has two lovers, a little bit of adventure, make way for the trilogy), it would be quite difficult to fit a gay main character in there. If the main character was a lesbian, and she had two lesbian girls after her heart, it would be too easy to lapse into a true love-triangle, and people already think gays and lesbians are sluts.
Oh well…one day. One day.