Parents in YA literature tend to fall into one of two categories – absent or obstacle. If they’re absent, they may be dead or simply unaware; if they’re obstacles, they actively interfere with the protagonist’s attempts to achieve his or her goals.
YA lit with gay characters takes this tradition to a new extreme. Parents are either fearsome zealots or bigots who reject their children at the first sign that they’re not ruler-straight, or they’re well-meaning but ultimately out-of-touch smotherers who get so wrapped up in the cause of gay rights that they end up ignoring whatever personal struggles their child experiences. It’s hardly surprising that books about gay teens would feature parents who don’t understand, whether out of close-mindedness or simple lack of awareness, but that’s not the universal experience.
Where, in YA books, are the parents who’ve had their own struggles with identity? Where are the gay and lesbian couples raising kids, the transgender parents, the bisexual mom or dad who could understand and sympathize with how their teenagers feel? Parents are rarely the focus of YA books, and only infrequently are they allowed to be fully realized characters with emotional depth. They can lend such dimension to books, though, that it’s a shame they don’t get more development.
Certainly, in many parts of the world, including the United States, teenagers who come out face rejection by their parents. But there’s a whole host of responses in between “get out of my house this instant” and “I’m going to start a PFLAG chapter!” and it would be lovely to see that range better represented in YA fiction. What about the parents who love their kid no matter what, but worry that they’ll be bullied at school for coming out? Where are the parents who are uncomfortable with homosexuality but work to shift their worldview? Why don’t we get to see the fights between a concerned parent who doesn’t want their kid to be sexually active, no matter who he or she is with, and a teenager who asserts that it’s vital to developing his or her identity?
The religious family narrative can still be relevant, but let’s see something more complex than a knee-jerk anti-gay reaction. Why can’t one parent be supportive, and another uncomfortable? How about a religious parent determined to find biblical justification for gay or lesbian relationships? A church or temple where being LGBTQ is perfectly acceptable? Times are changing – fictional families should change with them.
What’s the most realistic depiction of a gay teen’s family that you’ve read?