By Karen Kincy
I’m not qualified to blog about LGBTQ characters and pairings. This was my first reaction to being asked to write for Gay YA. My second reaction: Why not? Am I more qualified to write about boys, werewolves, men, shapeshifters, and anyone much older than me? Who says I’m able to understand the inner thoughts of a small-town sheriff, or a murderer? Many more people in my life identify themselves as LGBTQ rather than werewolves or serial killers. In all seriousness, I want to know why I still felt like this was something off-limits.
In my debut novel, Other, I explored what might happen if paranormal people were real, and everyone knew it. Of course the differentness of these Others would be obvious, and would inspire prejudice in many Americans, even fear and hate. The protagonist of Other, Gwen, is a half-pooka shapeshifter, and hasn’t told anyone outside her family and best friend, not even her human boyfriend. She’s afraid his conservative upbringing will trump his feelings for her. Obviously, Others can be seen as a metaphor for people facing prejudice in the real world.
If I had been writing about LGBTQ teens instead of paranormal ones, Other would be an issue book. The issue being that a character’s sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t considered mainstream, and this differentness becomes the story’s conflict. Similar issue books focus on characters whose racial identity or religion—or fill in the blank—is considered different. Anyone who isn’t a “default” protagonist, who isn’t white, straight, etc. This is a book about a girl’s blackness, or this is a book about a boy who falls in love with another boy.
Yes, I wholeheartedly believe we need books like this. But I think we also need books where LGBTQ teens are part of a bigger story, like a fantasy adventure where the heroine falls in love with a huntress, like Malinda Lo’s Ash, or Dumbledore being gay in Harry Potter—though I do find it interesting how J. K. Rowling chose not to mention this fact in the books themselves. On the one hand, it’s Dumbledore’s business; on the other hand, Rowling likely knew the controversy that would result from her making this an unavoidable fact on the page.
I don’t think authors can pretend there isn’t any controversy surrounding LGBTQ themes in YA—or in real life. But I also don’t think LGBTQ characters should forever be pigeonholed into issue books, always explored and examined by what makes them different, rather than what makes them the perfect character to crack an ancient mystery, or fall in love in outer space, or have an ordinary, boring life until the author throws some adventure their way.
LGBTQ characters aren’t off-limits for my YA. I might need to fight some preconceptions of my own, and force my brain not to travel in the ruts created by “mainstream” thoughts. But I know that there’s nothing else stopping me.
Karen Kincy’s debut, Other, came out last July, and her second novel, Bloodborn, will hit shelves on September 8. You can find Karen online at www.karenkincy.com