I was having a conversation with an author whose first book comes out next year, and he was worried that his book, written from a female point of view, wouldn’t be well received because he’s a man. We got onto the topic of writing gay characters and having gay protagonists, and he said something that echoed exactly how I felt before my debut in 2010. He didn’t want to be labeled a “gay author.”
I didn’t write Oliver Travers, my horny, teenage narrator from The Deathday Letter as heterosexual because I was worried about being a gay author, I wrote him that way because that’s how he popped into my head. However, as the book neared publication and I started working on other book ideas, I did worry about being pigeonholed. I wrote a gay character’s totally boring coming out into Deathday as a nod to my own painless coming out, but it was such a minor part of the book that I didn’t think most people would even notice. It was the next couple of books I wrote that I worried about.
Before settling on FML, I wrote drafts for a few other ideas. All of them included gay and lesbian characters in some form. Best friends, secondary characters, parents even. But none of them were protagonists. Back then, I told myself that it was because the YA publishing world wasn’t ready for a gay protagonist in a story that wasn’t about coming out. I think the truth was that I wasn’t ready to be a gay author. In the same way that literature about women or African Americans is often relegated to separate shelves in bookstores, I worried that my books would be thought of as gay first and everything else second.
I did take a step in the right direction. FML features the hijinks of an awesome gay couple. Ben and Coop are cute, loving, and accepted by their peers. Their storyline revolves around their quest to find a place to have sex for the first time. No one at Simon Pulse questioned my decision. My editor loved the couple, and I loved writing them. But I still felt like I wasn’t being true to myself.
I don’t write for teens. I write for me. I write the stories I would have wanted to read as a teen (and that I would have read as an adult if I hadn’t been the one writing them). So why hadn’t I written a book with a gay protagonist? The climate was right. Publishers and readers were asking for more books with characters who weren’t heterosexual. Books with gay, lesbian and transgender characters were starting to pop up more often. Something was holding me back.
It wasn’t that I was ashamed of being gay. In fact, I began to wish that I’d embraced my own uniqueness sooner. It was the fear that my story would be dismissed. That some people wouldn’t be able to get over a gay protagonist and appreciate the story. It was my fear of being a gay author. Except, I was a gay author, uniquely qualified to write a story featuring a gay protagonist. It was time to write a story that embraced that.
I sold The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley to Simon Pulse in March and it comes out in 2015. It tells the story of Drew, a young man who secretly lives in a hospital and falls in love with another boy who has secrets of his own. It’s my first book featuring a gay protagonist, and the book I’m most proud to have written. It’s not a story about coming out or about how difficult it is to be gay. It’s a story about secrets and loss, about grief and guilt, about how difficult it is to be a human being.
I think readers are ready for more books that feature gay protagonists in regular stories. Action books and magic books and paranormal books. Leading men and women who don’t fit the mold, kicking ass and being fabulous. I’m pretty happy that I get to share one of those stories with you.
I’m sure some people will label me a gay author. I’m sure some readers will refuse to read it because Drew is gay. I’m totally okay with that. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is a special book for special people. You don’t have to be gay to read it, you just have to be awesome.