Black Lives Matter Series: Day 1 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Black Lives Matter Series
I’ve been reading LGBTQ YA fiction for almost five years and I’ve never read a book focused on a black LGBTQ woman.
When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite books was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. In middle school two of my favorite series were The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin and Animorphs by K. A. Applegate, both of which had a central black female character. I grew up in a town that was ninety percent white and I was desperate for stories like mine, so if a book had a black girl as a main character I wanted to read it.
I started deliberately reading LGBTQ focused books shortly after I realized that the feelings I had for the girl I ate lunch with weren’t simply feelings of friendship. Initially I was reading basically anything I could get my hands on, from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, to Far from Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters, to The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson. Last summer I hit a breaking point, frustrated with white narrative after white narrative. I read Ash by Malinda Lo, Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez, and Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole. Each of those books had a woman of color protagonist.
None of them were black.
Through extensive searching recently I’ve found a grand total of four novels about black queer women. The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson is the only one of the four available at my local library. I found it and the books Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis Wyeth and M+O 4evr by Tonya Hegamin on a list about racial diversity in LGBTQ books compiled by Malinda Lo. The last book is Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, who wrote a blog post for Diversity in YA.
Sadly, this didn’t surprise to me. White stories sell. There’s this pervasive idea in society that white stories are relatable but stories about people of color are about race. It’s similar to the ideas that stories about men are relatable but stories about women are about gender, or that stories with straight characters are relatable but LGBTQ characters change the focus of a story.
The current state of young adult fiction says that as a queer black woman, my story isn’t important.
And I’m privileged, in all honesty, because it’s worse for trans women. All of the black women in the four books I found are cis. Black trans women are disproportionately victims of violence and police brutality. In fact, the majority of LGBTQ murder victims are black trans women. Many of them don’t get justice for the crimes against them. Society says their lives aren’t important.
Why is fiction restating that?
Diversity is important because it lets us know we’re not alone. So why is LGBTQ fiction lacking diversity? Why should I be expected to relate to white gay men when in reality the issues I struggle with in relation to my queerness also intersects with my gender and race? Why don’t I have a true range of novels to choose from when I want to read about girls like me? Why don’t black trans girls have any?
It’s not about having a character that’s exactly like me. I don’t truly expect anyone to come out with a book about a hella queer and hella ace and hella aro black daughter of Nigerian immigrants who also deals with mental illness and trauma. But asking for a book in which a queer girl is also black and has to deal with the intersection of misogynoir (antiblack misogyny) and heteronormativity shouldn’t be too much. It’s about having stories in which I can understand their lives and that give non-black or non-female or non-queer individuals a chance to understand mine.
Representation is important because it gives us hope that people like us can make it through horrific circumstances. But until all of us have the chance to glimpse that hope, there’s a huge problem.
I wanted to write a happy and hopeful piece, but the last few weeks have sapped me of most of my optimism in regards to life in the United States as a black person. This is the reality that millions of us are facing right now, a reality that almost all of us were made aware of as young children. It’s louder at this moment of time and more visible for everyone, but we’ve known.
We’ve known that it’s not safe to exist here, that we have to work harder to succeed here, that racism is inescapable unless we live under our covers. Even though America has moved forward as far as race relations go, things are still pretty terrible.
We chant that black lives matter because we’ve grown up in a society that insists otherwise.
We cry that black lives matter because our existence and importance is constantly ignored and downplayed.
We scream that black lives matter because if we don’t, no one else will.
Black lives matter. Black queer women matter. Black trans women matter.
And we deserve better.
Nakiya is a black, queer, greyromantic and asexual college student who currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s avoiding grad school preparation she can be found on Tumblr at lemonyandbeatrice where she blogs about diversity in media, asexuality, trauma, and mental illness. Oh, and lots of Marvel.