Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Evolution of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, & Queer Teen Novels

I've got a theory.

Stories, I’d argue, are the lifeblood of what makes us Human. From a child’s “read me a story” to popular songs; from news to gossip; from myth to self-image; from TV shows to comic books - stories teach, challenge, entertain, and inspire us.

Novels, where we read and internalize the characters, become the characters, and go on a uniquely inward-focused adventure pour directly into our deep well of self. We ask ourselves: What would we do in that situation? Could we be that brave? That loving?

When I was a gay Teen, there was NOT ONE Teen book that I could find with a positive portrayal of a gay character.

Today, this blog lists over 170 YA books with GLBTQ Characters and/or Themes!

And (here's the theory part) to my eyes these books have evolved:

Version 1.0 were The Problem Novels, generally where the gay character was ill or died at the end. “My Brother Has AIDS” by Deborah Davis. “Night Kites” by M.E. Kerr. Despite the tragic ending, these trail-blazing books often avoided a sense of total hopelessness by having the gay character be once-removed from the main protagonist.

Version 2.0 are The Coming Out Novels. Now with hopeful endings, stories like “Absolutely Positively Not,” by David La Rochelle, and “Freak Show” by James St. James took their characters’ queerness from tragedy through laughter to acceptance.

Of course, GLBTQ secondary characters in many books have raised our Queer profile. As author Ellen Wittlinger (who wrote “Parrotfish,” one of the few YA Transgender Novels) believes, seeing these secondary Queer characters in books that aren’t aimed at the GLBTQ experience helps to “normalize” Queer Teens to themselves and their peers. (Acting as a sort of version 2.5)

Keeping track of books with secondary GLBTQ characters is outside the mission for "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" but the amazing KT Horning, on her "Worth The Trip" blog does a great job of finding the Queer quotient in books you might not expect. Check out her "gaywatch" entries.

Version 3.0 - and we’re just on the cusp of this – are The Genre stories where the character is gay but the story’s really about something else. “Vintage: A Ghost Story” by Steve Berman is about a Gay Teen’s romance with a ghost. “Hero” by Perry Moore is about a Gay Teen having to save a world of superheroes in trouble. And here, finally in these worlds of romance, sci fi, horror, and fantasy, we may even be due for some happy endings.

So, that's my theory. Feel free to weigh in...

And now I’d better get back to the re-write of my Version 3.0 Teen Fantasy!




Anonymous said...

Some excellent thoughts, Lee. I wonder if there isn't a 4.0, with post-gay experiences. Such books would raise issues about, as well as instances of, same-sex attraction, but the character would refuse to define him/herself as GLBT.

Rita said...

I feel like Touching Snow might fit under 3.0. The character was gay, and her gayness was directly relevant to the story, and she was in even the first stages of exploring said gayness--but the story was still totally about something else.

4.0--post-gay stories! (Like postmodernism and humanism?) Have we gotten there yet? I'm intrigued!