April 11, 2014

LGBT Month Think-Piece: What Does the Genre Need?



The LGBT Month hosted by Cayce @ Fighting Dreamer and Laura @ Laura Plus Books is a great opportunity for us to spotlight our favourite books in the genre, but also to discuss everything LGBT+ related. I decided to be highly original (LOL) and share my own thoughts about what the genre needs...or would better do without. Basically, what I would like to see more (+) or less (-). Please keep in mind that I'm addressing YA books here. So, here we go...

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Gay or lesbian characters with friends of the same sex.
Most people assume (or want to) that everyone who's not "straight" is defined by her/his sexuality. That their lives revolve around sex. That they can't look at a person of the same gender as theirs without becoming horny or something. Duh, get a grip, folks. Just like not every man and woman are necessarily attracted by each other and willing to, err, take the plunge, the same goes for gay or lesbian individuals when they meet someone of the same sex. Gay and lesbians can have male or female friends, respectively. Books need to focus on this aspect more. [Though it's customary to pair gays with female friends. This is a stereotype, but only up to a point, I have to admit. Been there myself]. The new book by Jeri Smith-Ready, This Side of Salvation, takes a step in this direction - the (male) main character has a gay best friend. Hooray for JSR! (I haven't read the book yet, but I'm sure she dealt with such topic the best way).

GLBT+ characters in a steady relationship.
Most books in the genre are coming-of-age or coming-out stories, where the main character becomes aware of her/his sexuality, or falls in love for the first time. Which is perfectly fine of course. But I wish there were more books where the gay, lesbian etc. character already has a partner, and they've been together for a while. It would debunk another myth - LGBT+ characters' promiscuity. Again, folks, get a grip...

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GLBT+ characters defined by their own sexuality.
See "Gay or lesbian characters with friends of the same sex". Again, we need more stories where sexuality - of any kind - is dealt with like any other defining feature...like being fond of rock music, able to paint, interested in history, you name it. While it's right - and often necessary - to make a stand for alternate sexuality, I do believe we should be shown the other face of the issue...normality. The no-big-deal side.

Inaccurate depictions of bi/trans/queer/etc. characters (?).
Writing a gay or lesbian character without actually being in their shoes is probably easier than portraiting one of the other shades in the LGBT+ universe. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong...but I often happen to read reviews that complain about the unreality of some characters/situations, and they're almost never aimed at gay or lesbian ones. So I guess most of the others are not only rarely drawn from direct experience, but also - maybe - more difficult to deal with, because of their complexity. Or maybe, they're more difficult to write about with a teen audience in mind? Whatever the reason, according to the reception they get, stories about bi/trans/queer+ characters often ring less true to readers. While I commend the effort of each and every writer who decides to tackle the LGBT+ topics, I wish they were more in touch with the actual issues, and less with their own version of them.
(Please note...this wasn't meant to be offensive or judgmental in any way. It's just that I've repeatedly tried to approach LGBT+ books with different nuances than the usual gay or lesbian ones, but I've always found a few reviewers that weren't able to buy them for some reasons - random example here - so I'm wary of reading them).

I'm very interested in your opinion here - especially about this last point. And should any author join the conversation...it would be awesome :).

16 comments:

  1. I think you've made some great points. Regarding your last point, I'm unaware if I've come across anything that was inaccurate, but that's because I'm a straight cis-gendered woman, and so possibly unaware of the inaccuracies if there are any. I've enjoyed almost everything I've read about characters of the other identities. However, what I would say is we need to see more of these particular books. Things are getting better, and the number of LGBTQ YA novels we do have is growing, but mostly with characters who are gay/lesbian, rather than the other identities. We are crying out for more asexual and intersex stories. We have so few.

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    1. Like I said, I mostly rely on other readers' reviews when I talk about unaccuracies. I'm not in the position of knowing how realistic some characters are, since I'm straight myself and I don't know anyone who's openly bi, trans, ace or other colours of the GLBT+ spectrum. Also, I'm reluctant to pick up a book someone else found not enough rooted in reality. But I agree that we need more diversity in YA (and adult) stories, not only for those who - like the two of us - like to broaden their knowledge of people, but mainly for those who have been under-represented for a long time, and need to know they're not alone. Via your latest post, I read RJ Anderson's article about her asexual heroine (Tori in "Quicksilver") and I was able to see how it affected a good number of people who needed someone to speak for them...to acknowledge their existence. So, the more diverse the characters, the better - everybody wins :).

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  2. These are all valid points. I have only read a few, and love when my contemporary romances weave in side characters from all groups. Great post.

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    1. Thanks! We definitely need more variety and diversity in all genres.

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  3. How about GLBT of COLOR? I can't believe that got left off the list. Imagine the numbers of young minority GLBT who are further marginalized in books.

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    1. That wasn't intentional, I assure you. I was talking about GLBT in general, regardless of race or colour. But yes, you have a strong point here. I absolutely endorse that :).

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  4. Yeah, we definitely need more diversity. As a bisexual person myself I would love more stories about bisexual people. I used to feel very alone, but now that I'm at university I have two close friends who are also bisexual, whom I just met naturally and not at an LGBTQ society meeting i.e. I didn't meet them because they weren't straight, it just happened that way. So it's totally possible for there to be more than one person who isn't straight in a friendship group! Sometimes it just kind of happens, even without trying, without the people involved even being aware of it at first. It'd be nice if this happened in more books, because then authors would escape the problem of seeming like they've just tried to put in a token gay character.

    I'd love to see more LGBTQ characters in steady relationships too!

    I definitely think that authors need to be a little more careful with characters who are of other gender/sexual minorities aside from gay or lesbian, since these are less common; I think a lot of research is needed when writing the experiences of such characters if an author doesn't actually share these experiences, and the best thing is probably to talk to as many people who do actually have those experiences as possible. If you're writing a trans character, you should talk to trans people; read their blogs (I've seen plenty of trans people give valuable advice about writing trans characters), respect their advice and opinions and take them on board. That's very important. In fact, read reviews of other books featuring such characters and see what problems readers have had with those books! Bad representation and misrepresentation is not really representation at all, so inaccurate depictions are definitely frustrating and just add to the problem.

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    1. Cynthia, thanks for sharing! and for validating my thoughts. Your story was interesting. And well said with the "token gay character". Sometimes it sounds like an author decided to throw a bone to the GLBT+ community, or to be politically correct, and that's the reason why a GLBT+ (and usually side) character has been included in the novel...

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  5. I recently read Far From You, which was a murder mystery YA novel, that just happened to feature a bisexual main character and her lesbian friend. While this was part of the plot (the two friends had been in love but due to the one character's fears were never able to be together), it wasn't the main focus. It just was. I loved that about the book, it didn't sensationalize the characters any more than YA books about heterosexual main characters do. In fact going in, I had no idea that the book even dealt with GBLT issues and it was so refreshing to read a book that had authentic feeling characters who aren't just the obligatory gay bff.

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    1. That's so refreshing to hear...and now I want to investigate this book! *off she goes to read Kate's review that she didn't have the time to read before*

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  6. ((Did this not post previously... darn!))

    I'm looking forward to reading your reviews of LGBT even more after catching up with this post.
    I think I've been spoilt with the first LGBT book I recall reading, Cruel Summer. Ryan was friends with Ben, just friends. He had friends who were girls, too. It was written by someone who knew what they were writing about & it was totally not a defining point. It didn't really have steady relationships, but there was definitely elements which made it seem like any non-steady relationship... and it was sweet. So yeah, there's a recommendation if you want it & can get hold of it.

    I think things are getting better because information on these things is accessible, an author could do research about anything to do with LGBT, if they really had no idea. Society is more open about it, especially homosexuality. That's the most common in books, but I think in real life too so while I can see it being beneficial, there is a point where it will just be written for the sake of this perhaps become a genre being taken seriously- whether its needed or not. I think that still, in the UK (if not US), this hasn't really been taken up as a genre, esp not in YA. Whereas in Adult, they do market it (but in sections they kind of cut off for heterosexuals), in YA- they just plain ignore its an element. I'm not sure if they just want it to be seen as normal in YA or whether they just think kids/teens won't care & won't notice.
    For me, I just delve into sociological elements just as I am so interested in the full range of "brain wirings" and socialisation. I just like to read about differences, esp as my school has such undiversity, in all ways. Books are rather reliable to reality, I think.
    Teens can be dense, though. The misunderstanding of asexuality :P It's not like Delirium, where there was no love. Asexuality is basically, lack of "lust". Love, and affection, is still present. They are capable of forming relationships & maintaining those, like between family. So inaccuracies are lost on most teens, I'm willing to bet.

    Your first point is definitely one I would like MOST. Especially as many friendship groups before high school are actually mainly just one gender & then occasionally those in the friendship group mix with other friendship group but there's still a bit of division. In high school, it's broken down more but I think it's realistic to assume that a gay/lesbian person would not just suddenly realize they were gay & that should mean they could only hang out with people of the opposite gender. They have a right to remain with friends who don't care whether they're gay or straight, of either gender. They'd be hard pushed to be the only guy in a group of girls or vice versa, it'd be strange. I'm sure it does happen but I think it's more stable when there's both genders. For example, I get fed up of other girls sometimes & drama there so I just go & hang out with some guys I know & get on with. I'm not the only girl there, but eh.

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    1. Wohoo! You may not comment often, but when you do, you're committed :). *hands out the Best Commenter Award - not that she doesn't love her other minions to death!*

      I've been so behind with my review schedule, it's not even funny. I'll try and post the one for "An Unstill Life" tomorrow, and I do want to do "Trying Hard to Hear You" on the 30th. In the meantime...you can visit the hosts' blogs, with plenty of GLBTQ+ reviews and articles almost every day!

      I guess you meant "Cruel Summer" by James Dawson, since you wrote a raving review for it :). I wonder why it hasn't been tagged as GLBTQ+ or something on Goodreads...

      Quote: "...inaccuracies are lost on most teens, I'm willing to bet".
      LOL. I so hope not. Maybe most teens are as smart and profound as you...at least, there's hope :). But anyway - when you don't know of a certain thing first-hand, it's not easy to say if this was accurately represented. Even for an older individual.

      You made a very good point with your last remark. I hadn't thought of that side of the question. But in books it is (was?) customary to pair gay characters with female best friends (though not the other way around). I'm not sure if that is realistic...of writers just assume that a girl has to be the better match for a gay boy because he's usually seen as "softer" than the average male...or because other boys wouldn't like to be around him...

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  7. I think *issue* books are important but it would also be nice to read about GLBTQ stories that are just a typical dystopian/romance/whatever genre that just happen to have GBLTQ characters.

    Also - and maybe I'm just not looking hard enough - I see a lot of gay m/m stories but very few lesbian stories.

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    1. I agree with your first point of course (see post!). As for lesbian stories, it looks like their number is slowly increasing lately. I have this feeling that, usually, lesbian relationships are taken less seriously, kind of dismissed as a different shade of friendship...you know what I mean. But it seems to me that this stance is finally changing, at least in the YA field.

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  8. Thought provoking post! I'd also love to see more intersectionality in books. So many queer themed books certain around white,skinny, cis gendered, able bodied people. I need a book that highlights a Transgendered Latina with a disability. A plus sized AA boy who is not only Bi-Sexual but it wouldn't suck if he was in a wheelchair. Everything is so black and white with the Queer identity that many don't even consider being gay is the only thing people struggle with in terms of identity.

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    1. It may be that some authors are afraid to put too many things on their plate, but you have a good point here, of course. Let's hope to see more intersectionality in 2015!

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