Writer / Reader / Fandom Extraordinaire
Monthly Archives: August 2015
Chiara / August 25, 2015 , Tue / lgbtqia, writing

I have seen quite a few posts around the blogosphere as of late about diverse books. Mainly, the fact that we need ones that aren’t just focussed on said diversity. Where said diversity doesn’t rule the plot. Where said diversity doesn’t play a huge role in the life of the diverse character.

What. A. Load. Of. Shit.

I’m going to talk about a few topics I’ve seen around because I have a lot of feelings about this. (There will mainly be a focus on LGBTQIA+ fiction, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, really.)

we need books that aren’t just about “coming out”

Do you even read LGBTQIA+ fiction? Seriously? There are a number of LGBTQIA+ YA books out there that are not about coming out. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. All of which took me about three seconds to think of. In fact, there’s an entire Goodreads list about LGBTQIA+ YA books that aren’t about coming out.

But beyond that – coming out isn’t a universal experience. Just because there are books out there about LGBTQIA+ teens coming out to friends and family does not mean that that’s it – we don’t need them anymore. Because it is different for every single queer teen. There is no universal coming out experience, or process, or response. So to ask for LGBTQIA+ books not about coming out is ignorant because queer kids have to face the decision of whether or not to come out (and what will happen because of that decision) every freaking day.

we need characters that “just happen to be gay”

Oh dear lord. OH DEAR LORD.

Can I even respond to this at all? There are a range of posts on the internet by authors (notably, Robin Talley) about why we need characters who do NOT “just happen to be gay” because … LGBTQIA+ teens don’t “just happen to be LGBTQIA+”.

Yes, you can ‘just happen to be straight’, because even though it’s ridiculous, straight and cisgender are still the defaults. Until someone is told otherwise, everyone is cishet in a lot of people’s minds. And ‘just happening to be straight’ is exactly how it is. Someone is straight. End of story. They don’t have to come out to anyone, they don’t get bullied for being straight, they don’t get physically and sexually assaulted for being straight, they don’t get denied service for being straight, they’re not discriminated for being straight, it’s not illegal to be straight, they can marry their partners… The list goes on, and on. (And to ward off comments, straight people can experience assault and bullying and discrimination but not for BEING STRAIGHT.)

LGBTQIA+ teens face all of this. ALL. OF. IT. So to say that queer characters should ‘just happen to be queer’ is asking for something outside of reality. Because this is a part of life for queer kids. LGBTQIA+ young adults have to make decisions (like coming out), and are faced with difference (like having feelings for someone their best friend never would), and fear, and discrimination, and that (sadly and ridiculously and fucked-up-ly) is a part of life. “Just happening to be queer” just doesn’t exist, so to ask for it really shows ignorance about what life is like outside of the cishet scope.

this book is diverse because the MC’s bestie is gay

The gay best friend trope has never been adequate representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. EVER. But for the longest time, that was all the representation there was.

And even though that has never been enough, it is even less enough (yes, this does make sense) now. The gay best friend does not a diverse novel make. And when “the MC’s brother is gay and it’s good because it wasn’t made into a big thing” … why would it be? Unless the MC is a raging homophobe, the fact that their brother likes guys ISN’T a big deal. For them. This is a big deal for the brother. It is not “good” when being queer “isn’t a big deal” because that’s just playing right into the hands of people who want characters to “just happen to be gay” (in other words – a queer book that isn’t really queer because the queerness of the character is not touched on at all).

The gay best friend is not diversity. Any LGBTQIA+ side character is not diversity. They don’t fill some diversity quota by being included.

so glad this wasn’t an “issue” book

Firstly, what the fuck is an “issue” book exactly? A book that deals with something that someone perceives as an “issue”? Being queer isn’t an “issue”. Reading a book about a teen’s experience being queer is not an “issue” book. It’s a book about a kid being queer. This goes the same for mental health books, and any that diverge from the white, able-bodied, mentally sound, cisgender, heterosexual, middle class, religiously ambiguous main character.

So people are glad that books aren’t providing a message, or information, or something ~important~? Because, god forbid, that might make it an issue book, and we certainly don’t need those. We have all the books we need on what life is like for people who fall outside our own experiences.

Of course, how could I have been so ignorant?

I am pretty shocked when I see some of these things floating around, because I feel like a lot of them are demeaning the need for diverse books. Like we need diverse books where the diversity is all but ignored. Which is the absolute opposite of what we need. We need diverse books because they are diverse, not because they’re the same as undiverse books, with one nod to diversity that is never mentioned again.

Chiara / August 13, 2015 , Thu / books & reading

If you have read my book blog, I make it pretty known about my feelings on sex and its inclusion in the young adult genre. But in case you don’t know my specific stance … sex should be in YA. It should be in YA, and it should be in there positively. The days of fade to black “sex scenes” should well and truly be over. The days where the heterosexual couple doesn’t have sex until the third book should well and truly be over. The days where LGBTQIA+ sex scenes barely exist should well and truly be over. The lack of sex positivity should well and truly be over.

Teenagers and young adults have sex. Let’s not pretend they don’t, because that would be utterly ridiculous, and more than a little naive. They have sex. And that sex doesn’t have to be with someone that they are in earth-shattering love with, and that they think they’ll marry and spend the rest of their lives with. So why is that the message that YA books are (for the most part) putting forward? Why are female protagonists feeling lust and desire for their male love interests, and then curbing it until the third book?

Writing for a young audience comes with a level of responsibility. And that responsibility comes into play for a lot of themes, and sex is one of them. Messages that safe sex is the way to go, and that wanting sex at a young age is not a bad thing, and that having sex with a someone you might not spend the rest of your life with is okay are the messages that YA authors need to be putting out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sex should be shoved in everyone’s faces when reading YA, and that it should be promoted, or described in explicit and erotic ways, but I am saying that things need to change.

Here’s an example (this was a fantasy novel, by the way): a heterosexual couple is making out fully clothed, and they fall back onto a bed. End scene. The next scene starts with “afterwards”.

Firstly, after what exactly? After a hot and heavy fully clothed make-out session? After a sexual exploration of the hands or mouth? After sexual intercourse? And if it was sexual intercourse, what exactly happened? Are there condoms in this fantasy world? Or a special herb (all the kudos to Sarah J. Maas for including the contraception herb in her Throne of Glass books)? Did the girl like it? What the actual hell happened after they fell back on that bed fully clothed? Because fading to black to save grace or save readers or save parents or whatever the reason for that fade to black isn’t helping anyone.

It might seem to some that safe sex and sex positivity isn’t the responsibility of YA authors, and that parents or guardians or sex ed teachers should be the ones that take on that role. And sure, they can do that. But YA authors can do that, too. They can show readers that safe sex is important, and that girls can want and enjoy sex. Sex positivity when it comes to girls is all too scarce, and the “we won’t do it until the third book” trope is just perpetuating that. That girls have to wait, and be unsure, and be vulnerable. Yes, of course girls can be those things. But they can also want it now, and be sure that they want it, and be completely unvulnerable.

And beyond that, there’s the fact that sexy times in LGBTQIA+ YA are even more scarce. It’s like there’s a diversity threshold and that kissing is all the wider (hetero) audience is willing to accept when it comes to reading about a relationship that is outside their own experience or attraction. But there comes the responsibility again. What about gay guys and lesbian girls and trans teens and intersex young adults (and everyone in between and beyond) who might not have any idea what they’re doing, or what they should be doing, or what kind of precautions or preparations they need to take when having sex? There needs to be examples of that in the books they’re reading, too. Queer teens need to see themselves, and the thoughts and feelings and to-dos of their sexual experiences, represented in what they’re reading.

I’m just so sick of YA taking sex and making it something completely unrealistic. We need books where girls don’t have to wait until the third book, where the actual act of being safe in a sexual situation is explicit, and that show what sex can be like for people who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. We need to be so much more open about this because pretending and fading to black is doing no one any favours.

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