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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 / June 16, 2015 , Tue / books & reading, lgbtqia

I have them. And I wear them all the time. They’re most active when I’m reading books, but then they can emerge when watching TV shows (most notably Merlin), and movies too.

What do they do? you might be asking, unless you have your own pair of queer tinted spectacles, and know exactly what I’m talking about (in which case, BLESS, we’re kindred spirits).

Well. Most of the time, their primary objective is to find a queer character, and usually ship that character with another queer character.

However, unfortunately, a lot of the time my queer tinted spectacles are just … making it up. Or they’re elaborating. Because sometimes I have super feels for what I seriously think will be a queer relationship, and the author goes and writes a completely non diverse heterosexual one. And I cry.

The reason why I decided to write this post is because of a book I was reading recently. One of the characters had died, but someone was sending them poems to their phone regardless. The deceased character was a guy. And he had a guy best friend who just completely disappeared after he died (or committed suicide … no one really knows). I thought to myself: yes. These two were in love. The best friend is sending the texts. And the dead guy might have committed suicide because he felt ashamed or something (which no baby no).

I was super excited, because as much as I ship my hetero couples, I ship my queer couples with the force of a thousand fiery burning suns. They mean a lot more to me. So I was waiting for the best friend to admit to something.

And then. It turns out it was a girl sending the poems. There was nothing between the two guys – there never was.

I was disappointed, to say the least. This book was pretty whitewashed and was severely lacking in sexual diversity (not even a side character, I mean what). My queer tinted spectacles weren’t the ones that let me down, though. Oh no, it was the fact that books are still lacking in diversity. I know it’s an author’s right and decision to create characters and their associated storylines however they want to (including diversity or not), but it still saddens me when there’s so much missing from a book.

With all the We Need Diverse Books campaigning, and countless other plights to include racial, sexual, physical, mental, economic, and so on diversity in books … why are there still books with all white characters who are all straight and physically able and mentally sound and middle class and so on? It makes me so sad and disappointed to come across these books because it’s like nothing has changed, even though so many readers (and agents and publishers) are asking for it.

So I guess that’s why I still need my queer tinted spectacles, because if I didn’t it might mean that something had changed, and I wouldn’t have to search and create my own sexually diverse characters. For now, they’re always on, but I hope one day that they won’t be necessary. I really do.

Chiara / May 17, 2015 , Sun / books & reading, lgbtqia

This has been on my mind for a while now – and when I say a while, I mean a few months – and mainly pertains to reviews of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Several bloggers have simply not stated the fact that this is actually an LGBT novel about two boys who fall in love because it is a “spoiler”.

No. No, it is not a spoiler. Being something other than heterosexual is not a spoiler. Being gay or bisexual is not a spoiler. Falling in love with someone who is not a member of the opposite sex is not a spoiler. The fact that Ari and Dante fall in love is not. A. Goddamn. Spoiler.

It’s the reason why I read the book. It’s the reason why the book is beautiful. It’s the reason why there are stickers for LGBT YA book awards on the front cover. It is the reason why you should read the book.

Because it is beautiful. Because Ari didn’t know he was in love with Dante until he finally admitted it to himself and realised that there is nothing wrong with love between two boys. That the love between these two particular boys is the once in a lifetime kind of love that everyone – regardless of sexual orientation – wants.

It’s not a spoiler.

And making it a spoiler – by taking away one of the most important aspects of this novel – is erasure. It’s erasing the fact that Ari and Dante is an LGBT novel. That a boy (or girl) out there needs this book to show them that it is okay to love whoever you love because it’s love. And it’s right. It’s erasing the importance of this novel in the bookish world, and it’s erasing the role this book might play in someone’s life. And that erasure is not necessary. It’s horrible.

Sexual orientation of any character in any book is not a spoiler. Just because they are attracted to someone and that this attraction doesn’t conform to society’s expectations and norms does not mean that that attraction is a spoiler. It’s no more of a spoiler than the colour of their hair, or their sex. It’s simply part of who they are.

So please, if you’re thinking of hiding the sexual oritentation of a character because it’s a “spoiler” think twice before you do it. Because LGBTQIA+ novels need all the exposure they can get. People who want to read LGBTQIA+ novels need to be pointed towards these books. Because the erasure of sexual orientation is taking two steps back for the one step forward that was taken to publish the book.

Chiara / April 21, 2015 , Tue / lgbtqia, writing

Take me back to THE SWEET TIMES, THE HOT NIGHTS, EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT, IN THE SUMMERTIME. BABY, IN THE SUMMERTIME.

Ahem.

Back when I was 13/14, I wrote my “first book. It was a heinous thing with no paragraphs to speak of, no plot, and just KISSING EVERYWHERE. So it wasn’t really a book, per se, but just something that had a beginning and an end and was written by moi.

After that piece of shit “book”, I wasn’t able to finish another book until I was 21 (which was last year, by the way). I tried. I tried VERY hard. I had story ideas that I thought were fantastic, that I was completely in love with, that I was sure that this time I would be able to finally, finally write a book.

I was wrong. Every time. The closest I ever got was a 25,000 word abandoned YA fantasy.

You  know the common theme with all these failed books? It was that they were all heteronormative. They all featured girl meets boy, girl and boy can’t be together for reason x, but girl and boy make it and live happily ever after.

My first finished book? It was JB, and it’s about a gay boy who falls in love for the first time, comes out to his family, and is in his last year of high school (with no concrete plans for the future). My second book is about a bisexual boy who falls in love with a boy. My current WIP (work in progress) is about a transguy who falls in love with a boy. Obviously these are condensed versions of what the books involve because they’re not JUST about these boys that fall in love – they’re about a lot more than that – but they’re certainly not in the same strain of books that I had failed to write before last year. They’re queer. And they’re about boys.

After I finished JB, and cried about finishing a book for the first time, and saying goodbye to my darlings, I realised that not only did I love this story more than the other not-finished-stories, and not only did I love these characters more than the other not-finished-stories – I realised that I’d been boxing myself in to bow down to the popular market of heteronormative books. I hadn’t even allowed myself to think that I could write these stories that had always been in my heart but never made their way to my head or to my computer screen. I had boxed myself in. I had boxed my heart in. And I had boxed my writing in.

Sure, being a queer writer isn’t easy. And I’ve already learned that in more ways than one. But it’s who I am. And who I will always be, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

(win a great queer YA book here)

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