I did not have many role models as a queer young adult. As a voracious reader (ever notice how many people who like to read use that adjective to describe their habits?) I sought out subtext and swapped pronouns in my head to make the relationships in books seem more relevant to my own life and identity.
There were next to no portrayals of queer youth in literature, and the ones I could find often fell into the tired trope of queer = miserable or dead. Even Mercedes Lackey’s celebrated Herald Vanyel of her Last Herald Mage books lost his love to suicide and spent much of his life lonely, only to have his own life cut short soon after finding love again. Not that he wasn’t an incredibly progressive character for the time, but it still isn’t a message I want young people having drilled home.
Today there is an entire field of Young Adult (YA) literature for LGBT children and teens. Sure a lot of it is crap, but then again, so is a lot of any genre of writing. The remarkable thing is that some of it is actually quite good. These are stories with a wide variety of messages. Some are about self-acceptance, others about finding one’s place in the world, while in other the characters’ sexuality is a component but not a focus of the plot.
I’ll confess a familiarity with a surprising number of these books. I have a private library of LGBT YA books that I’ve built as a refuge from the rigors of adult life. These are the books I wanted when I was young, but they didn’t exist yet. Sometimes when I’m worn down, lonely, feeling hopeless, or just need an escape, I take one down (or load one in if it’s on my Nook) and for a little while let the scared teen in me who never got those messages soak them in.
I don’t want to imply for a moment that my parents were anything less than supportive of my sexual orientation, they were. Rather, they didn’t know how to give me positive queer role models, and being straight, didn’t fully appreciate the weight we young people carried growing up in a world that didn’t seem to have any place for us beyond tragic hero, comic sidekick, or devilish villan.
A good list to start with if you are curious about LGBT YA fiction is this one from gay YA author Alex Sanchez:
If you want to read my current favorite of the genre check out “Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan.