Writing Gay Characters In Young Adult Fiction

Recently, bloggers in the young adult fiction and sci-fi/fantasy writing communities have been spreading the word about the lack of gay characters in young adult fiction–which appears to be deliberate, based on the actions of many agents and publishers in the field. Two published and respected authors, Rachel Manija Brown and Josepha Sherman, were asked by an agent to make a gay character straight, or else remove all references to his sexuality. Brown and Sherman refused, pointing out:

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

Other authors have pointed out the problems of writing worlds in which only straight, often white folks get the spotlight. As Sarah Diemer writes in her essay I am Not a Secondary Character, “Growing up as a lesbian, I was told over and over and over by the lack of gayness in said books that I did not exist. That I wasn’t important enough to tell stories about. That I was invisible.” Essentially, the kinds of stories we tell, and the kinds of characters we feature, tell their own story: about what is important, and about who matters enough to tell stories based on.

The suggestions at the bottom of the first post are excellent ones, and if you’re into equality or you’ve got kids or know kids or you are a kid, or writer or agent or editor, I recommend thinking about these issues and spreading the word. Tell librarians, authors, booksellers that you want better representation; talk about your favorite gender- and sexually-inclusive books in public forums; make gifts of them to others; make time to read them to someone who might enjoy them… basically, make time to help share and shape fictional worlds that better serve as models for the world you’d like to live in.

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.