LGBT Representation In YA Novels
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
We look for ourselves in fiction. A great book resonates with us as we empathize with a protagonist's struggles and triumphs, and encourages us to step into their shoes as they set off on a fantastic journey. Expanding our world with different perspectives is part of the thrill of reading, but it can be very lonely to only read books where there isn't anybody like you. I didn’t know bisexuality was a thing when I was in middle school. I had a lot of feelings I didn’t have a name for, feelings for girls and women and desires that I didn’t know what to do with. I thought this part of me was wrong; I knew I wasn’t gay, but I didn’t feel straight either. For years, I thought I was just confused, but I didn’t have a name for how I felt, didn’t know anyone else who was attracted to more than one gender. I read voraciously as a kid; science fiction and fantasy were my favorites, but I read almost everything in the YA section that I could get my hands on. I read dashing adventures and coming of age stories and swooning romances and learned so much; in books I travelled far and wide and was able to learn about so many different kinds of people. The early 2010s was a rich time for books, and I fell in love with so many protagonists, but I never came across any bisexual characters. In movies and television it was a similar story; they existed as the butt of jokes or people who would “pick a side,” and it was rarely positive.
The Bechdel test (a.k.a. my favorite test in the entire world and the only one that matters) measures gender bias in literature. Basically, if a work of fiction has at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, the book passes. A sad, sad number of books and movies fail. The test is named after Alison Bechdel, author of the groundbreaking comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and the equally groundbreaking graphic memoir, Fun Home. Fun Home tells the story of Bechdel's sexual orientation and her father's struggle with his closeted homosexuality. Literary readers: comics are more than just funny. YA carries an added imperative to provide its characters with labels, the better to open its readers’ eyes to potential. This is as it should be. Nonetheless, breadth and diversity of representation is important, even in this decidedly dystopian world. We may as well provide as many paths, experiences, trajectories, words, and non-words as possible, and ground them in people who feel true enough to trust.