So today a co-worker pointed me to an article on The Atlantic called “A New Way for Gay Characters in Y.A.”. I was sad to see it was another article that seems inclusive on the surface as it talks about defining LGBT teens as being more than their sexual orientation. But a deeper look at the nature of this piece revealed some troubling flaws.
Of the 29 YA books mentioned in this article, the break down is :
17 feature gay males
6 feature lesbians
4 I was unable to determine (not released yet, reviews didn’t say, I am unfamiliar)
2 feature transgender people
0 feature bisexuals (technically Geography Club has Min, a bisexual secondary character, but let’s be frank - the book is entirely focused on Russell’s gayness)
Gay men in YA might be bored with coming out stories and ready to move on to the next big thing, but what about the rest of the LB&T? If publishers are not, as David Levithan claims, “scared [of books featuring LGBT characters]” then why is it so hard to find the LB&Ts? How is more of the same lack of these characters a “New Way”?
And of particular concern for this blog, what about the ZERO titles mentioned in this story with bisexual protagonists or themes? Doesn’t it seem a bit premature to call for the end of the coming out story when teen bisexuals have next to no visibility in YA lit? Especially when one considers that bisexuals outnumber gay and lesbian people combined?
Don’t even get me started on the overall whiteness of this list too. Even among YA books featuring gay men, it is rare to find a protagonist who isn’t white. The truth is we may be swimming in white gay men, but I have yet to find a single book featuring a bisexual transgendered person of color. Those teens deserve to see their coming out stories in YA lit too, not to have the particular issues faced by their identities brushed aside because we’ve supposedly been there.
Also - and this is pointed right at the editors at The Atlantic - LGBT is not a synonym for gay. You may be arguing that gay characters are everywhere, but lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters still take detective work to find, even in your own article. Had this article been about gay YA books and only gay YA books, then I think it would have been a solid piece. Throwing the token acronym LGBT without recognizing that three of the four letters are under-represented (if represented at all) is just shoddy journalism.
Had to bold those points, because YES. That is how most things that claim to be “LGBT” usually break down (except usually there are even fewer trans books/people mentioned). Almost entirely gay, with a few token lesbians thrown in, and maybe one or two bisexual or trans mentions. It’s okay to just say you’re talking about gay male issues, just don’t claim to be representing people you’re not.