I grew up in a small, South Georgia town. So, as you can imagine, my exposure to LGBT media and such was severely limited. So much so to the point that when a gay couple came up on HGTV, the channel was quickly changed. It was the same way when it came to LGBT movies and books. They weren’t allowed.
The restriction on my reading material probably affected me more than anything else. Books have always been my escape, my safe place. But while I was struggling with my sexual orientation (and a little with my gender identity) at age 13, I didn’t have a place of acceptance, or someone/something that mirrored what I was going through. Nothing in my life was pro-LGBT. The books I was allowed to read didn’t represent anyone like me. All I saw were cis/heterosexual characters.
The one loud and clear message all of this sent was: You are not normal.
Now, years later, I wonder how many other children and teenagers have to go through the same thing? It’s hard enough to figure out one’s sexuality and/or gender identity and be able to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. Dealing with the potential backlash from one’s family, friends, and community is even harder. Us young people need a place where there are others like us who are represented as healthy, happy people. We need to see that we are not an abnormality in society. We need a place that reaffirms and celebrates us.
See, books are important. They have power. They can influence readers, bring them comfort, and simply get them to think. With so many kids and teenagers out there who are struggling with their sexual and gender identity, there’s a lot of them not seeing enough of themselves being represented in their reading material. The lives of LGBT people are hardly shown in the mainstream, popular young adult novels. They, we just exist most of the time to support the main (heterosexual) lead. We aren’t the knights in shining armor, we aren’t the heroes.
That should change. Because LGBT kids and teenagers deserve to see themselves as the heroes/heroines. We deserve to be more than just the sidekicks and the butt of jokes. We deserve to see ourselves living life just like our heterosexual counterparts do. We deserve to save the princess (or prince! Fuck gender roles.) We deserve to have our struggles portrayed fairly and honestly.
For example, take Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. When I read that book, I was living in South Georgia, struggling with the homophobia around me. Mrs. Albertalli’s story revolves around a gay boy in Georgia navigating difficult things like homophobia, being blackmailed because of his sexuality, and coming out.. That story resonated with me. Here was someone (albeit a fictional character) in a similar situation as me. It comforted me to see some of my struggles mirrored in that story. It helped ease a little of my pain, in a way.
That’s why LGBT YA is important. Because through these books, we could help eradicate the overwhelming sense of loneliness a lot of LGBT children and teenagers feel. They could see that they are not alone in their sexual orientations and gender identity. And hopefully, they could begin to feel more secure and happy in their diverse, wonderful identities.