There are basically two kinds of queer books:
- Books about being queer
- Books where being queer isn’t a big deal
(You also sometimes get books that do both.)
Books about being queer are pretty obvious. Books about characters coming to terms with their sexuality. Books about characters discovering their gender identity. Books about coming out. Books about dealing with homophobia or transphobia.
Books where being queer isn’t a big deal, on the other hand, have queer characters, but their gender identity is treated like any other gender, or their queer romance is treated like any straight romance would be. These are books that focus on other things (magic, adventure, school drama) and just happen to have queer characters.
I prefer the second kind. I like my fantasy and my scifi and my superhero books with characters like me – not straight, not cisgender – where the characters can just live and experience the plot and fall in love (or not) without dealing with people hating them for who they are.
But we need both kinds of books. Books about being queer are important. Queer people struggling with homophobia or transphobia or biphobia or aphobia or whatever other prejudice they’re dealing with need to see their stories represented. Heterosexual cisgender people need to see us humanized in stories and have an opportunity to learn (in a way) what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those biases.
But that can’t be the only kind of story we tell. We also need books where being queer isn’t a big deal. I think this quote makes my point best:
“I think there can be a demand for authors from marginalized backgrounds to write difficult, heartrending stories about the challenges of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or other oppressions. To write books that “teach” the mainstream about our experience. And we can internalize that demand, as I did. While it’s really important to allow kids of all backgrounds to see their own community’s suffering and resilience reflected in books – it can’t be the only, or the predominant, type of narrative we see out there. I worry about the tendency to demand the performance of pain from marginalized communities for others’ voyeurism. People from marginalized backgrounds have all sorts of stories – and it’s important to make room for that variety. Who is allowed to be happy? Who is allowed to be magical? Who is allowed to be funny? These can be political questions. Joy can be a type of resistance.”
Queer people also need to see ourselves reflected in stories as happy, as magical, as funny, as living our lives and being the heroes without reliving the prejudice and bigotry we face every day. (And for that matter, heterosexual cisgender people need to be able to see us in stories that aren’t “oppression porn” and portray us queer people as characters as vibrant, interesting, and varied and in plots as interesting as straight characters.)
Yes, we need to be able to tell stories about our oppression. But we also need to be able to tell stories about our joy. And personally, those stories – the ones where I see myself reflected in queer characters that are happy and magical and funny – are the ones I really want to read.