Jalyn Rants

The Two Types of Queer Books (and Why We Need Both)

There are basically two kinds of queer books:

  1. Books about being queer
  2. 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.”

~Sayantani DasGupta

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.

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Jalyn Rants

YA Shaming: Filed Under “Advisement”

I know I’m a little late to the ball game here, but I just recently came across Ruth Graham’s article Against YA. I’ve seen responses blowing up Twitter with the #promoteaYAinstead and #NoShameYA hashtag, but I wasn’t really sure what started it all until yesterday.

When I read the title of the article, I was set to argue. If you want to fight YA, I’m going to fight back! But as I read, I realized something:

I understand her point.

That’s not to say I agree with the article. On the contrary. I read a lot of YA. And even though I do read some adult books, I much prefer the subjects and variety of YA. But I can understand Ruth Graham’s perspective, because it’s the same perspective my mom has.

My mother knows I read mostly YA. And she doesn’t really approve. She keeps pushing me to read adult books – “real” books.

See, Ruth Graham, my mother, and pretty much anyone older than forty were teens when YA wasn’t really a genre. There were children’s books, and there were adult books, and as soon as you outgrew Nancy Drew it was time to head to the adult section. To them, YA is children’s books.

Graham also mentions outgrowing YA. That’s completely understandable. I’ve tried to reread some of my favorite books from the preteen years, and they don’t have the same appeal. And many middle grade books don’t appeal to me as much as I think they’d appeal to my eleven-year-old sister. I’ve pretty much outgrown middle grade, and that’s okay with me. If you outgrow YA, that’s okay.

As Graham claims, some YA is purely entertainment. Some of it is all about “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” And I will be honest – sometimes, I want a just-for-fun read.

But not all YA is useless. Take the Hunger Games trilogy: sure, a reality-TV show where kids kill each other is just plain ridiculous, but Katniss and Peeta both ended up with PTSD and the revolution practically destroyed their world.

And Divergent, which Graham called “trashy” and a book that “nobody defends as serious literature”: I found themes of identity, priorities, using your unique gifts, and the power of choices. And in the end of the series, their entire world falls apart and a whole lot of characters I’d grown to care about died.

How much more real does Graham want? And who would call those endings “satisfying”? Not me.

Just because a book is classified as “YA” doesn’t mean it’s pointless. And just because a book is “adult” doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. YA can contain important themes, and adult can be pure escapism.

I see where Ruth Graham is coming from. She holds the view common among older adults that YA is children’s lit. And she’s outgrown it. That’s okay. I can respect that.

I think the real issue here is not YA versus adult books – it’s because people are being shamed for what they like to read. 42% of college students in America will never read another book once they graduate. Shouldn’t we be happy they’re reading, instead of criticizing because they’re not reading what you want them to?

Ruth Graham has the freedom to read whatever she wants – and if it’s not YA, that’s okay. But the rest of us have that freedom, too.

If you don’t like YA, that’s okay. But please don’t hate on me because I do.