Today I am so pleased to welcome Ginn Hale to Joyfully Jay. Ginn Hale has come to talk to us about the re-release of her book, The Lord of the White Hell. She has also brought along some copies to give away! Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
The Question of Positive Representation in Young Adult Literature; This Time with Feeling!
Before I try to answer the question of why positive representation is important in YA literature, I feel like I need to make a confession; as a young adult, I hated YA fiction. I would rather have read botany textbooks, mathematics dissertations or even dictionaries.
For straight readers, I think it’s important for you to understand why that was, before I try to address the need for representation. Because my experience comes from a time largely devoid of any representation of queer identities much less positive ones.
As a child I was a voracious reader and YA books should have been my default when I outgrew children’s literature. (Right around the same time that I recognized that I wasn’t straight.) However I soon discovered that stories featuring LGBTQ characters were next to none. It was as is if people like me simply didn’t exist—or in some cases we fell into the same category as “shit”—an insult. Certainly nothing the protagonists of a book would get involved with.
Worse, when I did finally dig up a few “really scandalous” books that featured queer character they were presented to me as twisted pedophilic villains or pathetic “creatures”, for whom suffering and isolation was an inevitably fate and death often came as kind of mercy. (Hello, Man without a Face, Songmaster, Small Rain, House Like a Lotus.) I actually began to dread the appearance of an LGBTQ character.
Meanwhile my straight classmates could open a YA book feeling assured that they would see themselves as smart, good and deserving. Heroines and heroes, all of them. But for myself and other young queer reader no book could be trusted. We were never safe, not even in fiction. And often the writers most ardently recommended by teachers and parents were the most destructive. The homophobic undercurrents that saturated the works of “beloved” authors like Orson Scott Card and Madaline L’Engle contained nothing but poison for queer readers like myself.
Again and again they showed us that we were abominations, unnatural creatures for whom suffering was inevitable. Our lives and loves could not to be validated or celebrated. Our existences could hardly be tolerated—and then only as warning of what a horror it is not to be straight.
And it wasn’t as if the real world around us offset that message. In an environment of soaring deaths from AIDS, where bashing was a regular event, (the price you pay for being a freak, as one teacher told me) the last thing I needed was to see the same cruelty and hate echoed in my “escapist” fiction.
By the time I was 15, I refused to read any YA fiction, even if it meant taking a failing grade. Instead I started writing my own stories, building my own worlds where queer characters were brave and strong, where we won love and wars. (We might have also been rock stars and ridden wolves—I was only 15, after all.) Those stories weren’t all that well plotted nor did they sparkle with the prose of a professional author. But they were all I had to lift my spirit and assure me that I deserved to be alive.
Choosing my own stories saved me.
But it came at a cost. I could no longer share a favorite book or take part in the excited conversations that I’d once enjoyed so much. Already an oddball and an outsider, I parted ways completely from people who might have become my friends and allies. For a long time I was on my own. But I survived the years that could have crushed me and eventually I found friends and love.
I still write the kinds of stories that saved me. Adventures filled with magic and battles, strange worlds and queer protagonists. But now I write them for other people—readers whom I want to see themselves as strong and wonderful and deserving. Readers whom I hope will be able to share those books so that their friends and peers too can see them that was as well.
And so… after that long digression, I return to the question of why positive queer representation is important in YA fiction?
And I suppose that at this point I ought to enumerate the ways that representation helps already isolated young people feel less alienated; it shows them the beauty in their identities. It arms them with positive images of themselves and each other which they can hold up against the hate and erasure that they will face in the larger world.
Or maybe I should go through the heartbreak of collecting the suicide statistics for LGBTQ youth. Or perhaps I should point out that positive queer representation can make for more nuanced, diverse and thought provoking reading experiences even for straight readers.
But the fact is that all of those arguments have already been made many times, and by better writers than myself. And still LGBTQ authors, our allies and our readers alike are all asked to justify positive representations.
So what if, just this once, I responded with a different line of questioning instead.
How about asking, why shouldn’t it be important?
Who are we, as a people, if we think that queer youth don’t deserve to feel that they are worthy of love and respect? What does it say about you and me, that we would want ANY marginalized group of young people to feel alienated, isolated and demonized? (For anyone stumped by that last question, here’s the answer from the key at the back of the book; we’d be heartless monsters to want that.)
And for the few people who pull sour faces and try to claim that “gay books” just aren’t well written, that they aren’t as riveting or as fantastic or as nuanced as their straight counterparts, well here are six books that you should read, (you monsters!)
For everyone else, I offer you the same selection as a starting point for exploring all the amazing books out there, and I wish you very happy reading!
Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Set in the 1700’s this is the hilarious, swashbuckling adventure of a young bisexual nobleman. The wit and charm of the protagonist, Monty, balances the depth of important the subjects that he, his best friend and his sister examine as they embark on their grand romp across Europe.
In Other Lands
Sarah Rees Brennan
Elliot Schafer is a pansexual smartass obsessed with mermaids. That doesn’t change when he’s whisked into the fantasy realm of the Borderlands. There he is enrolled in a new school and encounters dwarves, harpies, elves and, yes, mermaids—all of whom are given decidedly modern tones of voice. Between classes and battles Elliot and his friends explore gender stereotypes, fluid sexuality and sexism.
Dreadnought: Nemesis-Book One
The first installment in what looks to be an amazing superhero series. Danny inherits the mantle of the superhero Dreadnought and in doing so she is endowed with the female body that matches her true identity. Now she just has to manage the reactions of her father and her best friend—Oh, and save the world!
This is the second book in the series but can be read on its own.
Only a teen but already a formidable warrior Ansa is certain of her place and what she wants. But all that is threatened after Ansa survives a close encounter with the Kupari queen and to find herself curse with the power she cannot control. Soon she and her beloved Thyra are caught up in a deadly power struggle.
This is the first book in a series.
Pantomime is one of the few books with an intersex protagonist. The character uses several different names throughout the book as they forge new identities and build new relationships after running away and joining the circus. The magic in this book is the prose and characterization, as well as the slow building of the world and it’s people.
Tale of Yin
A collection of two linked science-fiction novellas, both explore gender issues and identities through a non-European, feminist view. These are not action-packed stories instead their strength lies in their thoughtfulness and uplifting spirits.
Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)
Connect with her at www.ginnhale.com or on Twitter at @ginnhale.
Ginn has brought three copies of the Lord of the White Hell to give away along her tour. Just follow the Rafflecopter below to enter.
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Welcome and thanks for a thought provoking post, Ginn. Best wishes on the re-release of your book and with your next writing project which I hope will feature a rock star riding a wolf.