Anyone who has ever read a book or watched a movie with an LGBT focus knows the two sad truths prevalent within them all; they’re usually sad and they’re usually about the difficulty of coming out. Don’t get me wrong; coming out stories are incredibly vital to showing individuals that they aren’t alone in their trials, that there are others in the world who don’t just sympathize but truly empathize with—and can relate to—their struggles. But message is received when all the novels, stories, poems, and movies are the same theme?
Consider the Young Adult (YA)—also known as “Teen”—genre. With acceptance on the, rise more-and-more youth are coming out as LGBT at younger ages. Reading, to steal the words from the popular 90’s movie You’ve Got Mail, has an unprecedented impact in our lives: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” If that’s the truth then the message being sent to LGBT youth is fairly monotonous. The common breakdown of one of these novels has four parts in the characterization and plot: the denial stage where the protagonist is either actively hiding their sexuality or actively denying the truth of it, the realization stage when the character realizes (typically because of a love interest) their true sexuality or their inability to deny their sexuality any longer, the catalyst stage is typically where everything goes wrong; either because a character’s advances are unwarranted, they’re caught in the act of some sexual exploration and immediately rejected by those most important to them, or for some other reason wherein the character is both shamed and ostracized for their sexuality, and finally the unresolution stage is typically characterized by the protagonist having to come to some realization of loss, whether it’s the loss of family, friends, or—in many senses—self.
The harsh reality is that none of these works of realistic fiction are too far from the truth; many youth will experience these fictious plot lines in their real lives as they struggle to come to acceptance of themselves. That being said, I don’t think that the answer is to continually—or only—highlight the struggle they will inevitably experience. Each of us has a hero that we have aspired to be like. Whether it was to be as quick witted and studious as Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger or as stubborn as Twilight’s Bella Swan, readers take characters and their stories and make them parts of our own identities. How much more important would it be to an LGBT reader to then have an LGBT character whose accomplishments as an individual far outshone the struggles of their sexuality? What a powerful message, that despite being LGBTQIA+ a character or person can be so much more then who they have sex with or how they decide to identify their sexuality. Rather than tell LGBT youth that the focus of their youth needs to be their sexuality, how about we create fiction that provides the same standard of heroes that heterosexual youth have always had.
And thankfully it would seem that the first whispers of this movement have begun. Alexander London, author of Proxy and Rainbow Rowell, author of Carry On, have both taken up the pen as their weapon of choice to battle the single-minded discourse of LGBT YA Fiction. Proxy is a futuristic story about a world where the wealthy can forgo punishments for crimes they have committed through the use of a proxy; an individual who, in exchange for a stipend, stands at the ready to willingly accept punishments for their benefactor. It is a fantastic novel with a fresh, original concept and a gay protagonist. Proxy isn’t a gay novel about a futuristic society but rather a futuristic society about a boy who overcomes poverty and accepts a destiny greater than himself, who also happens to be gay. Carry On is a fan-fiction story within a fan-fiction story and the Harry Potter parody we didn’t know we needed but are so glad we were given. The main character, a wizard with unprecedented magical powers and a prophecy hanging over his head, is convinced his nemesis is trying to kill him while also trying to discover why magic seems to be weakening within his world. It’s not until very near the end that we discover that protagonists unexplored feelings for his nemesis and vice versa, the two boys falling in love just as the protagonist discovers the reason why magic has been leaving certain parts of the world. While very obviously a parody, Carry On is fresh and original in so many other ways. And, like Proxy, is about a boy hero who happens to be gay and not the other way around.
While the movement might have begun within the YA Fiction genre of novels, the normalization of LGBT characters in other forms of media, such as television, movies, and even comic books, past that of side kicks and points of comedic relief, has yet to gain the momentum it needs to truly affect change. We want, rather we need, LGBT heroes who are greater than their sexuality. Not only for youth and the vital roles these characters will play in the development of their identities but indeed for the benefit of all, that the true strength of the LGBT community might finally shine past the darkness of the closet they have struggled to break free from and we might finally be seen as more than our sexuality.