Once again, I want to thank everyone who's reading these posts and everyone who's commented and linked and tweeted. When I decided to do these posts I knew I was going to have to be as open as possible and, for an introvert like me, that's a scary prospect. But you all have been fantastic. So, thank you.
In parts one and two I spent some time talking about my personal journey and how having good LGBT literature could have really helped me come to a better understanding of what being gay meant. How it might have helped me stay sane and not feel lonely.
In this last part I want to talk about some authors I admire, how they're including LGBT characters into their work, how I plan to contribute, and what you might be able to do.
As you've now guessed, having LGBT characters in books is über important. Kids and teens who are questioning their sexuality should be able to see themselves and their questions reflected in the characters they're bonding with through the pages of the books they love. It's just like how different races, and geeks, and jocks, and every type of person under the sky should be represented. The problem I have with a lot of LGBT literature of old is that it focuses on the pain. I know that it's useful and important to show that pain and show that there's an other side to that pain, but the following authors are some who have moved beyond that portrayal onto something new.
David Levithan - The author of Boy Meets Boy and co-author of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Levithan blew me away with his unabashed optimism. I was first introduced to his work through N&N. I was shocked to see this straight boy playing in a queer band. I remember thinking that it was going to be way over the top and full of cheese. But instead, he took all these characters--gay and straight and everything in between--and he put them in a blender and mixed them up until they were indistinguishable from one another. Boy Meets Boy was even better. Levithan's enthusiasm and optimism are downright inspiring.
Malinda Lo - Through The Tenners, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Lo prior to the publication of ASH. Not only is she kind, but she's got a genuine talent for writing YA that I think LGBT teens are going to latch onto. What I like about ASH is that it's NOT a lesbian retelling of a fairy tale. I've read books like that and they always feel forced. Lo's characters and their motivations are so natural, that I BELIEVE it when Ash falls in love with Kaisa. ASH isn't a book about being gay, and it's not a gay book, it's a beautiful fantasy that happens to have gay characters.
Emily Horner - A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend is a book you haven't read yet, but you're going to want to. Seriously. Horner weaves LGBT characters throughout her book so seamlessly. There's no drama. They're just there. And they're awesome. I wish I could talk more about it, but I don't want to spoil anything.
More and more, authors are including LGBT characters in their books...and despite the popularity of the hilarious YouTube videos, they're not always playing the Sassy Gay Friend. Just as in life, LGBT teens are football players and cheerleaders and drama geeks and debate geeks and that quiet kid who rarely speaks and that one kid in the back who never shuts up.
When I started trying to write seriously at the end of high school and in college, I spent a lot of time writing coming out stories with tragic endings. Then I moved onto triumphant love stories where being gay was the central theme. When I returned to writing and tried to do it seriously, I made the conscious decision not to write any "gay" stories. Like I've said, there still exists a need for stories about being gay, but I decided that I wanted to present worlds where LGBT characters just exist. Sure, sometimes they come out, but it's no big deal. There are gay characters and lesbian characters and straight characters and heteroflexible characters. The theme is that their sexuality is not the central issue.
That's what I want to contribute because that's what I needed to see when I was a teen. I needed to see LGBT characters for whom their LGBT status wasn't a big deal and wasn't the focus. Sure, there are times when being gay will be important to the story, but most of the time, it won't. I want to present stories where readers can look at any character and think: he could be gay.
My favorite example of this is Dumbledore. I know that a lot of people were up in arms about it, but I thought it was brilliant. There were clues but it never came up because it wasn't important. Rowling gave us all a gay hero of epic proportions and we didn't even know it!
I think there will be a time when this won't be an issue. I wish I could say it would happen in my lifetime, but when I look at how whitewashed books still are, I know that including LGBT characters in books is going to be important for a long time.
And we all have a part to play. Readers can demand more books with LGBT characters. Writers can include them in their books. And it doesn't have to be some huge declarative thing. But that wouldn't be so bad either. I'd also like to see more books with LGBT protagonists where the story is about anything other than them being gay. Would Harry Potter have been any less awesome if Harry had hooked up with one of Ron's brothers instead of Ron's sister? Just like with color and race, the more representative characters are of the types of people that there are in the real world, the better they're going to be.
The most important thing we can all do is be supportive. If you know LGBT teens who are struggling, direct them to great books and other resources. If you're a writer, write more diverse books. If you're an editor or an agent, don't shy away from books with LGBT characters. Buy them and promote the heck out of them. There's a market for them.
I know that there are social issues and that there's a whole political war being waged over LGBT rights. And I support the fighters. But what I care about is that gay teens are still four times more likely to attempt suicide than normal teens. FOUR! They're still facing discrimination at school (a town recently cancelled a senior prom because two girls wanted to attend together), discrimination at home, discrimination in their churches. Being a gay teen is better than it used to be but it's still hard. We can't go door to door rescuing every LGBT teen in a bad situation but we can provide them with an escape. We can show them that their situation isn't typical. That their worst fears about being gay aren't true. We can give them hope and a reason to live.
Does that sound cheesy and melodramatic? Probably. But twelve years ago to this day I tried to kill myself, and one good, honest book could have made all the difference. And one book could probably make the difference to loads of other teens too. We just need to get them out there.
One last thing: I'd love to start compiling a list of LGBT books for teens (and MG if there are any). So please, in the comments, leave me a list of some of your favorites. They can be any genre, new, old, whatever. And if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them in the comments. Thanks, y'all!