My life might be completely changed if Hermione Granger had fallen for Cho Chang.
I might have been out of the closet before 19 if Bella Swan had dumped Edward and Jacob, and gone Team Alice instead.
If Katniss had formed a crush on Cressida instead of marrying Peeta, or flirting with Gale, I might have been able to put a label on my sexuality before graduating high school.
Don’t mistake me. These stories have a near and dear place in my heart, contrary to these prior statements, I in fact do not ship these women with anyone other than the characters their authors wrote them to be with.
Hermione and Ron are darling. Katniss and Peeta are life. Bella and Edward… I mean, I could have done without Twilight, to be perfectly honest, but that is not the point.
All of these books, and their respective film franchises, were integral parts of my coming-of-age. These female characters were my role models as a child; the standard of what I considered a heroine to be.
And none of them were LGBT.
I have no qualms with the authors of these series. But there is a problem in YA literature and film culture that needs to be addressed.
To many of our YA heroines are white and straight. Meanwhile, the biggest percentage of YA readers are female people of color.
I’m not mad at Suzanne Collins for not making Katniss Everdeen asexual. I don’t actually want Bella Swan to be gay for Alice Cullen. Hermione and Ron are super cute together, to be perfectly frank. But as an avid reader, from my childhood well into my adult life, the presence of LGBT characters in the mainstream books that passed through my hands were incredibly lacking. As a young girl, I knew that people were gay, but I did not know what that meant. Bisexuality is a real thing, and as a child, I never even knew about it. I had crushes on guys, but wrote lesbian fanfic in RPG forums. I still called myself straight. I thought I had to be one or the other.
The importance of the YA genre is still largely discounted by the general public, but I can say confidently, as a writer, that the stories consumed by young people as they are coming of age have a massive impact on their growth and development. YA fiction provides a sort of escape for budding young minds, but it also provides a glimpse into the process of growing up. As a teenager, reading teen fiction, we take comfort in the cathartic stories of characters our age going through struggle and conflict, and coming out on top a stronger, more mature person. We are inspired to overcome our fears, face our biggest challenges; whether they be real dragons, or metaphorical ones.
But the only struggles I have ever seen LGBT characters overcome in their YA novels is coming out to their friends and family.
There is nothing wrong with this. In certain environments, the process of coming out is laborious, stressful, and often even incredibly perilous to young people. It’s a dialogue that needs to be continued. But as a member of the LGBT community, if you asked me to describe myself, I would have exhausted my brain of useful adjectives before I thought to use the word “bisexual”.
There is more to being LGBT than simply identifying with your sexuality. I want to go to Hogwarts. I want to lead a revolution.
Why aren’t there more people like me in YA?