Discussion: Gay Characters in Young Adult Fiction


Before I Begin...
In my eyes, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. If everyone agreed with each other, the world would be a boring place. But I think that everyone needs to present themselves in a respectful manner. I will never approach others, especially ones that disagree with me on a highly debated topic, and shove my thoughts down their throat. And if I were to voice any of my opinions, I would do it in a respectful way and then leave. I don't cause drama. And I'm asking everyone else to act the same way in regards to this post. Agree or disagree, this is going to be a place where we respect each other. Clearly, this post is going to be in favor of gay rights but it will attack the negative and annoying portrayals of homosexuals in young adult literature. If this will at all bother you, I prefer you turn away now.

Now, for the post...



Lately, I've read a lot of young adult books with gay characters. And that makes me both really happy and really annoyed. See, I wholeheartedly support gay rights and the fight to recognize the union of a same sex couple as a normal marriage. I have many gay friends, some that are out and some that aren't. And while I understand that there are people in the world that are homophobic, I'm the complete opposite.


I've realized that I've become incredibly annoyed with gay characters in young adult fiction and new adult fiction these days because they're stereotyped too much. It bugs the shit out of me. I'm all for allowing homosexual males and females appear in my reading material, but I don't want them to be treated any differently because of their sexual orientation. But, of course, how can we have a gay character in young adult literature that's just normal? Impossible!

The biggest issues I find...

1. The constant reiteration that the character is gay.

Honestly, when someone tells me they're gay, this is my reaction... 


I had a neighbor come out to me on instant message (this was before I made my views on gay rights super open) because she was scared to tell me to my face in case I didn't accept her, despite the fact that I figured out she was gay two years prior because I saw the way she looked at girls and seemed so much more relaxed than when she looked at guys. I called her up, told her she
was an idiot for thinking I'd even care, and invited her over to watch a movie. I really just don't care. Your sexual orientation is simply part of who you are and if someone tries to change that or doesn't accept you for it, screw them. It shouldn't matter to them at all.

So it annoys the absolute shit out of me when I feel as if the fact that a character is gay seems to be so monumental in the author's eyes. Way to go! Do you want an award for "taking a risk?!" No, just stop. It shouldn't matter that they're gay. Point it out, allow us to infer it for ourselves, whatever you choose, than be done with it.

I actually ranted about this in my 2.5 star review of Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan. Because the gay character in this novel was so important to the plot, he could have been used as an anti-homophobic twist. And while he was, I suppose, my issue was that it felt like every freaking chapter I had to be reminded that he was gay. Like it was such a big deal that there's a gay character in front of me. Even the character pointed out that he was gay constantly. One particular instance I remember him saying how he's not witchy despite his homosexuality because that equals Dumbledore. I get it, some people think this is funny. But it was like over and over and over: gay! gay! gay!

Gay individuals are regular people that happen to have a sexual orientation that differs from the majority of the world. That does not mean you need to point them out as if they're a rarity every single chance you get. If you're going for a gay character to make a point, than don't treat them any different from any of your other characters. Treating them differently is almost like having homophobic tendencies because they shouldn't be treated differently since they're no different then the average person. I'm straight, do I point myself out every chance I get and go: straight! straight! straight! No, I don't. So why is this specific sexual orientation the defining characteristic of some individuals when it is totally unnecessary.

And absolutely no fucks were given. See what I mean?
2. Stereotyping via Clothing

One of my biggest pet peeves is stereotyping people because of how they dress. Ever hear to not judge a book by the cover? Because that's exactly what you're doing if you're going to judge someone based on how they dress.


I've read several books where the characters are known to be gay because of how they dress. Most recently, Hopeless by Colleen Hoover. This isn't to say that my issue with stereotyping in this book was as prominent as it was in my first example because it's not, but it was enough to get under my skin. See, the gay character in this one dresses really brightly and our main character was able to deduce from that, almost immediately, that he was gay. Sure, he is gay, but what if he isn't?

I have a gay friend that dresses really brightly who happens to be gay.

I have a straight friend who dresses really brightly that is often mistaken for being gay.

I have a gay friend that dresses like your average high school student that is never considered gay, even though he is.

What is the issue with judging people by what they wear? It's a way to express oneself and it's not a beacon screaming "HOMOSEXUAL!" So to simply give a gay character this unfortunate stereotype is annoying. While some gay people do act this way, it's a stereotype for a reason, and that reason is because not everyone does. It does not define the entire populace of homosexuals in the world. The only thing that they have in common is their sexuality. Everything else and the type of people they are into differ.

3. Stereotyping via Attitude and Femininity

I don't want this post to be repetitive, but you can get the vibe of what I want to say here from #2. Attitudes and certain levels of femininity in men or masculinity in women do not mean that they are gay. Again, the idea to never judge a book by their cover rolls around. And the usage of stereotypes just continues to add negative conotations to the community.

Dante in Illuminate was extremely feminine and flamboyant. He was girly since our main character, Haven, wasn't. She hated shopping, he loved it. She was shy, he was beyond outgoing. She was quiet, he was so overly loud and feminine and exagerated in his speech and movements I couldn't even handle it sometimes. And the repeated mention of his flaming belt buckle or whatever it was with his name on it constantly had me rolling my eyes.

I also constantly roll my eyes when I see gay guys in books that come to the rescue with hidden badass make-up skills. It happened in ILLUMINATE and it happened in Suddenly Royal most recently. Just, like, stop. Stop feeding stereotypes. I don't even know what else to say.

Just to say it one more time: NOT EVERYONE IS LIKE THIS. WHY ADD FUEL TO THE FIRE?

But for every bad character, there is a ton of good...

I haven't read many young adult books with gay characters that made me happy. You know, normal ones. But I know of others that I plan on picking up soon. However, the ones below deserve major props in my books. These are gay characters done right.

This shit is realz, yo.

1. The Happily Married Couple That ISN'T the Least Bit Psychotic

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins completely blew me away. I did not love it as much as its prequel, but I absolutely adored it. And a huge selling point for me was Lola's gay parents and the way that Perkins handled their interactions and role in Lola's life. 

Want to know what made this so amazing? Not only did it have a set of gay parents that were truly in love raising a daughter that is pretty normal if not slightly eccentric, but they're normal. Nathan and Andy are slightly feminine, but overall unique and masculine at the same time. They're happy. They're not fighting with each other or anyone else. They're not pulling the "it's me against the world card." They take what life throws at them and jump the hurdles together. They're not the least bit psychotic or melodramatic the way most gay characters in relationships are portrayed these days. They're simply normal. They're two men in a relationship that is rather reminiscent of the usual heterosexual marriage. And I loved every minute of it.


2. The Young Teen Struggling to Understand his Sexuality

This blurb is going to have a slight spoiler alert for fans who haven't read Breathless by Brigid
Kemmerer, Nick's novella in her wonderful Elemental series. If you don't want to be spoiled about a huge plot point in his upcoming book, SECRET, skip this part of the post.                    

Anyway, I loved this novella. And I loved this novella because it gave me a new way to look at Nick. I got inside his mind only to realize he's been enduring this major struggle because of his questionable sexuality. He's scared to explore what his feelings toward men mean, he's scared how his entirely male-dominated house would view him if he came out, he's scared how the town would view him. He's simply scared of all these new reactions and sensations inside him. And as terrifying as it all is, it simply seems right so he has to struggle to explore such things on his own terms.                                                                                  

Gay individuals endure such struggles every day and I can't wait for the day that book four comes out so that I can read Nick's full story. I want him to get the happy ending he deserves.

3. The Family that Overcomes their Initial Hatred in Favor of Learning to Accept Everyone for who they are

I almost put this book down because Ryan's family disowned his older brother because he came out as being gay. But I kept reading because I know and love and adore Katie McGarry and I know she would never approve of such a thing. And, as I hoped, she found a way to work a terrible situation into a learning experience--the way a lot of families do. And while some homophobic families do not reconnect with their homosexual loved ones, some learn to accept new ways of living because family and love overpowers all. I think that this is a really positive way to show that love can still come out of prejudice and it takes serious stubborness to break apart a family. This story shows a beautiful evolution in Ryan as a side-plot, and I commend McGarry so much for that. I love this book so much for a reason, people. You can see my review here.



~*~*~*~

Those are only three of the many examples of an amazing young adult novel depicting a gay character, in my opinion. And I think we need more novels like these. Hell, I think we need more gay young adult characters in general, but only if they're done right. I want the feeding into stereotypes to stop and I want reality to kick in. Yes, I understand that there are extremely feminine homosexuals out there, but that doesn't mean they all act that way. Don't encourage the stereotypes and instead take a risk with reality--you'll be surprised how much that it can pay off.

It seems that homosexual best friends seem to be an oncoming trend in young adult literature these days and I don't want it to continue growing if all it's going to do is continue to stereotype the homosexual community. I'm at the point where all I want to do is put out a call for helping screaming: WHERE IS THE REALITY?!

Stories That I Would Love to See Written Evolving Around the Gay Community
  1. An LGBTQ story surrounding all different members of the community, including bi-sexual and transgendered individuals
  2. Gay characters in genres other than contemporary
  3. One with lesbian main characters since they're often looked over in favor of two gay males
  4. A gay character who is an athlete 
  5. A male gay character that's normal, not overly feminine or bright
  6. A gay character whose family accepts them instead of putting them down
  7. More stories of a struggle to come out (simply because it's never easy)
  8. Someone who realizes they're gay and accepts it instead of acting like they're bound to go to Hell
  9. A gay character that is the complete opposite of all stereotypes (i.e: one that acts "so straight" you can't tell they're gay simply by looking at them--you shouldn't be able to tell someone's sexual orientation by first glance, you have to get to know them)
  10. A story depicting the struggles of committed gay couples: limited marriage, limited adoption rights
  11. A story depicting the struggles of teenage gays: living among homophobes and learning how to be strong and overcome it
  12. How the general acceptance of homosexuality can change a person in college and beyond
  13. Successful gay individuals in the corporate world
  14. Families that learn how to overcome the initial negativity they feel towards the gay community to keep their family together
  15. Stories with freedom and equality
  16. And so many more...
Stories That I Don't Think Should Be Written Evolving Around the Gay Community
  1. Stories where the gay character is stereotypical and not the least bit unique
  2. Stories where the family just hates them for no reason - I understand this is the unfortunate reality for some people, but if you're going to write a book like this you have to do it right;make it emotional, real, raw, and powerful, not fake
  3. Stories where the gay character is beat up on constantly with no support
  4. Stories where homosexual characters are pointed out repeatedly for being gay instead of just moving on and accepting t
  5. Stories that glorify bullying or anti-gay sentiments to the point of potential suicide
As stupid as this may be, reading material can sway certain impressionable people. It's important not to put negative thoughts of any kind into ones mind, be it violent thoughts or something as simple as a stereotype that can lead to name-calling. When presented in a positive manner, people can learn a lot more than hatred and prejudice. And this is why stereotypical gay characters bug the crap out of me, despite my great love and support of the LGBTQ community in real life.

~*~*~*~

What is everyone's thoughts on gay stereotypes in young adult literature?
Can you think of any that I missed?
Do you know of any books that paint gay characters in a really positive manner?
What other types of stories would you like to see evolving around the gay community?
General thoughts on this post?

I'd love to hear opinions about anything, really. 

18 comments:

  1. I'm glad you liked Breathless. I thought it was very well done also.

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    1. Yes, it makes me excited for SECRET!

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  2. Great post!

    I'd love to see more characters who happen to be gay, rather than GAY characters, where sexuality is their only characteristic. For example: we meet main character and friend Bob, plot progresses, and then oh, by the way, Bob makes an offhand mention of his boyfriend. Some readers would probably have a problem with this (but Bob doesn't act in a stereotypical manner, so they see it as coming out of nowhere!) but I think it's a great way to challenge the assumption that everyone is straight.

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    1. Thank you!

      Sexuality is not a defining characteristic, it should simply be there as an after thought. It's not the plot, it's simply a point in the background THAT SHOULD NOT ADHERE TO STEREOTYPES. I completely agree.

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  3. Love the discussion. This is a tricky topic, I think. Stereotypes are pretty hard to break. I agree with most everything you said, and I'm super surprised by some of your examples. LIKE NICK?!?!?!? I must read that novella now! I'm hesitating to read Spirit bc I'm not a Hunter fan, but Breathless sounds awesome!! Also...I agree with Lola's parents. They were really, really well done. I was impressed with that whole book.

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    1. YOU MUST READ THE NOVELLA NOW! IT IS SO WORTH IT, BECCA! I wasn't a huge Hunter fan either but a lot of important stuff goes down in his book, so I recommend reading it if you have the chance. Kemmerer can never disappoint, and you begin to understand why he is the way he is.

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  4. You make so many awesome points in this post! I think that gay characters should be represented in a better light. You are so right that so many of them are used as a plot device instead of a character. It's like the author wants you to know that the character is gay every single chance they get. I'd rather read about a person, who just happens to be gay. Not a gay person who has no point in being in the story other than to be "the gay one". I'd also like to see more androgynous characters in YA lit! Give me Bowies and Burtons!

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    1. Haha Bowies and Burtons! Yes! <3 I don't think that your sexual orientation should be a defining characteristic. As a straight individual, my sexual orientation doesn't define me. My love of reading does, not the gender I prefer to date. What makes gay people any different?

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  5. Love this post! I received an ARC for Just Between Us which was in my opinion an amazingly well done piece of LGBT lit.It showed the two ways of dealing with your child being gay. One family was amazingly supportive and in the other family,the father was a homophobe. I also just started reading The Road to Her which features two lesbians who eventually fall for each other.

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    1. I'll have to look both of those up, haven't heard of either of them before. There's a book called ASH by Malinda Lo which is an LGBT type of Cinderella re-telling I believe. You may enjoy that one. (:

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  6. Have you read Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg? The principle of the story is that the main character, Rafe, gets sick of everyone in his town thinking of him as the gay guy. He doesn't like receiving special treatment because he's gay or being thought of only as being gay and not for his other attributes. He chooses to spend a year at a boy's boarding school and not mention to anyone in that year that he is gay so that everyone will see him for who he is.
    Also, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz....
    But I completely agree with you. The stereotype thing drives me nuts. I have three really close gay guy friends. One of them is girly, one is bizarre, and one is (gasp!) completely normal. Books should reflect that.

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  7. Stina,

    I'm adding both of those books to my tbr on goodreads now! I really want to check out OPENLY STRAIGHT after your description.

    Yup, stereotypes just need to go. They do nothing but hurt others. blah

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  8. Oh my goodness, you made a rainbow with your list of wants. THAT IS AWESOME.

    Okay, I don't feel like I have a lot to say, but I approve of all of this. In Invisibility, the gay guy was pretty much the only good character, but I agree with you wholeheartedly that I'm sick of all the gay characters being flamboyantly gay. That is not real life. I mean, my best friend is a lesbian and you really wouldn't know that by how she dresses. Even she refers to "lesbian pants" but she doesn't happen to wear them. Doesn't mean she's any less likely to check out boobs. lol.

    I'm not opposed to flamboyantly gay characters, but they need to be developed beyond that, and there should be flamboyant guys who are straight to, because I've known several seriously straight guys who I thought might be gay because of their clothing and the way they talked. It really doesn't mean anything for sure.

    Better Nate Than Ever is great, because it's about this really flamboyant boy who loves musical theater and gets called gay all the time, and he doesn't know if he is. He's like "I'm thirteen and I'm not thinking about that yet, okay?"

    I feel the same way about diversity in YA. Most of the time, it's just one person (probably the MC) and it's like OMG THIS PERSON IS NOT WHITE CAN YOU HANDLE ITTTTTT? And they have to tell you constantly about how they're not white. In the end, portrayals like that or the one in Invisibility aren't really any more accepting than just leaving gay or diverse characters out altogether. Making a huge deal out of it like it's weird when it's SUPER NOT HAVE YOU SEEN THE WORLD AT ALL isn't helping anything and it's not realistic.

    Maybe I did have things to say.

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    1. Oh, also, Marco Impossible is another one I wanted to mention. Marco's very flamboyantly gay, but he's also the top athlete in the school. That's the sort of depth I like to see. A boy can like fashion and other boys and also be athletic.

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  9. AWESOME post!!
    I didn't know about Nick, but now I'll definitely have to read his story.

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  10. Yes! I DNF'd Invisibility. I felt the same way you did about the characters and the writing. I have read several of David Levithan's books, and when he's on, he's on. I really love a lot of his early stuff, but recently, everything I've read of his feels like it is hitting the reader over the head with his politics and moral viewpoints on issues like homosexuality. I'm like I get it, you're gay, but you don't have to try so hard. That's just as bad as books that spell out their prejudices.

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  11. Oh, I love this post! All the stereotypes that go around are extremely annoying and sometimes downright offensive and hurtful.

    And for a recommendation...

    Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan has a character who is lesbian, and in no way stereotyped and has a group of supportive friends. You don't find out about her sexuality until near the end, though... Also, the book is a Gothic paranormal mystery novel, not contemporary :)

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  12. What a wonderful post! I agree with so many things you said.

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