By Mark Oshiro
Pride season is upon us, and I have never been more proud to be a part of children’s publishing as a queer person. Whether you’re celebrating your own identity or supporting those you love, it’s important for us to reflect on why Pride is such a vital time for LGBT and Queer youth and how we can best reach LGBTQ readers.
Pride celebrations around the world have evolved since Christopher Street Liberation Day, which most people in our community consider to be the “first” Pride celebration. It’s important to remember that Pride was born out of necessity; LGBTQ people have been and continue to be targeted because of who we are, both on a personal level and a systemic level. Until true equity and liberation is achieved, Pride holds a meaningful place for many people in our community! We get to be out, loud, and proud during this time of year, and that kind of affirmation often fuels us for months to come, long after the season is over.
Why LGBTQ Children’s Literature?
Growing up, I had virtually no positive role models who were out. I still remember when Ellen came out; I felt seen and validated by Rickie Vasquez from My So-Called Life. But I didn’t have the sort of queer and LGBT-themed literature that is now available to readers today. Anything I found as a closeted teenager was usually: a) geared towards adults and pretty much inappropriate to me OR b) featured gay or queer characters who died, were villains, or only existed as a witty sidekick without their own stories. It wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered books geared at teens that contained meaningful depictions of LGBTQ characters. It made for a lonely experience in the library. I read voraciously, but I often had to force myself to identify with stories that were not my own.
We know that books have the power to change lives, and it’s important that children’s literature reflect the world around us. I think of books as exercises in empathy, as a chance to view the world through someone else’s eyes. The books that meant the most to me as a teenager weren’t just those that reflected my own experiences; they were also those that allowed me to expand my understanding of what it meant to be human.
What does LGBTQ YA look like today?
I set out to write an openly queer YA novel nearly six years ago, but at that time, I still worried about getting published. I had come to love the work of Malinda Lo, of David Levithan, of Benjamin Alire Sáenz; I had read Annie On My Mind perhaps a hundred times; the same fate awaited Ruby by Rosa Guy, which I was lucky to be handed after escaping to college after being outed. So, I knew young adult literature could have openly gay or queer characters within it. But I had also heard and seen so many horror stories. Would it be too much to write multiple queer characters in the same book?
It might seem presumptuous to say so, but there are days where I feel like we are in the midst of an LGBTQ renaissance within children’s literature. In 2018 alone, I’ve devoured so many books in which characters across the broad spectrum of our community were center stage. I started 2018 with the powerful and hopeful Let’s Talk About Love (Claire Kann), the first novel I had ever read with a main character who is biromantic asexual. I wept over Kheryn Callendar’s Hurricane Child, and I recommended They Both Die At The End (Adam Silvera) to every person who would listen to my shrieking. (Surprisingly, a large number of people.) I’ve recently finished books by Caleb Roehrig (Last Seen Leaving & White Rabbit), who writes incredibly gay murder mysteries, and Amy Spalding, whose The Summer of Jordi Perez (And The Best Burger In Los Angeles) is the exact sort of romantic book I desperately needed when I was living in Los Angeles myself.
Of course, it certainly helps that we’re living in the age where Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda became the cinematic sensation that was Love, Simon. And while Becky Albertalli’s moving and touching writing is part of the reason for its success, it’s also clear that readers want more stories with LGBTQ characters. There is a whole generation of kids that are learning to come out, to wrestle with their identities, to discover the right word for what they feel. We should be there for them. We should be able to provide stories that help them explore a confusing but ultimately rewarding part of their lives. This Pride month is the perfect time to reflect on this!
Mark Oshiro is the Hugo finalist (in the Fan Writer category) creator of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015 with Foz Meadows. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. His first novel, Anger is a Gift, is a YA contemporary about queer friendship, love, and fighting police brutality. It will be released on 5/22/2018 with Tor Teen. When he is not writing, crying on camera about fictional characters, or ruining lives at conventions, he is busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal: to pet every dog in the world.