I make it no secret that I’m not straight. I knew since I was twelve that I liked girls in the exact way I liked boys, and thankfully it’s never been much of an issue for me. I have a supportive mother and I surround myself with friends who are accepting of other sexualities. Aside from a few childish taunts when I came out to my friend, I haven’t really had an issue being pansexual. Possibly because I’m a hermit and don’t go out much, but anyway.
When I figured out where I sat on the sexuality spectrum, I of course went looking for books that portrayed girls like me. As a white lower-middle class girl, I had plenty of choices.
As a queer girl, however… not so much. And what little choices I did have were all about the same thing: Gay people have the worst lives ever and then they die, probably because they were gay. Or if they weren’t about being tragically gay, it was all about being gay; the storylines focused solely on how the gay character dealt with being gay and nothing else.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a need for those kinds of stories. If it helps out even one kid, hey, that’s great.
But why don’t we have stories where the characters just happen to be gay in addition to, I don’t know, saving the world?
Not only that, but the books we do have focusing on “am I or aren’t I?” queer girls often falls into the pit of exhibiting biphobia. The biggest offender in this instance is Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle (now publishing as On The Count of Three). When I still identified as bisexual instead of pan, I rushed out to buy this book.
When I finished reading it, I was… hurt. At no point does anyone bring up the possibility of one of the characters being bisexual. Instead it’s chalked up as “I only really like this one girl and no others”. Yet at the time I gave it five stars on GoodReads and listed it as one of my favorite books. A queer girl parched for water in a desert? Taking whatever crumbs she can find on the floor after a feast? Use whatever metaphor you like, but at the time I ignored my hurt and insisted it was a good novel because at the time I had nothing else to cling to.
It’s tiring. It’s tiring looking through lists of QUILTBAG novels and checking off which ones are about tragic gays or all about being gay and being left with relatively few books to look at. It’s tiring being told (some times by straight authors) that, as a non-straight person, my life must be full of tragedy and oppression.
It is that way for a lot of my siblings and I wish it weren’t. But at the same time, we deserve to have stories that inspire hope in us too, don’t we? We deserve to have stories where kids just like us go on grand adventures and save the day and don’t die just because they’re gay. We don’t need fictional reminders that our lives suck; we get real life reminders of that every day.
Maybe in the next few years the publishing industry will catch up. Maybe they’ll figure out that the stories about being Tragically Gay aren’t the only stories about gay people worth telling. I hope so; there are so many stories out there waiting to be told, and they just happen to include gay people.
Put simply, I want to see myself in a book one day. I know many queer kids who want the same.