I have been an avid reader ever since I was a little kid. However, it was not until my late teen years that I began to reflect upon the sexuality of the main characters in the stories that I adored so much.
One of the first books I came across with a LGBTQ+ character was Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. While I was reading it, something clicked and I tried to compile a mental list of all the books that I recalled having a character who belonged to this community, only to realize it was harder than I had thought. Besides, most of the books I came up with had a gay or lesbian secondary character, but there was no sign of main characters with different and diverse sexualities. It was as if the writer wanted to add representation of the community to their story but only up to a certain point, only as long as the character was in the background.
I then set out to explore why it is taboo for a main character in contemporary young adult literature to belong to the LGBTQ+ community. To make sure it wasn’t just me that thought the community was underrepresented in this field, I asked people from all over the world to answer questions regarding this topic. Almost 66% of the people interviewed read more than 15 books per year, which means that they have a broad view on current literature and enough knowledge to refer to plenty of books, authors and characters. Of the people who answered the questions, 60% identified themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and 80% of the survey respondents believed that this group was underrepresented in literature.
It was interesting to see that most of the ones polled recalled quite a few books whose secondary characters were part of the LGBTQ+ community, but it was a harder task to actually find a book with protagonists with different sexualities.
In addition, most of the characters who would be considered to belong to the community were male, specifically gay. Very few characters were in a lesbian relationship or bisexual, not to mention that there are almost no characters identified with other sexualities such as pansexual, asexual, transexual or genderqueer, just to mention a few.
This does not necessarily mean that there are no books with such characters in their stories. Some of the respondents did, in fact, give a few examples of novels with a queer or bisexual character. But in comparison to books with gay characters, – not to mention heterosexual roles- the proportion is nearly insignificant.
The question we should really be asking ourselves is why is the LGBTQ+ community really underrepresented in literature? Why do authors avoid developing a character that belongs to this community? It really depends. We, as a society, still have the belief that different sex couples are the norm, whereas a LGBTQ+ character would make the book targeted just to people that can feel identified with the character. This should really make us reconsider whether we have fully accepted the LGBTQ+ community. It feels ludacris to me that we still question whether a character with a specific gender that is not just male or female is appropriate to be the protagonist in a story.
On the other hand, it is interesting to consider the fact that fanfiction stories have many more protagonists that belong to the LGBTQ+ community, compared to books that are meant to be sell. Fan fiction is not written for profit, whereas authors that write stories for a living might think that LGBTQ+ characters will not sell as well. This is because LGBTQ+ characters are sometimes misconceived as damaging the main story and thus books that tell those stories might not sell out as faster. But is this really true? Absolutely all the respondents who answered the survey agreed they would like to read more literature with main characters belonging to this community, even those who did not identified themselves as members of this social group.
This article has a lot of reflection mainly because I wanted to raise concern about this topic, and thus urge the reader to really consider what is it that makes you buy a book or which stories do you enjoy the most. Maybe the problem here is not the lack of books with a LGBTQ+ protagonist, but rather the lack of support. Books with these characters would help normalize the community and probably create a prejudice free society. The LGBTQ+ community needs to be represented and understood and there needs to be more role models that are not just males loving females and vice versa. Would a pansexual or queer character really make that much of a difference in the story? Probably not, but I think it would definitely help society realize that there should be no barriers in love, neither sexual orientation.
Thank you to all the wonderful people that shared their perspectives and concerns about the topic with me. While we all need to work together in order to empower stories with LGBTQ+ protagonists, in the meantime, feel free to enjoy these books that the survey respondents suggested as their favourites!
- The Prince of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- A work in progress by Connor Franta
- When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson