So I’ve been mulling over this article for a while. If you haven’t seen it, it’s called The Top Ten LGBT Characters in Young Adult Literature, written by Madison Gallup in Entertainment Monthly, for Emerson College. It was published on October 20th, and has been popping up in a couple of places that I’m familiar with, but not on the big listservs or discussions. I was in a bad place and offline when it came out so I don’t know if it hit Twitter or not.
However, it hit a sore spot with me that I’ve been mulling over since I’ve seen it.
The TOP TEN LGBT Characters in YA Literature?
Jenna over at Stories with Ms. Jenna has created her favorite list of 10 characters of GLBTQ characters in YA lit, which is definitely what Madison’s list should have been. And Jenna has a good list.
But let’s take a deeper look at Madison’s, shall we?
Now, I love Dumbledore, but he was never gay in the books- never mentioned that he was gay, no readers even thought about the fact that he was gay, it really never crossed anyone’s MIND that he was gay. It wasn’t until Rowling herself stated that he had a relationship with a fellow wizard that was romantic that got everyone re-reading passages and going into details in their heads.
And if you ask the publisher, they put the whole series squarely not in YA but juvenile fiction- and JF is the age range where parents ask for it, right along with Percy Jackson.
Ask someone who has no experience in the comic or movie realm, and lives only for YA books, and they will have no clue who Wallace is. Actually, if you asked any teen who Wallace was before the movie came out in 2010, and I doubt you would have gotten a correct answer either. Wallace Wells is the gay roommate of Scott Pilgrim, the one who gives sage wisdom to Scott in his quest to win Ramona and defeat the 7 evil exes. Dry humor in spades, yes, but stereotypes galore as well: so much stereotyping, in fact, that we don’t need that in 2010 for a BEST list. Seriously, if it’s a stereotypical character, and a secondhand one at that, is that a BEST character?
I like Petra on the list, and I love Libba Bray’s story about the idiocy of beauty pageants and beautification of women and what we’re expected to be. What upsets me is that Madison says that Petra is the only transgender member to be on this list- the list SHE created- “really speaks to the lack of representation that this group has in literature.” Yes, transgender needs to be more represented in YA; I’m not disagreeing with that. But has Madison read I am J? Luna? Beautiful Music for Ugly Children? The Wandering Son series? Freakboy? Even Two Boys Kissing (further down on her list) has a transgender character.
In discussion of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Madison states that:
Characters like Post are important to represent the oppressed part of the LGBT community who must try to remain strong despite the bad living situations they find themselves in.
Um, what part of the LGBT community isn’t oppressed? Does she not know about the reports of teen suicide being highest among this community, along with bullying? Do a search, you’ll find many more books on homelessness and being sent to straight camp that are the same or worse that what Cameron goes through.
I have a soft spot for Tony in Boy Meets Boy. I know lots of teens who live like he does, and I’ve helped teens who lived like he does make it through to college, and they’ve found me afterwards and said how they survived because of what I and others have done for them. I’m not sure it’s just Tony or the book as a whole, but I don’t take issue with Tony.
Avery is highly controversial as a character in the bisexual community due to the fact that she’s questioning and continues questioning throughout. I happen to think that’s important, but I’ve heard from both sides and both sides are convincing. I’ve also heard from Maureen Johnson, and I tend to take her side the most- she’s the one who created Avery. I do think that the different viewpoints is what makes The Bermudez Triangle such a good book; however, as people have said both to my face and online, I am an ally, not someone with skin in the game.
I adore Tiny, and he’s one of those supporting characters about whom I think the book is really written, like I think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is actually about Cameron, not Ferris. Tiny is the one you love, and the one who grows. So to have him on the list is fine- what is irresponsible writing is the fact that Tiny isn’t David Levithan’s creation, he is John Green’s.
I didn’t read Perks of Being a Wallflower until right before the movie came out, and that a serious mistake, because then I was furious at the movie for leaving out the tension and the biggest parts. While Patrick certainly serves “as a prime example of his struggles to shut out pain and wait for things to ‘get better,’ [as] a popular and prominent member of the LGBT YA community,” there are others who deal with that heartbreak so poignantly that their story is the MAIN story and (once more) not a side story to someone else’s feelings and abuse. Again, it’s 2014- GLBTQ YA novels have been around for 45 years, and there’s not another one in that time span that we could find that fits as an example of hiding a relationship and shutting out the pain of waiting than a side character? Why not the characters from Annie on My Mind, for example?
HARRY AND CRAIG
The most important part that Madison pulls out of Two Boys Kissing is Harry and Craig standing up for GLBTQ rights. Let me say that again. The most IMPORTANT PART that Madison pulled out of Two Boys Kissing is HARRY AND CRAIG’S KISS. Not the fact that one of them isn’t out. Not the fact that a transgender character goes on a date and then comes out. Not the fact that there’s the CHORUS of MEN who died of AIDS who are overlooking these current teens and telling their tale.
The purpose of Two Boys Kissing is that Harry and Craig are kissing for GLBTQ rights. And that is what makes them totes awesome and on the list together.
Ahhh, A. A complex character from Every Day. Madison writes that:
While A does not fall precisely within the boundaries of the LGBT community, this does not diminish how important it is that a character like A exists in YA literature. Many people struggle to pigeonhole who they are and how they feel, and A serves to represent this uncertainty. Not everyone will fit into a category perfectly, and that is important to show.
Let’s see here. A has relationships (physical) with males and females. In the story we (the readers) know he has had sex with males and females, because he has inhabited others’ bodies during the day. We know that A‘s current mental preference is female, and another previous preference was female. So A would be bisexual, readers. Definitely fits within the LGBT community. And the LGBT community is a bit bigger than Madison believes. Try QUILTBAG.
And did you notice that the oldest book that Madison references is Harry Potter? Not once was there anything published earlier than that. Not Annie on My Mind, Ash, Weetzie Bat. Nothing by Nancy Garden, Julie Ann Peters, Tess Sharpe, Steve Kluger, EM Forster, or Brent Hartinger.
Thank you, Madison, for improving the visibility of recent LGBT literature. Next time, please, you can do better!
So do you agree with Madison’s list? Who would be your top ten favorite QUILTBAG YA characters? Share in the comments.
2 thoughts on “When The Best List Is Wrong”
This is a wonderful analysis, and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for this. I landed on the top ten list because it appeared on my Facebook feed among LGBT authors, and then watched the writer defend a list called “The Top Ten LGBT Characters in YA Literature” as though it should be perfectly obvious to the audience that it was not to be critiqued as somehow making a claim of being comprehensive. Have we entered the Twilight Zone? There are plenty of top ten lists out there, which give the impression that the compiler at least took a wider survey, asked around, is well-read, or made some objective measure of inclusion – otherwise, you would never publish a list under a general and comprehensive title, and then defend the selections on the basis of visibility – unless you were writing on a personal blog. There are four titles out of ten by Levithan, bizarre. Leaving aside any class/racial implications of these selections, it felt like such a silencing of so many well-known and important LGBT characters even from relatively recent times. Let alone, as you mention, the work that’s been influential for decades in this vein. And there’s a pretty interesting discussion happening about whether Dumbledore constitutes gay representation.
It just got me so upset that the writer seemingly didn’t go back any further than her lifetime and her personal preferences (I’m gathering that the number after her name is her graduating year, so I calculated her age). That’s not journalism, that’s an opinion piece, and should have been titled as such. Even within her timeframe of literature being references (Harry Potter to present) there’s been so many great books to represent the characters and really stereotypes that she’s picked for the GLBTQ/ QUILTBAG community that it’s really just sad.