We are honored to present a series of blog posts written by authors in the LGBTQIA community, celebrating authors who either identify within this community or write stories about those who do. Each of them will share a story about how the LGBTQIA community has changed since they were young, and how they first found their place in it.
First up, we have Robin Talley, author of THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES and the forthcoming WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND!
When we were young… YA books about queer characters were not a thing.
I mean, they did exist when I was a teenager, in very small numbers. Annie on My Mind, the classic girl/girl romance by Nancy Garden about early-80s New York City and a private school ear piercing scandal, came out when I was still in diapers. But it was considered radical, and a lot of schools and libraries banned it. The same was true for the handful of other books for kids and teens that came out in the following years starring QUILTBAG characters. And in many places, that’s still the case with books being published today.
But it was in the early 2000s that QUILTBAG YA as we now know it got its start. A handful of books came out in close proximity to each other ― Geography Club by Brent Hartinger, Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters, Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, and a few others ― and they paved the way for the landscape we’re currently facing. The awesome author Malinda Lo tracks the numbers every year, and in 2014 she calculated that mainstream publishers had put out 47 QUILTBAG books. A far cry from 15-ish years ago, when we could expect one, maybe two, possibly three, if we’d behaved really well.
One of those 47 QUILTBAG books published last year was my debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, a historical novel set in 1959 and centered around a girl/girl romance. Back when I first started writing books about queer teenagers, though, I never dreamed that my first book would come out the same year as 46 other YA books with QUILTBAG lead characters. When I first started writing, I was writing for the teen version of me, who had never come across any sort of queer character in any of the kids’ books I’d read, much less a queer girl.
Today the publishing landscape is completely different. Every YA agent out there is eager to see QUILTBAG characters. But even the 47 books published last year represent just a tiny fraction of the YA publishing industry as a whole.
And the thing is, most queer teen readers don’t know there were 47 YA books published last year with QUILTBAG leads. In fact, I’m certain that quite a lot of them think the same thing I did when I was a teenager ― that they’ll be lucky if they ever come across a character in a book they love who’s like them.
Here in the YA publishing echo chamber, we might think books about characters with diverse sexual and romantic orientations and gender identities is old news, but a lot of our readers can’t take this stuff for granted. I’m talking about the kids who tape brown paper over those suspicious-looking covers so they won’t get caught. The girls who are too scared to ask the librarian if there are any books out there about girls like them.
We can’t fall into the trap of thinking all the problems are solved, now that we’ve got marriage equality and Modern Family has a bunch of Emmys. We can’t forget those terrified kids still trying to find themselves ― or even just a fictional character who resembles them.
That’s why it’s so important to keep talking these books up to everyone we can. So when you read and enjoy a YA book with a QUILTBAG lead, talk about it. Review it. Tell your friends. Tell anyone who’s in earshot.
Because you never know who might be listening ― and who might desperately need to hear what you have to say.
Robin Talley’s next book, What We Left Behind, comes out on October 27, 2015. Her first book, Lies We Tell Ourselves (2014), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
Click the cover below to learn more about WHEN WE WERE by Alexandra Diaz, a story of friendship, first love, and all the mess that comes with it.