What is Good LGBT+ Representation?
Hey, I’m still questioning my sexuality a little, but I’m pretty sure I’m a lesbian. I’m still quite new to the LGBT community, and may be ignorent of or wrong about some things, but I’d like to make this post anyway, as it’s something I’m really passionate about. Please tell me below if I’m wrong about anything, I’ve been insensitive, you have another opinion or something to add.
This is part one of a three part series on LGBT rep in YA. My next post will be a list of books with queer rep and the third a few of my favorite LGBT characters. I’ll (hopefully) post one next weekend, and the third post should be up the weekend after that.
Good LGBT+ representation is necessary, especially for young adults, in order for LGBT+ people to feel valid, and for cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) people to empathize with, and understand LGBT+ people.
In the last decade, the amount of LGBT rep in YA has increased dramatically, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The majority of LGBT characters are cisgender boys, far more than LGBT girls, and much, much more than nonbinary people. Transgender characters are incredibly rare, and asexual characters are almost always portrayied as inhuman or as if something is wrong with them and they need to be cured.
Then there’s the troupe of killing off your LGBT characters, and the queer-coding of villans. This happens more often in TV and movies, but is still common in books. This may seem strange if you’ve never noticed it before, but now that I’ve pointed it out, it will probably seem obvious.
Queer-coding is most obvious in action movies and children’s movies that have clear villans and heros. For example, in Ariel, Usula’s character is literally based off a drag queen. Her gender is quite ambiguous, and she’s clearly the villain in the story. This troupe is uncomfortable common, such as Scar, from The Lion King and Hades, from Hercules. This teaches kids to associate these sterotypes with being evil.
Killing off gay characters is fine occasionally of course, but the problem arises when young LGBT teens consistantly see the only people they can relate to in that way, dying. Often, a gay character is killed to avoid having an onscreen same-sex relationship.
I found a test based on the Bechdel test, modified to rate LGBT+ rep in media.
The vito russo test:
* The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
* That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
* The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.
I like this a lot, and I made my own little chart to grade a book’s LGBT rep. It subtracts points for bad rep and adds points for intersectionality too. Below, I rated some popular books. (Do not count characters that are declared LGBT+ after publication. Do not count unnamed characters or characters mentioned less than twice.)
Of course, each book has a different number of characters, and so it’s up to you to decide whether a score of 5 is acceptable or not. (Prehaps a great score for a stand-alone novel with few characters, but poor for a lengthy series with many developed characters.)
Hopefully rating each book you read, or even just rating a couple of your favorites now, will help you to become aware of the lack of representation in YA fiction, and maybe focus on including some in your own writing.
My last post will be a list of books with good LGBT+ rep, so comment your favorites below. If you have anything to add or critique, please tell me. I’m still learning about this stuff, and I’d love to get some feedback on both this post and my thoughts on LGBT+ representation.