Tell your stories, but know your history

RBF-picSometimes I am old. Often, I am cranky.  I’ve been out for a long time, and have had the privilege of living in New York, and during my university years having worked at the now defunct Lambda Rising in Washington DC.  I was born in 1972 and I have known gay and trans people my entire life. As a queer person, that’s been helpful to me.

On the Internet I see a lot of, “there are no stories about….” posts.  These are legitimate. There are not enough stories about lots of things.  The stories that do exist, you may not have encountered or may find inqdequate. And, the existence of said stories should absolutely not stop us from making more stories.

In the random sphere of stuff I dig and that’s personally important to me Ellen Kushner’s Riverside books feature a ton of bisexual characters of multiple genders in leading roles; the first one came out in 1987. Lambda Literary, founded by the owner of Lambda Rising, has been covering queer lit since 1987. The bisexual books tumblr busts its ass talking about bi-representation in books and screen-based media. Clive Barker’s Imajica features a third-gendered character of color and a bisexual protagonist; that came out in 1991. Malinda Lo is doing amazing stuff with lesbian-focused YA.

Which brings us to this. Believe it or not, despite the climate in some parts of America and the world, LGBTQ+ YA is also not new. Because I went and researched to write this instead of just posting about stuff I love, I can tell you that I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip, is considered to be the first gay YA novel and was published in 1969.  The first lesbian one is usually credited as Rubyfruit Jungle which came out in 1973. Goodreads, meanwhile, has a list of 141 trans YA books, that I am sure is not remotely comprehensive.

Are there not as many books and films and TV shows with queer protagonists as there could be?  Yes. Is it harder to find books with protagonists who are not just L or G, but also B or T or Q or Ace or Intersex?  Yup.  Are too many of these books just about the white queer experience?  Absolutely.  And are certain tropes (tragedies, villains, and coming out) over-represented in the eyes of some readers?  Sure. But, true confession, I love me some queer villains.  I want it to be okay for my people to good, but I want it to be okay for us to be evil too.

Our history and our stories exist, whether you have heard them or not, whether they are represented enough or not.  They exist whether they are the right stories for you or not.  They exist whether they speak to the current LGBTQ+ experience (which is not a monolith) or not. They exist whether or not you think they are responsible.

And when you say they don’t, when you say you are inventing a canon instead of amplifying and adding to and diversifying a canon, you are not just ignoring the history that has helped to build movements, but you are rubbing certain wounds some of us carry — and I do carry them — quite raw.  In the 80s and early 90s, when the AIDS crisis was at its worst in America, we said SILENCE = DEATH. 

And many are dead, but collectively we are not dead. Our stories are not dead. Their stories are not dead.

None of us laboring in any sub-branch of queer lit is inventing the wheel here.  We’re merely expanding its possibilities.  And that is everything to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of.  But we’ve got to carry our history along with us. We’ve got to bear it up, because it has made us and our stories possible.

In some ways, every story is the first of its kind to be told. In other ways, no story is.

Please remember that, and please remember.

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