LGBT in YA: It’s come up in a number of recent online conversations here, here and here) and I’ve been mulling it over ad nauseam. The reason? There’s a thread of it in my current work in progress.

I didn’t plan it. I wasn’t caving to market trends. And it’s not the main issue of the story. Having a relative come out on the cusp of the character’s adolescence just helps explain her later behavior.

So what’s the problem?

It scares the bejesus out of me–and I bet I’m not alone, or there would be more of it in mainstream YA.

Here are some possible reasons:

  • Lack of experience: Many authors just don’t have (enough) experience with the subject to feel they can do it justice so they don’t make the attempt. Or, the book just doesn’t call for it.
  • Pidgeon-holing: I suspect this is a biggie. Just like authors don’t necessarily want their book to be labeled “for boys only” or “for vampire fans only,” (pfft) etc., they don’t want their book to be labeled “for LGBT readers only.” There are few YA authors (Cassandra Clare) who manage to include LGBT characters and still sell millions of copies to a broad audience. If anything, she’s actually stormed the walls. I attended a book signing of hers in New Orleans this summer and I’d say about half the attendees were LGBT, and 75% of the questions concerned Magnus and Alec. It was a very mixed crowd and no one gave a damn who was gay or straight (my slightly homophobic husband was a trooper)–we were too busy squealing over our collective Cassie love. However, I can’t think of anyone who has repeated her success. (If you can, please tell me in the comments!)
  • Fear: This is probably the biggest reason of them all–even in the 21st century. I certainly can’t claim to speak for other writers, but this is my main issue, and here’s why: I am an overly sensitive type and fear offending someone. I do this with everything, not just LGBT issues. I remember riding on a Greyhound bus with some Amish (I’m from rural Ohio, okay?) and stressing because I was wearing a bright red coat. I found out a favorite grad school professor was Mennonite and I freaked because I’d dropped F-bombs around him on a regular basis. Same thing with LGBT. I’m so afraid of putting my foot in my mouth (I suspect others are, too) that I don’t quite know how to handle the small thread of LGBT in my WIP.The only reason I’ve decided to go ahead with it is because I DO have a little related experience with this character’s situation. I can speak with some authority, and that’s why I’m moving forward. If I offend someone, I can say, “Too bad. You may not like it, but it was MY experience and I can tell you it happens.” There’s a lot of pressure to present the LGBT experience in nothing but a positive light. That’s bullshit. No lifestyle or relationship is always positive. “The Kids Are All Right” did a great job of showing this.

What other reasons can you think of that LGBT doesn’t have more of a presence in YA? Why are agents clamoring to get their hands on it?