If you looked at my writing a few years ago, you’d be staring at a sea of white, straight people. Unfortunate, yes, but I can’t erase that fact even if I know much, much better now. The more I learned about diversity and how important it is in the literary world (and everywhere, of course), the more I tried to change things, either with new stories or changing characters I had already created. Very few characters truly needed to be white or straight – in most cases, it strengthened the story by making a character a minority or any sexuality other than straight – and that’s what I wanted to talk about today.
Every year, there seems to be more and more QUILTBAG books published, which is awesome, but it’s disappointing how similar they can be. They’re all different, but so many of them are about gay boys, with gay girls coming in second. That’s great, for sure, especially when you compare them to all the straight protagonists’ stories still being published all the time, but there’s so much more to sexuality than simply liking the opposite gender or the same gender, and that’s what I want to do with my own writing.
There are so many kinds of sexuality: demisexual, asexual, aromantic, biromantic, bisexual, homoromantic, omniromantic, omnisexual, pansexual, just to name a few (okay, more than a few, but still nowhere near all the sexualities and orientations out there). You can find many of these as well as others here, which is a great resource not to mention a good place to go if you’re questioning yourself. And ultimately, that’s why we need all the sexual diversity – because teenagers, as well as children and adults, are often trying to figure themselves out, and one of the best ways to do this is by finding people you can identify with.
I’m one of those people who has never felt like I truly fit in with a certain kind of orientation – I’m pretty sure that I’m demisexual, so does that mean I’m automatically bisexual since I’m only really interested in someone once I get to know them, regardless of gender, or do I say I’m a demi-bisexual? Or is there a completely other name that sums up both of these things? It can be quite isolating to feel like no one else feels this way – which is why I want to read about characters who, while not exact matches for me, feel many of the same things I do. There are countless people out there in the same boat, even if they aren’t in the demi- or bisexual boat like I am.
It’s super important to read books to expand our worlds, to learn about people who are different than we are, but for everyone who identifies as “different,” there are going to be people who recognize themselves in these books, which can be so important. We’re learning more and more about sexuality, but there’s still so much we don’t know, which means there are countless people who feel alone, and we need to change that. Yes, romance is a huge part of YA, but it’s too often “straight romance,” with “100% gay romance” in a growing but still small second place. If we want most of our YA books to have romance, then shouldn’t we turn to sexuality that allows for many different kinds of romance, like bisexuality (of course, remember that being bisexual doesn’t mean that you’re going around cheating and having sex all the time – that’s a stereotype that we need to break)?
I want a story about an asexual boy who’s totally comfortable with that. I want a story about a girl who’s trying to figure out if she’s bisexual, pansexual, or omnisexual, and learning about the differences between them and how it relates to the difficult issue of identity. A trio of friends who are straight, bisexual, and aromantic, and they have frank conversations about what that means in between saving the world or having an epic summer adventure or whatever the book’s real “purpose” is. Basically, there are so many different sexuality that we can represent, just like different races, identities, and abilities – why are we relying on the same one or two over and over again?
I want to change that with my writing. I have multiple main stories I’m working on right now, and I’m trying to fit as many sexualities into them as possible, but in a genuine way that makes it clear I’m not just closing my eyes and randomly pointing at different sexualities on a list. I want people to identify with my characters in many ways, including their sexuality.
straight (or maybe bisexual?) // gay // straight // gay (or maybe bisexual?)
asexual or demisexual // asexual // gay // straight // bisexual or demisexual // bisexual // bisexual
bisexual // demisexual // straight // straight // bisexual // gay or bisexual
bisexual // straight // straight // gay
bisexual // gay // straight // asexual
bisexual // straight (well, mostly straight) // ditto // bisexual // demisexual // gay // gay
bisexual or demisexual // straight // bisexual // not sure, but definitely not straight
Yes, there are a lot of repeated bisexual and demisexual characters, because that’s what I know and identify with more, and there are many kinds of sexualities not represented, but I feel like it’s a start. I need to work on making my stories reflect the true world we live in, which includes many people who don’t identify into the simplified gay-straight-or-bi spectrum. All of our stories need to reflect this, and I hope that we’re praising the sexual diversity in a few years, not having this same conversation over and over again.