This post is kind of inspired by an exchange I had with the lovely Becky Albertalli on Twitter. I had posted a Tweet sharing my excitement for some new LGBT YA novels coming in 2017, namely Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, Bill Konigsberg’s Honestly Ben and Becky’s The Upside of Unrequited.
Becky, the lovely human that she is, said she was honoured to be included, but unsure if her book counts as LGBT YA since it’s mainly secondary characters that are LGBT–the main character’s sister has a girlfriend, and they have two moms. And while Becky is right, and the book is not primarily LGBT YA, I decided I wanted to write something nonetheless about why secondary LGBT characters are just as important as LGBT main characters.
In my opinion, it is super important that more and more books, TV shows, movies, etc. include more queer and trans characters, even if they are only secondary. I would argue that the more and more LGBT characters we see and read about, the more and more our world will become more embracing of the LGBT community.
After all, this blog is called Queering the Mainstream for a reason: the more queer and trans characters that exist, the less heteronormative our society becomes.
But not only that. The LGBT community deserves to see itself recognized everywhere, and not just in stories where the main character is LGBT. This is important because LGBT people are everywhere and it’s only realistic to show that. And in my opinion, you do an injustice to a whole group of people by pretending they don’t exist.
For example, I have always loved the Harry Potter series. It’s been my favourite since I was a kid. Yet, one major issue I have with the series is the lack of LGBT representation. I mean, sure, J.K. Rowling said after-the-fact that Dumbledore was gay. She also once told a fan on Twitter that, of course, there were LGBT people at Hogwarts. To which, I wonder: why couldn’t she have shown us that?! Why do we need to learn these things after the fact?
A recent article on Hypable by Tariq Kyle (warning: Minor Spoilers!) raises this point excellently:
“Dumbledore being gay? That’s not a big deal. The big deal here is the fact that there apparently wasn’t a natural way to input that into the novels, to make it truly canon. I know that generally speaking anything J.K. Rowling says is canon, but it would have had so much more meaning if Dumbledore being gay was just a natural part of the story, like Peeves being annoying or Hermione being smart.”
Kyle goes on to say that J.K. Rowling, “missed an opportunity to change the way stories for LGBTQ characters are told”. He adds she missed an even bigger opportunity to do this with the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I won’t go into detail here, because spoilers, but feel free to check out Kyle’s article (here’s the link again) if you want to further understand. But here’s one more excellent point that Kyle raises:
“Telling your readers and/or audience a few years later that a character has been gay this entire time doesn’t equal representation, because you weren’t representing that community when you wrote it.”
My point is this: even if the main characters in the story (in this case, Harry, Ron and Hermione) are totally straight, why not include some secondary characters who are LGBT?
I’ve said several times in recent years that I wish I had known about LGBT YA when I was a teenager and trying to accept my sexuality. But you know what? I think seeing a gay character in my favourite book series may have helped too–even a secondary character. Why not make Seamus or Neville gay? Why not have Hannah Abbott, a minor Hufflepuff character, be a lesbian?
In summary, secondary LGBT characters matter too! Any and all LGBT representation is important. LGBT people exist in all aspects of life, and we deserve to see ourselves represented in all aspects of fiction too.
What could be more powerful than having LGBT characters that exist simply as they are and a big deal is not made of it? Maybe more of this would eventually lead to a world where being queer or trans is not a big deal. But right now, we’re not in that world yet.
When J.K. Rowling announced Dumbledore was gay, it was a big deal. When it was announced that the character Sulu in would have a husband in the new Star Trek, it was a big deal. We need more secondary LGBT characters to show that it’s really not that much of a big deal!
So, thank you to authors like Becky Albertalli, who show us that secondary LGBT characters matter too. And to authors like J.K. Rowling, (a woman I absolutely adore and think of as my idol, so please don’t think I am trying to attack her here), please consider representing me and others like me more in the future.
Who knows, seeing a gay Gryffindor character could have made this Ravenclaw brave enough to come out sooner than I did.