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The Forgotten B in LGBTQ Fiction

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Recently, we've seen a lot of discussion about the inclusion of LGBTQ fiction in YA. Jessica Verday's decision to drop out of the Wicked Pretty Things anthology comes to mind. While thinking about the very short supply of gay and lesbian YA on shelves, I realized something: while gay and lesbian fiction is under represented for sure, young adult fiction dealing with bisexuality is almost non-existant.

This surprised me. Growing up, even in the Bible Belt part of the South, I had more friends who identified themselves as bisexual than as homosexual, but when I tried to think of YA fiction that depicted bisexuality, I drew a blank. I can come up with a list of gay and lesbian YA (a short one, sadly, but still a list), however, I found myself having to ask friends and followers on Twitter for help finding bisexuality in YA.

What I found upon asking for recommendations was that many people recommended the same books. I was advised to read Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez and the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, but aside from those only a few others were mentioned, and most of those who responded to my plea for requests admitted that they struggled to think of any.

I did come across this in my research, however. Lee Wind runs a fantastic blog that promotes LGBTQ fiction and lists examples of books featuring these themes in the sidebar. If you're interested in this topic, it's a great list to check out, full of great books to add to your TBR pile. But even in this list, bisexual fiction seemed to have the fewest titles under its category.

We've talked about including LGBTQ themes in YA before, but I wonder if we're forgetting letters sometimes. We remember the L and the G, but but the B, the T, and even the Q get ignored most of the time.

What are your thoughts on this? Why does it seem that bisexual - and also transgender - fiction are so hard to find in YA? What can we do about it? And, of course, if you have examples of YA books that feature LGBTQ themes, please suggest them! We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. Terrific post! I would love to get more recommendations. My WIP, NOT CRICKET, has a secondary character who is bisexual. It’s YA. I also have a MS on submission, “as u like it,” with a secondary character who is transgendered.

    Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan has several secondary gay characters and avoids stereotypes. Levithan has done several other books.
    Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger is about a lesbian (companion book: Love and Lies)
    The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney has a secondary who is a lesbian.
    Welcome Home or Someplace Like It by Charlotte Agell has a gay secondary character (the MC’s brother).
    The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister also by Charlotte Agell has a girl who has issues with her father’s gay partner, but it’s MG.

  2. I think the tide is starting to turn with regard to the B and T. In recent months, there have been at least two releases from big publishers with major F2M characters (Jumpstart the World and I Am J) and at least two more with leading female bi/pansexual characters (Pink and Very LeFreak). All were quite good, IMO. So while they're still underrepresented, I think authors and publishers really are working on it. There's also a bi main characters in Brent Hartinger's series that starts with Geography Club, and the MC of Eddie de Oliveira's Lucky is possibly the only bi guy I've seen in YA lit so far.

    Of course, I'd like to see more. And I'd like to see characters that might identify as trans or queer or third gender but would not consider themselves strictly M2F or F2M. And the usual lack of ethnic diversity is still a problem, of course.

    If you're looking for more LGBTQ characters, another blog you might be interested in is Daisy Porter's Queer YA. ALA's Rainbow Lists are also a great resource.

  3. I'd recommend checking out Frank Portman's Andromeda Klein. Though she doesn't ever state her sexual preference or identity, it's pretty clear from the action of the novel that she's attracted to both boys and girls.

  4. Interesting post. I have a WIP with a lesbian MC. One of the secondary characters hasn't yet revealed her sexuality to me, but she could easily be bi - actually that might be interesting - thanks.

    One of my fellow workshop participants is writing a novel with a transgender character - male to female that is wonderful. So hopefully, that book will be out in the world before long.

    Julie Anne Peters book Luna is about a transgender teen.

  5. Interesting post. I've been working on updating our LGBTQ booklist at our library so I've been doing a lot of reading in this area. I haven't come across many books about bisexual characters--Boyfriends with Girlfriends, definitely, and Pink by Lili Wilkinson is another (and I really enjoyed that one!). I actually found more books about transgender than I'd thought I would. Actually, another librarian thinks that we have enough material in our library to create an LGB list and a seperate transgender list. (that says something about my library, I guess!)

  6. I have to post this anonymously to protect the people in my personal life, but let me start by saying I am a LGBTQ YA novelist and I am bisexual.

    My LGBTQ characters are either L or G or B. For YA, the B is difficult, though, because you're still at an age where you aren't exactly sure about things. B is tough to pinpoint at that age. Some teens who solidly identify as L or G later in life, start out thinking they are B, and some know for sure they are L or G or S (straight) from the time they were very young.

    Every individual's experience is different. So in YA it is difficult to have B characters without the story being *about* discovering who they are.

    In my personal experience, as a teen, I knew what B was but I didn't understand it. I thought maybe I was L and I was in denial, forcing myself to have an attraction to guys so I wouldn't be teased. Well, I learned later that you really can't *force* an attraction to one or the other. It just doesn't work that way. But as a teen, I had no clue how it worked.

    Had there been more B-focused LGBTQ fiction available when I was a teen, maybe things would have been different for me.

    Unfortunately, LGBTQ is still very much a niche market, even for adults. But when you put those characters in YA, you lose the self-confidence. Teens, by nature, are constantly questioning their role in society, and this becomes exponentially greater when you "don't fit the accepted norm." So many of the stories with LGBTQ characters, especially if they are *main* characters, become *about* this self-discovery.

    I have seen agents and editors flat-out state they don't want those types of stories anymore because they don't sell.

    While there is nothing wrong with that type of story, the majority of readers are not going to connect with it. So unless your story has some other kind of amazing IT factor, it will be rejected. In this economy, publishers can't afford to take on stories that won't make them big bucks.

    Not saying I agree with that. At all.

    LGBTQ fiction for teens is really special to those kids. It's like someone throwing you a life preserver while the rest of the crowd was ready to sit and watch you drown. I wish there was more of it available to them, which is why I write it.

  7. Someone mentioned Pink below. I love the book, but it does sort of deal with bisexuality in a roundabout way.

    I know when I was in school people identified as bi younger than they'd ID as gay, too--middle school. It's bizarre to me, especially because I think sexuality is a spectrum, that more YA lit isn't out there that deals with it.

  8. You might want to check out Julie Ann Peter's books. She deals with the 'B' and 'T' as well. Check out LUNA especially.

    I recently read Maureen Johnson's THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE where while one of the main characters character is lesbian while another could easily be bisexual or bi-curious.

    I bought EMPRESS OF THE WORLD by Sara Ryan some days back and from what I get of the blurb, it has a bisexual MC too.

    Also, one of my WiPs, has a bisexual MC.

  9. I'm working on a manuscript right now with a bisexual main character. I identify as bisexual myself and I think it can be a tricky thing. You're in between: not gay, but not straight, either. Some people (both gay and straight) don't believe bisexuality is real, and that you're really straight but trying to be trendy or gay and too chicken to say it. Not true. I really hope more bisexual books get published in upcoming years.

    The other manuscript of mine is about a female-to-male transgendered person who is also gay (biologically female, transitioning to male, attracted to men). A lot of people have trouble understanding that.

  10. A couple of recent YA recs that portray transgender teens:

    I AM J by Cris Beam was released earlier this month and really needs a higher profile.

    ALMOST PERFECT by Brian Katcher (awesome book)

    You're right about the lack of bi representation in YA lit, though, especially when it comes to main characters.

  11. Great post, and I appreciated anonymous' explanations also.

    My guess about the lack of representation in YA would have leaned toward acceptance more than niche market issues. It seems like our culture got used to gay males first then lesbians and now the other "letters" are growing in understanding and least I hope it's heading that way.

  12. I think the existence of the "It gets better" campaign can say a lot about why there isn't a huge amount of LGBTQ YA fiction out there - the message of the campaign is, just make it through high school and out of your community, and college/the real world will enable you to move to a place more accepting of your orientation. Most LGBTQ people I know were beyond the YA-acceptable age range when they were able to fully embrace the identity they first wanted to have when they were in high school. They'd probably feel like any YA book where a character comes satisfactory conclusion about their orientation during high school doesn't ring true to them. (At least, it doesn't ring true to me, as an ally who saw her gay and transgender friends only find some sort of peace from abuse once they were out of our conservative high school.)

    As has been discussed on this blog before, there's definitely this blind spot around college-age characters and I think that college/real world time is needed to create realistic stories that attract suffering LGBTQ teens who see college as their only viable route to "it gets better." Until YA broadens its turf, or until publishers recognize the need for "emerging adult fiction", it's going to be hard to explore some of these more complicated identities inside the confines of YA.

  13. I have a manuscript I'm shopping right now with a bi character in it.

    What I once heard from a friend, which bewildered me, is that bisexuality can be seen as a cop out--a gay/lesbian character might turn off readers so hey, make them bi so that they can play both fields! Personally, I think that's silly b/c HELLO, bisexuals exist and I know plenty of them.

    Great post!

  14. One of the most frustrating things about bisexuality is others' dismissal of it. Sometimes it is indeed a stepping stone on the path to figuring out one's homosexuality. Sometimes it really is just an experimentation thing. But that certainly doesn't mean bisexuality doesn't exist.

    I'm married to a man, so that makes me straight. My twin sister is in a LTR with a woman, so that makes her a lesbian. Except that's not true for either of us -- we're both somewhere in the gradient.

    People always seem to need things to fit into tidy categories with easy titles. That's not the way sexuality works.

  15. How I Paid For College by Marc Acito has a bisexual MC.

    It does seem odd that the B is so under-represented. Since most "gay" adults I know started on the bi now gay later plan. Even when teens are homosexual, coming out first as bisexual is often easier for people to accept.

    Also, all teens are trying to figure themselves out. So experimentation is common and natural. Many people who grow up to be in committed homosexual relationships experiment with heterosexuality. And many people who grow up to be in committed heterosexual relationships experiment with homosexuality.

  16. My guess about why there aren't more stories *about* being bisexual (as opposed to stories where there just happens to be a bi character) would be that there's less inherent drama. As Kirsten said, some people think of bisexuality as an experimental phase or a stepping stone on the way to coming out lacking the level of commitment necessary to actually declare yourself gay. Sort of having your cake and eating it, too. But as much as bisexuals get a bad rap for being in denial about being gay there is still a lot more stigma attached to being gay so you'll probably have a wider audience of confused gay teens wishing they were represented than bisexuals. Hell, given the stereotype of (girls) experimenting in college, being bisexual is almost applauded in some contexts.
    - Sophia.

  17. Hugs to Anon. It seems there are a lot of bisexual ladies writing YA.

    I think the answer is something close to what Kirsten says. What's going on is an artifact of bi erasure. The truth is, bisexuality is still not entirely believed even within the gay community, and bisexuals are often treated like shady traitors (Dan Savage, for instance, is infamous for telling a gay man to never hook up with bisexuals because they'll leave you for a woman). It happens with teens, too. I know this because I dealt with it myself--I was told that I was a lesbo by the boys in my high school, but when I tried to embrace the label of bi, my gay friends told me that bi was a lie, and that I was either a lesbian, or straight.

    Because of that, and because I'm married to a man, I didn't even feel comfortable calling myself bi until about three years ago. And I'm a grown-up!

    That's one of the reasons that I found Boyfriends with Girlfriends so heartening, even though it was flawed. One of the characters' experiences were so close to mine that it was spooky. I don't think I've ever seen that before in YA fiction--a character in the queer spectrum who knows it's not fair to herself to label herself as one or the other.

    Let's face it: publishing is like broader society in that it wants easy answers and neat categories. And like Kirsten says, that's not how it works.

  18. "Let's face it: publishing is like broader society in that it wants easy answers and neat categories. And like Kirsten says, that's not how it works."


  19. Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn features a bi protagonist and the book is not *about* being Bi. But I would love to read more, more, more books where sexuality is depicted the way it truly exists.

  20. I agree in the under represented category of LGBTQ YA literature, the Bs, Ts, and Qs are often left out.

    However, I do happen to know of a December 2010 release (the first book in a planned series) that includes all of the above (including an L) that a lot of readers might have missed. It's The End: Five Queer Teens Save The World by Nora Olsen, which was published by Prizm Books. It's a sci-fi novel that not only includes the Bs, Ts, and Qs, but also goes beyond the stereotypical plot lines in many LGBTQ lit, showing that these type of teens have other issues beyond dealing with their sexuality and coming out, including eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

    Also, Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde has a T secondary character, but he's an adult. I've heard that it's from the perspective of a teen neighbor who befriends him and later learns he's T and has to come to grips with it, so not quite the same thing.

    I would also recommend another lesser known book featuring a lesbian MC and a gay secondary character, called Rhythm And Blues by Jill Murray, which is about a girl who is recruited to an R&B group based on her dancing abilities alone and has to decide whether the superficial world she's entered is worth it for her.

    Wildthorn by Jane Eagland has a lesbian MC and secondary character. It's a historical YA novel set during the Victorian period about a girl who gets locked up in an insane asylum.

    @Anonymous who said that it's hard to write Bi for teens because they don't often "know" that's what they are, I think that might be the case in some instances, but I had a friend in high school who knew she was Bi.

  21. Such a great post--I'm so glad you brought this to light. One of my main characters for my contemporary YA is bi, and I'd love to read other examples.

  22. Nice points, in both the post and the comments. The MC of my debut is bi, or she would be if she were ready to label herself as anything but in love. I, too, hate that sexual fluidity is dismissed as "experimentation" (as though exploration of human sexuality is just a phase that normal people outgrow and settle into a tidy box) or else it's seen as a cop-out. I'd love for teens to be able to see characters who are discovering that sexual identity, attraction, and love can be more complex than a binary.

  23. I agree with Sophia, Elissa and many other of the brilliant commenters here.

    I think there are a lot of bi characters in LGBTQ YA fiction. But the characters aren't talking about the fact that they're bi. Because their bi-ness isn't their problem. Their problem is the part of them that's attracted to people of the same sex. The part of them that's attracted to people of the opposite sex is usually doing just fine.

    Teen relationships move fast, and with a heavy amount of melodrama; when I was a teenager I wasn't stressing over whether I was attracted to boys or girls -- I figured out pretty quickly that I was attracted to both -- I was stressing over my attraction to this particular girl or boy, and how I could get them to like me back.

    Anyway, I think all this is fascinating, and I'm so grateful to you for writing this post, Kody. In fact it inspired me to blog about bi teens in YA myself.

    Would love to see more exploration of sexual identity issues across the board in YA.

  24. Here are a few more YA titles with bisexual MCs: Ash by Malinda Lo, Girl from Mars by Tamara Bach, Geography Club by Brent Hartinger, and Mosh Pit by Kristyn Dunnion. Also, check out Ariel Schrag's comic-strip autobiographies, Awkward & Definition, which cover her early high school years. (In subsequent volumes that chronicle the latter part of her high school years, Schrag identifies more strongly as lesbian rather than bisexual.)

  25. So glad my link to Lee's blog was helpful!

  26. I see a lot books with whatever-sexual characters. Often, it is a side note rather than a major plot, but it does exist. I agree that it is not popular, for reasons I don't understand, but I do think it's out there more than you folks realize.

  27. First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for their wonderful book recommendations! I've already read a few of these, but I was happy to add many new ones to my list.

    Secondly, I'd like to recommend some of my own favorites. EMPRESS OF THE WORLD (which got mentioned briefly already) is a wonderful book with a bi main character, and deals with plenty besides just her sexuality.

    Another one I love is CYCLER, by Lauren McLaughlin. Although the main character isn't bi, her main love interest is, and she has to deal with some mixed feels about that; her struggle and his characterization ring very true. She's also going through her own gender-issues; she physically changes into a guy, with a different personality, for a few days each month. The book brings up a lot of great gender issues, and is really a page-turner in its own right (I read it in one sitting, and instantly ran out to buy the squeal, which I actually liked even better).

    The Mortal Instruments series also has a side character who is gay, and a minor character who is bi, and they're

    Lastly, I wanted to throw my two cents in. We definitely need to see more books about bi and trans teens; these are aspects of the LGBTQ community which aren't even fully accepted in that community, and still face a lot of misunderstanding, prejudice, stereotyping, and the above-mentioned eraser phenomenon. These experiences are hard enough to face as adults; teens need all the help they can get (and, with the amount of cross-over happening now with YA books, these books can be really helpful to adults as well).

    Another important aspect, I think, is the next step: LGBTQ characters in non-"issue" books. Mean, bi character in a dystopian world; trans character in a fantasy world. Gay superheroes. Lesbian werewolves. Part of supporting teens is showing them that not only are people dealing with their specific issues, but their also capable of all the problems and triumphs of straight and cis-gendered teens.

    There are books out there already doing this; I've seen minor characters crop up in such books as THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series by Cassandra Clare and TITHE by Holly Black, but I still don't see many such books with the main character being LGBTQ. There are some, but I hope we can put many more out there in the future. As a member of the publishing industries, it's one of my personal dreams.


  28. :Another important aspect, I think, is the next step: LGBTQ characters in non-"issue" books:

    We definitely need to see more of this. I think this is the best way to go. To put LGBTQ characters into stories that aren't primarily issued orientated.

    Thoughtful post. Thanks.

  29. I think LGBTQ fiction in general is hard to find, so people go to one side when they do get a book published...G or L...I know Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde has a trans character. I've seen a few others coming out recently too.

    As for Bi characters, I agree. There aren't many. My first thought was this book Lucky. But I forget the author's name. :( Sorry!

    On a personal note, I'm actually working on an MS that I'd love to see published one boy is gay, but the other is bi and that plays into some of the conflict.



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Item Reviewed: The Forgotten B in LGBTQ Fiction Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger