Book Bitches
4 min

Queer, without apologies

Gay books for teens get happy

I talked to a young woman from Germany this week who was looking for a book on coming out while on vacation here in Toronto. 

“I don’t know if I’m actually gay,” she said, “but I’m . . . exploring myself, you know?”

Of course, and what was delightful about the conversation was her utter lack of nervousness. Straight, lesbian, bisexual — wherever she’s headed, she’s fine with any label or no label — and I suggested British author James Dawson’s cheery, brassy guide This Book Is Gay, which, as the saying goes, does what it says on the tin.

Dawson has had a good year. Both his non-fiction books and his dark novels for young adults have been doing well and he is the latest (and first male) recipient of the “Queen of Teen” award given biannually to authors who inspire the most votes from teen readers. Dawson was obviously delighted, resplendent here in his new crown:

Earlier this month, Dawson told attendees at the 2015 Young Adult Literature convention in London that his next book will feature a main character along the same path of the German girl I talked to:

“Young people are very reluctant to come out with a label . . . It’s like they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. If you look at Tom Daley and Cara Delevingne, when they talk about their sexuality, they never use words like ‘bi’ or ‘gay.’ Instead, they say ‘I’m in a relationship with a man,’ or ‘I’m in a relationship with a woman.’ That inspired me. I wanted to write about characters who were just at that precipice of trying to understand desire and sexual attraction.”

And one thing you won’t see in Dawson’s novel, as he told the Telegraph, is a whole lot of grief about it.

“I didn’t want to write a dreary melodrama about coming out, and about how awful it is to find out you like guys . . . There’s that image, that stereotype of the tragic gay person who has to survive being gay. But to actually celebrate that identity, in all its glorious forms — I think that’s where [young-adult fiction] is at now."

Indeed, and in an epic blog post this month, straight American author Chuck Wendig went to town on a reader who complained about a gay character in his novels:

“I’m sorry* the book features gay characters who love each other and engage in sex. I suppose the more pleasing alternative to you would be for the characters to suffer in loveless abandonment and quietly pray to themselves while looking directly at heterosexual pornography, but that feels fucking goofy to me, so I didn’t write it that way.”

That asterisk? Chuck’s not sorry. It’s great to see and a sign of great things to come. All hail the Queen of Teen, long may she reign!