Authentic queer representation in literature

This post comes about from a thing I’ve noticed about LGBTQIA+ people and relationships, and how it is reflected in literature…

Being isolated, introverted, and disconnected with society is in most cases a learnt behaviour. Having a frank conversation with a plethora of members of this community from all genders, races, and ages have brought to life something that I find alarming. It’s like a double edged sword – a form of self-abuse and self-protection. And it’s not something that I see discussed frequently or represented in literature. I mean, I’ve read novels where this is touched upon (and it is usually in #ownvoices tomes), but the mainstream tend to overlook this kind of behaviour in favour of trending coming out stories. Coming out isn’t necessary for any LGBTQIA+ person, and their issues do not magically disappear as soon as they do; in most cases you get handed a different set of complications to navigate.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face rejection of some form so regularly that when it comes to friendships and familial relationships, many individuals will let go of these relationships, not because of discrimination, mircoaggression, or flat out rejection, but because it just petered out. Any type of friendship or relationship is a two-way street, but LGBTQIA+ people face bigger hurdles in fostering these types of relationships to cis-gendered straight members of the community.

The sad reality is that LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact. Even with members of family or their friends which they already have an established and safe relationship with. Rejection can be tiring. It can whittle away at your psyche until you just can’t be bothered anymore. So when I asked about these types of relationships, and why they had ended, it was a sad realisation that having a relationship of some form with a LGBTQIA+ person is a little more than an even exchange of pleasantries.

“LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact.”

LGBTQIA+ people require you to do slightly more work. Be the initiator of a conversation, reach out on social media, send a text, make a call. Make them feel safe. Wanted. Valuable. Don’t get complacent… otherwise you will be replaced, forgotten, pushed further out in their circle of friends/relatives.

Now, every person is different, and their relationships are different too, so this is not a blanket statement applying to all LGBTQIA+ people. It was just a trend I noticed in talking to these particular community members and how they wished things hadn’t gotten so awkward. Should they initiate contact after all this time? Had things gotten so bad because that other person was too polite and didn’t want to say outright that they did not want them in their lives? Did that other person fear reprisal, or being branded homophobic, or something similar? This was the kind of internal monologue running through the heads of many of the LGBTQIA+ people I talked with. It comes from a place of fear and rejection. A tone that is always underlying many of LGBTQIA+ relationships. It doesn’t go away.

An extra burden the community carries.

I think that is where movements like #ownvoices is important. They live through the nuances of the LGBTQIA+ experience that cis-gendered, straight author’s commonly overlook (or, quite frankly, don’t even register as something that exists) especially now in a publishing climate where the LBGTQIA+ community is getting greater representation. While I feel like any representation is a plus, we still need to ensure that we are having a positive impact on the community. And yes, I understand that people read for different reasons, and that it is all well and good to make this statement and yet M/M romances written by cis-gendered female authors is still leading that sub-genre market. And straight, cis-gendered authors are penning popular YA novels… I’d like to see fiction take the opportunity to explore real issues the LGBTQIA+ community face and not use sexuality or coming out as a plot device.

Some outstanding writing I feel that does the LGBTQIA+ community great service includes these authors (with links to their Goodreads pages):

Becky Chambers, Alice Oseman, Michael Barakiva, Alison Evans,

Bill Konisberg, C.B. Lee, Shaun David Hutchinson,

Casey McQuistion, Graeme Aitken.

I’m sure there are many other authors out there, but this is all I have personally read that bring that authentic LGBTQIA+ tone with their writing. Feel free to add more authors down in the comments that you feel deserve to be on this list.

I love that we are seeing allies, out and proud, bolstering the community. Actions of these people is the exact kind of social movement that helps to tear down the walls of fear and rejection that has subtly affected the way LBGTQIA+ people relate to others – especially outside the community.

This article is not an answer to an issue. A diagnosis. Merely a discussion from social interaction and conversations that I feel is important to consider, and start to make readers aware of the issues a marginalised community face – and not something to be romanticised as a plot device. LGBTQA+ people isolate themselves, whether consciously or not, and it is up to the community at large to reach out. Make safe spaces. Because some LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to do so. Yes, there are people standing up for a marginalised community and making changes, bringing awareness to issues like this, but not everyone is a trailblazer, or can stand on a soapbox and fight for an issue. Many are broken. Scared. Or just plain fed up with everything being so hard. Not to mention facing fear for their lives, physical abuse, ostracized from their families, religious communities, neighbourhoods, or workplaces.

So take a little time and patience with your friends and family. Check in on them more often. You never know who is in that mental space, protecting their heart. Hearts are built to share and spread love… even if they are a little shy.

Start reading critically, support #ownvoices authors and make the publishing landscape an equal opportunity industry. Representation matters. Authenticity matters. And this issue is much larger than LGBTQIA+ communities as the current national political landscape has shown recently with movements like BLM, WomenUp, StopH8, etc..

I feel fiction with realistic, relatable characters engaging; stories with relevant issues interesting; and bringing in these types of mechanics in storytelling can add complexity, richness, and lead to the ultimate reading experience.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Honestly Ben’ (#2 Openly Straight) by Bill Konigsberg

A great perspective and an adorable romance.

Honestly Ben (#2 Openly Straight) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 330

From Goodreads:

Ben Carver is back to normal. He’s getting all As in his classes at the Natick School. He was just elected captain of the baseball team. He’s even won a big scholarship for college, if he can keep up his grades. All that foolishness with Rafe Goldberg last semester is over now, and he just needs to be a Carver, work hard, and stay focused.

Except…

There’s Hannah, a gorgeous girl who attracts him and distracts him. There’s his mother, whose quiet unhappiness he’s noticing for the first time. School is harder, the pressure higher, the scholarship almost slipping away. And there’s Rafe, funny, kind, dating someone else…and maybe the real normal that Ben needs.

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What a fantastic follow-up to ‘Openly Straight.’ I laughed out loud many times – I love the cookie humour in this series. It was great to break the tension and release the angst and anxiety of the novel.

Where ‘Openly Straight’ challenged the notions of labels, in ‘Honestly Ben’ I felt we got to live in a number of them and discover that they are merely descriptors that make other people comfortable (or uncomfortable) – and what it truly means to carve your own path.

Identity, sexuality, gender are all in different hues, and never too stagnant. People are different and grow and change over time, so it stands to reason that those concepts would evolve too. It was great to get a wider scope of what these terms are, and mean. It was an eye-opener on diversity for me. I got a bit of an education. And I like that I learnt something, but hand in hand with this kind of thing – and that I see in many other novels tackling these same topics – it always saturates the narrative in the world of socio-politics and correctness, and suddenly you find yourself submerged in a world that is less real, and consequently loses its relatable edge. But that is unavoidable – as you need to saturate yourself in something to truly understand it. I commend this novel for the aspects in this area.

Honestly Ben (#2 Openly Straight) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe romance was still angsty and steamy. Though at the same time a little stand-offish. I guess because in the first novel we’re dealing with Rafe’s identity, and here, with Ben’s. So the focus is on them finding their place in the world and not so much on a romance. You get a strong sense of Ben exploring who he is. I actually found it compelling and refreshing.

I revelled in the fact that life is allowed to be a big confusing mess, that somethings you just can’t put a label on.

As with ‘Openly Straight,’ I found Koinsberg’s writing style compelling and hard to put down. I completed this book in one sitting and was craving more when finished. There is always a sense of hope and desperation it the tone of the characters that has them practically leaping off the page.

There were issues I had with a bit of machismo in ‘Openly Straight’ which get addressed here – and in such a way it was delightfully surprising. Ben has such a knack for controlling a situation in a positive way and I felt involuntarily drawn to him. If he were a real life person, I’d be pathetically devoted to this young couple, simply because of how they treated the world. Truly inspiring.

Though all the characters are fallible, it was in an endearing way, making them feel like people I knew. Even with their growth through the course of the novel there is a strong note that their journey is far from over at its conclusion.

The general crux of the novel is very predictable, but the way the story is told distracts you from the inevitable, and leaves you with a sense of wonder. I totally felt like I’d been given a great big warm hug – and I wanted to live in that moment for as long as I could.

I enjoyed how Rafe and his mother were challenged on how they labelled people – seriously or not, almost like reverse discrimination I want to say – just because you know something, doesn’t mean you know.

I can only hope we get to visit the world of Rafe and Ben again sometime in the future – I’m completely down for that. So I’m sending out vibes into the universe for Konisberg to get inspired and continue writing for this collection.

Overall feeling: Totally amazeballs.

Honestly Ben (#2 Openly Straight) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Honestly Ben (#2 Openly Straight) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.