LGBTQ in YA month 2013: On Non-Binary Gender in YA

LGBTQDated_zps87521a39.jpgHey, everyone!

Welcome to our stop within the LGBTQ in YA month celebration. On BOANW, we’re celebrating non-binary gender in YA, something we’ve talked about previously in our feature, Afternoon Yak. Today we’re going to get into the trans area of the LGBT community, and how it’s being represented (or lack thereof) in YA books. We’re also going to do this discussion style, so let’s get started!

USAGI: 2013 so far has been a big year when it comes to LGBT releases, specifically in the trans field. So far we have “Freakboy” (out in October), “Two Boys Kissing” (out in August), and “Pantomime” (released in February). It’s really great to see all of these books coming out of the woodwork and so quickly, especially since 2012 kind of got the ball rolling with “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” and “Every Day”. So it’s good we’re seeing an expansion. For pre-2012 releases, you can go here to see a good list of trans within YA lit. Your thoughts, Ashleigh?

ASHLEIGH: Agreed! I kind of hate to agree because there are only three major LGBT releases we can think of right now for 2013, but it’s a step forward not unlike the Supreme Court’s decisions to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 in California. (Speaking of which, hallelujah! Now if only we could get gay marriage made legal in the rest of the country…)

But on the subject of Freakboy, I got interested almost as soon as I heard about it. A verse novel showing the issue of being trangender/gender fluid from the POV of the one struggling with it, someone happy in their identity, and the girlfriend of the boy struggling with his identity?

Once it comes out in October, I hope plenty of people pick it up because it’s a story that needs to be told and heard in equal measure. Some titles fly under the radar because of reduced marketing or lack of interest or whatever, but this should NOT be one of them.

USAGI: Macmillan generously provided us each with ARCs of “Freakboy” to read, and I’m so glad they did. As soon as I saw the blurb on Goodreads I knew I had to have it. As someone who identifies as genderfluid (a bit spoilery in terms of the book, but not hugely so), even if it’s only three books this year, I’m insanely happy that publishers that are within the aegis of the Big Six here in the States are finally getting brave enough to publish things re: transgender issues.

And yeah, I realize that’s pretty sad for me to get so excited over so few releases, but what it comes down to is this: these authors and pubs are getting the ball rolling on what’s being called the new “final frontier” within gender and sexual identities.

Here’s the thing that most people don’t really understand about the trans community: there are a LOT of different flavors of trans in there. Inception-y concept? Maybe. There are those that identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, transgender, asexual, etc. The term “transgender” within the LGBT community is more of an umbrella term, because there are so many sub-categories of how people identify. So sadly, unlike the concepts of being “bi”, “gay”, or  “lesbian”, there is no blanket term, and there is no blanket community in which people handle things. You have to tread really, really carefully within the trans sub-community, because it’s a very sensitive one. There are a lot of politics, and a lot of feelings waiting to get stepped on. Just a warning for those trying to understand and interact with this community. Luckily, I can say that “Freakboy” managed to get things right on so many levels, and that was a relief. I can’t imagine how insane I’d be with rage if it hadn’t.

ASHLEIGH: It’s all the more important to handle the issue carefully because almost every day, steps are taken forward or backward on LGBT rights. For instance, I saw a news story about a six-year-old transgender girl being allowed to use the girls’ bathroom in school after being told she couldn’t because she was born biologically male. When was that story posted? June 23, 2013.

Brendan takes his self-exploration very slowly and it can really bog down Freakboy at times, but can he really be blamed for that when which bathroom a transgender person is allowed to use in public is still an issue all the time? When transgender people in Greece are being rounded up and put in detention camps in a move that looks awfully reminiscent to how the Holocaust began? This Tumblr post from a blog I follow carried a few more links to similar places and a little more info. I don’t blame anyone for hiding their identity or agonizing over it when stuff like this goes down. All this makes Freakboy even more important and current than it seems at first.

But before those moods strike and make me think people have always been and will always be shitty about transgender people/rights, I look at this post about Xena: Warrior Princess and the progressive move it made all the way back in 1997. I’ve seen this episode and it’s one of my favorites that I’ve seen in the 3 1/2 seasons I’ve watched so far.

But back on the subject of Freakboy, one of its strongest suits is not only showing us Brendan’s struggle, but also introducing some intersectionality and a success story through Angel, a Hispanic MTF transgender woman. There’s also Brendan’s girlfriend Vanessa and what her POV entails, but I’ll leave Vanessa’s part to Usagi. Mwahaha.

USAGI: Oh god, don’t EVEN get me started on Vanessa. Just…don’t.

Pretty much me when reading ALL of Vanessa’s bits in “Freakboy”.

Even though I loathe her, Vanessa is a great example of how many people react when you come out of the gender confusion closet. Not everyone reacts the way that she does, but the amount that do is fairly disheartening. It becomes less about the person coming out (especially if you’re romantically involved like Brendan and Vanessa were) and it becomes far more about the other partner, who suddenly starts to obsess over the idea of “oh god ,was I just a beard? did they love me at all?” and so forth. She talks about it in her POV as his gender confusion as possibly “being a phase” (usually the stance family members take when one comes out to them, I’ve found), and that there’s still hope that they’ll return to how they were before. This other romantic partner becomes so wrapped up in panic and confusion about the trans person’s confession that they lose sight of what’s really important in that instance: support. Knowing that your trans partner, even if you feel like you can’t be romantically (or in some cases, even famillially/platonically) involved with them anymore, needs your help because even though we’re making great strides as a society on the transgender frontier we still have a HUGE way to go, and we as a society tend to treat said trans people like shit.

One of these examples is shown in one of Angel’s narratives, when she talks about hormones. How you can get them legally (through a prescription) or illegally (through street or internet dealers), and most of the time, it’s illegally, and it’s dangerous.VERY dangerous – I can’t stress that enough. A close friend of mine went through her transition at first illegally using hormones because at the time, she couldn’t get her doctor and psych to agree to sign off on a GID (gender identity disorder) diagnosis. When she entered the University of California system for college and grad school, that all changed – because under their undergraduate/graduate healthcare programs (or even if you work for them in some other field outside of school, like medicine) they’ll pay for the hormonal part of your transition, if not more. They’re one of the good guys in this fight to take care of trans people in their medical transitioning phase of treatment. Possibly one of the only ones I know here in the States that will do so. Otherwise? You’re left to your own devices. Most insurance won’t cover it. So those who really need to medically transition? They’re on their own. And it’s a total crime that they are.

Now, like Brendan I identify as genderfluid. As in, we really don’t want to get the plumbing changed, but we’re not entirely feeling the gender that we were born with all the time. Sometimes we feel male. Sometimes we feel female. Sometimes we feel stuck in between. Sometimes we feel none of the above. And honestly, just like being bisexual where you’re caught between a binary gender choice for your romantic or sexual partner, it’s really one of the hardest positions to be in within the trans community. But that’s just my opinion (and it’ll probably piss a lot of people off).

Yeah, I know, it confuses me too.

ASHLEIGH: Going back to Angel, I’ll never be able to stress how much I love her and what her POV brings to the novel. It’s kind of easy to get wrapped up in a character realizing they may be transgender and agonizing over it, but Angel has been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and worn it until it became a rag full of holes. I’ll fully admit I’m hesitant to read more LGBT YA because sometimes, I look at it and it feels like they’re all about different people going through the same identity struggle for the entire book. It’s all important, but it gets old to relive the same plot line over and over. The only time I want to relive the exact same story in a book is when I’m rereading it.

Anyway, Angel is the success story. She’s been through her struggle and we see who she is now that she’s accepted herself, found a safe place, and gotten out of the worse places she used to be in life, like on the streets as a prostitute. She follows her heart and helps her fellow LGBT youth so they don’t need to go through what she did. So in a way, her storyline is still centered on her identity, but it’s better than it being 100% about the struggle and not showing readers how it gets better in the long-term.

But seriously, a little more variety in LGBT storylines and more willingness on the publishing industry’s (by that, I mean the Big Six; I do believe smaller, more specialized publishers are already doing so) part to take on those stories would be great. I’d buy an LGBT Throne of Glass, Everneath, Wanderlove, or Cinder from a major publisher anytime.

USAGI: Totally agree re: the same identity struggle. It’s like authors with the big six are afraid to go elsewhere. The only paranormal LGBT book I can think of that’s from the Big Six is “Every Day” (from Random House), and the rest (“Witch Eyes” trilogy – Flux, “Pantomime” duology – Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot) are from smaller print houses. The one other contemporary trans-related book this year that I can think of/adored (and that’s coming out soon) is “Two Boys Kissing”, which is being called the companion book to “Every Day”. It’s mostly about – you guessed it – two boys kissing, and several pairs of them, narrated by a Greek chorus of the AIDS generation. One of which is a transboy and his new boyfriend. And what’s refreshing is that Avery is very secure with himself up until he meets his new boyfriend at the LGBT prom, which was interesting – it was the reverse of Vanessa’s struggle to understand Brendan in “Freakboy”. Avery loses his sense of self a bit, and becomes extremely worried about whether or not his boyfriend will truly accept him once he knows the truth. We also see that to a certain extent with Angel in “Freakboy”, but in “Two Boys Kissing”, it’s a really big plot point for Avery’s parts of the book.

We need less about the struggle, and more about the triumph from the big six – and less in the YA contemporary genre. That’s what it really comes down to. More diversity, please. I think that would make us all really…


2 thoughts on “LGBTQ in YA month 2013: On Non-Binary Gender in YA

  1. OH MY GOD. I didn’t know about Freakboy until this blog post, and I am totally freaking out (okay, I’m also freaking out about that Kyary gif, but MOSTLY ABOUT THE BOOK.) Like. I need this. It’s hard enough to find LGBT YA novels, especially about trans* characters. and this has a genderfluid main character (!!!!!) and a trans* character of color. I would totally give my firstborn child for this book already. If I wanted to have children, I mean.

    Just. This was the nicest surprise to see in my Bloglovin feed. :’) Thank you both for posting about it and sharing your experiences. Totally made my night.

  2. Pingback: The Sunday Post(13) | book adoration

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