The Evolution of Queer Representation in the young adult genre
THE EVOLUTION OF QUEER REPRESENTATION IN THE YOUNG ADULT GENRE By John W. Goldsmith Advisor: Dr. Henry Hughes ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I wish to express sincere gratitude to my thesis adviser, Dr. Henry Hughes. His patience and diligence helped make this project an idea come true. A large amount of appreciation also goes to Dr. Gavin Keulks, Dr. Cornelia Paraskevas, and Dr. Katherine Schmidt. Their passions for literature, linguistics, and rhetoric, respectively, and the amount of care they give their students, have given me new perspectives on what it means to be an educator. I would also like to give recognition to the Western Oregon University Stonewall Center for providing me with a safe space in which to work on my project, as well as providing me with an immense
amount of resources related to the LGBTQ+ community. Significant thanks also go out to all my friends who have helped me through the tedious parts of this project. Whether you were there as an editor, a soundboard, or the pipeline to my caffeine addiction, I would not have been able to complete this project without your help. Lastly, I would like to thank my parents, Evelyn and Jeff, and my sister, Annie, for giving me the support and unconditional love required for me to accept my own gay identity. I would not have been able to write this kind of a thesis had it not been for the warm and accepting environment they gave me as I grew up. OVERVIEW Abstract History and Evolution of the Queer Young Adult Genre Criticism of the Queer Young Adult Genre The Novels
Protagonists Secondary Characters Community and Society Further Study Bibliography ABSTRACT Beginning in 1969, the queer young adult fiction genre has attracted an increasing number of readers. Many critics, however, have noted large problems in the genre, fueled by themes of homophobia and fear, which hindered rather than advanced normalized queer representation. Since the late 1990s, a growing number of books have worked to eradicate these stereotypes and offer a greater range of possibilities for diversity and
celebration of queer identities. This thesis will examine three novels that made large contributions to the advancement of queer representation across the young adult genre. The works are discussed in historical and critical contextsparticularly queer theoryand through my own experiences as a gay man and student of literature. Although these novels are not perfect, I believe each book has made a significant positive contribution to the portrayal of LGBTQ+ identities across young adult literature. HISTORY OF THE GENRE The first queer young adult novel published was John Donovans Ill Get There. Itd Better Be Worth the Trip (1969). While considered groundbreaking for being the first young adult-targeted novel to have queer themes, it has left a trail of tropes and traditions that further novels struggled to break from.
Rather than portraying LGBTQ+ identities in a positive light, the novels queer themes were fueled by homophobia and fear. HISTORY OF THE GENRE CONT. 1970s Ten QYA novels published. Of these titles, only one showed a positive portrayal of identity and community. Others fell into the tropes of fear and homophobia presented by Donovan. 1980s 40 QYA novels published. While there were healthier, more positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ identities like Nancy Gardens Annie on My Mind (1982), many of these novels continued the tropes as well, along with showcasing social isolation as a truth for LGBTQ+ youth. 1990s 75 QYA novels published. Though the number of novels grew, the vast majority featured/were narrated by straight and cisgender characters, creating a distance between queer characters and the
readers. Many novels also followed the tropes associated with the genre. HISTORY OF THE GENRE CONT. 2000-2004 62 QYA novels published. Many of these began to focus primarily on LGBTQ+ characters. Novels like David Levithans Boy Meets Boy (2003) redefined the genre by removing homophobia and fear as the primary motivators of plot and character development. 2004-Present The number of novels continues to grow each year, and they are covering a more diverse array of topics. Most QYA novels prior to the 2000s focused on either white gay males or lesbians, with little mention of other identities or QTPOC. However, as the genre grows with the world around it, there is more visibility concerning diversity in characters and identities.
CRITICISM OF THE GENRE Queer Theory: Queer Theory is a theoretical framework that specific to literature radically rethinks the relationship between subjectivity, sexuality and representation (Seldon 252). Reimagines the connections between society, sexual orientation and gender identity by holding heteronormative values and assumptions (such as the gender-binary) under erasure. CRITICISM OF THE GENRE CONT. Corrine M. Wickens Codes, Silences, and Homophobia (2011) sees a number of works in the genre as being motivated by homophobic discourse and silencing and/or coding queer characters in the settings around them. Sees works that undermine hegemonic masculinity and
show young children as being cognizant of their identities as helping redefine the parameters of the genre. Thomas Crisp From Romance to Magical Realism (2009) identifies magical realism as a way for queer young adult novels to break from the traditions and create worlds and settings where heteronormativity is erased from society. CRITICISM OF THE GENRE CONT. B.J. Epstein The Case of the Missing Bisexuals (2014) discusses the lack in representation and often poor presentations of bisexual characters and bisexuality as an identity across queer young adult literature. Many novels within the genre often depict bisexual youth in either a state of confusion, going through internalized biphobia, or sexually promiscuous. Elsworth Rockefeller The Genre of Gender (2007) discusses the
frequent misrepresentation of non-cisgender identities within the queer young adult genre. Typically, these portrayals are one-dimensional with the character either being a comedic relief due to their identity or standing on a soapbox for the duration of the novel. THE NOVELS Stephen Chboskys The Perks of Being A Wallflower (1999) David Levithans Boy Meets Boy (2003) Benjamin Alire Senz Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) THE NOVELS - PROTAGONISTS The Perks of Being a Wallflower Charlie A straight-identified narrator who is highly respectful of his friends queer
identity as well as queer culture. Can be a queered character based on his exploration of the queer subculture of his community. Boy Meets Boy Paul One of if not the first queer character in QYA literature able to say that hes not used to being hated (Levithan 18). Paul is a character who is highly aware of his own identity and is accepting and helpful to all those around him. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle Aristotle (nicknamed Ari) is a character who struggles with his identity as a queer person of color, but comes full circle and embraces not only himself, but everyone around him for who they are.
THE NOVELS SECONDARY CHARACTERS The Perks of Being a Wallflower Two important queer characters: Patrick Charlies best friend who takes Charlie under his wing and allows him to explore the queer community around them and Brad the school quarterback and Patricks boyfriend. Though they both are portrayed well, there are no significant queer characters in the novel. Boy Meets Boy A large number of the characters identify within the LGBTQ+ community. However, the portrayals of bisexual and transgender characters, along with the minimal inclusion of lesbian characters, has garnered criticism for the emphasis on only the gay male.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Dante Aris best friend and eventual boyfriend is highly self-aware and committed to living an authentic life. While most of the other LGBTQ+ characters are deceased, their stories are still significant to helping characters become accepting and supportive. THE NOVELS COMMUNITY AND SOCIETY The Perks of Being a Wallflower Is set in the early 1990s in suburban Pennsylvania a highly heteronormative environment. The novel does acknowledge that there is an underground queer culture and shows the importance of finding a community that affords a person acceptance, but also falls into stereotypes of outsider communities being gateways to risky and dangerous behavior.
Boy Meets Boy Set primarily in a town where heteronormativity is anything but normative an impeccable move for a novel in this genre to make. Also showcases a different town rampant with heteronormativity, highlighting the need for creating communities like the primary setting of the story. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Set in 1980s El Paso, Texas, this setting is the epitome of heteronormative society. To counterbalance this, Aristotle and Dante highlights the significance of forging ones own community and spaces, as well as the important role that family plays in an individuals journey. FURTHER STUDY Two major ways that I would like to expand on this project:
A larger number of novels While the novels that I selected for this project are monumental for their time, it is important to also include recognition of their contemporaries that have made equal strides for LGBTQ+ representation in young adult literature. If given the resources, I would expand the number of novels from three to a minimum of ten. Diversity in Representation As the queer young adult genre expands, so to does the range in identities represented in its pages. The novels included in this work are fairly homogeneous for their primary emphasis on gay male characters. Being able to showcase the evolution of all identities as well as more specific research related to QTPOC representations like those in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe would highly enhance the overall quality and inclusivity of this project. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Banks, William P. Literacy, Sexuality, and the Value(s) of Queer Young Adult Literatures. The English Journal 98.4 (2009): 33-36. EBSCO. Web. 23 March 2015. Cart, Michael, and Christine Jenkins. The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 19692004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. Print. Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, 1999. Print. Crisp, Thomas. From Romance to Magical Realism: Limits and Possibilities in Gay Adolescent Fiction. Childrens Literature in Education 40.4 (2009): 333-348. EBSCO. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. Epstein, B. J. The Case of the Missing Bisexuals: Bisexuality in Books for Young Readers. Journal of Bisexuality 14.1 (2014): 110-125. EBSCO. Web. 28 March 2015. Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Print. Killerman, Sam. Comprehensive* List of LGBTQ+ Term Definitions. Its Pronounced Metrosexual. Its Pronounced Metrosexual, 17 July, 2014. Web. 4 October, 2015. http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/ a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtqterm-definitions/ Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Ember, 2003. Print.
Logan, Stephanie, Terri Lasswell, Yolanda Hood, and Dwight Watson. Criteria for the Selection of Young Adult Queer Literature. English Journal 103.5 (2014): 30-41. EBSCO. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. BIBLIOGRAPHY CONT. Rockefeller, Elsworth. The Genre of Gender: The Emerging Canon of Transgender-Inclusive YA Literature. The Horn Book Magazine 83.5 (2007): 519-526. EBSCO. Web. 18 March 2015. Senz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print. Selden, Raman, Peter Widdowson, and Peter Brooker. A Readers Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2005. Print. Wickens, Corrine M. Codes, Silences, and Homophobia: Challenging Normative Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction. Childrens Literature in Education 42.2 (2011): 148-164. EBSCO. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.
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