In partnership with Hope in a Box and in commemoration of Pride, we held an LGBTQ+ Lit Contest that asked high schoolers to share how LGBTQ+ representation in books inspired them and impacted their lives. The following is a contest honorable mention story.
When I first read the term, used by a character to describe themselves, I was shocked. There were other people who felt this way?
Being the confused but interested reader that I was, I quickly searched the internet. To my surprise, there were entire websites, forums, and even a flag dedicated to the subject. Years of reading standard adventure novels and hearing the adults around me had drilled into me the standard reaction: ‘They may seem strange to you now, but in the future, you’ll be singing a different tune,’ ‘in hindsight, you’ll realize you always felt this way really, really deep down,’ and ‘no one knows anything about themselves before the age of twenty, if not thirty.’
But after searching around my library and consuming several amazing books, I came to a different conclusion. Being LGBTQ+ is not a phase or something one ‘grows out of’,’ and other uncertainties or confusions about life—career choices, college applications, what ice cream flavor is the best—do not contradict that when you feel a term describes you, it does.
Books like Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars, a novel about a princess who, although engaged to the prince of an ally kingdom, falls in love with his sister instead, helped me be more accepting of myself and others. In this story, the main character, Denna, does not struggle with the fact that she has fallen in love with a woman, but rather the fact that she is already engaged to someone else and her magical powers mean she is caught up in political turmoil.
Denna’s conflict due to her pesky arranged marriage means that the reader, almost accidentally, begins to root for her desired relationship to succeed. This helped me realize that being LGBTQ+ does not need to be an internal conflict or necessarily frowned upon by others; instead of being a trait added to a character to make complications, it is another fact of life, like enjoying books or chocolate. We don’t question whether we truly want to read books, we just read. We don’t worry that we’re going through a phase of liking chocolate, we just eat chocolate and decide not to when we stop liking it.
This casual inclusivity also inspired me to bring LGBTQ+ relationships into my own writing. There was no special formula for creating a gay relationship; it was just like any other relationship. It did not need to be flashy, constantly restating that it was a gay relationship with non-straight characters, wreaking havoc on the characters’ lives as they psychoanalyzed whether they were truly gay. Instead, I could write about two friends happily falling into a relationship together while solving a murder mystery. This freedom to cut out the relationship drama helped me work out my own identity as I realized what types of relationships I wanted to portray.
Finally, reading these novels provided reassurance that identifying myself was not a terrifyingly permanent decision, but as simple as realizing I like dark chocolate.