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 an award-winning contest story.
The first book with an LGBTQ+ character I remember reading was “Symptoms of Being Human.” I was twelve when I bought it, and it would be more than a year before I would first start to question my sexuality. At the time, I couldn’t articulate what drew me to the androgynous figure on the cover, nor why I felt the need to hide the book from my grandparents who bought it for me, nor why I related so much to the struggle of this gender-fluid teenager, nor why I kept rereading it over and over and over again, particularly the scene at the end where the main character kisses a girl.
All I did know was that something about this book made me feel understood and seen in a way that I never had been before. I sought that same seen feeling two years later – when I was fourteen and finally realized that I was queer, told my best friend, and was reveling in the newfound surety that accompanied being open about something that I had repressed and then agonized over for so long.
I bought every young adult queer novel I could find, from fantasies to romances to science fiction. I lived through them, fulfilling my yearning to come out completely and find love and do all the things that terrified me, but that I also wanted to do so badly. I bought so many that their appearance on my family’s shared Amazon account not only messed up book recommendations for everyone else in my household but also prompted my mother to finally ask me if I was queer.
I didn’t stop reading, I still haven’t even after I’ve come out and fallen in love and done all the things that these early novels showed me were possible. They taught me that I could have a happy ending, which as a young queer person staring at the mountain of problems in front of me, wasn’t something I always believed would happen.
They made me feel OK and normal about my queerness at a time when I felt so desperately alone and estranged from everyone else I knew as a result of it. Growing up, everyone needs to be told that what they’re experiencing is normal, and that they’re going to be OK, and that everything that feels monumental right now will someday just be another bump in the road; and for me, LGBTQ+ novels took that role.