Once when I was discussing my book, The Secret Year, with a book group, a reader asked me why one of the secondary characters had to be gay.
As it happens, that character’s coming out was the perfect subplot for a book about secrecy. Coming out is a move from secrecy to openness, from isolation to community. Secrecy doesn’t ever seem to have made anyone straight, but it’s made a lot of people suffer. In The Secret Year, coming out is ultimately a move toward honesty, self-confidence, and happiness. The main character’s secrecy isn’t about sexual orientation, but when he finally faces the limits of his own secret world, he already has a model before him of a more honest way to live.
It’s an interesting question, though: Why does a given character have to be gay? In one sense, a writer knows that every detail we reveal about a character should be both true to the character and relevant to the story. But another natural answer to that question is, “Why not?” YA GLBTQ literature is moving out of the “coming-out” phase, and into the phase of the “incidentally gay” character. While coming out will continue to be an important theme, it is, after all, only one part of a life story. Why can’t the characters—whom we’re following around because they’re solving mysteries or training for the big race or just coming of age with witty observations—also just happen to be GLBTQ?
In books like Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (Peter Cameron) and Hero (Perry Moore), the characters’ sexual orientation is part of who they are, but the plots are about something more, or something other, than coming out. Gradually, our literature is coming to resemble more closely the real world in which we live.
cross-posted at GayYA.org as part of the "Gay in YA" Blogathon