Feminism: Questing for QUILTBAGs

[Content Note: Homophobia, Prejudice within Families]

Ana's Note: This is a repost of a Slacktiverse Special.

Sometime between my first marriage and my second marriage, I realized that I am bisexual.

I have never acted on this knowledge. At the time of my realization, I was quietly musing on how to proceed with altering my online dating profile to include "seeking women" while still being upfront that this was new territory for me, when (quite unexpectedly) my second Husband fell into my romantic lap. For my part, I was open with him about the fact that if we did not work out, I was going to start dating women; but as it turned out, we managed to be surprisingly compatible together and sailed off into the sunset, married and determined to live Happily Ever After.

Since that time, I struggle with how to classify myself in public. If anyone were to ask -- and they never do -- I would say that I'm a Kinsey Scale 2: predominantly heterosexual but more than incidentally homosexual. Or I might say, as above, that I am bisexual. Both terms seem accurate to my identity. However, I worry about identifying as a bisexual. I recognize that, as a woman in a different-sex marriage, I retain all the rights and privileges that come with being (or presenting as) straight. I also recognize that, as a woman with little* personal sexual experience with other women, an open identification as bisexual may imply more about my personal past than would be strictly accurate. I understand the pitfalls of misrepresentation and appropriation, and I additionally recognize that there is good ally work that I can do from the Presumed Straight side of the fence.

Because of all this, and because it isn't something that comes up in frequent conversation (despite what television would have us believe), and additionally because I live and work in environments where conversations about Bisexual Women / Lesbian Women tend to lead to hurr hurr sexy porn hurr comments which would make me uncomfortable, I basically don't talk about my sexual orientation.

But lately I've been thinking that maybe I should.

A few weeks ago, my Young Niece tentatively came out as either a bisexual or a lesbian (she says she isn't sure which yet) after having been secretly dating another girl for two months. Her mother -- my sister -- has been less than supportive because Sister-Mother thinks homosexuality is a sin. My Older Niece pointed out to her mother that both Sister-Mother and Older Niece are currently living out-of-wedlock with men, and Older Niece has recently just had a baby out-of-wedlock with her man, to the ample rejoicing of almost everyone in the family. Older Niece argued to Sister-Mother that surely homosexuality can't be a worse sin than heterosexual shacking up, so what's the problem?

But a problem there is, as far as Sister-Mother is concerned. And stuck in the middle of all this is Young Niece, who didn't choose her orientation and now has to hear about what a dreadful, awful, deadly sin it is to be a girl who likes girls. It's all very heart-breaking and infuriating, and it's not something that is going to be solved in a 30-minute Very Special Episode in which Sister-Mother learns a Very Important Lesson, much as we would all like it to be. Beyond anything else, there are serious complications (that can't really be gotten into here) revolving around finances and disabilities and a myriad of other things which add up to mean that Young Niece and Sister-Mother are effectively stuck with each other for a long while to come.

Enter me, stage left. 

I'm not the best aunt in the world. I only really see my nieces about two or three times a year, and then only for a few hours at a visit. I vaguely keep up on their life events through Facebook and conversations with my mother (their grandmother), but we're not bosom-buddies. I'm the cool aunt who got an engineering degree and has two cats and doesn't go to church and votes for Obama, but that's about the extent of our relationship. And most of what I know about my nieces comes second-hand over the family gossip-vine, including this latest news about Young Niece coming out, which means that I can't directly insert myself without it being made clear that (a) someone tattled, and (b) that Young Niece's orientation is something being gossiped about in general. The former will get me in trouble with my mother; the latter will probably hurt Young Niece's feelings. Most people don't like to be gossiped about, after all.

All week long, I have wracked my brain for ways to offer support to my niece without starting up an email conversation that outright says, "So I hear you like girls?" I don't want to make my niece feel cornered or put on the spot. I don't want her to feel like she has to talk to me, especially not when so many other people are banging down her door demanding that she let them vocalize their opinions. But at the same time, I want her to know that there's nothing wrong with liking girls. I want her to see that there are good, wonderful, interesting, lively, incredible, awesome women out there who also just happen to like girls. I want liking girls to be presented to her as normal, as something that isn't odd or unusual or marks her as bad or wrong or different.

In the end, my plan revolved around reading. I continue to be, in that regard, a one-trick pony.

For Christmas this year, Young Niece will receive a Kindle e-reader from me. There will be a number of books pre-loaded to that e-reader, as well as a gift card so that she can buy more of her choosing. The books I will buy for her will have normal plots, perfectly benign in their commonness. A fairy tale retelling. An epic fantasy adventure. A paranormal vampire romance. A futuristic dystopia. The sorts of things that parents so frequently aren't interested in, the kinds of books that can be summed up in a few simple sentences. Books with innocuous covers that won't be seen anyway because they'll be on an e-reader.

But every single one of these books will feature a QUILTBAG person (preferably a bisexual woman or lesbian woman) somewhere in the cast, living and existing and being without it being a big issue-y deal.

This plan, quickly dreamed up on a lazy Saturday morning, hasn't come easily to fruition. Less than one percent of all YA novels traditionally published in the USA within the last ten years have any QUILTBAG characters at all, even minor supporting ones. QUILTBAG protagonists are even harder to find. Those books that are published are frequently either "blink and miss it" references or outright "issue books" where the whole story is about being QUILTBAG. (Those aren't bad novels to have by any means, but they're not what I need for my stealthy support approach.)

In the end, these are the novels that I ended up with (courtesy of a number of online links and references but most especially this one from Dangerous Jam).

Eleven books. Eleven books with plots that can be described without reference to QUILTBAG issues, were the reader so inclined to not get into a fraught conversation about what they are reading. Eleven books with lesbian, bisexual, or gay characters -- many of which aren't protagonists and some of which are "blink and miss it" references. Eleven books that (based on my research) handle QUILTBAG issues at a YA level without diving deeply into explicit sex scenes that (I think) would make Young Niece potentially uncomfortable**.

Eleven books isn't bad for a Christmas present. Not all of the above are $10 a pop (some are significantly cheaper, in fact), but let us pretend that they come out to about $100 total. It's a good Christmas when I acquire $100 worth of new books from my relatives. Eleven books is nothing to sneer at.

But it's eleven books that were selected after literally hours of research and looking. If I say to myself, "Self, I want a paranormal romance with a straight female protagonist," I can find a 5-star book to suit my needs within minutes. If I change that "straight" to "lesbian" or "bisexual", I can expect to spend hours searching for something that meets my needs. And what I find will more likely than not be 3-stars or less, leading me to eye the 1-star, one-sentence, "I DIDN'T LIKE IT" reviews with suspicion and wonder fruitlessly if their vague and laconic hatred came from something genuinely wrong with the book, or from the protagonist being Not Straight. I guess you'll get to buy the book and find out, won't you!

It's eleven books that, after Young Niece has finished reading them, I don't know what she can follow up with. That Dangerous Jam list has (at time of typing) only fifty-four novels on the list. Fifty-four novels to cover all eight letters of the Q-U-I-L-T-B-A-G alphabet, and over a dozen or more genres, many of which may not be a given reader's particular cup of tea. Fifty-four novels where the entrance criteria is simply to have a major character -- somewhere, anywhere -- in the novel identified as a QUILTBAG person. That makes me sad. It makes me wish that there was more out there to be had and read. Books where QUILTBAG people are just plain people, doing people-y things, and existing in the genres that I read and loved as a kid. Sort of a We're here, we're queer, we're going to drop that fucking ring into Mount Doom and knock off for elvish pastries. I want that. My niece, and other girls like her, deserve that.

From now on, as an author and a blogger and as a person in face-space, I am going to identify openly as a bisexual. Not because I want special liberal creds for having another marginalization mark on my liberal library card. Not because I feel like my Presumed Straight privilege doesn't exist or that I don't enjoy significant social privileged because of it. But because I live in a family where my youngest niece is experiencing prejudice for liking girls, and because I want her to know that she's not alone. And because I want to be part of a market growth that acknowledges that people like she and I exist, and that we want to see ourselves in the literature we consume.

At least occasionally, and at least more than fifty-four times in ten years.

* "Little" because that is more accurate than "no", but I also recognize that this word choice seems to conflict with other things stated in this post. I will just say that It's Complicated and leave it at that, as my sexual history is not the point of this post. 

** I have never cared for explicit sex scenes in my casual reading, and Young Niece has said things that lead me to believe that she feels similarly. However, the possibility for projection on my part is high in this regard.


Maddie said...

Oh, and I believe that some Tamora Pierce books have lesbian characters, though I'm not sure which ones, because I haven't read them yet.

Maddie said...

Just thought I would throw in the name of some YA fantasy novels that I have recently read featuring gay characters - the Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare feature at least four - two male, two female so far. The women are minor characters so far and only appear in the fifth book, but the men, who are a couple, are major characters, and their relationship features heavily, including a physical relationship (not graphic, but present) and discussion of being gay in a culture that isn't really for it and coming out to parents, as well as some normal relationship stuff (well, I say normal... a big chunk of it is because one character is immortal and the other one isn't). The books are kind of an odd read if you ever read her Harry Potter fanfic (which is no longer available), because some of the characters and some of the scenes are lifted wholesale from her Draco Malfoy trilogy, but still pretty enjoyable, so probably very enjoyable if you missed her domination of Draco fanon back in the day. Also, there's a film coming soon.

Androgyn said...

Wait, then why not ask "How was the sonogram!" or "Was the baby squirming around too much to see clearly?" or something like that, instead of "So did the sonogram tell you whether the baby has X part or Y part, which might not actually correlate to the eventual gender said baby will be?"

I'm not trying to judge you for wanting to ask- I'm just trying to figure out if there's an underlying question that is easier to phrase.

DavidCheatham said...

Possibly because I know my niece's tastes in reading, and because this post is about a dearth in the industry more than about explaining my niece's tastes so that all my readers will know them equally as well. :)

See, I've never really though about YA as being a taste. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to be at all. I've always thought, and it appears that the internet agrees, that it generally appears to be fiction about young people with problems that teenagers can relate to. The problem is such books are probably a fourth of non-YA books also.

So I tend to think of the YA label as, essentially, self-censorship. It's like an E rating on a video game. The YA industry is really there to give a 'Parents, don't worry, this book is okay for kids to read.' stamp of approval books. And the books also have to be in the 'problems that teenagers have' genre or 'coming of age' genre, but there are plenty of those sort of books that are not consisted YA because they are 'inappropriate for children'.

Thus I think the real issue is that just putting QUILTBAGs in a story, in many parent's minds, makes it inappropriate for children. I don't know if the YA industry is able to change that, because it's not the _parents_ reading those books in the first place. (You'd think that means they could slip such characters in as long as the characters don't make the dust cover...but I suspect somewhere out there, right now, is a list of YA books with QUILTBAG characters in it...warning parents to stay away from them for that reason.)

But I don't really understand about any of this, because I think society's idea of what is appropriate for children is completely nonsensical, and thus we get stuff like the Tiffany Aching series being listed as Young Adult. I started to explain in this post what is in the _first few chapters_ of I Shall Wear Midnight, but soon realized I would need a half-dozen trigger warnings for that, so decided not to. I guess as long as Tiffany is not a lesbian or having sex it can be 'Young Adult'.

Jane Carnall said...


One of the things that I think should definitely be in "Your baby and You" books is "What if your baby is intersex?" because if that is the case, the parents have an immediate set of issues which they'll need to deal with - hopefully not doctors who want to perform cosmetic surgery to make the infant look "normal" but definitely issues with "So, what do we tell all the relatives who want to know, right now, do we have a boy or a girl? Are we going to gender the baby, are we going to deal with the issues of not telling people what gender the baby is*, and if we do decide to gender the baby - what if we pick the wrong gender? When our child is old enough to let us know what their gender is, what's our plan for letting other people know?"

"What if your child is transgender?" is an overlapping but different set of issues, since you're not going to know your child is trans until they're old enough to communicate that...

Androgyn said...

I believe the flippant response popular among my snarky friends for a while was "Innie or outie?" but that's only physical characteristics (sonogram), not genetic characteristics; if you want the latter, I'm not sure, since they only usually do sampling if there's some reason to think there might be a problem.

As a knitter, I usually ask "pink, blue, or third option?" and that seems to bring forward a good response "She's a girl, but we're going with blue for the nursery" or "We don't want to find out until zie's born, so yellow would be nice" because it doesn't sound valuative, there's a clear purpose for the question (what color would you like the baby blanket?) even though it ties into the normalization that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. (It also provides a good way to ask "How many?" without asking that question, because the bearer is likely to tell you how many of said item are expected to be necessary.)

Androgyn said...

I don't remember any in the Five Hundred Kingdoms (but possibly it wasn't deemed plot-important, closest thing I can think of is the girl knight who saves the princess, and they vow to be blood-siblings forever to avoid any literary complications, because otherwise the storyline will tug them into tragedies) but definitely not in the Elemental Mages. She is pretty good about empowered female characters, though.
Wait, I think there are trans characters "Man-hearted Women". (Elvenbane is the name of the book, apparently.) and I'm pretty sure somewhere they mention that there are also "Women-hearted Men".

So we've got G and T, not so sure about B, but I can't think of any L.

And the major consensual poly relationship I can think of was cowritten with Piers Anthony, and uh... it's written in the creepy kind of way he has. Ick.

SherryH said...

I don't think Mercedes Lackey's novels are generally classed as YA, but I don't remember them being terribly explicit, and I do remember many of them having same-sex pairings, from attractions to life-long marriage/partnerships. I wish I could point to specific books, but it's been quite a while since I've read most of them.

Also, something is niggling at me to think that some of Tamora Pierce's characters experience same-sex relationships, or at least attractions, but I definitely couldn't point to any specific books. (Hers are in the YA section of my public library, though.)

And... I don't feel I've helped much at all. It seems like this kind of thing should be easier to find! I think you're a wonderful aunt for trying to find a way to help your niece out without getting in her face about it.

rikalous said...

Ah! Just remembered the Black Magician Trilogy. A side character learns to accept his orientation towards the beginning of the third book, so it's probably not something you're looking for for your niece, but it's one more tally in the list of books with QUILTBAG characters.

DavidCheatham said...

Thread shut down, but first let me apologize if I gave the impression I was going to debate about whether or not you 'should' be buying YA.

I wasn't trying to imply that you should not restrict yourself to YA, or have to justify why you were doing that. I was just asking in case the reason you were restricting the suggestions to YA was 'I am excluding books with explicit sex scenes' or 'I want books that can pass muster with her mother' or something like that. If so, I had some suggestions, if not, I had nothing. (And so...it turns out I had nothing.)

I really try to never tell people what they _shouldn't_ read, or watch on TV, or listen to musically. Why? I admit, it's selfish...too many people have done that to me over my life over things _I_ enjoy. And I'm sorry if I gave the impression I was about to do that to you.

Kirala said...

I don't know if this has already been covered since I'm replying before I finished reading, but Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce IS readable as a standalone. Yes, it's that much richer if you've read the previous two tetralogies, but the characters and their relationships have changed so much (realistically) offscreen that I think an old reader is getting reintroduced almost as much as a new reader would be introduced. It might have the added benefit that the young woman who ends up romantically involved with another young woman is just discovering her sexuality with that first girlfriend, and that the heroine's friends become indignant when they think she's worried about them shunning her or disapproving of the relationship.

It's worth noting that the four main characters are raised from the age of ten by a committed f/f couple (one lesbian, one bi), although the fact is so obscured in the earlier tetralogies that I had missed it utterly. One does not naturally ship two characters in a monastic-style setting, absence of explicit celibacy vows or no... and the children were so much the focus of the first tetralogy, and then gone from home in the second... ah well. I also think Pierce was being deliberately a bit obscure and tentative about branching out to a style of romance she herself has never experienced. But there's that.

thatotherguy said...

Sadly, can't think of any books I've read with homosexual characters.

I was working on writing one at one point. It wasn't like the book was about homosexuality, but rather I thought, hey what if Mark was homosexual? So I wrote him as such. The book itself failed, mostly because I'm a crappy writer. And making Mark homosexual didn't change much of anything, because I don't write much romance (or whatnot) into my stories anyway.

The one thing was, I did find it surprisingly easy to write the few sections where Mark's sexuality did have an impact on an individual scene. Which was odd, because, as mentioned, I can't think of having ever read any books with QUILTBAG characters.

Jentherc said...

Mercedes Lackey's very first book, Arrows of the Queen, has an f/f pairing, and a blnk-and-you'll-miss-it reference to that being common practice elsewhere.

DavidCheatham said...

While common perception may disagree, I'm pretty sure YA can be defined in ways other than 'ideologically sanitised for parental approval'.

Oh, I agree that 'social problems young people face' and 'coming of age' themes could indeed be a genre, and 'young adult' is as good a name as any. Genres are tricky things, some are setting (Like fantasy), some are plot (like murder mystery), but theme works also.

It would be less confusing if society stopped talking about 'genres' and started talking about themes and plots and settings. I think we've oversimplified a bit too much, and there's a lot of stuff in the same category that should not be, simply because the setting is close to the same, or they're both in 'the future' or something. (I had a realization the other day that Harry Potter is actually high fantasy instead of contemporary fantasy, despite it appearing to be the latter by almost every definition.)

But, basically, if 'noir' and 'punk', which are really just themes, currently count as genres, so should 'young adult'.

The problem is that people don't really seem to use 'young adult' that way. Whenever I see someone touting a book as 'young adult', I think '[someone thinks that] that book is appropriate for teenagers'. I don't think I'm alone there.

Interesting fact: Wikipedia does not consider 'young adult' a literary genre. It claims it's entirely about where the fiction is _marketed_. Which is yet a third definition of young adult, and a bit silly. (Who a book is written at is one thing ...who it is marketed to is often some completely random thing that happens after the book is written and thus cannot be an attribute of the writing.)

And now I'm wondering if there's an analogy with the science fiction ghetto to be made here. And while science fiction's attempt to change names to get out of the ghetto did not actually work (It took a generation growing up with it.), I wonder if a new name would help young adult.

The YA industry can resist any parental notion that queers don't belong in YA by refusing to cater to said notion, and indeed more than a few publishers have sought to do exactly that.

That's always the hope.

Certainly, our culture as a whole has many more hangups about sex/gender than about violence, but it's not exactly difficult to find YA novels involving sex as long as it's hetero.

It isn't? Hrm. I admit, I don't know. I tend to just read things and not actually notice if they say 'young adult' or not. The only time I notice something is when a book keeps shying away from somewhere it seems like it really wants to go, or if it presents a weird tacked-on moral...at which point I'm liable to flip to the front and realize it's a YA book.

Will Wildman said...

While common perception may disagree, I'm pretty sure YA can be defined in ways other than 'ideologically sanitised for parental approval'. Rather like how 'literary fiction' can be defined in ways other than 'stuffy university profs approve of it', but usually gets treated like it means such.

The YA industry can resist any parental notion that queers don't belong in YA by refusing to cater to said notion, and indeed more than a few publishers have sought to do exactly that. I don't know if I have the googlefu to find it right now, but I remember a minor debacle within the last year or so when the claim was made that YA publishers would automatically reject any story with QUILTBAG characters and at least one immediately made an announcement to the effect of 'No, please, send them to us!'

Certainly, our culture as a whole has many more hangups about sex/gender than about violence, but it's not exactly difficult to find YA novels involving sex as long as it's hetero.

Makabit said...

Gender is important, basically. What we do with it varies a great deal, but it's a key and interesting thing about a person, and one with great social import.

It's also one of the very few things we can figure out about a person while they're still in utero. (Admittedly, as folks have pointed out here, it's not something we can be 100 percent sure of, but most of the time, the baby's actual gender will match the info we get from the ultrasound.

I asked to know gender because I always imagined I would have a daughter, and I realized that if I actually had a son, I would need some time to think about that, imagine what would be different, and choose a name for a boy.

Some people prefer not to know. Even they develop some ideas. A friend of mine was quite sure his child would be a daughter. He still recalls looking at the newborn and commenting, in confusion, to the nurse, "But that's a penis."

She said, quite reasonably, "Yes. YThat's because you have a son."

octopod42 said...

Thanks. I appreciate the reply. This is pretty interesting stuff, I'm curious how it affects people's lives, and I'm really sorry if my asking about it is coming out badly or irritatingly.

My parents refused to be told, apparently. They came up with two names. :-p If I ever decide to have a child, I'm not sure I'd want to know, and I'm certain I wouldn't want to tell anyone else.

octopod42 said...

Hmm, alright. I'm not yet at the age where my friends are getting pregnant and expecting me to ask about the sonogram results, so I guess it's just not within my experience. Sorry if I phrased the question poorly.

octopod42 said...

Why would you want to ask, though? That is, why do you want to know whether the fetus had a penis on the sonogram?

Makabit said...

I will say that for myself, as a bi woman, the only book that made me feel that sense of 'yes, this is me and this is OK' as a teenager was Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues", as problematic as it is. I don't know as I would recommend it. But it was something of a revelation for me.

Also notable for its great phrase, "The vagina is a self-cleaning organ!"

Makabit said...

Huh. I know that my baby (in utero, just entering third trimester) is XX, and that she (we're making the statistically likely presumption) has external genitals that the sonogram lady can ID as female. 'Genetic girl' is probably not a bad way to describe that match, although I'm not sure that the trans factor is NON-genetic, so...


How about 'girl until further notice'?

Makabit said...

My feelings about Mercedes Lackey are...extensive. Let's just say that the final moment of 'I bloody can't stand this anymore' came with a pair of her books, one contemporary fantasy about a Native American shaman, and the other featuring the most horribly botched PSA-pitched adolescent prostituted character I could possible have imagined, and I was done.

But Vanyel, as much as he annoys me, really did a lot for QUILTBAG YA/fantasy. I try to be fair and balanced, like Fox News.

Makabit said...

There's at least a couple of f/f couples in Lackey, but I don't think any of them are protagonists. There's a pair of women who are together in the Talia books, IIRC, and a couple of lesbian mercenaries in "By The Sword".

My all-time favorite m/m-containing novel would have to be Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint. Which I think everyone should read just because it's so awesomely awesome.

Also, question for anyone else who has read R.A. MacAvoy's Lens of the World trilogy...would you consider Arlin to be trans? Why or why not?

Asha said...

I am not sure where I should place Diane Duane's "The Tale of Five" series. I, as a teenager, found them to be revolutionary, even if Duane herself treats them as her Old Shame. It does a lot of unconventional things with people's relationships and sexuality, even personalities. I LOVED it, because it basically tilted my entire worldview on how people could love each other on its head. Plus, dude, solar powered alien dragons. That was awesome.

The loves and relationships in these stories aren't background, but they are treated as normal and accepted. In fact, spoilers for the end of Door into Sunset :
Gur ragver nqiraghevat cnegl trgf zneevrq. Gb rnpu bgure. Bar bs gurz vf n qentba, nabgure vf n sver ryrzragny naq gjb ner eblnygl sebz qvssrerag xvatqbzf jub ner nyernql zneevrq.

I don't recall anything terribly explicit, and I read them as a teenager myself. The whole of the story again took my little silly evangelically raised brain and pureed it before pouring it back in.

Asha said...

The part you mentioned was : SPOILER and CN WARNING: rape, gender reassignment

Fnvq punenpgre gung unq orra punatrq jnf n zna yrnqvat n tnat va gur uvyyf gung jnf gnxvat bhg pnetb genvaf. Xrguel naq Gnezn jnf obgu uverq gb gnxr gur genva bhg naq gb svaq gur tebhc bs lbhat jbzra gung unq orra xvqanccrq ol gur tnat. Nyy bs gur tveyf jrer encrq gb qrngu. Xrguel punatrq gur yrnqre'f nccrnenapr vagb bar bs n jbzna naq gura gvrq uvz hc ba uvf qbaxrl naq frg gur qbaxrl bhg va gur ubcrf gung ur jbhyq fhssre gur fnzr sngr nf gubfr tveyf.

Yngre, gur tnat yrnqre hfrq uvf srzvavar nccrnenapr gb frqhpr uvf jnl vagb trggvat gur vyyhfvba ba uvz erzbirq. Guvf vaibyirq gur fhzzbavat bs n qrzba jub unq orra gujnegrq ol Gnezn naq Xrguel rneyvre. Fnvq qrzba ghearq vzntr vagb ernyvgl, tvivat gur tnat yrnqre gur obql gung ur nccrnerq gb unir.

My feelings were that it was a karmic justice involved, and the incident came to bite them back in the ass, big time. It was one of the earlier Lackey books and you could tell she was still trying to feel her way through writing a story. Of course, her later stuff starts getting close to bestiality without actually being bestiality.

Jane Carnall said...

Actually, I just tend not to ask. "When is it due" is normally acceptable language, and if the parents want to tell me "It's a girl!" or "It's a boy!" they probably will. ;-)

Timothy (TRiG) said...

One of the best books I've read about intersex complexities, and the ethical issues facing the parents of intersex infants, was actually on a different subject altogether. The author drew on her prior experience with intersex people to illustrate the topic she wanted to talk about in this book: conjoined twins.

h2g2 has been redesigned, and I haven't yet worked out how to link to a specific post in the new system, so see post 70 in my "I've been reading" journal for a description of Alice Domurat Dreger's One of Us.


Mary Kaye said...

Chromosome gender is not a good match to anatomical gender, so bringing genetics into things is really not likely to help. "Anatomically female" is clinical but when that's what you mean I think it works.

A detail from a genetics course I teach: when a couple presents with infertility, one thing you do is check chromosome spreads for both individuals, and it is not enormously uncommon to find out that one of them is an XX anatomical male or an XY anatomical female. (Both tend to be infertile.) The sex-determining locus on the Y is close to the edge of the area routinely swapped with the X, and sometimes gets swapped too. It's one of the most common genetic instabilities in humans.

Jane Carnall said...

One of the most famous "passing women" was Dr James Barry, an army doctor, found, after his death, to be female-bodied. In our culture, we'd definitely label him trans. Would he recognise himself in that label?


One of the many interesting things to contemplate about Doctor James Barry is that even if you could call the good doctor back from the grave and ask the question, Barry's answer wouldn't help: Doctor Barry died almost exactly as the modern language in which we now discuss ideas about gender identity and sexual orientation was being developed.

(Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie [Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study] was first published in 1886: Doctor Barry died 25th July 1865.)

In consequence, I try not to use gendered pronouns when discussing Doctor Barry, because we quite literally have no means of knowing what gender James Barry "really" was. Assumptions that we do are all based on modern concepts.

Naq V guvax Fretrnag Wnpxehz vf (naq jnf vagraqrq gb or ol Greel Cengpurgg) n fvzvyne ceboyrz. Lrf, Wnpxehz cerfragf nf znyr. Ohg, guebhtubhg gur abiry, Fretrnag Wnpxehz fnlf "Hcba zl bngu V nz abg n --- zna" (vafreg nccebcevngr nqwrpgvir) - juvpu Cbyyl abgrf (naq Wnpxehz qbrfa'g qral) nf uvqvat va cynva fvtug.

Boutet said...

"you're not going to know your child is trans until they're old enough to communicate that"

Yes, certainly. I still think the information would be good to access early so that parents would have some general awareness of it. At least then if it does come up they won't be caught completely ignorant of the possibilities (hopefully anyway).

Rainicorn said...

Dropping in late here with another recommendation - Nora Olsen's "The End," subtitled "Five Queer Kids Save the World." Time travel, magic, and five queer kids saving the world :D

Boutet said...

Oh sheesh, this isn't something I've put very much thought into yet. My husband and I have discussed "what if's" about our future kids being gay/lesbian/bi, or having disabilities, or a different religious or spiritual stance than us. Heck, we've discussed "what it's" about us (artist, musician, bookworms) having a hockey kid. We have not discussed anything about transgender issues as it relates to any future kids we are lucky enough to have.
Why isn't any of this in all those "so you're expecting" books out there? I'm sure they could have cut back on all the irritating "breast is best" rants to spare a few pages for these topics!

Snoof said...

I have no idea, but I do know that possessing XY chromosomes doesn't necessarily make you physically male (there exist XY females), nor does having XX necessarily make you physically female (there are also XX males).

Scribblegoat said...

I am embarrassed to admit that my mother and I used to use "hemale" and "shemale" to mean "discussion of sex strictly limited to the biological," but then we stopped when we realized that was an insulting porn genre. /unhelpful

Timothy (TRiG) said...

And, on reflection "female-bodied" may not be the best term to use up there, but I'm honestly not sure what to replace it with.


Leum said...

Also, I second the recommendation of Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. It starts out as a cross-dressing-for-a-cause book eventually taken to hilariously ridiculous extremes, but ends up with an interesting (though subtle) evaluation of transgendered lifestyles brought about by necessity, including (spoiler!) n genaftraqrerq culfvpnyyl-srznyr zna qrpvqvat va juvpu traqre ur fubhyq cerfrag gb n ybfg puvyq.

It's not his YA series (but Pratchett doesn't actually change his themes or humor when he's writing for adults versus for kids; I found his YA books much more emotionally challenging, actually). And it doesn't require knowledge of the universe to enjoy.

I second the assertion that his YA books are more emotionally challenging. They are.

However, I'm not sure why you think Wnpxehz vf genatraqrerq. V pregnvayl qba'g guvax vg'f na vainyvq vagrecergngvba, ohg gurzngvpnyyl, gur obbx vf nobhg cynpvat cbjre fb rkpyhfviryl vagb znyr unaqf gung orvat srznyr vf ab ybatre n ivnoyr bcgvba va Obebtenivna fbpvrgl. N guveq bs gur nezl'f bssvpref ner srznyr naq unir yvirq nf zra sbe zbfg bs gurve yvirf, ohg jung vf fgerffrq ol Cengpurgg vf gung gurl ner jbzra.

Scribblegoat said...

Sorry, I wasn't clear -- most of the women are forced into opposite-gendered lifestyles, but the character in question struck me as having actually realized that this matched a preferred presentation. It was mostly the conversation discussed that made me feel this way -- the character seemed to feel that there was an essential dishonesty involved in presenting as female to family members, to my reading, and to be relieved by the suggestion that parent and male were not incompatible presentations. It struck me as another of those delightful little people-are-people barbs that Pratchett litters through the books -- here in this world of people living opposite-gender lifestyles, this one is actually a transperson, and that's just as okay as everyone else and why wouldn't it be? It matches in tone with other endings, as when being a werewolf is no worse than not really liking museum visits.

Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Kym said...

Pierce is about as easy to jump into mid-series as rhodes is. And I can't remember off the top of my head, but more than a few of her works have passing references to gay characters.

Scribblegoat said...

Also, I second the recommendation of Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. It starts out as a cross-dressing-for-a-cause book eventually taken to hilariously ridiculous extremes, but ends up with an interesting (though subtle) evaluation of transgendered lifestyles brought about by necessity, including (spoiler!) n genaftraqrerq culfvpnyyl-srznyr zna qrpvqvat va juvpu traqre ur fubhyq cerfrag gb n ybfg puvyq.

It's not his YA series (but Pratchett doesn't actually change his themes or humor when he's writing for adults versus for kids; I found his YA books much more emotionally challenging, actually). And it doesn't require knowledge of the universe to enjoy.

Also highly recommended due to what I (without experience) found to be a pleasingly sensitive depiction of a minor character with minor mental disabilities.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

There's reality there, in a long history of what's known as "passing women". Whether they were trans, or women dressed as men for power reasons, or lesbians (some "passing women" married other women) is now impossible to day. Constructionists would say the question is meaningless, that sexuality arises within, and is constrained by, culture, and that the categories of gay/straight or trans/cis don't actually exist in all cultures, and looking for them in our history is probably unhelpful.

One of the most famous "passing women" was Dr James Barry, an army doctor, found, after his death, to be female-bodied. In our culture, we'd definitely label him trans. Would he recognise himself in that label?

So, in Monstrous Regiment (spoilers) vf Wnpxehz genaf, be fbzrguvat ryfr gung snyyf bhgfvqr bhe phygher? V guvax rvgure ynory jbexf.

For a more modern example of the complexities of gender identity and how it interacts with culture, have a look at the story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi.


Cacopheny said...

Drive-by rec for your neice, since this seems to be a thing, for Soulless and the following books, by Gail Carriger: supernatural steampunk set in Victorian London. First book has a male gay vampire, second book a female gay character who is marvelous, and there are further examples later on that I will not say for spoiled reasons. There is a not-at-all-explicit sex scene at the end of the first book, but other than that, the rest are very clean.

Rebecca Turner said...

Oh yes, I third Monstrous Regiment, one of my favorite books (one of the few books I reread every now and then).

Aidan Bird said...

I'm glad you're doing this. I'm always elated because it's a reminder that we're not alone, and that's a pretty awesome feeling to have. This is great for your neice, and I hope she really enjoys the books!

It looks like all my favorite YA LGBT books are either already mentioned or were written in the 80s and 90s, and thus not in the last ten years, so they don't make Dangerous Jam's list.

Anne on my Mind by Nancy Garden was the one that helped me the most to come to terms with my sexuality. Beautifully written and is about two girls falling in love and discovering who they are. There's nothing explicit in it, but it was written in the 80s. It holds itself well however if you ignore the lack of cellphones.

Eon by Alison Goodman was amazing as is its sequel Eona, especially with how well they treat the transgender character, but I don't remember any actual lesbian or bi characters in it.

To be honest, I never liked Mercedes Lackey. All the books with LGBT characters in it that I read were horrifically angsty and just demoralizing for me.

The books you picked out are pretty awesome -- I see two on there that I haven't heard of! I'm going to have to jump on reading those.

Scribblegoat said...

I would be mildly uncomfortable with giving Tithe -- I honestly love love love the book for its gorgeous imagery and the fact that it was a companion of my teen years, but a recent rereading indicated to me that there is not a single healthy relationship in the books. However, there's an absolutely magnificent scene where the main character discovers her friend's little brother's collection of bondage yaoi comics and sits and reads piles of them for hours -- a nice coming-out scene with no drama, and reference to another.

The problem is that (CN: the rapey type of BDSM relationship ahoy, also spoilers), juvyr gur punenpgre vf abg ivpgvz-oynzrq nf fhpu, ur fghzoyrf vagb na vaperqvoyl ceboyrzngvp Q/f eryngvbafuvc jvgu gur ivyynva naq V whfg ... pna'g ... svther bhg jul guvf eryngvbafuvc vf rira va gur obbx. Gurer'f n yvar ng gur raq nobhg "V jvyy arire or znqr urycyrff yvxr gung ntnva!" juvpu frrzf gb frg uvz hc nf n shgher ivyynva naq/be ceboyrzngvp qnzfry punenpgre, gura vg qbrfa'g tb naljurer (gung V lrg xabj bs).

Juvyr vg'f abg znqr rkcyvpvg, lbh *pbhyq* gnxr guvf nf "uvf pbyyrpgvba bs obaqntr lnbv frg uvz hc gb or rafynirq ol gur ivyynva orpnhfr haurnygul qnatrebhf xvaxl qveglubgjebat."

I managed to gloss right over this as a teen in favor of "ooh, kinky D/s relationships ... so wrong, yet so right. Give me more." and it might be an interesting place to invite further interaction: "There's a relationship in this book that I thought was kind of problematic, but I'm not sure what to make of it. I'd be interested to hear your take on it." This has the added benefit of inviting critical reading of the teen/adult relationships.

(Kindles have that leave-a-note function, right?)

The lesbian side characters are pretty awesome, though. Presented as totally normal and in a long-term, loving committed lesbian relationship and sending Kaye their old clubbing clothes (which is a kinda cute scene). Also, Kaye has an interesting relationship with her sisterly mother and domineering grandmother that stays loving but is realistically unresolved, which may be another point of interest for your niece.

/way more info than you asked for.

Arithonne said...

Both of Naomi Kritzer's series, Fires of the Faithful/Turning the Storm and Freedom's Gate/Freedom's Apprentice/Freedom's Sisters, have lesbian main characters and some gay and bisexual minor characters. Trigger warning for rape of the main character in Freedom's Gate, and mentions of rape throughout the series. Fires of the Faithful/Turning the Storm also has a Christianity-analog religion where a religious leader specifically says something to the effect of "God has no problem with homosexuality, but in time people will change the religion to include anti-homosexual sentiments."

Boutet said...

Content note: rape, forced gender reassignment

I stopped reading Lackey because there was just so much rape in it. I was genuinely excited to read stories with gay and lesbian characters as a young teen (had never encountered it before) but I just couldn't get around all the rape that was happening. I don't think it should be avoided in fiction, but it happened so much that it started to feel more like it was being used for shock value or as a literary short-cut for the characters to suffer rather than out of a desire to include it for realism. I was at least glad that she did include the characters struggling to come to terms with what happened to them rather than just bouncing back or never bringing it up again.
If I remember correctly an enemy character was forced into a sort of gender-reassignment that made it more likely that they would be raped, and that was their "punishment" for being an enemy character. This was in the Oathbound if I'm remembering properly. Rot13 for spoilers:
Vs V'z erzrzorevat pbeerpgyl n znyr rarzl punenpgre unf na vyyhfvba zntvp sbeprq bagb uvz gung znxrf uvz nccrne gb or n fznyy, jrnx-ybbxvat ohg rkgerzryl nggenpgvir jbzna fb gung ur jvyy or encrq ol zra. Guvf vf uhtryl ceboyrzngvp sbe zr. Vg vf nyfb gevpxvat zra vagb univat frk jvgu n zna ol znxvat gurz oryvrir gurl ner univat frk jvgu n jbzna.
Gur punenpgre vf yngre ghearq vagb gung jbzna culfvpnyyl ntnvafg uvf jvyy ol nabgure rarzl punenpgre.

That was the point that I stopped reading Lackey. It was ... about 12 years ago so please do correct me if I've gone fuzzy on the details. Please also let me know if my content notes are not accurate or properly executed. It is my first time making a comment that needed content notes and I don't want to mess up.

DavidCheatham said...

I don't understand why you're restricting yourself to YA? (Also apparently just speculative fiction?) YA publishers often seem to be, to put it bluntly, cowards., worried constantly that parents might complain.

I never really saw the point of YA in the first place, though.

If you're willing to go outside YA, get her hooked on Laurie R. King. Start on the Mary Russell series, which have QUILTBAGs unexpectedly pop up all over the place and treated with respect. (By the main characters, at least. It _is_ the 1920s.) When she runs out of those, the next logical choice is the Kate Martinelli series, which has a lesbian main character.

Jeannette said...

Please don't read P. C. Cast's "Marked". It really isn't very good. It has a lot of incidental slut-shaming in it. To an utterly uncomfortable degree (for me at least). And let's not get into the matter of the Magical Cherokee Blood.

Anna said...

Also, you are the coolest aunt.

Anna said...

If you're still looking for more books, I'd suggest checking out Autostraddle's Top YA recomendations here: http://www.autostraddle.com/20-best-teen-novels-for-queer-girls-143198/ Caveat - I'm not sure how many of them are All About The Gay And Issues vs. how many just have incidental gay characters.

Lady Viridis said...

For f/f relationships, I would recommend "Santa Olivia" and "Saints Astray" by Jacqueline Carey. They're adult books, but I don't think there's anything in there that's terribly inappropriate, and the two main characters are both bisexual and in a lesbian relationship. There's mention of sex but it's pretty vaguely written, most of it is "innuendo, then fade to black." The plot is fairly slice of life-- the main character has special abilities thanks to a genetically-engineered father, and it's pretty much the story of her life in a small army-controlled town. The second book is largely the main characters having awesome adventures and being in love. It's also a nice example of a stable, positive relationship that's largely drama-free, which hardly ever seems to show up in books.

JarredH said...

I have yet to read any of her books and therefore have no idea how well her books meet your criteria (the lesbian themes may be a bit too blatant for your purposes), but you might want to check out Sarah Diemer's books.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah and her wife on their way to their honeymoon. They stopped at my favorite New Age bookstore on their way and I happened to be helping out that day.

ETA: Oops! I miseed that Sarah has already been recommended.

Tigerpetals said...

Agreeing with a recommendation can't hurt!

Annafel said...

Yiiiiikes, I do not remember that, but I barely remember reading Oathbound at all. That is so amazingly not okay. Wow.

I, uh, still do read Lackey books sometimes, but I have a feeling they aren't going to feel as much like reading candy anymore. I think that is a good thing.

Leum said...

As a caveat, though, I quit reading Mercedes Lackey permanently as a teen when I encountered, in one of the Valdemar books I believe, a lesbian character who lost her lover. The main characters found her another one and she was just fine. I felt that was remarkably dehumanizing--it all happened very fast, no time for grief--and it crystallized for me what I didn't like about Lackey's books. These are very old memories now and I can't swear to details, but that's my recollection.

That's because Lackey's earlier books are obsessed with "lifebonds," which are essentially true perfect love at first sight. Karen and Ylsa are lifebonded, and so Karen is thrown into automatic suicidal despair by Ylsa's death because lifebonds are So Much More Serious than regular romantic love. So the new girl is essentially a lifebond replacement.

In later books the lifebond idea gets pretty thoroughly deconstructed. Unfortunately, the Magic Storm trilogy (where that happens) is pretty much the last decent Valdemar book.

Boutet said...

I have a similar hesitation to publicly identify as bi even though I do identify that way to myself and to trusted friends. I am married to a man, and I feel like coming out now is either somehow cheating (because I avoid a lot of the crap I would face if I were single or in a relationship with a woman) or that people will take it as a threat to my marriage (which it isn't). I have always been uncomfortable with casual sex or even very casual relationships, so I didn't have much experience with either gender before my relationship with my husband. That makes me very hesitant to try to make any claims about my sexuality, because I feel like I haven't done any of the legwork or the suffering to justify my claim.
Which is actually something that has bothered me about the perception of QUILTBAG people. I could say I'm straight even if I've never dated, kissed, had any sort of sexual experience with a man, and no one questions it. It often seems like no one will take any non-straight claim seriously unless you have some sort of relationship or sexual history to back it up. It seems like most people are not willing to accept a single, non-promiscuous (not implying any judgement on promiscuity, people can do what they want with their bodies) non-straight person's sexual identity unless they have some past relationship to hold up as proof.

As for books, I know I've mentioned Tamora Pierce in comments before and I swear I'm not looking for reasons to push her on anyone. Her Circle books include an adult bi-sexual, an adult lesbian, and a teenager discovering lesbian feelings in herself. The teen does move very quickly into a sexual relationship though, which might not be what your niece would want to read at this point. The sexual encounters are implied in text though, not written out explicitly. Her Provost Dogs books include a transgendered person and a gay man (which, admittedly, doesn't seem like what you're looking for for your niece)

Annafel said...

MaryKaye, I had a different reaction to that scene - I will put it rot13 again b/c spoilers.

Zl vagrecergngvba jnf gung Gnyvn qvqa'g trg Fureevy gb ercynpr Lyfn sbe Xrera, ohg engure orpnhfr Fureevy jnf gur bayl crefba jub jnf tevrivat sbe Lyfn ba pybfr gb gur fnzr yriry nf Xrera, naq gurersber gur bayl crefba jub pbhyq chyy Xrera bhg bs jvyyvat urefrys vagb qlvat evtug gura naq gurer. Gur vzcyvpngvba, V gubhtug, jnf gung Fureevy naq Xrera jbhyq pbagvahr gb tevrir gbtrgure, naq nyfb cerfhznoyl ortva gb sbez gurve bja eryngvbafuvc.

Mind you, I did read that book for the first time when I was about 13 and didn't yet identify as queer myself, and I think I was mostly astonished at the idea of poly relationships existing even as an idea, so I might have missed some nuances there.

I truly don't think Lackey intended to devalue lesbian relationships, but intent isn't magic and I can see how it could be read that way. Any further thoughts?

Isabel C. said...

That was my impression as well.

Well: gung naq jrveqb fghss jvgu yvsrobaqf, juvpu vf gur ovt cneg bs Ynpxrl gung V'z arire pbzsbegnoyr jvgu*: uhmmnu, OF rkphfr sbe ybir ng svefg fvtug gung'f npghnyyl jrveqb Ihypna zvaq zryq jung gur npghny shpx? V'z ernyyl tynq fur'f cunfrq gurz bhg.

*I mean, other than the fact that I am intensely uncomfortable sitting on a train and reading a book with a giant pastel pony on the cover. Yeeesh.

MotherDemeter said...

I hadn't ever really thought about it like the way you put it in your last paragraph. I am similar as you, bisexual but married monogamously to a man. I didn't fully understand the full extend of my bisexuality until after we started dating, and we got married quite young. I would identify as more of a Kinsey scale 4 or 5 however, which is somewhat interesting for our relationship.

I am openly bisexual and I have made out with women but nothing further. Spouse and I are still trying to figure out the complicity of being more or less open. Neither of us find casual sex appealing which makes being open more difficult I think, since an extra relationship would be deeper. However I can casually kiss quite easily. Anyway, I sometimes have weird feelings about identifying bisexual for the reasons you describe so I appreciate this way of looking at things. My orientation didn't switch when I got married after all. If I married a woman I would still be attracted to some men. And I am certainly not doing it for the (male) attention.

I wish there were better stories out their for girls like your niece. I bet it is a rising market though, and sure to improve vastly every year.

MaryKaye said...

As a caveat, though, I quit reading Mercedes Lackey permanently as a teen when I encountered, in one of the Valdemar books I believe, a lesbian character who lost her lover. The main characters found her another one and she was just fine. I felt that was remarkably dehumanizing--it all happened very fast, no time for grief--and it crystallized for me what I didn't like about Lackey's books. These are very old memories now and I can't swear to details, but that's my recollection.

Frenchroast said...

The Demon's Lexicon (and the following two books in that trilogy) by Sarah Rees Brennan has a gay character whose gayness is just there, not a plot point/PSA or anything like that. Just part of who he is. It's also a really good read. http://www.amazon.com/The-Demons-Lexicon-Trilogy/dp/1416963790

Gelliebean said...

I loved, loved, loved The Dark Wife and will happily second any recommendations. :-)

Mercedes Lackey - I can think of 3 stand-out homosexual characters off the top of my head - Vanyel (main character) and Bard Stefan in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and Firesong (secondary character) in the Wind and Storm trilogies. There are other minor male homosexual characters and three lesbian characters, none of whose names I recall at the moment (as well as Lavan Firestarter who one could possibly make a case for being asexual?) in the Valdemar series. In the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, and in the Elemental Mages series, I don't remember any characters who are other than heterosexual.

I have to say, I'm sad now, looking at my bookshelf and realizing how little diversity is there. :-(

Annafel said...

Seconding the love for Sarah Rees Brennan's books! Her new book, Unspoken, has at least one QUILTBAG character, and it is unclear how other characters' sexualities may unfold in the sequels.

Annafel said...

Lackey's three female lesbian characters that I remember are Sherril, Keren, and Ylsa from the Arrows of the Queen trilogy (Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, and Arrow's Fall, featuring Talia, a straight white cis able-bodied woman as the protagonist.)

SPOILERS: gurer vf nyfb gur fhttrfgvba gung gur guerr bs gurz jbhyq yvxryl unir sbezrq n fgnoyr, cbyl eryngvbafuvc vs Lyfn unqa'g qvrq.

I don't recall any other QUILTBAG ladies in any of her other books, but I haven't read them all.

Kristy Griffin said...

Two suggestions: "The Ladies of Mandrigyn" and "A Free Man of Color," both by Barbara Hambly. They're not technically YA, but not terribly difficult or "adult-themed" reads either. And I cannot recommend them enough.

Ladies of Mandrigyn is the first in the fantasy Sun-Wolf-and-Starhawk series. Brief synopsis: patriarchal town gets conquered by evil overlord, 95% of men enslaved and sent to work and die in the mines. The women have to take over their roles - and some form a conspiracy. After failing to hire mercenaries, they kidnap a mercenary captain to train them into a fighting force, to storm the mines and rescue their men.

Contains: a lesbian relationship between two prominent secondary characters, never (I think) openly stated, but alluded to and taken as a given by the end of the book. Bonus content: examination of other relationships between women, a clear-eyed look at how classism and patriarchy affects society, a main character and eventual love interest who is straight but looks and acts "masculine," complex characters who are neither wholly good nor evil, and a bittersweet, only-mostly-happy ending.

A Free Man of Color is the first of the Benjamin January Mysteries. Brief synopsis: a highly-educated former slave moves back to 1830's New Orleans after 16 years in Paris. When a light-skinned courtesan is murdered at a Mardi Gras ball, he quickly realizes that the local police are not interested in investigating if the killer is likely to be a white man. For a variety of reasons, he finds himself being dragged into the investigation.

Contains: what is either a lesbian relationship in which one partner disguises herself as a man for social and economic reasons, OR a heterosexual relationship in which the man is transgender. (Evidence exists for both interpretations, but the author tries not to impose 21st-century definitions onto a 19th-century world.) As an added happy, they get married at the end. Bonus content: a look at how classism, racism, and sexism all interact and intersect; a POC POV; a pretty brutal deconstruction of patriarchy and (by extent) rape culture; a major character who is a rape survivor; a compassionate view of sex workers; a debunking of the popular conservative myth that slaves were happy and content (even the best and happiest master-slave relationships were still pretty damn problematic); an examination of how fundamentally good and kind people can still be blinded by their own privilege into doing serious harm; and a bittersweet and mostly-but-not-entirely happy ending.

(What it does NOT have: a white hero who saves the day. There are some sympathetic white characters, and one is even damn helpful, but no Great White Savior.)

For your niece especially, I also think she could find a lot to relate to in Benjamin's complicated relationship with his mother.)

I haven't read all the rest of the books in the series, so I don't know if they contain any other QUILTBAG characters, but they do continue to be very feminist-y and social-justice-y - WITHOUT ever coming off as preachy or pedagogue-y. These themes are just worked into the narrative (almost as if they were part of life!)

Isabel C. said...

No main character f/f pairings, but Arrows of the Queen has a sympathetic bunch of supporting protagonists.

Ana Mardoll said...

I love Lackey, but I think -- if I did my research right -- that she hasn't got any f/f pairings. I believe the majority of her QUILTBAG pairings are m/m. Which is fine, and we need more of that too, but wasn't what I was looking for with my niece.

If there is an f/f Lackey pairing that anyone can remember, do please rec it because I want! :)

There was a Pierce book rec'd in my studies, but it was very deeply into a series that didn't look like one could easily pick up 6 book in (or however many), so I passed it by.

Isabel C. said...

Go you!

I have a bisexual supporting character, and a lesbian minor-character couple with kids, in Hickey, but the former's sexuality is kind of blink-and-you'll-miss-it and the latter is pretty minor. If I ever do a sequel, or another modern-fantasy thing, I'd like to do more with LGBTA stuff. (Hell, I'd like to do more with it in my romances, if I can figure out how to manage it*.)

Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment has n pnaba yrfovna pbhcyr, gubhtu obgu ner snveyl qnzntrq. Otherwise, I can think of distressingly few QUILTBAG characters even in the stuff I read, except for the authors mentioned above.

*Have to adhere to at least some standard of historical accuracy; have no desire to make my protagonists homophobic asshats as per at least common perceptions of historical attitudes; I'll see what I can find for resources and what I can do, but it's one of the things that bugs about my chosen setting/genre.

Thette said...

Being out is great for normalising QUILTBAG issues. My six year old daughter was making nonsense rhymes, and came up with a slur against lesbians. I told her it was mean to women who fall in love with other women, and asked her not to use that word. Then I said "You know that I fall in love with both men and women, right?" and I was so proud to get an eye roll and an "I knoooow!"

Boutet said...

Whoops, Pierce was already mentioned while I was typing. Never mind!

Tigerpetals said...

Try the website www.goodlesbianbooks.com They have themed lists and book reviews, and include a category for YA as well as asexual women and asexual lesbians. There are also links to the material.

The following are both on the Kindle:

I've read and loved Lady Knight by L-J Baker: http://www.amazon.com/Lady-Knight-L-J-Baker/dp/1933110759?ie=UTF8&tag=lgb01-20&link_code=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969 Their review, according to which it's more a love story than a fantasy: http://www.goodlesbianbooks.com/2011/07/book-review-lady-knight-by-l-j-baker.html Though it has sex scenes, and you did say you didn't want explicit scenes. Also, trigger warning for rape: there is a rape scene or an attempted rape scene, I can't remember which.

Some of the female characters in Catherynne Valente's Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden are queer, though the frame story seems to be going in a straight direction (I haven't yet read the sequel).

Neither of those above suggestions is YA. This one is. The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer is a YA lesbian retelling of Hades and Persephone: http://oceanid.org/thedarkwife.html It is available on the Kindle as well as other places, even free on this page for everyone who needs it. The author asks for a donation which you are free to give or not give. Check out the site for more books, novels, and short stories. The review on Good Lesbian Books: http://www.goodlesbianbooks.com/2011/10/book-review-dark-wife-by-sarah-diemer.html

Lesbian fairy tale novella series by Elora Bishop and her wife Jennifer Diemer: http://elorabishop.wordpress.com/sapphos-fables-lesbian-fairy-tales/

And, from what I've read here I know you're going to disagree with this blog author's opinions on YA (and all genres, and other stuff), and likely with her rhetoric, but here are her recommended stories by LGBT writers: http://requireshate.wordpress.com/tag/lgbt-writers/ Her other tag which has some overlap: http://requireshate.wordpress.com/tag/ladies-rowing-queerboat-in-het-sea/

You may not find all of these suitable for your niece, but hopefully you can enjoy some yourself!

Will Wildman said...

I'm mulling over whether amateur/fanfiction could have much to offer here. On the one hand, there can be no question that amateur fiction is vastly more accepting of and enthusiastic about queer stuff, and there is the classic argument "Of course we shipped Kirk and Spock together; you weren't giving us any canonically gay characters". On the other hand, there is even more bad amateur fiction than bad professional fiction, and it's not hard to run into fandom problems of exoticising/fetishising queer relationships for the enjoyment of straight audiences.

We're here, we're queer, we're going to drop that fucking ring into Mount Doom and knock off for elvish pastries.

This is delightful.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you. I don't usually pat myself on the back, but I was pretty pleased with that sentence. :P

Ana Mardoll said...

I was confused because you posted "if you don't like the word bisexual" in a post where I not only didn't say I didn't like it, I said I embrace it as self-identification. I like it just fine, thanks.

I wanted to clarify because there *are* people who don't like the word, but I'm not one of them.

tomwest said...

Ah... fair enough :-) Hmm... maybe instead of "If you don't like... " I should have said "If you don't feel the word bisexual is a sufficiently accurate description...".

Ana Mardoll said...

Who is this comment in response to?

tomwest said...

Umm... it was in response to you, of course... it was a comment on a blog post written by you, in which you said "I would say that I'm a Kinsey Scale 2: predominantly heterosexual but more than incidentally homosexual. Or I might say, as above, that I am bisexual". Hence my suggestion. (Not that I care what word you use - I just wanted to throw another option into the mix.)

tomwest said...

If you don't like the word bisexual because you favour one gender over the other, why not "sesquisexual"? ("Sesqui-" meaning "one and a half"... i.e. somewhere between only liking one sex but not likeing two equally)

Rebecca Turner said...

Just a "hear hear" for being out for all the reasons you state. When I came out, I was surprised to have a relative of mine come out to me as bi. They'd been quiet about it for the same reasons you were, because they could, because they'd not found themself in a serious relationship with a member of the same sex. Their coming out wasn't necessary, but it does always help to know there are more people that you don't have to explain yourself to (as much anyway =p).

Weirdwombat said...

A few books I enjoyed as a younger (bi-female) reader...

Lythande, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Dream snake, Vonda McIntyre
Nadya, Pat Murphy
Anne on my mind, which someone recommended earlier, read later in life but think it's suitable for younger people, though I did find it a bit depressing and angsty in places
Tales of the city was always a big favourite of mine

I will add some more if I remember any.
Glad you are supporting your niece. All the best to you both

Brenda said...

Regarding Mercedes Lackey, I really haven't read any of the Valdemar books after the first trilogy, but I would highly recommend some of her more recent series - the Elemental Masters and the Tales of the 500 Kingdoms.

Elemental Masters are really detailed historical fiction which includes magic for just a few characters, mostly set in early 20th century England. The first book in that series is "The Serpent's Shadow". Oh, and all the books in these series correspond with a fairy tale - not literally, just in the vague outline of the plot. But there are also things like a female doctor trying to do her job amid the harassment of the men who run the hospital (and not all the men are bad, but there's one who's targeting her.)

Tales of the 500 Kingdoms take place in a world where fairy tales not only true, they try to come true, whether or not there is an eligible prince available for the poor orphaned stepdaughter. First book is "The Fairy Godmother", in which the title character learns to manipulate The Tradition to find a better happy ending - or at least a less tragic one.

As for adding to the list, the one that I immediately thought of is "The Skull of Truth" by Bruce Coville - part of his Magic Shop series. Charlie, a kid who is a compulsive liar, steals the skull from the magic shop (it wasn't his fault!) Not only is he forced to tell the truth, but the effect starts spreading to his family, leading to a scene where his favorite uncle reveals that his best friend Dave is his boyfriend. Charlie runs out of the room, but later he and his uncle talk it over. (It's better than it sounds. I would recommend ANY book by this author - they're aimed at a slightly younger audience than some of the other books in this list, but I'm 28 and still reread his books.)

Kirala said...

Deeply though I love the Elemental Mages, and much as I respect The Fairy Godmother (iffier on the other 500 Kingdoms books so far), none of them have anything to do with either of the topics of this thread, QUILTBAG characters or YA Literature. Do you have anything in line with these specifications?

Lunch Meat said...

I think this is a really wonderful thing you're doing. I wish I had anything to recommend, but unfortunately I don't read much YA at all, and especially not much outside the most popular stuff.

I think there are a lot of people in the married-monogamous-passing-as-straight boat. For me, the two main reasons I don't come out are appropriation (since I never experienced any conflicted feelings about my orientation--I always knew I was straight until after I was through high school and college, and then it was easy for me to accept being bi--and I have never been discriminated against, it would feel like going up to a person of color and saying "I know all about racism! I'm one-eighth Cherokee!" or someone who had lost a loved one and saying "I know all about grief! My cat died when I was five!") and the fear that it would make my being an ally much less effective. I already got enough "You're just a liberal/secret atheist/Californian coming here with your agenda to erode our Christian values" when people thought I was straight; I worry people wouldn't listen to me at all if they thought I had something to gain out of QUILTBAG rights activism. Even though I intend to be married to my husband until we die quietly in our sleep while holding hands at the age of 125.

Pqw said...

I'm mostly asexual these days, but I find (well-written) sex scenes hot, no matter which characters are in them. I have several SFF books that I love that also contain lesbian romance and/or sex.

(Haven't read other comments yet, so apologies if these have already been mentioned.)

Nicola Griffith, Ammonite (old), and Slow River (much newer).

Laurie J. Marks, the Elemental Logic series: Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic. The two heroines are lesbians who become lovers. They have 2 very good male friends, who become lovers (2 gay males, iow, not a poly tetrad). They also have 2 other friends who are a female-male couple. No transgender characters I can think of.

I once spent time figuring out the proportion of gay/lesbian to het characters in the EL universe, and it seems to be about 50/50. Very different than ours.

Joan Slonczewski, The Highest Frontier (new-ish).

Katie Waitman, The Merro Tree (old-ish). Uneven writing, but amazing characters that I can't forget. Protagonist is a male humanoid who loves a male nonhumanoid alien. Lots of intriguing aliens, worlds, settings.

Aidan Bird said...

I don't know. Some trans people really can't stand the terms and are hurt by them.

But some are okay with it. It's very hard ground to traverse.

Nora said...

I'm a little surprised that nobody's recommended Marion Zimmer Bradley yet. Her book, Thendara House, had major characters who were lesbians or bisexual, and a lot of the plot involved the different attitudes that Terran and Darkovan society had about sexuality and marriage and women in general. It's not her best book (for my money, that's The Heritage of Hastur), but it's one I've long loved.

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