This blog post has since been published on I’m With Geek.
Two Boys Kissing is one of very few pieces of young adult fiction to have LGBT characters at its helm.
A quick Google search reveals you can almost count the number of similar books on two hands. Compared to the amount of books that have ever been published in modern times (of which there are thousands, if not millions), the fraction of which feature a gay character is almost laughable. But it does seem to be a list that is growing quite rapidly and becoming much more mainstream. So are we finally in a place where it’s okay to reflect the reality of sexuality in books without criticism?
David Levithan is a stand out author in the world of LGBT fiction. Boy Meets Boy, Wide Awake and Two Boys Kissing are just a selection of his books that deal with LGBT characters and issues. And he does it very well – in Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010) he deals with the issues of coming out perfectly whilst making the whole process seem totally normal and totally acceptable in the modern world. Will’s mum, for example, is basically the dream mum – she accepts him with no argument or questions or anything. This will be undoubtedly hugely inspirational to any teenage or young adult readers struggling with their sexuality. I for one would have found it massively helpful.
He stands out again in one of his more recent novels, Two Boys Kissing (2013). This is based on a true story about two guys who took part in a 32 hour kissing marathon in an attempt to get a Guinness World Record. This is probably one of the most inspirational YA books ever written. It has several gay protagonists, each dealing with their own challenges and issues – everything from coming out to gender identity to the pains that come with any long term relationship are covered. It’s beautifully written and a complete tear jerker. Some of the quotes are so powerful and so moving – the use of the voice of teens who died from AIDS is particularly poignant, giving the book a realistic and gritty sense of urgency. It’s speaking out to everyone and presenting to us the pains of being LGBT.
Things like this are clearly a huge step forward. Everyone reads and books can affect the lives of so many people. It’s also clear that in very recent times, these books are actually being accepted. Especially in comparison to slightly older ones. I remember reading about about a book released in 2002, King & King, which was aimed at kids aged around 4-8. It features what is believed to be the first image of two men kissing in a children’s book. This of course kicked up a bit of a stink, with several people describing it as ‘pornography’ because it wasn’t based on the ‘traditional’ family unit. It’s difficult to see how on earth it was pornographic. No genitalia was involved. Not even a naked torso. Not even a flash of nipple. It was literally almost banned in several places because of one kiss that is, in fact, telling kids from a very young age that being LGBT is okay. We’re getting to the stage now where many young children are at least going to have openly gay family members – homophobes will just have to bite the bullet and accept that these books are hugely educational.
These books haven’t just received negative responses from homophobes, though. In fact, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) was sometimes criticised because of the way it dealt with its LGBT themes. Dan Perell (2012, p.5) argued that the book’s depiction of heterosexual relationships and sex as opposed to its depiction of homosexual ones displayed signs of disempowering homosexual discourse; “The physical act of sex is discussed and articulated several times throughout the novel, however, it is the act of heterosexual sex that is privileged over homosexual encounters, regardless of its premise.” This seems a valid point, with the heterosexual sex scenes often described in much more graphic ways. But I do feel that the gay sex scene was probably a bit more hidden purely because it was meant to be – Brad wasn’t out, he was shy about his sexuality and way back when it was written – homophobia was much more rife. The book deals with coming out and other LGBT issues very well. Chbosky might have played up to a few stereotypes, but it was very brave to cover these issues in the first place.
Chbosky wasn’t the first to attempt this. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned way back in the nineteenth century for his apparent engagement in homosexual acts. He’d previously received a wave of criticism following the release of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was censored and extended a year after its initial release to try and dilute the homoerotic overtones thought to be scattered throughout it. This included some things said by Basil Hallward, who is thought to have been gay, and Dorian, who is thought to have been bisexual. This was never officially confirmed, but widely believed to be the case. In the UK at least, you would never see this kind of response to a book like Two Boys Kissing these days.
The world of LGBT fiction has and is continuing to develop and grow at a super fast rate. I’m sure it won’t be long before books for people of all ages feature gay characters and related themes. I’m sure that soon they’ll heavily feature in the mainstream world of literature. Maybe then, when the next Harry Potter or whatever is gay and kids everywhere are reading the books, homophobes will start to drown under acceptance and coming out will be a million times easier. It might seem like a sweeping statement – but brutal first-person honesty in teenage and young adult fiction really could help show the world how amazing and how normal it is to be LGBT.