queer

My Top Five Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters

Recently I wrote a blog post about how queerbaiting got me a wife. I discussed how some of my biggest fandoms perpetuated queerbaiting, and how the fandom and community that grew around that queerbaiting is how I met my wife.

As a bisexual woman though, I’m always excited to see proper queer representation across all forms of media, whether this is in movies, TV shows, or video games. And as an author and avid reader, I’m always looking for amazing books with LGBTQ+ characters.

Today I want to share with you my top five books that feature LGBTQ+ characters (as of March 2018). Some of these titles feature a queer protagonist, while some of my selections showcase side characters or couples.

1. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up. Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell novel.

What can I say about this book? It’s a story you’re either going to love or hate. The Harry Potter parallels hit you over the head constantly, the two main characters are overly indulgent, and to top it all off, the novel is technically the fanfiction written by a character in the novel Fangirl.

Basically, this book is really written for a target audience. If you grew up reading fanfiction, especially Harry Potter fanfiction, then you’ll love it. The book is so fun, and the characters manage to be tropes without adhering to their tropes in an amazing way. Simon and Baz’s love story is silly, romantic, and awkward...everything a teenage love story should be.Plus they’re going to a magical school and dealing with an evil foe who is threatening to wipe magic from the map entirely while they do this.

 2 . Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters

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Is it worth falling in love if you have to keep it a secret? When Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship?

This book holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first novel I ever read about lesbian characters. I found it when I was first discovering my own confused feelings about women, and so it really struck a chord with me as a confused teenager. I remember hiding this book in my room, scared my parents would find it (as if they’d care).

The romance in this story really expresses the confusing, amazing feeling of falling in love. If you’ve struggled with understanding your feelings for someone of the same sex and coming out, this story will likely resonate with you. The characters feel genuine and the story realistic. It’s not the most original concept for a novel, but it’s a classic YA LGBTQ+ book and a quick, addicting read.

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares.

This is one of my examples of a book that has a side LGBTQ+ character, Sebastian. He, and everything in this novel, are so realistic that it is both humbling and painful. This story manages to feel hopeless, bleak, inspiring, and empowering, all at the same time.

Sebastian, a friend of the protagonist, faces very real challenges when it comes to his relationships and sexual orientation. His problems illustrate one of the many difficulties of high school, and really life overall. Every word of this book feels like it could’ve been pulled from someone’s diary, and interestingly the movie evoked that exact same feeling. That almost never happens in adaptations!

4. Luna by Julie Anne Peters

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Liam can't stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister's clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change.

This is a beautiful book, and I’m so sad that I don’t know anyone else who has read it. While the story is about Luna it is narrated by her little sister, Regan. Regan loves Luna and desperately wants to protect her from the world. But the world is cruel, and life is hard, and this book does a lovely job of showcasing that.

It isn’t a story just about the transgender experience, but about the impact this experience has on the entire family. While I am cis myself I found the story, interactions, and feelings to be very realistic. While Regan loves Luna dearly, she still gets frustrated and she still can’t fully understand what her sibling is going through.

5. Every Day by David Levithan

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A has no friends. No parents. No family. No possessions. No home, even. Because every day, A wakes up in the body of a different person. It's a lonely existence--until, one day, it isn't. A meets a girl named Rhiannon. She becomes A's reason for existing. So every day, in different bodies--of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and walks of life--A tries to get back to her.

I adore this novel. While it doesn’t technically have LGBTQ+ characters, that’s exactly what the appeal of the book is. A has no gender, no sexual orientation, and no physical body. They’re comfortable being in the bodies of men, women, and any gender in between. A falls for Rihanna because they see something special in her, not because of her gender.

This is not a happy love story. It’s messy and confusing, between two characters that are absolutely lovable but have plenty of flaws of their own. What this book does very well is show you that it doesn’t matter who you love, there are many different ways to love, and that all of us are incredibly different and incredibly similar at the same time.

Have you read any of these books? Do you plan to pick any of them up? If you have any recommendations yourself, please drop them in the comments so I can check them out!

How Queerbaiting Got Me A Wife

Strap in everyone; this is going to be a long one.

Most of you know what queerbaiting is but for those of you who don’t, here’s the basics. Queerbaiting is when writers and directors of a TV show, movie, or other form of media create subtext between two same-sex characters implying they have romantic and/or sexual feelings for each other with no intent to deliver.

This is common in a lot of popular TV shows. Sherlock, Merlin, and Supernatural are only three big examples of a practice that leaves fans extremely frustrated. Though these characters may follow the same romantic tropes as heterosexual ones do (I’m looking at you, Bones), the writers almost never deliver with an actual, real romantic relationship. This is extremely problematic for many reasons.

But I have a strange relationship with queerbaiting, and that’s because it got me a wife.

                                                        Us being married and such

                                                        Us being married and such

I “met” my wife on Fanfiction.net roughly a decade ago. We were both into the anime Death Note. Shipping in Death Note was happening long before queerbaiting was a common term. Two of the main male characters are literally handcuffed together for months for part of the series. If that’s not queerbaiting, then I don’t know what is.

But, we were young and didn’t expect to see much queer representation in the media. For us, and for a lot of people, this pairing was practically canon.

Interestingly we didn’t meet because of that pair (L and Light), we met because of a more obscure ship involving two characters that don’t even appear for the first half of the show.

If you know Death Note, you likely know about Mello/Matt. Matt is a character who appears for less than 2 minutes in the anime and only several panels of the manga. But *Spoilers* because Mello (who has no apparent empathy and is probably an actual psychopath) says something nice about him, clearly this meant they were in love.

There wasn’t a lot to work with back in the day.

(I still ship it).

So we both wrote the same pairing and we both liked each other’s work, which meant we reviewed each other’s work a lot. These reviews went from simple reviews to chatting about the show to chatting about each other’s lives. Eventually we added each other on MSN.

Facebook didn’t happen for a while, mostly because all this was happening back when you weren’t supposed to give strangers personal information. We did eventually meet up at an anime convention to chat for a bit, but that was it.

But then, Sherlock happened.

                                                It's just for the shipping photos...

                                                It's just for the shipping photos...

My obsession for Sherlock ran deep. It had everything I loved from a queerbaiting couple; the main characters had been thrown together, worked together despite not being too emotionally open, and grew closer and closer as time went by. It was perfect. I needed someone who was just as obsessed as I was.

Enter: my wife.

                                                    No romantic feelings at ALL

                                                    No romantic feelings at ALL

We were friends on Facebook by now and I’d seen her posting about Sherlock. A lot. So we started talking. A lot. We exchanged phone numbers and started texting. We started talking about cosplaying John and Sherlock, since we attended the same anime convention every year. This was right after series two, so we spent tons of time discussing theories and obsessing over Sherlock’s final words to John.

And then one day, while walking across my university campus and texting about Sherlock, I ran into a stone bench.

And that bench changed my life.

My future-wife made fun of me, only she did it as Sherlock, texting John. Sherlock mocked John for not paying attention to what he was doing. Soon they were flirting. And it didn’t stop. Our text roleplaying grew longer. We texted in class and while out with friends. We roleplayed at work and home.

We started to roleplay online on a regular basis, the plots getting more complicated. We relied on canon material for the most part, but started to branch out to create alternate universes. We cosplayed John and Sherlock together, so of course, we had to kiss for cosplay photos. It was only natural, right?

I mean I’d never done it before, but it seemed natural.

We spent unholy amounts of hours debating the likelihood of Johnlock happening. We dived into the episodes and analyzed every interaction. We complained about the addition of Mary and discussed how we could work around her getting in the way of our ship. We read interviews from various cast members and writers to get extra perspective.

All the while our conversations became more personal. We started visiting each other on weekends (she was only about a 2 hour drive away). We got jealous of each other’s time. Friends were surprised when I said we weren’t dating.

But we dismissed the signs. The play-acting we did was for conventions. You have to be in character and fans love cosplayers who will cuddle and kiss for a ship. And we had to do it for private photoshoots, too. And eventually you get so comfortable doing it, that doing it when you aren’t in character seems more natural.

She was even dating two different people over the course of this, and neither of them seemed to think it was that strange. It was simply what you did when you were invested in a ship.

Just not to the extent we did it.

We finally started dating and not long after moved in together. Several years later we got engaged. We ended up having a Sherlock themed wedding.

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And something else we discovered about each other?

Our favorite pairings aren’t actual canon pairings.

We both love John/Sherlock and Matt/Mello. We’ve shipped multiple things in Supernatural. The tension between Merlin and Arthur is magical (hah). I won’t even get into anime.

But when it comes to characters, queer included, that actually are together? We both agree that they’re cute, but that there’s not much substance to them.

This is because of poor writing, not because the characters are queer. Same-sex couples just don’t seem to get the same buildup that heterosexual couples do.

One of the things that makes queerbaiting so fun is the huge amount of subtext. The relationship between the characters is more complicated. You have to analyze the characters with other members of the fandom. Every bit of evidence supporting your ship is exciting and new.

That’s just not the case for big canon couples. Cecil and Carlos in NightVale? Cute yes, but I don’t need to read fanfiction about them. But Max and Chloe from Life is Strange? That’s mostly subtext. You have to look for it. Rachel and Chloe in Life is Strange Before The Storm simply felt less interesting to me because it was so obvious.

That might just be me, though. We all have our entertainment preferences. I loved Yuri on Ice but it couldn’t keep my interest for very long. Though I guess that was technically queerbaiting…? But it was so obvious I’m not actually sure.

But if you look at Hannibal/Will, that’s a whole different story. Most of their relationship is built on subtext with very little actual confession, but interviews show the pairing is legitimate. This is a couple that has a relationship that builds up over seasons. It’s complex. Now if only they’d stop trying to kill each other, it would be easier for me personally to ship.

                                                   We LOVE that they're canon

                                                   We LOVE that they're canon

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that queer representation is extremely important. As a queer woman I desperately want to see more good LGBTQA representation. That’s why the stories I work on all involve LGBTQA characters. I’m certainly not going to queerbait in my work.

I’m working on two different novels right now, and both of them feature queer characters. I’m always looking for media with great queer representation and I’m working on a guide to make it easier for people to find that type of content.

It’s been several years since I really fell into a fandom, and I’ve often speculated as to why. I’m not sure if I’ve just gotten more picky, or if it has to do with the media that is out there right now.

I’m so excited to see more and more queer characters out there, but I have to say queerbaiting has a special place in my heart. Not because it’s right, and not because I even like it, but because I did find my life partner because of it.

Would we have gotten married if these pairings were canon? Maybe. It’s certainly possible, but part of what drew us together to talk as much as we did was because the relationship wasn’t canon, and we always had new hints or bits of evidence to send each other about how Johnlock was clearly meant to be.

But of course, it would have been easy enough for the creators to get these characters together at the end of a series if they didn’t want the plot to focus on the character’s romance. So why didn’t they? Why don’t they? Why do so many shows throw in new female characters, just to remind us that the characters are straight? Why tease fans about a queer relationship if you don’t plan to deliver?

Because it gets viewers. It gets engaged fans. It gets people obsessing over subtext, leading to more posts, fanfictions, and videos. The younger demographic in particular will be drawn to keep watching.

It’s frustrating and brilliant. Because it works. Some people do boycott shows known for queerbaiting, but I’m not going to stop watching a show I love because of it. But there seems to be a little less queerbaiting lately, so who knows? Maybe in the future those same-sex characters that follow typical romantic tropes will actually date.

It would certainly be a welcome change. Maybe it’s happened already and I managed to miss it. Please tell me about any great queer content out there!

Does anyone else have a story like this? My dream was to fall for another geek like myself, and the way it happened almost sounds unbelievable. I was really lucky.

So I guess we can thank queerbaiting for something, right?