Join my colleague Chloe and I for a brief introduction to the world of queer young adult fiction, from its historic beginnings in the 1960s all the way through to the new directions it’s taking now! Originally presented at the Great Writing Conference, 10th – 11th July 2021.
Tag Archives: Alex yells at their thesis
How might the liminal, mischievous, underdog figure of the Trickster lend itself to stories about queer teens?
Take a peek into one of my thesis chapters in this short video! Originally presented at the Fresh From the Fight: Heroes, Villains and Tricksters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture conference held virtually at the University of British Columbia, 2nd – 4th July 2021.
Queer stuff can sometimes be hard to get your head around—take it from me, a person who has been on a deeply befuddling identity journey and been swimming in the deep pool that is queer theory for nearly four years. Academia on queer and gender issues is notoriously difficult for the everyperson to get into, often associated with stuffy and complex language and galaxy-brain concepts that may or may not resonate with one’s own day-to-day experience.
This is not universally true, and I promise not all academics are trying actively to make their work inaccessible as some sort of wicked ploy. Still, trying to Do Your Research and hitting a mental roadblock can be alienating and demoralising. Not everyone can pick up Judith Butler and immediately absorb that stuff into their brain (seriously, don’t feel bad—I have senior supervisors who admit to needing to read her work a couple times to “get it”!).
The good news is, you don’t have to! There are more accessible, beginner-friendly resource books on queer identity than ever before, and I’ve compiled a little list of some of the texts I’ve found most helpful, both for research and for fun.Continue reading
Land of the Lustrous has captured the hearts and minds of many viewers and readers over the years, for its stunning visuals, emotional character arcs, and being a rare example of a series with an entirely non-binary cast. The titular Lustrous are humanoid gem-people who present a potentially interesting space to philosophize about constructions of gender in a post-human future. However, they also potentially perpetuate harmful stereotypes about non-binary gender only being possible in alien creatures and otherworldly settings. This is an old and pervasive cliché that many non-binary viewers find tired and uncomfortable. Yet, at the same time, the story of Phos and the gems resonated deeply with many trans (binary and non) people, and many fans (myself included) find Phos to be a meaningful and exciting example of a non-binary hero.
These may seem like contradicting statements, but they can co-exist. In the discussion surrounding queer representation in fiction, things are not always so simple as stamping a work with “good rep” or “bad rep”. There are many tricky nuances, particularly when it comes to attempting to “represent” an identity that contains as many ways of being as non-binary gender. While the series is not perfect—or perhaps because the series is not perfect—Land of the Lustrous makes a useful case study for reading and critiquing through a queer lens. It’s a multi-faceted dilemma, and in this article I hope to hold the issues at the heart of it up to the light.
There is a scene in Alison Evans’ Euphoria Kids where one of the protagonists faces a conundrum I’m sure is familiar to a lot of trans people, especially those caught in between “still figuring it out” and “coming out”. The boy—as he is called throughout the novel, as he has not found his true name yet—has to fill out a medical form. This requires, of course, his legal name. But his friend, Iris, suggests that maybe he can make a note for the doctor to only call him by his surname—he’s keeping that, after all, no matter what he discovers his first name to be. It’s a small thing, but it’s a revelation for the boy and in the moment it eases his mind.
On the train home, they have this little exchange, from Iris’ perspective:
I ask the boy, “Do you know about gender euphoria?”
He shakes his head.
“I think, when you smiled after realising you could just use your last name, that might’ve been it.”
“It’s just like, good feelings? About gender?”
“It’s like… the opposite of dysphoria.”
He stares out the window, watching the shops go past. “I’ve only heard of gender dysphoria before.”
“I found out about it a while ago, but yeah. I thought I should let you know.”
He smiles, lost in thought.
(Evans 2020, p. 200 – 201)
I read—and watch—a lot of stories about people growing up. Late in 2019, I officially narrowed the focus of my PhD to specifically zero in on YA fiction, which I was reading and analysing an awful lot of anyway. I also write a lot about anime, and I can’t help but notice that the series that really seem to carve out a special place in my heart—and jog my thinking brain—are the ones that deal with coming-of-age stories, or other examinations of the weird pocket of time between “youth” and “adulthood”. And gosh, it’s a weird pocket of time, huh?
As I write lecture material, and find myself going off on tangents enthusiastically explaining the literary and entertainment value of YA to my students, I also find myself wondering… well, how did I get here? Why YA? That’s a tongue-twister, Alex, why’d you even make me read that? But more to the point, why do we—as writers, readers, audiences, and a massive publishing industry—return consistently to the coming-of-age story, to examinations of youth, to high schools and final-summers-before-graduations and that weird transitional space between childhood and adulthood?
Well, I could get all Joseph Campbell on you and suggest something about how stories of “leaving the nest”, experiencing a ritual quest of rites of passage, and coming out the other side a grown human, are embedded in prehistoric tradition and are some of the tales closest to our hearts culturally speaking. And you know I have my beef with Campbell (affectionately so), but I reckon there’s something to his suggestion that this is an archetype fundamental to storytelling as a form, and I reckon there’s also something to his fondness for patterns.Continue reading
The portal fantasy subgenre and its themes of displacement, liminality, and “strange” children coming-of-age in even stranger otherworlds, has been read queerly by many readers across its history. From foundational academics like Alexander Doty to contemporary authors like A.J. Hackworth, many have noted the thematic and allegorical undercurrents in the portal fantasy that resonate with, and provide valuable escapism and catharsis to, young queer readers.
Seanan McGuire’s 2016 novella Every Heart a Doorway takes a playful, metatextual approach to the portal fantasy, not only by interrogating its tropes and history but by unambiguously portraying queer characters in the genre. By giving her fantasy narrative to a cast of explicitly queer characters, McGuire acknowledges the queer resonance that has long been present in the genre and brings it to the surface of her work, creating a dual-layer of queerness in the text that interweaves magical metaphor with textual LGBTQIA+ representation.
Early ventures in queer young adult (YA) fiction followed certain conventions: they tended to be set in the contemporary world and their narratives focused on coming out, bullying, heartbreak or fighting for acceptance. Most unfortunately, these stories also have a long history of ending in tragedy.
There is absolutely a place for stories that address the often harsh reality of being queer in a heteronormative world. However, this history has left many adolescents (and adults!) under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella calling out for stories that break this mould.
Hey, guess who finally recorded and uploaded her presentation from last year’s writing conference? It’s a dive into the various shapes and forms the Trickster can take in popular culture, starring all manner of con artists, child geniuses, and… geese!
There is a pervasive myth of The Creative Genius: the great writers, or artists, or musicians, or filmmakers must receive divine inspiration, or perhaps are simply born with a unique knack for Making Art that mere mortals are not. Creators are still asked things like “where do you get your ideas?” as if a muse descends from the heavens and bestows them to a select chosen few. The idea of creation as work is, while more widely understood in today’s capitalist hellscape, still something a lot of people are wrapping their heads around. And yet, creative work is exactly that: work. That creative lightning strike is still part of the process, but you need to put in certain efforts to bottle that lightning and actually make it into something viewable by others.
In my last blog post about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! I talked a lot about the sense of creative wonder, and I talked mostly about the characters Midori and Tsubame. This time, I want to talk about Kanamori Sayaka—the invaluable team member who actually wrangles that wonder and forces it to take shape, providing representation of an oft-understated aspect of the creative process: discipline. Continue reading