It’s safe to say Alex Bryant knows a thing or two about young adult fiction.
Author of the just-released ‘The Identity Thief’, a riveting urban fantasy tale full of shapeshifting sorcerers, Alex is more than aware of the common tropes when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in fiction.
From the Gay Best Friend to The Sexless Entity, he’s so kindly took his time to delve deep into what these types of characters really mean and why they’re so popular in young adult fiction.
The Gay Best Friend
Need I say more? The most iconic LGBTQ archetype in all of fiction has to earn top place in this list.
The GBF is there for the hero to share their romantic woes with; to provide the easy banter and comic relief.
Much like their sister character, the Fat Best Friend, the GBF used to be desexualised so that they could support the hero’s romantic endeavours without being a sexual rival.
Everyone’s favourite GPF is surely Damien from Mean Girls, though the examples are endless.
GBFs used to be limited to expressing their own sexuality through a constanve reached an era that will tolerate the occasional same-sex kiss, the GBF will sometimes be allowed their own romantic happy ending. Or even their own string of happy endings, dotted throughout the story.
Peeking Out of the Closet
One step up from total invisibility, you’ll find queer characters planted with breathtaking subtlety into the background of someone else’s story.
Disney arrived at this stage with Oaken’s husband, glimpsed for mere frames over a video feed during Frozen. It’s not much, but it’s the tiniest possible nod at acceptance; the opening of a door that inevitably leads to greater things.
Though we’re still waiting with bated breath for Elsa herself to come out as gay.
Schrödinger’s Couple (Also known as queerbaiting)
A pair of same-sex characters are implied to be romantically entangled subtly enough that any LGBTQ person will pick up on the clues, but complete deniability can be maintained.
The relationship between the two is left completely open to the viewer’s imagination. It’s both alive and dead, depending on the informational status of the viewer. Magic? No, it’s just the mind-bending consequences of queerntum physics.
Although this trope focuses on same-sex couples, it’s worth noting that individual characters can be implied to have any kind of sexual orientation or gender identity through similar tactics.
Marvel are rumoured to have twice cut scenes from films that would have made a character’s queerness explicit (Captain Marvel and Valkyrie), instead of leaving those characters’ queercoded behaviour to speak for itself.
The Sexless Entity
I was going to sweepingly dismiss ace and nonbinary characters as just not present in significant numbers in mainstream fiction.
Then I remembered the panoply of sexless, genderless, ageless entities that inhabit the pages of YA.
For example, the Mortal Instruments series offers up an assortment of strange sexy humanoid creatures with strange sexy sexualities and genders to match.
Does this count as meaningful representation of ace or nonbinary characters? Well, like many of the characters we’ve met today: sure, but couldn’t we aim for more down-to-earth realism?
Romeo and Julian
At last, queer characters are allowed to take centre stage.
And by ‘queer characters’, I mean ‘same-sex couples, depicted as heteronormatively as possible’. Alas, these same-sex romances are almost always doomed to fail.
Now, the tragic star-crossed lover story is of course the oldest romance in the book, and LGBTQ characters deserve to have this story told as well. But it’s especially common in same-sex romances at the moment, perhaps because you don’t need the warring Montagues and Capulets to provide a motive for the relationship to unravel. The intolerance of society is more than enough.
Sadly, I’ve just written a novel that falls directly into this category.
In The Identity Thief, the hero Cass discovers that her mum has started secretly dating the mum of the weirdest kid at school.
She proceeds to emotionally torture the weird kid until he snaps, causing everyone to turn against him, and the relationship to collapse under the strain.
It’s not quite the same dynamic as the usual doomed romance, but it’s hardly Queertopia yet. Speaking of which…
Much sci-fi and fantasy takes place in a society so far advanced or removed from our own that LGBTQ characters are so common and unremarkable that the category of LGBTQ isn’t needed anymore.
Everyone’s just kind of getting along and living their best life however they please.
Iain M. Banks’s Culture series is one of the most celebrated examples, set in a distant future where technology has made the idea of fixed gender or sexuality obsolete.
But we’re also seeing this in more down-to-earth fiction too. Netflix’s Sex Education features a panoply of characters and relationships that don’t fit the hetero norm.
Naturally enough, all these characters are wrestling with problems of their own, but these problems have for the most part progressed beyond the simple intolerance of other characters.
It’s an optimistic vision for a world that is increasingly looking more like fact than fiction.