Johns Hopkins University Press
  • "We Taught You How to Dance":Cultural Inheritance in David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing

What does queer futurity look like?1 According to José Esteban Muñoz, queerness itself is always found on the horizons. Following Muñoz's trajectory of a queer future that is found "then and there," this essay proposes that queer YA literature functions as a beacon on this distant horizon. In addition to the visions of queer futurity that YA texts offer, these works might also be viewed as the vessels that can transport us there. In this essay, I focus on David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing (2013), examining the paths toward a queer future that this work sets out. Finally, I identify a number of ways in which queer YA texts fall short in the visions of futurity they extend, looking to Levithan's novel as a means of responding to and overcoming many of these (generic) shortcomings.

In a survey of contemporary Young Adult literature, Michelle Ann Abate and Kenneth B. Kidd observe that homosexuality "has now become nearly a mainstream topic in YA literature" (5). Companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have both confirmed and capitalized this trend in categorizing works under headings like "Teen & Young Adult Gay & Lesbian Fiction" and "LGBT and Gender Identity Teen Fiction," respectively.2 Although scholars have been remarking on this growing body of work since at least four decades ago, the number of Young Adult novels that center around queer themes and characters published in recent years warrants not only comment, but serious scholarly attention. Furthermore, despite the widespread praise these works have garnered, very little scholarship has examined what exactly this increasing trend means for its readers.

Caroline T. Clark and Mollie V. Blackburn offer a useful starting point for understanding what these texts might accomplish. They conclude their 2009 publication "Reading LGBT-Themed Literature with Young People: [End Page 1] What's Possible?" with the insight that readers are often drawn to YA texts by the "sense of queer youth in queer communities"3 that saturate their pages (29). This term "queer communities," however, is richly enveloped within theoretical debates: what does it mean, and how do queer YA works foster it?

Although many scholars have critiqued the existence of such a thing as "queer communities" (addressed below), David Halperin has certainly made a compelling argument in its favor, first belaboring the existence of "gay communities."4 Joining a range of other scholars (as well as most laypeople), Halperin observes "that what makes gay men different from the rest of the world is something that goes well beyond sexual preference or practice" (11). In How to Be Gay, Halperin traces this difference not only as an aspect of queer communities, but in what he refers to as "homosexuality as culture" (italics mine, 13) or as "the cultural practice of homosexuality" (italics in original, 13). Expanding on this idea, Halperin states that the culture of gay men operates differently from the cultures of other minority groups "defined by race or ethnicity or religion"; clarifying this claim, he states, "[G]ay men cannot rely on their birth families to teach them about their history or their culture" (7). Unlike members of these other groups, gay men "must discover their roots through contact with the larger society and the larger world" (7).

While Halperin's work expertly portrays how cultural inheritance functions in gay communities, it may be worth contextualizing this term in the evolutionary discourse from which it is borrowed. "Cultural inheritance" made an early appearance in a 1973 article by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (a geneticist) and Marcus W. Feldman (a professor in biological studies). They define this idea as "the transmission from generation to generation of information. It includes, or at least influences, behavior, social customs and language" (42). An important aspect of their definition is that it is not a passive act. As Halperin states, it must be taught, but Halperin goes on to say that anyone can be taught. Although gay individuals may certainly have a proclivity toward these practices or at least an extra initiative for joining in them, they are theoretically available for anyone to participate in. An essential aspect of this adoption process, however, is that one must be initiated into it "by someone (gay or straight) who is already good at it" (Halperin 13).

This learning process is what the quotation from the title of this essay hints at. Borrowed from the opening pages of David Levithan's YA novel, Two Boys Kissing, the quotation is part of a larger passage that functions to articulate the relationship between the work's narrators and its potential audience. Breaking many of the generic standards of YA texts (a central idea that this analysis will return to later), the narrators of Two Boys Kissing are depicted as a ghostly chorus of gay men, victims of the AIDS epidemic, who address their younger readers directly as they narrate and comment on the lives of [End Page 2] eight gay high school boys. Despite the differences that this chorus sees between the environments that the boys are growing up in and their own, they begin their narration with a declaration of the "commonality" visible in the lives of gay men throughout time; they end this declaration with the simple claim, "We taught you how to dance" (3). This idea of cultural inheritance persists throughout the novel, touching on similar themes as Halperin does in the narrators' clarification that being gay is more than a preference or an identity: "Dreaming and loving and screwing. None of these are identities. Maybe when other people look at us, but not to ourselves. We are so much more complicated than that" (6). Indeed, the attempts to clarify what "we are" becomes the novel's main theme, to which its narrators return to again and again.

This question of what "we are" quickly falls into the realm of phenomenology, as many works that aim to understand queer identities do (cf. Gayle Salamon). Although the narrators of Two Boys Kissing blatantly confess their inability to offer a substantial answer to the question of how they came to be (both collectively and individually), the novel builds strong connections between the idea of commonality within queer communities at any given moment in time with the connectivity between generations of queer communities. This link is emphasized repeatedly throughout the text: "[Y]ou were connected. By your desires. By your defiance. By the simple, complicated fact of who you were" (7). Here, the narrators speak not only of their own past experiences, but project this idea of community into the future as well. Their second-person address encompasses not only their own memories, but their expectations for both the present-day characters in the novel and their prospective readers as well.

As noted above, the question of queer communities' and queer cultures' existence accounts for an ongoing debate among queer theorists (Halperin 8). Frequently, the disavowals of these terms come from scholars who express concern that collectives like these operate in a manner that flattens the experiences of those queer individuals who would otherwise be grouped into them. Expanding on the work of Leo Bersani, Jack Halberstam states that the whole idea of a "gay community" is a "complete fiction": "[T]here's nothing really that unites gay people."5 While this stance offers an explanation to an intergenerational resistance in queer theory (which reappears at the end of this essay), it does little to account for the fact that there are, indeed, many queer people in existence, and that they have, at least linguistically, been identified together. Whether this group is better termed queer populations or queer communities, there are, nevertheless, aspects of cultural inheritance that do unite them as Halperin has shown.6 In his own words, it seems that a well-intentioned political correctness is often at the root of this resistance, [End Page 3] but he refutes this idea, saying, "Complete obviousness combined with total unacceptability is typically what distinguishes every worthwhile idea" (10). This is to say that while Halperin recognizes how taboo it might be to reopen conversations about common traits that emerge in certain populations (conversations that might easily be misinterpreted as a justification for stereotypes), he nevertheless finds that when patterns emerge in groups of gay-identifying individuals, they occasion further examination.

In thinking about the stakes of this argument, we return to the question of queer futurity. The suggestion of a future implies the existence of a past, but without queer communities, we lack a vehicle for the handing down of queer culture. Therefore, tracing the process also works to build a case for a queer future. In the example of Two Boys Kissing, we see this queer cultural inheritance as it pertains to gay communities in a number of threads that run throughout the novel. To begin with, Levithan self-identifies as a gay man and has stated that all of his works are to "some degree autobiographical" (Frequently Asked Questions). Two Boys Kissing, like most of his works, is categorized as a Young Adult text; as such, Levithan is a participant of this generational exchange on the level that the target audience he writes for is typically a generation (or two) younger than his. While imparting his knowledge about what it means to be involved in gay communities to a younger generation, Levithan also invests in them; finding in his younger audience a form of queer futurity (much as the narrators of the novel do), Levithan seems to have discovered what theorists like Edelman have overlooked.

The characters within the novel serve as a second model of queer cultural inheritance. The chorus of gay men articulate this idea beautifully, stating, "If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother's or your grandmother's best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. … We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation" (3). Here, a kind of pseudo-biological tie is identified, as the chorus of older gay men narrating the text claim for themselves titles like "shadow uncles" and "angel godfathers." And although the younger protagonists of the work may be largely unaware of the impact that this older generation of gay men has had on their lives, other characters within the text are known and esteemed by the queer youth. Mr. Nichols is the most obvious example of this, functioning as the literal teacher to two of the novel's protagonists. "A history teacher. An out, outspoken history teacher," Mr. Nichols is at one point even likened to "a rabbi or a priest offering a benediction" as he addresses his younger gay students (109–10). This analogy to religion—like the earlier familial appeals of the narrators—harkens back to Halperin's distinction between gay communities and other, more biologically-influenced types of [End Page 4] communities, further blurring the lines that separate these various forms of intergenerational exchange.

Lastly, the novel itself, acts as a vehicle for cultural transmission. Not only does the queer content of the publication foster its own queer community of readers, but it also functions as a kind of artifact, a queer time capsule that imparts a lesson about what it means to be gay (or what it has meant) every time a reader opens its pages. This might be likened to a Reader Response approach to the text.

Grounded in the work of Louise M. Rosenblatt, this theory emphasizes the transaction that occurs in the act of reading. A text's meaning is determined by not only the writer, but the reader as well: "A novel or a poem or a play remains merely inkspots on paper until a reader transforms them into a set of meaningful symbols" (Roen and Karolides 59). Robert E. Probst, expanding upon Rosenblatt's foundational scholarship, emphasizes that the exchange enacted by this process of meaning-making helps to define not only the text, but the reader as well, and—as such—becomes "for the reader a process of self-creation" (21). In this manner, "[s]ome part of the reader's conception of the world is either confirmed, modified, or refuted, and that changes the reader" (Probst 21). According to Probst, this ultimately "culminates in a sharpened, heightened sense of self" (21). This entire process, Probst states, is inherently appealing to adolescent readers, who have a natural and ideal interest in themselves, or—as Caroline E. Jones phrases it—to "see themselves" in the YA texts that they read (74).

Within this framework, queer adolescents would look to works like Two Boys Kissing to see representations of themselves, but will find—in the process—their ideas of the world and of themselves sometimes reflected, but just as often modified or refuted. Thus, Reader Response may offer the best framework for connecting YA literature to the ideas of cultural inheritance that Halperin puts forth, offering its queer (and non-queer readers alike) a community of others and a vision for a queer future.

If Reader Response offers a useful model for understanding queer YA, it also provides an entry point by which we might critique these works. In thinking about the affordances for identification offered by books that feature queer characters, we might also use this framework for analyzing what's missing in these texts and the representations they offer. Combining this framework with the concept of queer cultural inheritance, I will now outline what I perceive to be the greatest challenges to these processes.

In 2014, YA author Ellen Oh tweeted out "#WeNeedDiverseBooks" in the midst of an online conversation about "the whitewashed lineup" of writers on a panel of that year's BookCon. Stemming from the lack of diverse representation in the publishing industry's offerings of children's and YA texts, [End Page 5] this hashtag has since morphed into a movement and a nonprofit organization that aims to put "more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children." The organization's definition of diverse experiences ranges from "LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities." The group's vision for creating "[a] world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book" has clear ties to the benefits of a Reader Response framework described above (We Need Diverse Books).

Even though a number of writers have answered this call for better, more diverse representation, authoring works that expand the range of identities and experiences found in the characters of more recent publications, an inevitable issue emerges: in a genre known for its reliance on first-person narratives, how does one avoid an inherently limited perspective—what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has referred to as "the danger of a single story"? Levithan puts forth one solution in his use of a multivoiced, collective narrator found in Two Boys Kissing. He further widens his range of inclusion by making the main characters of his work many, with each boy offering another experience in what culminates to be a kaleidoscope of queer experiences. To better understand how this text succeeds in its break from generic conventions, however, I'll point to the limitations of more traditional, singular narratives, showing how Levithan's approach avoids making the same mistakes they do.

The shortcomings created by single-voiced, first-person narratives can most easily be identified as imbalances in representation (going back to the call of We Need Diverse Books); but while certain experiences and identities are neglected, other narratives and character tropes are overrepresented. In examining the issues at work in over-emphasized narratives, I point to the disproportionate number of stories that focus on queer characters' rejection from their family members. Such narratives persist from early examples like Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982) to more recent publications like Emily M. Danforth's The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012), with the lesbian protagonists of these works feeling both psychological and geographical isolation from their families after coming out to them. Although this unfortunate element of familial rejection has become a staple in queer YA novels, scholars like Caroline E. Jones have expressed that it is, in many ways, no longer a relatable one, stating that it is "no longer the only, or even dominant, reality" for queer youth (91).

Dan Savage, commenting on this shift, suggests that we are moving (in the United States, at least) toward a "post-hate" era. Clarifying this claim, he states, "Post-the-expectation-that-the-family-will-reject-you. Twenty years ago, the parents that loved and accepted their queer kids were the exception. Now we've flipped that script. Now the parents who love and accept are the [End Page 6] rule. We gawk at the parents who are assholes about it and reject that because it's so odd now" (Tirado). Of course, claims like Savage's are limited in and of themselves, failing to account for every experience or, more specifically, for how familial rejection continues to be a primary contributing factor for the higher rates of teen suicide and homelessness still affecting populations of queer youth.7 The comment benefits, however, from a bit of context. Appearing in an interview with journalist Fran Tirado and director Greg Berlanti, Savage was celebrating the hopeful and optimistic narrative of the latter's Love, Simon (the 2018 film adaptation of Becky Albertalli's 2015 YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), responding to Tirado's reference to the film as "post-gay," as expressing a new kind of norm, a new era of acceptance. Questions of norms featured prominently in the film's reviews, as illustrated by Richard Lawson's description in Vanity Fair of its "normative gayness." Despite being heavily critiqued, the sense of normativity also seemed to account for much of the film's success, which Doreen St. Félix points to as dissociated from any "cinematic lineage—unburdened by cinema's history of equating gayness with death." Although Lawson also regards this normality as "worth it" if it benefits "those queer kids in need of it," those like Savage and Jones suggest that these narratives are beneficial not only in their optimism, but in the relatability they offer contemporary queer youth.

Thus, while familial rejection does, unfortunately, continue to be one of the primary contributing factors to such issues as teen suicide and homelessness, these narratives tend to be overrepresented in the queer YA texts available to LGBT youth. And although realistic representations are not a requirement for literary publications (this is a fictional work, after all), scholars like William P. Banks have noted that the lack of more contemporary narratives marks a clear deficiency in the genre. This is not merely about the types of characters presented in a work and the dynamics that develop between them; nor is it a call for authors to better anticipate what their readers might wish to see; this is about the options that queer youth view as available to them in their own lives. What kind of futures might exist for queer youth? Discussing his own experience in growing up with limited representations in queer literature, Banks recounts, "What I learned to hope for was escape, a calculated move away from my family and community and, if possible, the good sense not to call home again" (33). Through his survey of LGBT YA novels that persist in depicting narratives of rejection, he comes to a remarkably similar conclusion as Lawson, stating, "This is not the reality that [adolescents] need" (35). Nor is it, according to these scholars, the future we're moving towards.

As certain narratives are overemphasized, the flipside of this concern is that others are underrepresented (again, noting the call of #WeNeedDiverse-Books). Underrepresentation in YA novels occurs in a number of ways: with [End Page 7] the marginalization of nonnormative sexual identities (other than gay and lesbian), a neglect in depicting the unique challenges and experiences of transgender characters, and a lack of ethnically diverse characters. Levithan's multivoiced narrative responds to these concerns with varying success. For example, the novel perpetuates a focus on gay identities to the exclusion of all other nonnormative sexual identities. Although other queer characters are mentioned, they are certainly not the focus of this work. One of the eight young gay protagonists in the text is transgender, however, and leads an almost charmed life, and the boys also break away from the "whitewashed" depictions of gay identities offered in the majority of queer YA texts, instead representing a multiracial gamut of experiences.

In the wider offerings of current publications, these instances of underrepresentation have created significant cause for concern. Jenkins, for instance, has noted a continued lack of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in queer YA novels (159). In terms of what this means for queer cultural inheritance, huge gaps currently exist in the futures that authors and publishers are extending to their readers (reflecting Banks's earlier claim). While some queer experiences get to be told, passed on, repeated, identified with, and responded to, others are simply missing.8

Expanding on why issues of underrepresentation are, in fact, concerns, Chris Mayo notes that the relationship "between realness and representation has been central to education for millennia" (vii). What stories get to be told? Whose stories get to be told? Should they reflect the current political climate, depict the way things should be, or remind us of the way things were? Vanessa Wayne Lee takes issue with the idea that the mainstream culture generally gets to answer these questions, observing that the adolescent reader only gets to read "what the dominant culture deems publishable" (165). Banks, on the other hand, states that what is "deemed publishable" is much more a reflection of publishers themselves, stating that—as members of an older generation—they have a tendency to overlook the growing disparity between outdated and overtold narratives that might be suitable for describing their own experiences with the present (often more progressive) experiences of queer youth (36).

To clarify, however, no one (so far as I am aware) is calling for discontinuing overemphasized representations (like those of familial rejection) altogether. No one is calling for us to forget experiences from the past. Rather, what is being called for is an increase in the diversity of the experiences and dynamics that we find on the pages of YA texts. A wider range of queer experiences would work to correct what Crisp and Kzenek have referred to as a minuscule offering when compared to what is currently available for heteronormative representations in YA literature (76). In illustrating this point, they refer to [End Page 8] the recent response of one of Crisp's students in a college-level YA course that he teaches. When a gay-identifying student reflected on the readings from the course, he sadly concluded that he was unable to relate to any of the gay protagonists in the queer-themed YA books that the class had read. "It's really great that you're trying," he had said, "but I just don't see myself here" (76).

Yet, this call for better representation is so often complicated by other factors; even Crisp, for example, seems to contradict himself when, elsewhere, his critique regarding the lack of diverse experiences in YA texts is met by his rejection of more nuanced representations of queer characters that he views as "inauthentic" ("Trouble" 256). Perhaps representation and realism are not so much diametrically opposed, however, as they are poorly navigated. Again, as more queer YA literature is published, increased opportunities for representation will either fill in the gaps or continue to reveal patterns of limited representation that will better indicate the limits of these works. As Crisp and Knezek conclude, "One text cannot carry the burden of representing a diverse population and our classrooms and bookshelves must reflect a range of LGBTQ identities" (79).

Crisp and Knezek's conclusion is one that would be beneficial for decisionmakers in both publishing and teaching to follow, but I also propose that Levithan's Two Boys Kissing stands out as a work that does reflect a wider range of experiences that those like Banks and Jones have called for. Consider, for example, the balanced representations of family dynamics that are portrayed in this novel. Seven different family scenarios are described; of these, four sets of parents respond to their sons' gay identities in an unquestionably positive manner. Through the course of the novel, two other sets of parents learn to accept their sons' sexuality, and the novel ends with only one set of parents still portrayed as resistant, but even they seem to be on the cusp of understanding. It is a conscious appeal to the many experiences that readers might still face that seems to drive the narrators' declaration: "We know that some of you are still scared. We know that some of you are still silent. Just because it's better now doesn't mean that it's always good" (6). Thus, while the novel records a contemporary shift toward narratives of family acceptance, it also keeps from erasing the experiences of those who still find themselves on the other side of this reversal. In the repetition of what some "still" face, the reader is reminded that more changes "still" need to be made.

Worth noting is that some scholars working within the field of YA literature have argued that the messages of these works should be positive by default. They view progressive portrayals of queer youth as a type of social/literary activism, "as a force for effecting positive change for queer young people" (Jones 74). Despite the decrease of homophobic hate crimes in the United States in recent years, the majority of LGBT students still report feeling unsafe [End Page 9] in their schools, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the National Council of Teachers of English (Burke and Greenfield 46). Advocates for more positive portrayals of queer experiences (like Banks) are quick to cite statistics like the one above in order to argue that queer fiction ought to supply its readers with views of a better future, with beacons of hope and not of warning. Generic shifts toward depicting such a future have a history of their own in queer YA texts. Christine A. Jenkins has noted that the latter half of the last century saw a change in YA problem novels in which characters' being homosexual was no longer presented as the problem; rather, the problem became characters' having to live in a homophobic environment (163).

While these types of changes amount to a more positive reflection in the YA industry, I am admittedly perplexed why no one has bothered to point out that this progress ought to be expected; more positive portrayals of characters should be visible in the current body of YA publications. According to one statistic, 30,000 YA titles were published in 2009, compared to only 3,000 YA novels in 1997, and this figure continues to grow (Brown). The industry is expanding so rapidly that it would be much more surprising if (positive) queer representation were not growing in proportion.

Yet, thankfully, the publishing market is responding. Specifically, David Levithan, who is both a writer and an editor, is responding. A conscious decision is required in order to avoid reproducing the same, tired, dominant narratives, to offer a wider, bigger, better future. In closing, I point to a section from Two Boys Kissing that puts the need for multiple narratives much better than I can. In the following passage from the novel, the ghostly narrators observe Cooper (another of the book's many protagonists) as he hides behind the computer screen of various gay chat rooms. Although it is unclear if the following quotation is meant to comment specifically on Cooper's storyline or if it addresses the various narratives portrayed in the novel more broadly, either way, it certainly applies to this initiative to make room for greater inclusivity:

This is an incomplete picture. There are boys lying awake, hating themselves. There are boys screwing for the right reasons and boys screwing for the wrong ones. There are boys sleeping on benches and under bridges, and luckier unlucky boys sleeping in shelters, which feel like safety but not like home. There are boys so enraptured by love that they can't get their hearts to slow down enough to get some rest, and other boys so damaged by love that they can't stop picking at their pain. There are boys who clutch their secrets at night in the same way they clutch denial in the day. There are boys who do not think of themselves at all when they dream. There are boys who will be woken in the night. There are boys who fall asleep with phones to their ears.

(19)

I resisted cutting this section down, despite its length, because it seems that doing so would work against the very thing that the passage (like the novel [End Page 10] itself) does so well—enabling more voices to be heard, more experiences to be seen. It is an "incomplete picture," but it is a much better one than what readers of queer YA texts are usually offered. In the refrain of "There are boys. … There are boys. … There are boys," the reader is presented with a mass of characters, who provide them not only with a wider range of experiences to relate to and learn from, but a glimpse of a collective, a community, as well.

A strange trend emerges in the analysis of these roadblocks to cultural inheritance, however. I have viewed imbalances in representation as hindrances to the transmission of cultural knowledge between queer generations, but in some ways, these hindrances themselves reflect an important aspect of queer cultures. According to Halperin, each generation of queer men attempts to define itself "by rejecting the gay culture of previous generations" (italics in original, 41). Halperin states that this is due to the fact that the "great value of traditional gay male culture resides in some of its most despised and repudiated features" (41). In this list of features, Halperin includes gay male femininity, snobbery, drama, and the (often negative) caricature of women. This leads younger queer generations to insist that the past generations of queer men were "hopelessly anachronistic and out of touch" (41). According to Halperin, however, every generation of gay men has taken part in this rejection of the past generation; this being the case, he equates the rejection of the queer past with a rejection of gay culture itself. While this leads one to wonder how these "rejected" aspects of gay culture are nevertheless repeated, queer YA literature offers one possible answer. Although the writers of these works (like Levithan) are writing for a younger generation, they are nevertheless a part of an older one that will inevitably be rejected. Yet, if younger generations of gay men are being initiated into queer culture through this older crowd, this explains why at least some of these aspects continue to resurface—being cyclically embraced and rejected by each successive generation of gay men.

This cycle does not mean that change is unattainable, however. It may be useful to remember that not all of the characteristics rejected by one generation do come back around; it is possible for one to move on from the past. As has been observed in the course of this essay, changes in queer YA literature have been made, and progress is visible even if not to the extent that it "should" be. But queer futurity, according to Muñoz, only appears in glimpses. It's not found in the here and now, but is instead "always on the horizon" (11). [End Page 11]

Jon Heggestad

Jon Heggestad is an English doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University, where he has also received advanced graduate certificates in Women's & Gender Studies and in Teaching Writing. He has taught courses on the coming-of-age novel, queer studies, and the digital humanities. The bulk of his own scholarship can be found at the intersection of these fields, with his dissertation tracing out a history of queer family-making through literary, film, and digital works.

Notes

1. This question has been a central one for queer theorists in the last twenty years. Scholars like Lee Edelman have suggested that futurity ceases to be an option for those functioning outside of heteronormative narratives. Edelman makes his stance clear in his aptly titled work, No Future; according to him, denying futurity goes hand in hand with rejecting what he calls the "cult of the child" (19). In turning away from "the absolute value of reproductive futurism," Edelman positions himself against the notion of a queer future altogether (3). In this paper, I move away from this theory, instead acknowledging queer youth as part of a larger narrative for queer communities, suggesting that their inclusion depicts the concept of queer futurity in a new light.

2. Worth noting are the shifting genre categories under which Barnes & Noble's queer YA texts are offered. Different individual pages on its website, for example, refer to these texts as "LGBT and Gender Identity Teen Fiction," "Lesbian & Gay Teen Fiction," and even "LGBTQAP YA." Although each of these terms has a unique history of and reference to the gender and/or sexual identities it includes, the multiple listings seem to maximize the number of options that site users may be searching for (and identifying with).

3. Although "queer" is often used in this manner employed by Clark and Blackburn, as an umbrella term for a range of LGBTQA* identities (an acronym that has its own expanding and evolving history), queer theorists have been discussing other ways to define this term for decades. Annamarie Jagose, for example, notes the multiplicity of the term's meanings in her influential Queer Theory: An Introduction published nearly 25 years ago. Presently, "queer" has a connotation of breaking away from any single identity label (like "gay" or "lesbian"), and while I use terms in this paper to reflect this move (drawing attention most often to gay communities and identities, specifically), I also mean to draw attention to areas where these terms overlap. In fact, part of my argument in this essay relies on being able to distinguish between the more frequent representations of gay, cisgendered men in cultural works and other still-underrepresented queer identities.

4. In following the distinction I made above regarding queer and gay identities, I here distinguish between queer communities and gay communities. Rather than "queer communities" functioning as a common collective that other communities (like gay communities) fit under, I suggest that these collectives be imagined as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram, with some characteristics of both fluid collectives being shared, while others remain distinct from one another. Regarded in this way, specific characteristics from gay communities may be unique to groups of gay men (and would thus be an inaccurate reflection of queer communities) while other concepts that I analyze here may be shown to shed light on the workings of queer communities as well, operating inductively.

Note that in reference to both queer and gay communities, I regard these concepts as plural, as this essay argues for neither a definitive nor a prescriptive singular community. Rather, in suggesting that queer and gay communities exist, it also leaves room for an interweaving and nuanced collective of these formations. This distinction is reflected throughout this work.

5. The antisocial turn in queer theory is frequently traced back to Bersani, who first suggested taking a stance that would dissociate queer politics from dominant narratives focused on heterosexuality, traditional marriage, and nuclear families (Caserio et al. 826). Presently, queer theorists have taken more of an antisocial plunge than a turn, however, quickly refuting any claim of community whatsoever. The following paragraphs work to restore a space for these conversations.

6. These discussions are not limited to academic discourse. Take, for example, a recent post made by the Best of Grindr, a popular Instagram account. This post simply featured a screenshot of text that stated, "LGBT culture is your parents knowing literally nothing about you." In the 24 hours following its original posting, over 80,000 followers "liked" it. And perhaps of even greater interest than this claim of a shared LGBT culture on an account that appeals predominantly to gay men are the types of varied responses that followed. In the more than 1,000 comments made by the account's followers, many built upon the original joke ("And your boyfriend's parent knowing all about you"), expressed relatability ("for once a relatable meme not about … perpetuated stereotypes"), or suggested corrections be made ("That's cause y'all don't educate them or tell them anything about yourself"). While arguments sprung up about the accuracy of the initial claim (a concern that will arise later in the course of this paper as well), none of the posts attempted to deny the existence of an "LGBT culture" altogether. Instead, comments looked largely to refine or reaffirm the particulars of how this culture should be defined.

7. In a 2012 study on LGBT youth and homelessness, authors Laura E. Durso and Gary J. Gates found an increase in the number of agencies that reported working with homeless and runaway LGBT youth in the last ten years. The report also found that "[f]amily rejection" was the primary factor contributing to LGBT homelessness (3–4). Even though statistics like these work to show that the attitudinal shifts mentioned by Dan Savage, as well as scholars like Caroline E. Jones and William P. Banks, are not universal, it remains unclear from the study whether the agencies are reporting an increase in the number of homeless LGBT youth or the agency's own ability/willingness to serve these populations. Nor does this report take into consideration what Fran Tirado observes in the interview with Dan Savage, that a much greater percentage of youth today are identifying as not "completely straight."

8. Many recent publications are working to correct these underrepresented narratives. Among these exemplary works, Alex Sanchez's Boyfriends with Girlfriends (2011) offers a story centered around two youths who identify as bisexual; Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl (2016) focuses on the experiences of a teen who is MTF transgender; and Benjamin Alire Sáenz Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) tells the story of two gay Mexican-American youths. All of these texts benefit readers in the way they provide largely untold narratives to be heard.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
1-16
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-16
Open Access
No
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