Sophie Cameron: My journey as an LGBTQ+ reader and writer
I once heard (from some wise person on Twitter) that the first book you write is the one that, at one point, you needed as a reader. In my case, I think that’s probably true. My debut Out of the Blue features something I would have loved to see featured in a book when I was younger: gay and bi characters who are out, comfortable with who they are, and whose problems don’t revolve around their sexuality. They even make it all the way to the end! No Bury Your Gays trope here, thank you.
My character's sexuality is a background detail in what’s primarily a story about grief, trust, and angels falling from the sky.
Though there were a handful of great, pioneering LGBTQ+ books around back when I was a teenager, such as Annie on my Mind by Nancy Gardner, Geography Club by Brent Hartinger and of course, Stephen Chboksy’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, they were few and far between. Most of the ones I read were American, and I only managed to find them because I was privileged enough to be able to buy them online. Even so, those that I did come across quite often featured bullying, suicide and/or murder... not the most positive depictions of LGBTQ+ life.
The difficulty I had finding these characters is one of the main reasons I wrote Out of the Blue. My main character, Jaya, is a lesbian, has previously had a girlfriend, and falls for another girl she meets while in Edinburgh for the summer. There is some discussion of coming out and secrecy in her past relationship, but they’re background details in what’s primarily a story about grief, trust, and angels falling from the sky.
Seeing more ‘incidentally queer’ characters in books could help lessen negative attitudes and hopefully contribute to tackling bullying
That said, I still think coming out stories are still really important – today’s teenagers shouldn’t have to settle for reading about coming out in the era of dial-up internet, flip phones and LiveJournal, after all. But I hope we’ll continue to see an increase in LGBTQ+ books that don’t focus on the character’s identity or the issues around it: some of my favourites include Patrick Ness’ More Than This, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, and We Are Young by Cat Clarke. More stories like this means LGBTQ+ readers are more likely not just to find characters like themselves, but to find them in genres they enjoy.
I also think books that aren’t geared towards LGBTQ-specific issues are often more likely to interest other readers, too. This gets them used to reading LGBTQ+ characters and authors, which means more of those books can and will be published. I also think seeing more ‘incidentally queer’ characters in books (and in children’s and young people’s media in general) could help lessen negative attitudes and hopefully contribute to tackling homophobic or transphobic bullying, which are still huge issues even in countries like Scotland.
Compared to the slim pickings that were available ten or fifteen years ago, things have definitely improved. But it’s important to recognise, too, that most LGBTQ+ YA books being published are still by and about white, middle-class, able-bodied characters. Transgender and non-binary representation is also sorely lacking, especially by trans and NB authors. LGBTQ+ YA on the whole has a long way to go before it’s truly inclusive, but I feel hopeful that it’s on the right track.