It's about two boys. It's not about two boys at all.
So Sweetest Downfall is a contemporary realistic young adult novel, which means of course the fact that this romance features two cisgender teen boys is brought up. They encounter homophobia, and Nick's not out to anyone and is still figuring out the ins and outs of his attraction, and Zeke's out to everyone but sometimes wishes he weren't. But they don't gayly hold hands. They don't queer-kiss. At no point when Zeke's tucked under Nick's arm, head resting on his shoulder as they help each other with homework, does Zeke say, "Here's your hourly reminder that I am homosexual and you are demisexual and this action of awkwardly cuddling because we're both nervous and a little shy and new to this makes our budding love affair totally gay. Lo, I do say we are positively gaying up the establishment! I am very much fond of you, my darling demi love-partner."
I love that there's LGBTQ+ sections in libraries and bookstores sometimes. I love that when I want to read about a romance that could, you know, actually happen for me, I can find a book that fits the bill. I don't even want to write a "But" sentence after those two, because I absolutely can't overstate how necessary it is that those things exist, so I'll just say this:
I don't love that LGBTQ+ fiction is a niche.
Not always. I have a great deal of love in my heart for allies (which very well may be because I'm young and haven't been burned as often), and I know a lot of them buy books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda or None of the Above or The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I also know that those allies are the exception to the rule.
Like, okay. If you're straight and cisgender, answer this to yourself with honesty and no regard to my feelings (which shouldn't matter, because I'm not asking you to comment with your reply): would you buy a book featuring a LGBTQ+ romance, or one about characters with gender identities outside of the binary, or one featuring a polyamorous relationship, because it sounds overall like something you'd enjoy?
Because chances are you wouldn't. I mean, that's okay-ish, because I think I can see where you're coming from. At least in my opinion (which tends to be overly forgiving), it's not an aggression; it's not you saying you hate queer people. It's you saying "Of course I support LGBTQ+ rights, but I want to read about a romance that could happen to me."
And here's the thing: so do I. And here's the other thing: I can't. Please name me the blockbuster YA books with enormous cult followings, with movie franchises, with theme parks and merchandise and the original novel series on the bestseller lists for entire uninterrupted years, about two girls madly in love. Or two guys, one of whom is trans and the other being Latino and disabled. Go on. I'll wait. I'll be waiting a damn long time.
I won't even pretend the vast majority of the reason for this isn't because of queerphobia. It so is. Homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia are violent, and they're donating five dollars on IndieGoGo to a bakery in Indiana that wouldn't cater a queer wedding, and they're going through my Twitter feed and favoriting literally everything I tweet except the ones where I even mention being queer, and they're just not ever going to the LGBTQ+ section in your local bookstore.
I don't blame you for not browsing there, and that's the truth. If I were allowed to be angry about twenty things straight cis people consciously or unconsciously do to queer people, this wouldn't make the list. But it's also not the ideal situation, and it sure as hell makes me uncomfortable and more than a little sad. Whether you realize it or not, you're saying "These books don't matter." And maybe they don't to you, but they do to me, and there's only so many copies I can buy, y'know?
The other reason for there not being enormous LGBTQ+ YA is because it is LGBTQ+ YA. Because of its name. This category is so inherently other to most people that they can't imagine picking up even one book in that section.
My life is not niche, and neither are stories about people like me in this regard. I'd really love to see the queer section flourish and diversify—and personally, another part of me wants it to go away forever. If it did, if those books were put in Science Fiction, Memoir, or Realistic Young Adult instead, maybe you'd pick them up and be taken away by the premise and notice that it's about two girls and a guy in love or any other possibility, but maybe you wouldn't give it a second thought.
And since I don't know how to end this post, here's some links to books I enjoyed featuring queer main characters or books I think I'll enjoy featuring queer main characters:
- Goodreads to Hannah Moskowitz's Gone, Gone, Gone and Not Otherwise Specified, which feature (respectively) a gay romance and a bisexual Black narrator; I love these books and also Hannah Moskowitz so much it makes me throw both things and temper tantrums
- Goodreads to Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to You, a romance about two girls and also much more; I haven't read but have heard it's like Taylor Swift's amazingness meets a unicorn's majesty (I just made that up but this book is supposed to be excellent, okay, deal with it)
- Amazon to Robin Talley's What We Left Behind, about two main characters, one of whom is a lesbian, the other being genderqueer, because if you haven't preordered this what is even going on with you and whatever it is I am so sorry
- Amazon to Dahlia Adler's Under the Lights, about a Hollywood romance between two girls, because if you do not worship at the altar of Dahlia Adler I don't want to say you're cursed to live a joyless life full of pain and also spiders, buuuuut
- Goodreads to Malinda Lo's Ash, a fantasy Cinderella retelling featuring two girls who fall in love, one of whom is a huntress, because though I haven't read it I think readers have collectively used every positive adjective in the English language at least once describing Lo's writing
- Also, queer-identifying writers/authors you should be following on Twitter since your birth: @Bibliogato, @NitaTyndall, @MissMolliWrites, @Jessie_Devine, @ABoredAuthor, me because I'm pretty great like let's be honest here