Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Kid Will Grow Up to be a F** if They Read This: Addressing the Lack of Queer Children's Novels

by Spencer McNelly

When I heard of My Two Super Dads release, I thought the literary world would change overnight. No more will queer youth grow up without any literary idols! But while brainstorming for my novel writing course this fall, I realized I was sadly mistaken. Nothing had changed.

My novel focuses on the tribulations of a five to seven-year-old boy struggling with gender identity disorder. I asked my professor if she could direct me towards some novels that focus on growing up queer.

“Sorry,” she said. “I don’t know of anything like that.” We both looked pitiful for five minutes, complaining about the lack of queer representation in novels, specifically children’s novels. Well, mainly she listened as I rambled.

Published over 20 years ago.
When I went hunting, I found zero novels on children dealing with queer issues. Sure, there are some young adult novels about queer youth. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking little kids, elementary school-aged tykes. Where are their stories?

We’ve heard the questions about the origin of queerness. When did you first realize that you were attracted to the same sex? When did you first realize that you were different? Not like the other kids? Wanted to wear the other sex’s clothing? Et cetera. Et cetera. I want my novel to address these questions.

Even though I’ve dealt with queer issues my entire life, that doesn’t mean I’m fully equipped to write a novel about queerness in children. I’m certainly trying! But the point is that when I looked for inspiration, I found none in the literary community. That has been the biggest struggle for me while writing this novel.

Another rare picture book dealing with queer issues.
Where is the queer Junie B. Jones? The gay Tuck Everlasting? The transgender Ramona Quimby? These children’s stories don’t exist yet. I know of a dozen reasons why they don’t, but my frustration is working on this novel truly by myself. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I don’t feel a sense of community when it comes to queer literature, let alone something as specific as children’s queer novels. When there are no books from which to draw inspiration, no stories that get into the mind of little queer kids, it’s a lonely experience trying to write something for an audience that doesn’t exist or a market that isn’t ready for something that “risqué.”

Although I could go into a full essay about this, I’m going to address the dumbest argument against queer literature. I’d like to touch on the topic since I complained about why these stories I’m wanting don’t exist. I can think of a dozen reasons people would give me about why they shouldn’t exist, but here’s why they don’t at the moment:

Argument: Spencer, wouldn’t you say that if children were going to read about gay kids, they’d grow up to be gay?

My Answer: Well, now that you ask, a youngling picking up a queer-themed story would no more make them gay than the Twilight series would make me straight. Maybe not the best example but you get the point. Queer novels don’t begat sexuality. They’re stories. If you believe stories have the power to change or create sexuality, then why do I still like boys? Hmm??

[Editor's Note:  Be sure to check out today's other blog posts: One by Casey Alexander dealing with tangent writing, and one by Chris Smith about creating a voice for characters.  Tomorrow the last two class blog posts will go up! - Lauren Burch]


  1. I love this entire post, but my favorite part of it is how you're able to disprove so much of the controversy surrounding introducing children to queer issues by answering just one question. If you end up writing the gay Junie B. Jones or the transgender Ramona Quimby, definitely let me know: I'll want to check it out.

  2. Sorry to contradict you, but there are quite a few LGBTQ books for children and young adults. Here is one article by me about that topic:
    I suggest you go to the library or bookstore and check out works by Alex Sanchez, Nancy Garden, Ellen Wittlinger, and so on.
    Best wishes,
    BJ Epstein

  3. That list, though, is of young adult novels, which the post mentioned. It doesn't list children's novels. I know that they exist, but there are far fewer queer children's books than there are for young adults.