Writing romance for queer youth is important. Teens, by definition, are discovering who they are and romantic relationships are at the center of their lives, providing formative experiences that shape their long-term development. Young people spend a great deal of time thinking about, talking about, and being in romantic relationships and, although most teen romances last only a few weeks or months, they have long lasting effects on self-esteem. They provide a training ground to develop interpersonal skills, refine communication and negotiation skills, develop empathy, and skills in how to maintain an intimate relationship in adulthood. They also shape personal values in romance, intimacy, and sexuality. Lastly, the emotional ups and downs associated with getting together and breaking up also help develop emotional resiliency and coping skills needed to handle difficulties later in life.
Most parents choke on the idea of having a birds and bees talk with their burgeoning teen and this is doubly so for queer teens for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that there are few resources available to them and their teen. Community-based programs help youth recognize gender-based stereotypes, improve conflict-management and communication skills, and decrease violence, but they aren’t as effective as we’d like them to be. In addition to romance, sexual reference is everywhere in society and is obvious, and young adults will engage in sexual exploration irrespective of age, law, and popular opinion. Sadly, little or no sexuality education exists for queer youth. They are left to gather and process information from a range of unsanctioned and potentially unreliable sources.
As adolescents become more autonomous from their parents, their romantic relationships become an increasing source of emotional support. Romance as a source of support and identity formation is especially important for queer youth who are often compelled by social norms to keep their sexual orientation secret. Their romantic partners may be the only people with whom they feel comfortable (and safe) sharing their thoughts and feelings about their sexual identity.
So where do queer youth turn for information and advice on romance? BOOKS! Other than the educational and clinical information provided in health and sexuality education in school, and what teens learn from their peers (and the internet – yikes!), books are often a youth’s only resource for romance knowledge. Hence, what we write is often their only resource and becomes ever more crucial to their lives. Writing about normal, healthy romance and sexual exploration in relationships provides introductory information to young adults that they may not otherwise find or have access to. It goes without saying that a young adult is always far better prepared for the outside world if armed with knowledge and our books are a bridge, not a gap, for our youth.
I’ll take this a step further. Censoring and withholding vital information from youth in the name of protecting them from themselves is often applied inappropriately and to extremes; and speaks to a lack of confidence in them. Youth can read and think for themselves and I wholly support their right to do so.
Many stories about queer youth are about abuse and dysfunction. While valid to a degree, being reflected prevalently so in literature isn’t always conducive to good mental health for our queer youth. Healthy queer romance should be reflected in our literature and normalized in popular culture. By reflecting queer romance as a norm, our youth will grow and develop with positive reading material that reflects who they are and gives them something to identify with. Above all, our queer youth are entitled to any and everything that any youth are entitled to and that includes a happily ever after, even queerily so.
To the queer youth out there I say, no matter your appearance, personality, or circumstances, there is someone out there especially for you. Somewhere, someone is looking for exactly what you have to offer. Dare to believe. Never stop believing. And READ!
“There are countless reasons for reading, but when you’re young and uncertain of your identity, of who you may be, one of the most compelling is the quest to discover yourself reflected in the pages of a book.” ― Michael Cart
Win a free ecopy of Safe. Simply leave a comment and your email address below. The winner will be chosen at random at the end of Queer Romance Month.
Read an excerpt of Safe here.
Cody’s Queer Romance Recommendations
Books for queer youth:
How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity by Michael Cart
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
About Cody Kennedy
Raised on the mean streets and back lots of Hollywood by a Yoda-look-alike grandfather, Cody doesn’t conform, doesn’t fit in, is epic awkward, and lives to perfect a deep-seated oppositional defiance disorder. In a constant state of fascination with the trivial, Cody contemplates such weighty questions as If time and space are curved, then where do all the straight people come from? When not writing, Cody can be found taming waves on western shores, pondering the nutritional value of sunsets, appreciating the much maligned dandelion, unhooking guide ropes from stanchions, and marvelling at all things ordinary.
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Pretty. adj. /pritē/ Pleasing by delicacy or grace
High school senior Michael Sattler leads a charmed life. He’s a star athlete, has great friends, and parents who love him just the way he is. What’s missing from his life is a boyfriend. That’s a problem because he’s out only to his parents and best friend. When Michael accidentally bumps into Christy Castle at school, his life changes in ways he never imagined. Christy is Michael’s dream guy: smart, pretty, and sexy. But nothing could have prepared Michael for what being Christy’s boyfriend would entail.
Christy needs to heal after years of abuse and knows he needs help to do it. After the death of his notorious father, he leaves his native Greece and settles in upstate New York. Alone, afraid, and left without a voice, Christy hides the myriad scars of his abuse. He desperately wants to be loved and when he meets Michael, he dares to hope that day has arrived. When one of Michael’s team-mates becomes an enemy and an abuser from Christy’s past seeks to return him to a life of slavery, only Michael and Christy’s combined strength and unwavering determination can save them from the violence that threatens to destroy their future together.