It’s a marvel, to me, the amount of choice there is for young LGBT readers nowadays in comparison to the time when I had greatest need of it.
What did I read when I was thirteen, fourteen, and beginning to seek out in books a reflection of ‘what I was’? Julie Anne Peters and Annie on my Mind are the things I remember, mostly, because I am a walking cliché. Was there more? I don’t doubt it. There were a few other things; Sarah Waters saw me through my GCSEs. But though there may have been more out there, it was just that – there, somewhere else, not here, never nearby. Never in my own village library, which was so small; never in any of the other libraries in the borough, where it seemed to take years for newly-released books to trickle down to the shelves; never within my reach. And so by fifteen I had given up on YA altogether because I felt that there was nothing there for me, nothing of myself (admittedly, there is ‘nothing there’ in Zweig or Singer or Szerb – but I don’t expect there to be – it’s more removed from my life than reading about other young people with lives that could have been mine).
It wasn’t even so long ago that I was reading Keeping You a Secret alone at night, when I was sure I was out of everyone’s way, and relieved at the recent introduction of a computerised system so that I had not had to bring it before the librarian; only some six or seven years. It’s easy to become disheartened about the way things are, and to feel that all the wrongs we face can never be righted, but I must try and remind myself how fast things are moving; just as I think those younger than me are fortunate, a woman ten years my senior must also think the same thing about me. I must compare now to my early adolescence and I must try and think of these small changes; I must think of the books that or are on the shelves where in the past I saw none or so few. You can even, these days, seek out a book because its plot and its characters appeal to you, rather than reading it purely because it’s a ‘gay book’. So many books for teenagers on such themes have been published this year alone: how many more will the next year bring, and the next?
All these small things I must bear in mind. Even if things do not improve for me, I must believe that they do and they will for others – and then will improve for those who come after further still.