Hi, everyone! Today I wanted to discuss a topic that has been on my mind for a while, and it is queer labels in literature. I’ve noticed that people tend to get angry or criticize a novel when a character doesn’t have their sexuality explicitly labeled in the story. People expect queer characters to provide a label for their sexuality within the story they’re in, otherwise some readers don’t think the queer representation is good enough. People have begun to expect labels to be put upon every character’s sexuality, and that’s just not realistic. To be completely honest, it doesn’t bother me that some queer characters don’t label their sexuality, in novels. It has taken me years to figure out who I am as a person, and I’m still learning what my labels are, and sometimes characters aren’t ready to label themselves during the time period when the novel takes place.
Sexuality is a complex and fluid thing that can change over time. Some people may be able to label their sexuality at an early age and then change it as they grow and evolve as a person. And others may take years upon years to discover, explore, and label their sexuality and share that identity with others. And others simply might not label their sexuality because they don’t feel safe enough to, and that is perfectly fine. There is no set deadline that one must meet in order to label your sexuality, so why are we placing this pressure on the characters we read about? Why are we forcing characters to have a specific label when they might not be comfortable or ready enough to name what they feel? In regards to Young Adult Fiction, these characters are teenagers / young adults. Teens are ever changing and are discovering new things each day. Teenagers evolve at different rates and majority of them barely know what they’re going to major in, let alone know their sexuality. Or some teens might not feel comfortable sharing their labels with their peers, in fear of judgement or isolation. We have to stop expecting every queer character to label themselves within a novel and simply accept that they are queer and that label alone is good enough.
A good example for this discussion is Simon from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On who has dated both a boy and a girl within the novel. Simon’s sexuality is never explicitly labeled within the novel and he isn’t comfortable with placing a label on himself because he is either not ready or he hasn’t found an identity that he connects with. And that alone is such a relatable thing to read about, for so many teens and adults. We all grow and learn more about ourselves at different rates, and forcing people to know their identities and share it with others by a certain point in life is a presumptuous and a dangerous thing to do. We cannot pressure people to divulge their identities, just because other people are open about their labels. Not everyone is on the same level of comfortability. Some people might not feel safe enough to divulge that information, or they simply don’t know who they are yet. And that is the same deal for fictional characters. We must not expect explicit labels to be placed upon every queer character we read about, and we must not assume their sexualities as well. While labels do help people connect with characters that share their identity, characters who don’t label themselves because they are still learning and evolving is just as important for queer readers. So many people can resonate with characters who know they’re queer but don’t state or know their specific identity. We must stop looking down upon characters from books, movies, and TV shows who do not share their labels. People in the queer community who do not state explicitly what they identify as are just as important as people who do state their identity for others to know. The queer community is complex and ever growing, and people must welcome and accept those who do not want or cannot yet put a label on how they feel.
I hope this reminds readers to never assume or expect a character’s labels to be written in a novel. Sometimes characters are not ready or don’t feel safe enough to have a label, and some are simply exploring their own sexuality at the moment. And we cannot see them as lesser because of that. Queer characters who state their identities on the page are no better than queer characters who don’t. We must accept both factors and not tear the other down just because you were not given a piece of a character’s information. We cannot expect to know every aspect of a character’s life, and sometimes things are left unanswered or unlabeled.
Thank you so much for reading this ramble-y discussion post. Feel free to tell me your thoughts, in the comments below about queer labels in literature and readers’ reactions to them. I’d love to know! And thank you so much to Cam over at Boricuan Bookworms for helping me out with this topic!