Codes, Silences, and Homophobia: Challenging Normative Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary LGBTQ Young Adult Literature

Abstract

Since the publication of the first young adult novel to deal with issues of sexual identity, John Donovan’s (1969) I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip, over 200 novels have been published centered around gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) characters and conflicts (Cart and Jenkins, 2006, The Heart has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–2004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press). In significant contrast to early texts, many authors in recent years have sought to promote inclusion of LGBTQ individuals and to present LGBTQ characters in a positive light. To do so, they frequently create antagonistic homophobic characters and situations that provide a sense of realism (Crisp, 2009, Children’s Literature in Education, 40, 333–348). In this paper, I present several representative examples from these novels that challenge homophobia, but ultimately leave it intact. Text excerpts are drawn from the numerous contemporary realistic LGBTQ-themed texts, published between the years 2000–2005, and marketed to young adults. I then contrast these texts with the novel Boy Meets Boy (Levithan, 2003). Through the novel’s blurred genres and inventive use of linguistic features, Boy Meets Boy is able to more effectively undermine heteronormative assumptions by presenting the unthinkable: children as sexual beings, hegemonic masculinity as in fact non-hegemonic and detrimental to success, and homosexuality as normalized and even ordinary.

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Correspondence to Corrine M. Wickens.

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Corrine M. Wickens is an assistant professor in the Department of Literacy Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests examine issues of ongoing discourses around sexuality and schooling, gender and sexual characterizations in contemporary young adult literature, and disciplinary-based literacies in secondary teacher education.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 1.

Table 1 Finalized book list

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Wickens, C.M. Codes, Silences, and Homophobia: Challenging Normative Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary LGBTQ Young Adult Literature. Child Lit Educ 42, 148 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-011-9129-0

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Keywords

  • Gay and lesbian fiction
  • Discourse analysis
  • Young adult literature