Now that LGBTQ characters are abounding in the media, it is time to raise expectations on their portrayal. The majority of LGBTQ representation revolves around characters behaving like the caricature of their sexuality, similar to flamboyant side characters like Damian from “Mean Girls” and Kurt Hummel from “Glee.”
While there is truth to the cliché, it is also healthy to see members of the community be accepted and normalized in the media so that young members of the community can see more of themselves in the characters, rather than what writers assume they are.
Having an LGBTQ character is a start, but an important part of normalizing the community is writing them like human beings, rather than caricatures. Becky Albertalli, author of the book “Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda,” which was adapted into the movie “Love, Simon,” exemplifies how to properly integrate LGBTQ characters into her novels.
There is a scarce amount of books that have a homosexual protagonist, so Simon is a breath of fresh air. The novel follows closeted teenager, Simon Spier, who is in danger of having his emails with an anonymous gay kid at his school leaked to the public. Through Simon’s character, Albertalli proves that LGBTQ characters can differentiate from their stereotype. While the story revolves around romance and his sexuality, his romantic relationship is as fleshed out and focused on as a heterosexual’s relationship would be in any other book.
Albertalli’s second book, “The Upside of the Unrequited,” follows Molly Peskin-Suso, an overweight teenager who struggles with her self-esteem and love life. Molly’s twin sister, Cassie, has a subplot love story with a pansexual teen. Cassie is very flirtatious and can easily pick up girls. She is deeply flawed, quirky and protective. She is not constantly tormented by her sexuality; she proudly embraces it without it being her only character trait. Seeing people so confident in their sexualities helps to encourage younger members of the community to do the same.
Albertalli could have stopped there, but she is truly a LGBTQ character dispenser. Cassie also has two moms. Most authors would not write about a family with more than one member of the gay community, but Albertalli was really onto something—a household where the majority of the family members are LGBTQ, and none of the characters are negatively affected. Stories praised for representing the gay community usually only have one or two gay characters. Albertalli proudly showcases many gay characters, demonstrating how similar the lives of a gay family and straight family can be.
If gay characters are underrepresented in literature, then bisexuals are treated like they do not exist. During the rare occasion that a bisexual is featured in the media, the word “bisexual” is usually treated like Voldemort, the thing that shall not be named. Cheryl Blossom from “Riverdale,” for example, has a sexuality that is never mentioned in the show, despite having romantic encounters with both men and women.
In “Leah on the OffBeat,”Albertalli sheds light on bisexuality. The protagonist, Leah Burke, is a bisexual teenager who is out to her mom but not her friends. Leah’s bisexuality is acknowledged frequently in her own inner dialogue. While her tendency to be reserved withholds her from being out to her friend group, she is not ashamed of it.
Homophobia blatantly exists and prejudice is something most, if not all, members of the LGBTQ community face. However, the majority of LGBTQ representation in the media centers around characters being treated like a burden, and being excessively ridiculed because of their sexuality. Meanwhile, Albertalli executes an interpretation of these characters in a matter that makes them feel like authentic human beings, rather than bizzare exaggerations of the assumptions society places on them. She makes her books seem less like an LGBTQ genre novel and more like a story that just happens to have LGBTQ characters in it. In a literary utopian world, more authors would take after Albertalli when integrating LGBTQ characters into their work.