LGBTQ Fiction: Fitting In and Non-Binary Representation

I love LGBTQ fiction, and I love LGBTQ representation in the media. But despite the increase in LGBTQ representation in the media, for a long time I still felt left out. And it’s only recently that I realised why.

When I flick through description of gay novels, they appear either to be endless remakes of Dorian Gray or cheesy YA fiction.  Lesbian novels seemed great but still not quite right for me. But ultimately I felt neither lesbian or gay novels really fit me or depicted the kind of relationship I wanted. I felt the same looking at images of same-sex couples, imagining myself with someone of the opposite or same-sex. I was only then I realised, that what I really wanted was a non-binary relationship. For a long time I have been really open, warm towards the idea of dating someone genderqueer or intersex, and recently I thought about how nice it would be to date another nonbinary person, so I wouldn’t have to cross-my-fingers and explain and hope they understand, but instead have someone who understands my view of gender and what it is to be non-binary. However, I never realise that this was what I wanted until this week. There’s something about the way cisgender homosexual relationships are depicted or are that never quite felt like an easy fit for me, and then this is when I realised that I was interested in genderqueer/non-binary relationships more than any other form of relationship in both fiction and real life.

However, that’s where it gets a little shitty for people like me. Non-binary characters virtually do not exist in YA fiction, and hell, give me a call if you find a non-binary character in adult fiction. Mainstream fiction. Even in LGBTQ fiction, I do not see many non-binary characters (mainly YA I am talking about). It’s great to see gay and transgender literature flourishing, but there’s always that bitter tear of being left behind and forgotten.

This lack of non-binary representation is a reflection of the lack of discussion of non-binary identities in the media and real life. After Caitlin Jenner came out, transgender identities have been a hot topic for discussion for the past two years. Most people know what the term means. But being non-binary? Haha. Hell no. There’s been very limited media coverage, if at all. My ‘liberal’ friends barely understand the concept- they told me that it’s contradictory to be putting yourself in yet another ‘box’ or ‘label’! Yet anyone who is non-binary will know that being non-binary is the ultimate anti-box.

Anyway, hopefully in the future there will be more representation for non-binary folks. This is something we can strive to do, that I will do. As if making up for the abominable lack of non-binary characters in fiction, at least 3/6 of the main characters of the long-ass literary/comic series I am writing are non-binary ;). If something doesn’t exist, you can always make it exist.

Anyway, this is not all rain and grey skies. The depictions of relationships which I feel are close to what I would like are those found in certain anime.

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Although the relationship between Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tennoh in Sailor Moon is often seen as being a typical butch/femme relationship, there is something in that relationship that seems to transcend those tropes. Maybe it’s because both characters have traits that transcend their supposed ‘type’. Maybe it’s because they’re so well-written they feel real. I don’t know.

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And then there’s Utena! The ultimate non-binary character! Although Utena never exactly says “I am non-binary” since I don’t think the term was really in currency back then, everything about her character and about how she is framed and portrayed screams non-binary (one of the CDs is entitled “androgynous me”).

Maybe I’ll write something more coherent and better structured another time, when my life is less hectic and when I’m feeling better.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

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Tsukuru has always felt less than his friends, less deserving of his place in their close-knit friendship circle- unlike his friends, his name is colourless, and he sees this reflected in his lack of personality. However, one day his friends suddenly cut contact with him and never speak to him again. 16 years later, Tsukuru begins to search for answers under the encouragement of his current fiance, Sara.

This is a book about three things: nostalgia, growing up and revelation. It’s a revelation-based book, but it isn’t particularly well written. It’s a decent book, but it’s not masterpiece, let me explain why.

Firstly, it’s a book about growing up an nostalgia right? It’s about going from point A to B- what happened 16 years ago, and how it is now. Except, point A, the initial starting point, is never clearly described. Murakami doesn’t capture the friendship through evoking vivid memories, rather slapping down 4 character profiles together, as if he was writing a Wikipedia page for the friendship group. We don’t get to know the friends very well, we are left with a short, trope-filled description for which we are supposed to expand to whole characters. Although, it was refreshing to see these overturned once they grew up. However, the way the characters are introduced (or rather lack of) meant I wasn’t very interested in them, as I didn’t know much about them. So when big revelations did come, such as a character revealing their true sexuality, I really couldn’t care less.

Furthermore, there is way too much travelling in this book. Murakami feels the need to describe.every.fucking.detail. Do I really need to know that Tsukuru asks the Finnish transport person for directions, that he changes trains 3 times and have each train line described? Furthermore, the prose is ungracefully cut with philosophical and scientific discussions which are written in textbook language, and it seems impossible that humans are saying these words, not textbooks. These conversations are rigid  and awkward and are not well integrated into the book, and their meaning is often unclear.

Not only could the novel be more succinct, the prose… was bland. For the first 50 pages I felt like the translator just translated every sentence without giving a thought about how the sentences might join together or flow. The narration felt distant and apathetic, and sometimes like a Wikipedia page.  It consisted of almost only simple sentences.

The novel has explores dark themes, yet it merely dips its toes in the water, decides its too cold and goes back to be warmed by a pair of tits (literally). The darkest aspects of the novels are never resolved or fully explored. Mental illness is dismissed as “evil spirits”, which I find extremely irresponsible and unhelpful- considering that it writes off mental illness as something mysterious and inherently unknowable (which only perpetuates the stigma around mental health issues), and the idea of “evil spirits” has connections with very crude, historical ideas about mental illness. But it’s fine that this is never resolved according to the novel, because Tsukuru gets to touch lots of tits! (not lying).

A feeling of incompletion pervades the novel. This is terrible because it’s a revelation-based novel! And the point of such a novel is to discover secrets and truths!

This is a decent book, but it could have been much better.

Also, I did not mean to offend Wikipedia in this review, it’s a pretty decent site,

I’m interested to hear what everyone else thought, comment below.

Content warnings (spoilery): sexually explicit descriptions, rape

Review: The Art of Being Normal, Lisa Williamson

I have to admit, the book doesn’t exactly draw you in at first. But as I got past the first few chapters I really began to enjoy the book. The book if full of happy and sad moments, and it deals with themes of: gender identity, coming out, bullying, poverty, family and friendship. I really liked the exploration of different social backgrounds and family structures, because this sort of thing is sometimes neglected in YA.

I enjoyed it. The book was fast paced and had a diverse range of characters. However, it appeared that Lisa Williamson hasn’t yet mastered teenage slang of the 21st century…

Although the author’s purpose of this book is definitely to encourage acceptance of trans individuals, it is not a textbook. The characters are their own people, will their own lives. However, the author’s handling of its transgender characters could be improved. For example, the real transgender community is very diverse in relation to how they negotiate their transgender identity. But in this book all the transgender characters seem to have the same story: they knew they were trans since they were 5, they like all girly/boyish things and nothing else. It would have been less of a problem if there was only one transgender character, but if you put more in, you should really try to show the diversity of the trans community! I also felt like she focused overtly on the physical aspect of being transgender, and sometimes she really doesn’t choose the right way to show their body dysphoria.

The character also uses 2 POVs, however I wish I could get to know David and his friends more. It does seem quite focused on Leo at most of the time. I found David whiny and annoying at first, and I liked Leo’s stern and serious character. However, in the second half of the book I began to like David more as a character and I enjoyed the development of David and Leo’s friendship. However, I felt that this book lacked closure in some parts.

tl;dr Sweet and informative for those who know little about transgender individuals, but could have had a more creative plot and better representation of transgender individuals.

NB: Too much horny teenager talk in this book!


Spoiler section and discussing

The ending… I felt like it was unnecessary to devote a giant paragraph to Alicia sort-of-apologising-sort-of-removing-the-blame-from-herself. It puts the focus on her, not Leo or Kate, who had really struggled and progressed throughout the book. It annoys me, because she was obviously to blame to some extent for what happened, and Leo should not have had to apologise for not coming out earlier, especially given his past experiences! Other than that, I thought the party was cute and so was the Christmas present. I think if Alicia was going to apologise, she should have done it earlier or not at all, because putting that apology as the ending somewhat ruins the nice ending that was the party. I felt uncomfortable that she was friendzoning Leo…

Also, why didn’t we get to know Mam’s story? I felt like the writer couldn’t be bothered to think it up.

Review: Holding Up the Universe

28686840“Holding Up the Universe” does not stand out as a particularly good or bad novel. The two main characters grow and become more accepting of themselves by the end of the novel. However Jack’s repeated use of “broken” to describe himself as someone affected by prosopagnosia is unnecessary and out of place. Although it’s interesting and educational to understand challenges faced by prosopanosiacs and those deemed “fat”, the characters often seem to be infatuated with and reduced to these issues. Niven intends to show that Libby isn’t defined by her weight, yet Libby is defined by her weight in the book. She is bullied, thinks about it constantly, everyone else thinks about it constantly. Although it may be good to show weight-related bullying and make the audience empathetic, Niven talks about weight to an extent that it becomes Libby’s defining feature.

There is very little other than these issues in this book, except from romance and family problems. Furthermore there is a vast, faceless cast of supporting characters- friends and foes- who lack proper characterisation and differentiation, other than “friendly”, “bitchy” or “bully”.

The book is not slow paced, but could have been shorter and at times, it is melodramatic. However, my main issue with the plot is that it seems incomplete. The ending was incomplete, somewhat anti-climatic (although there wasn’t that much of a climax towards the ending) and utterly predictable.

Another problem: the first half of the book is almost wholly about weight-issues/prosopagnosia, but then the two main characters get into a car together- and BAM- they want to make out. I feel like the chemistry between the two main characters feels forced and sudden sometimes, but as the book progresses it does improve, although some of the romantic lines verge on the creepy or just weird (Niven has yet to master the prose of romance and the use of metaphors), however, at times the romance and friendship in the novel is sweet.

The book is also dotted with cliches from head to toe, although at times it does manage to cleverly incorporate cliches into its message. I also appreciated the diverse cast, especially in contrast to “All the Bright Things”.

tl;dr: book mainly about the protagonists’ defining issues (weight and prosopagnosia) with romance. This is not a terrible book, but there are better books out there.

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

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NoahandJude are inseparable twins. Jude is a daredevil who surfs and wears dark lipstick and short skirts against her mother’s wishes. Noah gets lost in art and is in love with the boy of his dreams. Their relationship becomes tense as they struggle for attention from their mother, the same friends and a place at a prestigious art schools. A tragedy occurs. The twins stop speaking to each other. The twins only have one half of the story each, if only they could come back together…

The first chapter is hard to get through. It sounds like something I’d write when I was 12. But trust me, the prose gets better. Noah and Jude jump off the page as realistic characters with their own voices, dreams and fears. The writing is pleasant to read, although punctuated with potentially annoying features such as Noah’s mind paintings and quotes from their dead grandma. Noah and Jude alternate as narrators at different points of time, and despite this, Nelson manages to make the story flow very well.

This is a book about secrets and revelations. It’s about 70% revelation and 30% actual action. At first, I admired how much Nelson was able to tie her characters and plot together. But by the end I felt that there were too many coincidences. The last few pages felt very rushed and the ending can be interpreted as uplifting. Or as I would put it: the ending was too happy.

I’ll Give You the Sun is ultimately a book about siblings, love, guilt, family, recovery and art.

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Ari is angry and self-doubting. Dante is confident and poetic. Ari’s household is locked in silence as his older brother remains locked in prison. One fateful day, Dante teaches Aristotle how to swim, and the two boys who have struggled to make friends until this point, create a friendship that will change them.

This book had sweet prose and well fleshed out characters. The family dynamics and the individual struggles of Sáenz’s characters felt real. Although the book isn’t fast paced, it manages to keep you interested through little twists and turns before reaching the climax. The last part is quite fast in contrast to the rest of the novel.

The book explores topics such as sexuality, growing up, family and identity. Although the book is well-written overall, I don’t think all the themes were tied up neatly and some characters seemed random and their purposes in the novel weren’t clear.

I was glad to read this book and learn more about the Latinx community since I have only know properly known 1 Latinx person in my life (there aren’t many Latinx people where I live). I enjoyed the sincerity of Aristotle and Dante’s relationship as well as the tensions and developments within each family.

Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption. (from Goodreads)

A Visit from the Goon Squad explores the effects of time on innocence, youth and success through its large span of characters. The novel works like a carefully threaded set of short stories, each short story relating to one of the main characters (Bennie or Sasha) and utilises new and innovative forms of literature, such as using powerpoint slides and interview texts. I enjoyed the revolving perspectives and styles, an interesting way to get a story across, these techniques allow Egan reach her goal of exploring the effects of time in a short novel.

The novel was definitely a great and gripping read, however, I really like to get my hands dirty with characters and I felt sometimes this wasn’t possible in this novel as we only get glimpses of most characters.

I would have liked a more diverse range of characters. Almost all the characters were musicians or professors, a horny boy/man, conventionally sexually appealing women/men, etc. The whole cast is pretty fucking white middle class if you ask me. Furthermore, the topics of gender and sexuality is very there when Egan portrays relationships, but never really given its own discourse. Which is a pity.

In conclusion I would say it was an enjoyable read, but not a book I’d go back to time after time. I definitely think characters could have been better developed and more diverse in terms of personality and backgrounds. The characters feel like a blur, when really after reading a book you want to hold onto them and cherish them.

Review: Radio Silence

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Hello.

I hope somebody is listening.

::

Frances has always lived as “School Frances”- the perfect headgirl, the robotic high achiever devoid of personality. But when she meets Aled, the ingenius creator behind her favourite podcast, she feels free to be herself for the first time. But when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is forced to confront the past. She has to confess why Carys, Aled’s twin, disappeared. And she has to rescue Aled from Universe City before it’s too late.

::

A fast paced, contemporary YA novel that explores relationships in a digital age. On one hand, Radio Silence revolves around an Internet mystery- an anonymous Youtuber who creates a popular podcast series called “Universe City”, and on the other hand, it follows a group of stressed and tired sixth-form students who are about to make the most important step in their lives- go to university (or so they think). When these two worlds collide,  everything explodes: fandom, the effects of fame, friendship & trust, sexuality, the thin veil between reality and fiction, the ‘real’ person vs how they appear, expectations vs staying true to your self.

At the heart of the book is two things: Alice Oseman’s wonderfully diverse and fascinating characters, and a discussion about going to university- something that’s become a rite of passage for British teenagers (or should I say, new adults?). Alice Oseman has no difficulty getting her message across, doing it succinctly and with style.

Review: Nights at the Circus

Audiences clamour for her arrival, which will coincide with that of the new century.

For we are at the fag-end, the smouldering cigar-butt, of a nineteenth century, which is just about to be ground in the ashtray of history.

Sophie Fevvers, a woman with wings- the Venus Cockney, fact or fiction?

Sophie Fevvers is an aerialiste– with wings! She retells her own tale to Walser- hatching as an egg, an adolescent with wings- who becomes so enthralled in her tale that he becomes a clown to follow her. This is a story about breaking from the gilded cage, the egg– of individuals discovering their true identities and love beyond which they were prescribed.

Angela Carter’s tale knits together her magical prose with a magical plot and magical characters: dancing tigers, prophetic pigs and a flying woman. An interwoven set of stories about a cast of colourful characters at the end of a century. It captures a sense of transformation that takes place in the last moments of the nineteenth century (fictional or real)- women who think for themselves, men who see beyond their physical strength, anarchists and socialists who dream of a better world.

A fantastical read for anyone who wants to lose themselves in a hurricane of a mythic history.