Born in the late 1950s, it would be decades before I experienced anything approaching “queer literature.”
In the meantime, during my teen years, I was obsessively interested in science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. I think part of the appeal was that unlike other genres of literature, these books offered me fertile ground to imagine worlds different from the one I felt trapped in. Escapism, yes, but a healthy escapism that gave me a sense of possibility and hope that the future had a place for me.
As a confused queer kid, I sometimes felt that I had more in common with the aliens in these stories than the humans who interacted with them. In fact, during much of my pre-pubescent time and into my late teens, I entertained a fantasy that I WAS an extraterrestrial! Looking at the world around me and the humans that inhabited it, I was hard-pressed to identify with my fellow humans. “These are not my people,” was my mantra in those days.
The first gay-themed novel I ever read was The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. Published in 1974, The Front Runner is noted for being the first contemporary gay novel to achieve mainstream commercial and critical success. I cannot overstate the impact that reading this novel had on me. For the first time in my young life, here was a story about two men, a coach and his star athlete, in a romantic relationship. The experience shook me to the core and changed how I saw the world. If such a story could exist, then that meant that I wasn’t “the only one” to have these thoughts and feelings. There were others like me.
In modern society, there is much discussion about the importance of representation in media, whether books, film or television. I can absolutely confirm, from my own experience as a young, queer kid, that representation does matter. Whether queer, a person of colour or a member of any other marginalized group, seeing your truth represented in the media you consume is a validation that provides reassurance that you matter; that you belong, and that there is a place in the world for you.
In response to the dinosaurs who complain that “everything is gay now,” I would push back and say that not “everything” is gay, but at least not everything is straight, cis-gender and white now. For kids growing up thinking that they were the only one of their kind, representation can be a life-saving experience. Deal with it.