The following blog post is written by Q42 Producer and resident book blogger, Emily Bridgett. Emily is a 24 year old bookworm and tea enthusiast with a keen interest in Queer Literature. She identifies as a gay woman and has recently graduated from the University of Manchester with a masters degree in Gender, Sexaulity, and Culture.
Queer literature is any written piece of work that centralises or involves queer narratives as ‘overt and central to the plot’. Centralising the queer experience within literature as well as including characters that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community is both important and necessary. Indeed, multiple identities on the gender and sexuality spectrum need to be reflected and represented, both respectfully and accurately. Recently members of the Q42 book club discussed the importance of representation. One of its members stated:
‘Reading LGBTQ+ representation provided validation, it told me it was ok to like who I like. There’s already so many straight stories, and I want more stories where I can empathise with the characters and see my own experiences/ possibilities represented.’ – Q42 Project member, LGBTQ+ Book club
Indeed, the intimacy of feeling noticed and valued is extremely encouraging and validating. It’s comforting to have one’s experience recognised. It allows for a deeper sense of belonging and understanding of ourselves and others. Speaking for myself, during the first year after I spoke about my sexuality to both my family and friends I read as much queer literature as I could. It became a way for me to further connect and explore my identity. There is something really exciting about being alone with a book and feeling a personal connection to it all at the same time.
For those who identify as straight or cisgender, reading a story about an LGBTQ+ experience can provide a positive insight into the lives of those who do not fit within heteronormative and cisnormative culture that is still dominant in our society today. A story about a young non-binary teen who begins to explore their own gender identity, for instance, promotes positive awareness and introduces readers to gender identities outside of the gender binary. However, it is important to distinguish between bad representation and positive representation. This being not only the inclusion of characters that identify as LGBTQ+, but characters and stories that accurately represent their experiences. To quote another Q42 book club member:
‘Reading LGBTQ+ books provides normalisation of these relationships/ identities. It’s really validating. These aren’t really portrayed enough in the media, especially major film and tv studios. Having representation in a book, and having something that relates to you, and you can see yourself in a character, it makes the whole experience more enjoyable and more relevant. It’s… nice.’ – Q42 Project member, LGBTQ+ Book club
Indeed, the inclusion of queer characters alone is not enough for this to count as positive representation. Positive representation is one that aims to not only include, but accurately represent the experience that the author intends to discuss. Of course, identifying as LGBTQ+ does not mean that all LGBTQ+ people have the same experiences. Especially when considering different backgrounds, ethnicity, race, age, religion, and disability. The list goes on. Therefore, if queer representation isn’t entirely accurate and diverse in the way that it portrays queer identities, this can have a knock-on effect in regard to not only how queer people see themselves represented, but also in the way that misinformation can be spread. YouTubers Rowan Ellis and Jade Fox both offer some interesting insights on the topic of misinformation and representation. The links to these videos can be found in the further reading section below.
On that note, it must be considered that representation means to recognise, include, and value those who are perceived as different within their society and culture. One way of reducing misinformation would be to read queer literature that is written by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, there are ongoing examples of good and bad representation. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to get it right all the time. So, let’s continue to discuss and encourage the positive impact of accurate, diverse, and respectful representation, so that all of us can see and hear ourselves in the stories we love.
Sources and Further Reading
‘LGBT book recommendations written by a Q42 member’,
Rowan Ellis, ‘Bad LGBT Representation VS No LGBT Representation’, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex7MK9hRejc>
Jade Fox, ‘Why LGBT Movies Are Bad + The Problem w/ Representation’,
‘Important milestones in LGBTQ+ publishing’,
Katie Stokes, ‘LGBTQ+ representation in literature’,
Fey Kapur, ‘Exploring the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in literature’,
Uma Dodd, ‘Queerbaiting and the issue of LGBT representation in the media’,
Michael Waters, ‘A Brief History of Queer Young Adult Literature’,
‘Queer representation in film and television’,