“I hope he’s gay. And cute. I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.”
I was at work last night when one of my slightly younger colleagues said that, upon hearing that we were hiring a new, 14-year-old boy to work with us. Even though she was serious, I tried to play it off with a laugh, hoping she would somehow backtrack and say she was joking or that of course his sexual orientation was none of her business and who he’s into shouldn’t make a difference. And so I, an openly (to some degree) queer girl with glitter on my face and a girlfriend waiting outside, replied with:
“But you’ve got me.”
“You know what I mean. It’s not the same.”
I was still thinking about that short exchange an hour later, and it was only until I really dissected why my friend could possibly want “a gay best friend” and how that can be seen as a reflection of some of the stuff we read, as well as what we see on TV. And it was then that I realised how problematic and hurtful that really is. But here’s why I, personally, felt offended by her remarks.
It made me feel like my identity was invalid.
For years before I considered I could be anything other than straight, I’ve always made the people around me aware of the damaging nature of them presuming I’d be dating or marrying anyone other than a cisgender male. Things like “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “I can’t wait until the day you get married to a handsome young man” were commonly said to me, to which I’d reply something like, “Or a girlfriend?” or “Or a woman”. Even though my family is somewhat religious and isn’t fully accepting of LGBTQIA+ people and marriage between anyone that isn’t cisgender male and female, I’ve always made it clear that their assuming that I was heterosexual was offensive and shameful.
A few years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to be forced into a box and have a label stuck on me by society. I wanted to be free to love whoever I fell in love with and not feel as though I would be outcast by those around me or questioned for who I was dating. For a while, I rejected the idea of putting a label on myself, but that made it hard for people, my friends especially, to understand me. I thought that maybe if I weren’t going to wear a label for myself, I would do it for the people around me so that they would be able to get a better idea of who I really was. So then I started identifying as pansexual.
adjective: pansexual; adjective: pan-sexual
1 . not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.
I thought that declaring I was pansexual to the people around me would help them in understanding that I didn’t want to be confined to a box or make me feel as though I could only like particular groups of gender-identifying or cisgender people. But whether the people around me were just ignorant and chose not to acknowledge what being pansexual meant or whether they were just too lazy to learn, I quickly realised that the people I told this to didn’t know what “pansexual” meant. So I let that label slip away from me.
Up until a year ago, I didn’t really talk about my identity in the LGBTQIA+ community and I questioned whether I was even a legitimate part of it at all. I was tired of telling the people around me to not say, “Do you have your eyes on any cute guys?” and instead say, “Do you have your eyes on any cute people?”. It was exhausting trying to reiterate to my friends and family that I didn’t want to be confined by their heteronormative ideas — that being heterosexual was a human’s “default setting”. I figured that while I wasn’t dating anyone, it didn’t really matter how people saw me.
But then I started developing feelings for my friend, who happened to be a girl. Feelings which were reiterated. I’d only ever dated a guy before forming feelings for her — a guy which I’d dated for a year, making it difficult for people to see me as anything other than straight during that time just because I was in a “heterosexual relationship” — and while I wasn’t waging internal battles with myself in regards to my confusion about my sexual orientation, I feared what I would tell the people around me. Would they think I’m gay now? Would the religious part of my family ostracise me?
It was when I started officially dating this girl, the same girl I’m dating at the moment, and have been for the past five months, that I began telling the people around me that I’m bisexual. They’d say to me, “So are you gay?” or “But you had a boyfriend before”, to which I’d reply with my new-found label. Side note: I still haven’t told my family that I have a girlfriend because I’m legitimately scared that they won’t ever talk to me again and would throw me onto the streets, but that’s a story for another time. I decided to say that I’m bisexual mainly because it’s a label that most people understand. In a family like mine, and other conservative or religious families, the only people in the LGBTQIA+ community they seem to recognise are those that are lesbian, gay or bisexual. I can’t even begin to say how furious it makes me that they see anyone who identifies differently as invisible, but that’s just how they are. I’m trying to make them understand, I truly am.
So that’s where my identity comes into this whole scenario about the wanting of a “gay best friend”, and the idea that it has to be a male best friend who identifies as gay. Even though I didn’t just want to be somebody’s sidekick or somebody’s best friend, which I’ll get to in a moment, her comments still made me feel as though I was less worthy of being someone’s best friend because I don’t identify as gay, or lesbian, and I’m not a cisgender gay boy. While there are some days that I feel like bisexual isn’t a label I’m completely happy with, it’s something that will work for now, or at least until I figure out who I am. That day might never come and I might never have a solid idea of my sexual orientation or it might fluctuate, but that’s okay too. I’m comfortable with who I am, and putting a label on myself for the sake of other people won’t change that.
It made me feel as though people who identify as gay can never be the heroes.
Maybe it’s the way gay characters have been portrayed in a lot of novels or in TV shows and movies, but I can’t even begin to explain how offensive and hurtful it is to believe that these gay or LGBTQIA+ characters can’t be the heroes. Thankfully, I’ve read a lot of YA novels that are written about LGBTQIA+ characters where they are the main characters, a lot of which are #ownvoices, but hearing my friend say that she wanted a “gay best friend” made me think that maybe this trope is more ingrained in our society and our media than I wanted to admit.
Just thinking about this now, I remember when one of my best friends, who happens to be a heterosexual, cisgender guy, told me that if there were a book written about him, I’d be the quirky character with a spinoff series. At the time, I thought that was a compliment. I loved the spinoff series of some of the books I’ve read, and I like to believe I’m an interesting person… but not just because of my sexual orientation.
So that got me thinking, are characters only classified as interesting or noteworthy because of their sexual orientation if they’re LGBTQIA+ people? If that was the case, I had absolutely no interest in being anyone’s best friend. I didn’t want to be a best friend or a sidekick simply because I’m not a heterosexual, cisgender woman. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are all heroes. We are our own people, and we don’t need heteronormative, ignorant people telling us otherwise. We are worthy of being main characters. No, not just worthy. We are main characters. We are our own people, free of being defined by those around us and unconfined in society’s expectations of who we are and what we are capable of. We’re not just here to be your best friend.
And finally, it made me take a look at our media and the literature we’re consuming.
I’m so sick and tired of all the shows and movies I’ve been watching recently, or that are just typically on TV, being free of any LGBTQIA+ characters. Or when they have a LGBTQIA+ character, the heterosexual, cisgender creators are either applauded for their inclusion of diversity or give these characters tragic storylines or heartbreaking endings. And it’s rare that LGBTQIA+ characters get to be the protagonists in most movies and TV shows, and even a lot of books, and that disgusts me.
So if you’re looking for some YA recommendations where the LGBTQIA+ character is the protagonist, below are some of my favourites. And if you’re a writer, please don’t make us just your sidekicks or your best friends — we deserve more than that. We are heroes too.
- The Flywheel
- Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
- History Is All You Left Me
- Everything Leads To You
- Far From You
- You Know Me Well
- Not Your Sidekick
- The Art of Being Normal
- If I Was Your Girl
- Carry On
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
- I’ll Give You The Sun
Check out Gay YA for more recommendations and discussion posts on similar topics!
What do you think about the “gay best friend” trope? Has anyone ever said something similar to you? What are some of your favourite YA novels where the LGBTQIA+ character is the protagonist? I’d love to get some more recommendations to add to my TBR!
The adorable Malec image used in my header was sourced from Tumblr and all praise should go to the rightful owner.