When I was an actual adolescent, way back in the 1990s, YA was a very different place. Sure, the category existed—S.E. Hinton, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume—but it was nothing compared to the incredible proliferation of diverse storytelling that young adults enjoy today. And if any of those writers were writing about gay people, they certainly didn’t carry those books at the library in my small town. As a confused queer teen, I had no books about happy awesome gay people doing happy awesome things. When I did stumble upon queer representation, in the work of authors like Stephen King or Jack Kerouac, I was ecstatic… even if the representation itself was not so great.
Somehow, I survived. I made it out of my tiny home town and went to college, where I found James Baldwin, Jean Genet, Audre Lorde, Reinaldo Arenas, David Wojnarowicz, Virginia Woolf. In books and in real life, I found my people, my chosen family—and I ended up okay: a happy, proud, out gay man.
Well, as a person I was okay, but as an artist—maybe not so much. Maybe coming of age without ever seeing yourself in books or movies leaves wounds that run deeper than can be cured by a self-taught crash course in the queer classics. Because as a writer of science fiction and fantasy—and especially young adult—I couldn’t figure out how to tell those stories.