I Exist-- Some thoughts on Scraps of Representation
There is a joke among some of my friends that I don’t engage with media unless it has wlw in it. (I used to be able to joke back that I got into How to Get Away With Murder just fine, but then that show decided it loved me very much and can no longer be used as a counterpoint.) The point being, I demand representation pretty rigorously. I spent too long without it. I will not settle for erasure or scraps.
Except right now I’m reconsidering the scraps bit.
Recently, Diane Duane released Games Wizards Play, the tenth book in the Young Wizards series, which I have been following for about half my life. Now, YA fantasy is hardly a kind genre to people like me. You may be scrambling to say no, Malinda Lo’s books, no, this one book—but they are exceptions. You have to seek them out. As a teen, I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t want to be anything but a totally normal straight girl. I didn’t know what to look for, wouldn’t have looked for it if I did.
Back to Young Wizards—it’s an incredibly important series to me. One of those things that came into my life at exactly the right time, with concepts and themes that settled into my heart and stayed there.
And Games Wizards Play threw me some scraps. I rolled my eyes a little bit at the minor gay character, because I am a Connoisseur of Gay Representation, please, this is almost quite literally nothing. But then.
Oh, but then.
Page 528, US edition:
“Nope, I’m ace,” she said. Nita blinked.
“Asexual,” Lissa said.
Cue the water works. Seriously. I was sobbing with joy over this minor character who got introduced ten books in. I can demand real representation for gay people, for wlw, because I have seen it before, I know it can be done. I have never, in my life, seen the word asexual casually used in a real, published, non-queer lit book. This minor character suddenly meant the world. This small, throwaway scene, ran me straight through the heart. I am real, I exist, I am right here on this page.
I am actually tearing up about it again.
It means so much to me now, when I am 22 and well-versed in all the labels I can use to define myself. If I had seen this at 11, 12, 16, when I had not yet found the words but knew I was not what people said I should be? It would have been world changing.
It makes me look differently at the minor gay character. When I had nothing, he would have been something.
LGBTQIAAP main characters are incredibly important, and we should keep demanding them. I don’t think we always have to be grateful for scraps. But I think it’s important to not discount them. I think it’s important to remember how we would have reacted to them before we knew everything we know now. A minor character might be the only light in the dark for a kid who doesn’t know what they are yet. And it’s incredibly frustrating that there are so many instances when we don’t even get those. There are so many series that I loved that gave no hint to my existence. Young Wizards may not have given me much, I wouldn’t even really call what it did representation, but it told me I exist, it’s telling some kid who just found it at the library they exist, and that’s not nothing. It’s a huge incredible something.
It takes one line. One word. There is no excuse to not throw one word to the people who need it. We can talk all day about good representation and what that constitutes, but in the meantime, just one word is going to make a difference. We need to know we exist. And when we’re children, or teens, we need to know there’s a way to exist when the way we’ve been taught feels wrong.
Everything makes a difference.
And that difference might mean everything.