Working towards 'Gaytopia' in LGBTQ+ young adult literature : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Creative Writing, Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand. EMBARGOED until 28 February 2021.
Master of Creative Writing thesis consists of a critical essay titled "Working Towards 'Gaytopia' in LGBTQ+ Young Adult Literature", and the opening section of a contemporary young adult novel titled Skybourne. Both sections explore the ways in which LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed in young adult (YA) literature and provide insight into the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity.
The critical component investigates how the treatment of LGBTQ+ characters in YA literature has evolved over time through an analysis of core texts from each stage of the literature's development. Since the first depiction of YA homosexuality in 1969, pioneering LGBTQ+ YA texts have been plagued by isolated and lonely queer characters who undergo painful romantic experiences and traumatic ‘coming out’ story arcs with explicit links to death. This thesis demonstrates that over the subsequent decades, LGBTQ+ YA literature has evolved to portray LGBTQ+ characters who are able to form supportive friendships, feel a sense of LGBTQ+ community, have an affirming queer romantic experience, and exhibit more diverse LGBTQ+ and ethnic identities. I argue that this significant development in LGBTQ+ YA literature indicates a continued deepening of understanding of the complexity of queer identities and hopefully points towards a brighter, rainbow-coloured future for both LGBTQ+ YA characters and LGBTQ+ young people in society.
Skybourne, the creative component of the thesis, is the first section of what will be a complete young adult novel. Skybourne is closely related to the critical component in that it contemplates many of the same ideas surrounding the portrayal of LGBTQ+ YA characters. It centres around 17-year-old Faatina and her uncertainties regarding her own sexuality, and her resulting discovery and acceptance of her asexual identity. Running parallel to this is the out-and-proud Shiloh, who identifies as genderfluid, and who complicates Faatina's LGBTQ+ journey when they form a strong connection with each other. Weaved throughout the issues of queer sexual and gender identities are many other aspects to the characters' storylines and personalities. These include: struggles with anxiety and stress; the tensions that arise between people of different ethnicities, different classes, and different life experiences; and the courage required to follow your passion in spite of adversity and self-doubt. Skybourne aims to join the ongoing conversation within the LGBTQ+ YA genre by adding to the growing diversity in LGBTQ+ YA literature and hope for a real-life 'gaytopia'.