Where is LGTBQ+ happiness in literature?


Quick! Name one book featuring LGBTQIA+ characters that has a happy ending… I’ll wait. Not as easy as you might have thought, huh? It is no secret that cisgender, heterosexual characters have historically dominated the pages of mainstream literature, while LGTBQIA+ characters, if they are present at all, often receive the short end of the stick compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. While LGBTQIA+ representation in fiction literature is increasing, it can be a slow, painstaking, and at times, misguided climb. 

Negative representations occur when LGBTQIA+ characters are grounded in negative stereotypes or consistently portrayed to be bad people. Stories such as these often result in characters being met with heartbreak, loss, death, imprisonment, depression… not exactly “happily-ever-after” scenarios. This is so common that these stories have earned their own literary trope commonly referred to as “bury your gays.”

This term came into use at the turn of the 20th century and refers to works that feature a LGBTQIA+ couple where one partner faces an inevitable or tragic death, while the other goes on to realize they mistook themselves to be LGBTQIA+ and find “true happiness” in a heterosexual relationship. This trope has typically been wielded to undermine LGBTQIA+ people and relationships, portraying LGBTQIA+ people as disposable. Through the continuous harmful representation of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, it is evident that the influence of this trope remains all too relevant today. 

The media we consume undeniably shapes our perceptions of ourselves and others. Negative or non-existent representation of LGBTQIA+ people in fiction can be immensely harmful in implementing and cementing adverse  stereotypes. In a synthesis of 62 papers surveying mental health outcomes of LGBTQIA+ individuals, a study by psychologists from the University of Modena found that rates of depression, suicidality, and substance abuse are higher in LGBTQIA+ individuals than the general population.  

Furthermore, a series of surveys and interviews on the influence of popular media on LGBTQIA+ identity by Doctors of Psychology, Sarah Gomillion and Traci Giuliano indicated the important role of media models. Data from 1,126 respondents in Texas revealed that, through providing inspiration and role models, popular media had influenced their coming out and current identities . The interview portion of the study, in which 15 LGBTQIA+ individuals participated, showed that LGBTQIA+ role models in media provide sources of pride and comfort. These findings indicate that increased presence of LGBTQIA+ joy and positive representation could improve perception of LGBTQIA+ identity. 

Though there is a need for more and better representation, there are lots of amazing books on the shelf already that celebrate LGBTQIA+ identities. To get you started, here are some books that celebrate LGBTQIA+ joy (spoiler: they all end in happily ever after) and where to find them:  

  1. Loveless by Alice Oseman 

Available at: WPL and Omni 

Loveless is a young-adult novel following Georgia as she enters university and simultaneously into a journey of self-discovery. During her first-year, which for many can already be a turbulent time, she explores the uncertainty and confusion that comes with the path to self-acceptance. Loveless is a beautiful story of the importance of platonic relationships and the power of platonic love.  

2. Dreadnought by April Daniels (a Glow Centre Staff Recommendation) 

Available at: Glow Centre 

The ultimate superhero adventure story, Dreadnought follows Danny Tozer as she inherits the powers of the world’s greatest superhero after watching them fall out of the sky. If that doesn’t spark your curiosity, I don’t know what will. Only 15 and faced with evil villains and transphobic parents, Danny’s life is not simple and neither is this escapist fantasy novel.  

3. Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree 

Available at: Omni and WPL 

Dungeons and Dragons meets coffee shop romance in this epitome of a cozy read. Legends and Lattes is a laid-back novel, a perfect escape from the stress that can often come with exams and the holiday season. It follows the story of Viv, an orc barbarian who decides to trade the life of a warrior with that of a barista. She decides she has had enough of war and sets out to open the first coffee shop the city of Thune has ever seen. All the while on this new quest, a relationship is brewing. 

4. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz 

Available at: WPL and Omni 

At first glance Aristotle, the ultimate angsty teen, and Dante, the know-it-all, do not appear to have much in common. After a chance meeting at their local pool, where Dante teaches Ari to swim, the pair form an inseparable bond, learning more from each other than either could have anticipated. Rooted in friendship, family and love, Sáenz’s story is a timeless one that I highly recommend picking up.  

5. All the Things They Said We Couldn’t Have: Stories of Trans Joy by Tash Oakes-Monger 

Available in: Omni 

A collection of uplifting stories and anecdotes that mark each season of the author’s transition journey. Monger introduces several people, items, places, and moments that make them who they are. It is a celebration of love, happiness and bravery that I couldn’t help but read with a smile on my face.  

All these books are also available to order from Words Worth Books, an independent bookstore located in uptown Waterloo.  

Now, more than ever, LGBTQIA+ people deserve to have stories of joy and hope. Stories in which being LGBTQIA+ doesn’t have to be defined by fear and dysphoria, but can be experienced through courage, freedom, love, and acceptance. Celebratory and empowering, these stories are a reminder of the power of “happily ever after.”