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Sexuality in YA Literature

An exploration of sexuality in YA Literature and its related issues, trends and effects.

Rose Schreier

on 29 April 2011

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Transcript of Sexuality in YA Literature

Sexuality in YA Literature Definition Timeline of turning points in YA publishing Homosexuality/Bisexuality Challenges Negative/Positive Messages Why are materials challenged?

Top three reasons:

Sexually explicit content
Offensive language
Non-age appropriateness (ALA) Who challenges materials?

Conservative or liberal
Internal or external

External: parents, community members, organized groups (According to ALA, 60 percent of challenges stem from parents)

Internal: teachers, support staff, principals Self-Censorship: A Dirty Little Secret According to award-winning author of Boy Meets Boy David Levithan (who has faced challenges):

“Librarians often let fear, not principle, guide their choices, which is deeply unfair to the teens they serve.”

"It’s much easier to attack a book than to deal with the reality that teens go through every day." According to author Jordan Sonnenblick, spokesperson for AS IF (Authors Support Intellectual Freedom):

“These parents don’t want to believe that their little darlings know this vocabulary so they edit reality—as if by controlling what’s in print and books, you control what’s existing in the world.”
SLJ, 2009 SLJ, 2009

Conducting a challenge hearing:

Coping with challenges: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/challengesupport/dealing/coping.pdf

Free Access to Libraries for Minors:

School Library Media Centers & Intellectual Freedom: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/iftoolkits/ifmanual/fifth Resources Sexuality: the recognition of what is sexual. [OED] Sex: a complex problem for libraries Where is the line between “okay” and “too much” for our young adult patrons? [Wood] The line is often drawn at sexuality, “often considered the issue that divides children’s from adolescent literature [Martin] Lauren Adams, "Bitten," in Horn Book Magazine, Volume 86, Issue 1, January/February 2010.

Susan Carpenter, "Young adult lit comes of age," in Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2010.

Christine Jenkins & Michael Cart, The Heart Has its Reasons (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2006).

Philip Charles Crawford, "Why Gossip Girl Matters," in Horn Book Magazine, Volume 84, Issue 1, January/February 2008.

Donna Freitas, "Be Still My Heart," in School Library Journal, Volume 55, Issue 2, February 2009.

Sarah Glazer, "The Book Business; Manga for Girls," in New York Times Book Review, 16, September 18, 2005.

Cecelia Goodnow, "Teens buying books at fastest rate in decadesm " in Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 7, 2007.

Lisa Goldstein & Molly Phelan, "Are You There God? It's Me, Manga: Manga as an Extension of Young Adult Literature," in Young Adult Library Services, Volume 7, Issue 4, Summer 2009.

Amanda MacGregor, "Let's (Not) Get It On: Girls and Sex in Young Adult Literature," in Voice of Youth Advocates, Volume 26, Issue 6, February 2004.

Michelle Martin, “Saussure, Sex, and Socially Challenged Teens: A Polyphonic Analysis of Adolescent Fiction,” in Children’s Literature. Annual of Modern Language Association Division on Children’s Literature and the Children’s Literature Association 30 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 219.

Kristen Nichols, "Facts and Fictions: Teen Pregnancy in Young Adult Literature," in The ALAN Review, Volume 34, Issue 3, Summer 2007.

Jennifer Burek Pierce, "Buying into Gossip," in American Libraries, Volume 38, Issue 4, April 2007.

Leonard Sax, Girls on the Edge: the Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls: Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 12-13.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 2778.

Anna Silver, "Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens: Gender, Sexuality, and the Family in Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT Series," in Studies in the Novel, Volume 42, Issues 1 & 2, Spring & Summer 2010.

Tanya Lee Stone, "Now and Forever," in Voice of Youth Advocates, Volume 28, Issue 6, February 2006.

Roger Sutton, "Leave Them Alone." Horn Book Magazine, May 2006.

Naomi Wolf, "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things, " in New York Times Book Review, March 12, 2006.

Eleanor Wood, “Pushing the Envelope: Exploring Sexuality in Teen Literature," in The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, Volume 1, Issue 1, November 2010.

Beth Younger, Body Image and Female Sexuality in Young Adult Literature (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2009) If the material is there, tweens and teens will read it! Teen sexuality: a convergence of puberty, sexuality, and sex in the lives of younger patrons [Wood] Not just about the physical act, but also encompasses orientation, inclination, exposure, interest, healthy and unhealthy relationships, and overall sexual health. Sexuality is a good thing, and a healthy part of becoming an adult--it is about who you are. [Sax] A greater range of sexuality is both more marketable and more widely accepted than ever before [Wood] Though teens may still be faced with both family and community expectations & pressures for their sexual orientation/ activities Both teens and adults often find bodily changes awkward to discuss, so the likelihood increases that the subject is avoided being discussed at home Thus, teens will devour any information they can get from library materials [Wood] Experiences described in novels can have a profound influence on their teen readers Recommendations for YA Librarians Know your community
Know your collection Aim to provide a broad collection truthful and accurately written materials on your shelves Comprehensive nonfiction collections containing factual information Novels in which teens learn how others react to situations and interactions constructively Desired outcome: promote healthy sexuality in young adult patrons and a healthy environment that encourages them to explore sexuality and learn more about themselves Between 1969 and 2004 an average of only 5 GLBT novels were published a year [Cart & Jenkins] Evolution of GLBT Lit (Cart & Jenkins)
Homosexual visiblity (1970's-1980's):
A GLBT character who has not been previously considered gay/lesbian comes out
Gay assimilation:
GLBT characters in a story just happen to be gay and there is an assumed "melting pot" of sexual and gender identity
Queer consciousness:
GLBT characters are shown in the context of their communities and their families of choice For every three books written depicting gay characters, only one is written depicting lesbian characters [Cart & Jenkins] 2000 1990 1980 1970 1960 1950 1940
YA novels published with gay/lesbian content: 1970s: 1 title/year
1980s: 4 titles/year
1990s: 7 titles/year
2000s: >12 titles/year
[Cart & Jenkins, xvi] 1969
Shift in portrayal of gay characters from early novels to contemporary ones "I'll get there. It better be worth the trip"
By John Donovan
First YA novel depicting homosexual characters 1982 "Annie on My Mind"
By Nancy Garden
First YA novel to depict lesbian characters in a relationship and the first YA novel to depict romance between homosexual characters 1942

"The Seventeenth Summer"
By Maureen Daly
First novel widely read by young adults 1967 "The Contender"
By Robert Lipsyte and "The Outsider"
By S.E. Hinton First modern YA novels
Noted for their gritty realism 1975 "Forever"
By Judy Blume
Ground breaking novel that explicitly
described the sexual relationship and
of a boy and a girl in high school Obstacles House Bill 30, Alabama 2005: Would have prevented public and school libraries from owning, purchasing or making accessible any print or electronic materials that "recongnize, foster or promote a homosexual lifestyle" [Cart & Jenkins, xvi] House Resolution 1039, Oklahoma, 2005: Oklahoma libraries must "confine homosexually themed books and other age-inappropriate material to areas exclusively for adult access and distribution,", and no public funds be used in "the distribution of such materials to children."

2001 "Rainbow Boys"
By Alex Sánchez
First in a series of books depicting the lives of three gay teens who discover their sexuality and become members of a gay community 1989 "Weetzie Bat"
By Francesca Lia Block
Frist novel to treat a homosexual relationship as normal without any stigma 61% of high school teens have received oral sex
46% of high school teens have had sex
37% report being sexually active Gay YA novels grouped in with "problem" novels:
Insinuates homosexuality is something to overcome, reinforces cultural stereotypes-even if author insinuates that society is homophobic [Younger, 53] Lesbian YA novels should be considered a subset apart from problem novels and distinct from YA novels about gay males [Younger, 53] Almost always about formation and growth, just like other YA novels Often place love between women at the center of the narrative, but rarely focus on the sexual/passion aspect of the relationship--oftentimes the descriptions are indirect, oblique
Some read lesbian novels in order to "affirm lesbian existence," but many YA lesbian novels are "coming-out novels": a safe space for the adolescent character--and reader--to discover sexuality's place in her life and perhaps to practice coming out [Younger, 60]
Lesbian YA novels reimagine and reinvent what sex is and means, providing an alternate view of sex & sexual pleasure for young women [Younger, 62] Lesbian YA novels provide a powerful critique--and even resistance--of male-centered sexuality, male-dominated culture, and compulsory heterosexuality [Younger, 71] Annie on My Mind, Patience and Sarah, Name Me Nobody, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun: positive portrayals of lesbians
Crush, Happy Endings Are All Alike, Keeping You a Secret: illustrate difficulty of being a lesbian in a society that continues to marginalize lesbianism and homosexuality in general However, they have the potential to be sources of enlightenment and empowerment otherwise lacking in popular culture Between 2000-2004: 66 YA titles with GLBTQ content: equivalent to all the books published throughout the entire 1990s [Cart & Jenkins, 128] Collecting and promoting materials with LGBTQ characters or those that promote an open-minded view of sexuality:
1. Helps assimilate GLBTQ adolescents
2. Aids straight teens in accepting gay peers [Wood] Why? “Gay kids, like any others, need to see themselves represented in literature; they need positive role models too, just like any other kids.”[Cart, 24] Libraries often have more GLBTQ literature in non-fiction section than fiction--but teens often do not request these materials shyness
reluctance to expose sexuality to parents/peers Goal: Balance between texts in the nonfiction collection that answer frank questions and fiction titles that give context and explain emotions [Wood] (Homosexuality a close contender) but... "Two and the Town"
By Henry Gregor Felsen
First YA novel to deal with sex and pregnancy 2001 "Gossip Girl"
By Cecily Von Ziegesar
First in a series of popular books that depict casual sex
1977 "I'll Love You When You're More Like Me"
By M.E. Kerr
One of the first YA novels that positively depicts a homosexual character 2009 Survey of 250 Teen Readers General Resources ALA Resources:
Dramatic increase since 2004
2/3 of U.S. graphic novel market
Girls = 75% of GN readership “Girls are driving a demand for comics and manga in the United States in unprecedented ways—and this is changing how teens read now.”
- Lisa Goldstein & Molly Phelan Sexuality in Manga

Themes frequently include gender bending and gender fluidity

Shojo and boys’ love (shonen ai) genres written for girls, but are also read by boys Shojo Genre
Shojo means 'girl' in Japanese
Manga targeted for girls
teens looking for love or dealing with social situations or action stories
two beautiful boys fall in love
androgynous in features
beautiful boy = 3rd sex/gender
Main focus = traditional romance
Goldstein and Phelan (both librarians at Brooklyn Public Library):
“…manga’s unconventional narratives give its female audience more agency as readers.”

safe space for readers to reflect on and/or try on different identities sexual and gender roles in relationships

“Will teens growing up on manga absorb more enlightened views of gender roles and sexuality?” 1952 1968 Recent Trends Pregnancy: Evolving Views? "Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones"
By Ann Head
First popular novel depicting teen pregnancy/sexuality in over ten years. Started a huge trend in publishing

1970 saw a huge spike in the publishing of novels for YA about pregnancy and sex. The following were popular titles. "It Could Happen to Anyone"
By Margaret Maze Craig and "You Would if You Loved Me"
By Nora Stirling 1971 teen book sales up 25% between 1999 and 2005
more sexuality dealt with in YA lit
most popular genres: fantasy, graphic novels, "racy" series
more adults reading YA lit today Trend: Casual Sex sex without context or consequences "tidal wave of YA fiction" reflects this today (Biederman)
bestseller "racy" series
Gossip Girl, The Clique, A-list no reflection on "what does doing this mean?" just another activity like shopping or texting (Biederman) “YA is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak publishing market. Where adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, children's/young adult hardcovers were up 30.7%.”
–Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times March 8, 2010 Gossip Girl series sold > 5 million copies
successful "traditional" YA novel
~ 20,000 copies
(Biederman) Sexuality in YA Gossip Girl: Adult Anxiety/ Adolescent Frenzy Naomi Wolf (2006): "...teenage sexuality via Juicy Couture, blase and entirely commodified." Roger Sutton (2006): "The point of reading for pleasure is the power to choose your own adventure, in both what you choose to read and how you choose to read it." What's next?
Gossip Girl Mashup October 2011 Balancing Act YA lit:
A venue for exploring identity, sexuality, and values
Entertainment Manga "My Darling, My Hamburger"
By Paul Zindel
First YA novel to deal directly with question of abortion society in general more accepting of single mothers, but still marginalized in YA lit (Younger)
more recently YA books offer more hope and empowerment rather than punishment (Younger) Abortion theme continues to be scarce in YA lit although 40% of pregnant teens get abortions (Nichols)

in general reality and fiction of teen pregnancy do not match (Nichols) Continuing Trend: Sex brings negative consequences to teens (MacGregor, Wood)

Pregnancy problem novel still popular The Twilight Phenomenon over 50 million copies sold

presents sex as only acceptable within marriage portratying abstinence-only values

MacGregor: majority of YA books in study further abstinence-only campaign Teen Sex: Safer in Fantasy? (Stone) Lauren Childs: "...vampire romance is a powerful metaphor for coming of age: entry into the heady, grown-up world of sex alongside a creeping new awareness of human mortality." Donna Freitas: "longing for seriously chaste, old-fashioned romance" Trend: GLBTQ Characters increasing representation of sexual orientation in YA fiction

debut of first transgender characters Beth Younger (2010): Series books [like Gossip Girl] "provide alternative perspectives of sex and sex roles for young women through multiple narrators and protagonists." Ranma 1/2 Boys' Love (Shonen Ai) Value of Shojo and Boys' Love Manga

Don't shy away from collecting material that involves sexuality
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