This guest post series is all about queer people talking about their relationship with queer books, whether they saw themselves represented in them or not. If you would like to write a guest post for me, the rules and info on how to contact me are on this post.
Today’s post is by Alexis (The Sloth Reader), a pansexual booktuber. I love it because it talks both about the general feeling of seeing yourself represented as a queer person but also not seeing your specific identity in books. I feel like that’s a common experience for many queer people, so thank you Alexis for your post!
Hello! I’m Alexis and I’m known as The Sloth Reader in the online bookish community. You can find me on Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m here to explain why I saw myself in the character of Nico di Angelo from the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.
To give you some relevant background information, I identify as being pansexual. I’m just over twenty-three and I’ve only used that specific label for myself for the past year or so. I’ve always known that my attraction went beyond just liking boys, but I’ve had a difficult time with my sexuality because of my inability to find a label that fit me. I don’t necessarily feel like labels need to be definitive for every person, but that was something I desired for myself. I tried for a long time to fit myself into the bisexual label, but it was never a perfect match. I have very close friends who identify as bisexual, and I think knowing that our feelings didn’t perfectly line up made the label an awkward fit for me. As a teen, I convinced myself that I didn’t truly feel the way that I did. I thought that if I didn’t feel like I was bisexual, then I wasn’t really attracted to multiple genders. Because of this mindset that I had talked myself into, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I really opened myself up to exploring all the possibilities that existed for me.
I think Nico’s struggle with his sexuality really resonated with me. I do want to clarify that there are some huge differences between Nico and myself. Firstly I’m a twenty-three year old woman from the United States. Nico is a fourteen-year-old boy from Italy who was born in the 1940’s. I’ll leave out the demigod and fantastical elements as obvious differences. There are very distinct cultural and specific to the story ways that factor into Nico’s inability to accept his being gay. Nico feels as if he’s different and unwanted from the rest of the characters in the book because of his parentage and his history. These things negatively affect Nico’s desire to accept his sexuality because he longs for acceptance and fears his queerness will further divide him from other characters. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met and befriended many queer friends in my lifetime, so I’ve never felt that distinct negative feeling of not belonging. However, I can only imagine how some young queer people might be able to connect to that feeling.
However I do feel like I can relate to the struggle of self-acceptance that Nico goes through. While they may have been for very different reasons, both he and I had trouble with accepting our queerness. Because I couldn’t find a label that fit for me, I had completely written off being queer as a possibility entirely. I saw my own turmoil and my own dishonesty to myself in Nico’s character. I didn’t read the Heroes of Olympus until I was older and finally accepting of my sexuality. I remember getting to the part in book four, The House of Hades, when Nico finally has to confront his feelings. I cried for the teenage me who could so accurately relate to pushing down the feelings I had felt. And I also cried for the teenagers who got to read Nico’s story and see someone just like themselves, for perhaps the first time. I would never want any person to spend their formative years denying who they were, like I did. I understand that so many people have factors beyond their control that affect their relationship with their identity, like Nico does, but just being able to read a story with someone who has walked a similar journey can make such a difference.
I’d also like to talk about how underrepresented I do feel in my actual identity. I can name only three or four books with characters that express pansexuality, and only maybe one or two that use the actual word. I believe that every person should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in literature. I get beyond happy when I hear about books featuring any identity, whether it’s books about lesbian or trans main characters. There have been recent releases with asexual leads and my favorite read of 2017, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, featured a proudly bisexual main character who got to blatantly be with both men and women in text (with a QPOC love interest and an asexual side character). These recent releases are an incredible step forward. I’d like to see a future where every identity can have their own wall of books in a library.
But I also can’t help but feel like a lot of my own turmoil could have been remedied had I read a book with a character or love interest who was pansexual. I didn’t get the opportunity at twelve or sixteen, by which time the damage for me had already been done, to see a character express a sexuality that I wasn’t aware was an option. I would never want to take away from the representation that has changed the lives of so many people. I just wish someone had taken the opportunity to write a book, or better yet publish a book, with such an underrepresented sexuality. Had I read a book like Elliot Wake’s Black Iris (which was mentioned in the previous post by Melanie) when I was a teen, I feel like I would have spent a lot more of my life happy with who I was.
Though as it stands, I’m still happy that at twenty-three, I found comfort in the story of a fourteen year old son of Hades.