Young people are demanding that every aspect of their lives, including sexuality, is unshamedly represented in the media they consume. Coming to terms with sexuality no longer has to be just the fodder for harrowing or heartbreaking literature and film. Of course, that is still the experience for far too many, but presenting a more triumphant, hopefull and sweet side is increasingly relevant, and important.
First-time author Birdie Milano has just revealed her novel Boy Meets Hamster.
Rather than a strange tale of interspecies love, it is actually a heartwarming and wickedly funny story of a family summer at a great British holiday camp. Parents embarrass their children, teenagers start to find themselves and one boy has to figure out the difference between love and lust.
The only difference is he has to choose between two boys.
Birdie tells Express Online why it is so important now that gay and straight teens get to see such stories in all their improbable, wish-fulfilling and deeply cliched glory.
Birdie says: “Today’s teens deserve the chance to see two boys kissing under the twinkling starlight of an end-of-summer dance. Let me explain…
“We tend to think that books are made of paper (or pixels, if you’re a convert to the e-reader revolution). They’re not: they’re made of glass. We might think a cinema screen is just something we watch, but often we’ll see ourselves up there, too.
“Think about the books or films you loved as a teen. Think about your favourite characters, and how well you felt like you knew them. Perhaps even wanted to be more like them. Those stories were mirrors, which reflected aspects of yourself, or the person you’d like to be.
“Now imagine peering into the glass and never seeing yourself reflected at all. No characters who looked like you, or felt like you – no characters with your skin colour, body shape, or culture. Imagine there being no characters who loved like you.
“For LGBTQ teens, this has too often been the reality. Love is at the heart of all our favourite stories. Love is what makes the hero or heroine slay the dragon, or rush to the airport to confess their secrets. Love is what the best songs in every cartoon musical are written about.
“Everyone should get to see a love story that they recognise. Gay teens in 2018 are finally starting to see a few. In fact, this year’s film Love, Simon became the first mainstream teen romcom to feature a gay lead character. But we can’t let it be the last.
“Increasing numbers of young people identifying as something other than straight. Pop culture idols are reflecting this – Kirsten Stewart announced on US TV that she was “like, so gay, dude”. Janelle Monae has discussed her pansexuality and Tom Daley is married to a man. But there’s still a long way to go when it comes to reflecting the range of teen identities in the stories we tell.
“Yes, we need stories that show the struggles many LGBTQ teens go through when it comes to identity and acceptance. But where are the kisses? Where is the escapism? The fun? Where are the choreographed dance routines at the end of term prom?
“We call romance tropes cliché, until we realise that we’ve never seen two prom queens share a kiss, or the school football hero take off the nerdy boy’s glasses and tell him how gorgeous he looks.
“Gay teens need mirrors, but straight teens need windows into experiences other than their own, too. Most of us understand what it’s like to feel different, and feeling different can often mean feeling alone. Stories with a broad spectrum of diverse characters only serve to show us how alike we are. Love is love.
“In future, lets hope romances where two girls kiss as climactic music swells or the male lead wins the heart of the boy next door in time for the happy ending can be considered just as cliché.”
Boy Meets Hamster (Pan MacMillan, £6.99) by Birdie Milano is out now