Content warning: discussion of paedophilia, abuse
The media has a bad tendency to create and push relationships with inappropriate age gaps, to the point where some of these creations are embedded into the cultural landscape.
Take Lolita for example, or even the relationship between Scott and Knives in the much-loved Scott Pilgrim vs The World. While Lolita is known for being controversial, the relationship between Scott and Knives isn’t critiqued on nearly as large of a scale. Regardless, these are just a couple of heterosexual examples of relationships between minors and adults. I want to talk about queer relationships between minors and adults in young adult literature, because it is far too common and far too normalized.
This post is really inspired by a recent read of mine, which I reviewed on this blog here, where a 17 year old and a 21 year old are in a relationship like there’s nothing weird about it. During the summer I also read another young adult book (you can read my review for it on Goodreads here) where a 16 year old and a 20 year old engage in a sexual relationship.
And here’s the thing: I wouldn’t mind these portrayals as much if they weren’t used as the sole romantic relationship for #cutefeels, or weren’t completely normalizing this experience. I wouldn’t mind them at all if they were portrayed critically, showing that while these experiences often are normal for queer people, it’s not exactly okay for minors and adults to ever be engaged in romantic/sexual relationships.
This article on the ages differences between gay men helps illustrate my point. While it does talk quite a bit about the film Call Me By Your Name—based on a book by the same name where the age gap is 17 and 24 years—in a favourable way, which I clearly disagree with given my stance in this post, so many queer people end up in these kinds of relationships because it is still widely thought that being queer is wrong and something to hide. So how is anyone supposed to learn about their sexuality or experiment when they may face social rejection with folks who are their age? It’s not right, but it is common and something to be looked at critically, rather than continue to be normalized. Many young queer people end up being groomed or abused in these relationships, often with no way of recognizing that abuse due to how normalized it is.
Along with that, the article discusses the way media like Call Me By Your Name with such a large age difference is used to justify the anti-LGBTQ myth that gay men are pedophiles, which is of course an extremely harmful thing to perpetuate.
So how is it any different when young adult books do this? It isn’t. It has the same, harmful affect on queer people, and that’s why I can’t stand it when these relationships are uncritically portrayed. It’s something that immediately ruins a story for me, no matter how much I find myself enjoying it, and I think it’s important to call out these instances as they happen so as to not let these harmful portrays continue to shape queer experiences in media.