Young Adult Literature

3 On A YA Theme: Gender Fluid, Genderqueer, Gender Unspecified

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

To round out Pride Month, I wanted to touch on a spectrum of identities that are covered by the LGBTQIA+ acronym, even though they’re not explicitly spelled out: gender fluidity, genderqueer, and gender unspecified. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this range of identities for those to whom these terms aren’t clear is through a graphic. This is courtesy of It’s Pronounced Metrosexual:




Gender identity is how an individual identifies themselves — it’s not biological, but mental and intellectual. “Genderqueer” people identify as somewhere along the gender spectrum between those who identify as “woman” and those who identify as “man.” It’s an umbrella term.

“Gender fluid,” is a more specific identity, in that individuals sometimes feel they identify as a woman and sometimes identify as a man or anywhere in between. It’s fluid, meaning that it can and does change.

Those who are gender unspecified, which can also be known as agendered, nongendered, gender-free, or genderless, are individuals who don’t feel they identify with a gender at all.

All of these identities are completely normal and healthy. As we’ve become more aware of gender and sexuality being along spectrums rather than binaries, we’re discovering the diverse, varied, and dynamic identities people choose for themselves. This makes for richer voices, more authentic stories, and, ideally, more acceptance and understanding of what makes us who we are.

Slowly but surely, more gender identities are appearing in YA Lit. This is important not only because it’s true to life itself, but because by seeing the myriad ways in which characters identify — and use these words to identify themselves — the more teens can better understand, accept, and love themselves and those around them.

Here are three YA titles featuring genderqueer, gender fluid, or gender unspecified characters. Two are forthcoming titles, hitting shelves in the near future, and the first one is out and available now. If you can think of other titles wherein characters have these identities, please leave them in the comments. One worth noting is Laura Lam’s Pantomime, discussed in this post on intersex teens.


brooklyn burning


Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff

When you’re sixteen and no one understands who you are, sometimesyou have to run. If you’re lucky, you find a place that takes you in. For Kid, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are a place to find acceptance…and maybe even love.


lizard radio


Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick, September 8)

In a futuristic society run by an all-powerful Gov, a bender teen on the cusp of adulthood has choices to make that will change her life—and maybe the world.

Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.





What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen, October 27)

What We Left Behind follows a teen couple—Gretchen, who identifies as a lesbian, and Toni, who identifies as genderqueer—as they struggle to stay together during their first year in college, despite the growing rift caused by distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity.


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