Did you ever read any of Tamora Pierce's wonderful young adult fantasy books?
They were among my favorite in middle school - I mean, nothing could top Harry Potter, of course, but if Song of the Lioness had gotten all the fun fandom it would easily have tied Rowling's books. When I made my best friend read them in high school and she told me they were awful books, I almost thought we couldn't be friends anymore. Alanna the Lioness, Kel (from Protector of the Small) and Aly of Pirate's Swoop were girls my age and a little bit older who were smart and strong and did things like become knights and beat up bullies, and to 12-year-old me nothing could be more awesome than a lady knight. The first time I fenced, my mom thought I didn't like it because I looked so intense; I was imagining myself as Alanna, practicing longsword drills in a castle courtyard.
So when these books came up over dinner today, I got really excited, because they were excellent books. But what I remembered most, enough that I mentioned it, was: "I love how her books have, like, feminist and gay characters, and they can just be there and it's not a big deal."
And then I proceeded to blush, because haha, of course the lesbian would like the book with gay characters. Lol, silly Spiffy and her girls making out.
But seriously. One of the more recent Tamora Pierce books I read, in high school, was called The Will of the Empress, and in it one of the main female characters starts having a relationship with another woman. And everyone is totally chill with this - it is explained once, casually, that yes, Daja is into other women, and the relationship moves on the same as it would have were it with a man. It's later hinted that two other women in the series, adults who act as parent figures to the young heroes, are also in a lesbian relationship, and nowhere is it suggested that they're corrupting the children or something.
I don't think I had realized I liked women yet when I first read it, but when I went back and re-read it later, it hit me hard how utterly normal the lesbian characters in the book were. I'd never read any of the YA fiction specifically targeted at gay youth - I've heard some good book reviews, but it would have never occurred to me to seek out a book just because it has a gay character, and even then it's not like the gay characters are normal. You buy books aimed at GLBT youth specifically FOR the GLBT - it has to be its own category. To find gay characters casually thrown in a book I would have read and enjoyed anyway, readily accepted as if there was no reason why it would be an issue, was (and continues to be) mind-boggling for a teenager who lives in a culture saturated by romance books and songs and movies in which girl meets boy, or else gay ones which are very pointedly targeted at a gay audience.
Does that make any sense? I'm kind of rambling. But I thought it was kind of interesting that, when they were brought up, that was what I remembered about the books - that they made being a lesbian seem okay. I loved them for many, many other reasons, but just casually making a main character gay made them stick with me so much more. I find things like that more often now that I read books aimed at adults, but it's not nearly as powerful now as it was then. Teenagers need it more. If I ever write YA fiction, I'll know to keep that in mind, because it means a lot.