Hello everybody! I hope everyone’s having a good time with the readathon, and that I’m not the only one so excited for Blue Lily, Lily Blue that I’m having trouble breathing! Today, I am here to talk at you all about something very near and dear to my heart: queer representation. You might have seen me around, either here on Amber’s blog or shouting on Twitter, and those of you that have will know just how important to me personally this subject is. So gather round, young ones, and let me show you all about how awesome Maggie Stiefvater is, especially with regard to queer representation.
There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle on Tumblr fairly recently in The Raven Cycle fandom, with many fans seemingly confused over the sexuality of one of Maggie’s characters. It had even gone so far as small arguments breaking out, while others looked on in bafflement. I was one of those onlookers because, people, this thing is not up for debate. Ronan Lynch is, without a doubt, textually, canonically, completely and utterly, gay. This is not interpretation, this is not wishful thinking; it is pure, undeniable, fact.
The only reason why some people seem to be a bit hesitant over this issue has nothing to do with the books themselves and everything to do with the heteronormative society we currently live in. Has Ronan stood up in front of a bunch of people and shouted “yooooo, I’m gay!”? No, he hasn’t. But then, Gansey hasn’t grabbed a megaphone and announced that he’s straight either, and yet we all know he is. And why is that? It’s because we’re used to seeing it. You can’t turn on your computer without tripping over a thousand heterosexual relationships on your way across the room, and all this has done is enforced the idea that the only way a queer character can be canonically queer, is for the text to hand out a Public Service Announcement. I’m here to show you that this is a complete misnomer, and to inform you that what Maggie has done here is prove that fact, and point out how she’s done it.
Now I’m not going to lie, I do tend to spend an awful lot of my reading time giving a queer slant to characters. I have to, because it’s the only way for me to find representation for myself within the kind of stories I like to read about (ie: not Queer Fiction). I pick up a book, and usually within the first few chapters I will have found an oblique reference or line that I can use to imagine a particular character as queer, and then use that headcanon for the rest of the story. If The Raven Boys had been one of those books, I probably would have used this quote:
“I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what the hell I am.” – TRB, pg 85
This is Ronan, talking in respect to himself, and it’s the sort of line that I would have picked up on immediately and used for my own queer purposes. There are others, particularly in his interactions with another boy, that I could also use, but this line is pretty much indicative of the kind of thing I would be looking for generally. It speaks of hesitance, of personal unrest, of worry over who he is; all things a queer person growing up in our society understands and has gone through some degree of. And to be honest, most of The Raven Boys is like this with respect to Ronan; he is seen through the lens of other voices throughout the first book, and so all references to his sexuality are by necessity subtle, although they do get progressively more overt as the characters get to know one another better:
Ronan said, “I’m always straight.”
Adam replied, “Oh, man, that’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told.” – TRB, pg 231
Granted, this little exchange is in response to Gansey’s request that they all be honest with each other, but really, is there a single reader who didn’t look at that line and raise an eyebrow? We all know the connotations of that phrase, some of us have probably even used something similar in a joke with our friends. And even though it’s meant as a joke within the context of the scene, everyone who reads that also knows that there is a very different interpretation that could be used there. Spoiler: Maggie knows it too, which is exactly the reason why she wrote it.
If I’m honest though, a lot of the queer hints I see in The Raven Boys are probably me just mis-remembering what I saw during my first read-through; it’s hard for me to see Ronan as anything other than gay in this book after the textual confirmation we get in The Dream Thieves. It’s also made more difficult due to the fact that Ronan doesn’t have his own voice in the first book; until the second installment, all we see of him are glimpses through the eyes of other characters, who have their own emotions and agendas clouding his presentation. Basically, if The Raven Boys was still the only book out in the series, then the discussion over whether or not Ronan is queer would have more merit. I would still argue in the affirmative, but I would really only have the above quotes to go on, as well as the quote Maggie uses at the very beginning:
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world. – Oscar Wilde (TRB)
Now, the quote itself (which is describing Wilde himself as the dreamer) wasn’t what caught my eye at first; it’s widely known as being related to the hedonist movement that Wilde was firmly entrenched in during his life. It was more the fact that Wilde was quoted at all. Anyone who knows Wilde enough to quote him knows exactly what he’s most famous for; being queer. Of course, by the time we get to the very end of the book, we find out that Ronan is a dreamer, which connects the vague quote to this specific character (and we all know how Maggie likes to bookend her stories, don’t we?).
Luckily for us, though, The Dream Thieves is already here, and it’s in this book that we’re given textual confirmation that yes, Ronan Lynch is indeed queer, please feel free to take off your queer-reading glasses because they are not needed for this series, thank you for this gift, Maggie. I mean, you all know the quotes I’m talking about, right? Like, this one, for example:
[Blue] wore a dress Ronan thought looked like a lampshade. Whatever sort of lamp it belonged on, Gansey clearly wished he had one.
Ronan wasn’t a fan of lamps. – TDT, pg 143
Or how about the sex dream:
That night, Ronan dreamt of his tattoo.
[…] Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it further and further down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller.
[…] Ronan woke with a start, ashamed and euphoric. – TDT, pg 235-236
(For those of you interested, the Latin means I know what this is. I bet you do, Adam. I bet you do.)
Or the very obvious:
“Don’t say Dick Gansey, man. Do not say it. He is never going to be with you. And don’t tell me you don’t swing that way, man. I’m in your head.”
“That’s not what Gansey is to me,” Ronan said.
“You didn’t say you don’t swing that way.”
Ronan was silent. Thunder growled under his feet. “No, I didn’t.” – pg 422
I mean, seriously, Maggie would have to grab a microphone and scream it in everyone’s ears to make it any more obvious. Thankfully, she doesn’t do that (because I prefer it when my ears aren’t bleeding, really). Instead, she attaches most of Ronan’s inner conflicts to another boy, Adam Parrish, and gives us lovely little hints about a possible queer relationship happening at some point down the line.
Now, admittedly, the relationship aspect is a little bit more open to interpretation, because thus far, although Ronan is definitely queer, Adam has expressed a romantic interest only in Blue. But, although there are some people who would suggest that this makes him straight, there are others who are less likely to jump on the bisexual erasure train. Because Adam could be bisexual, or even just unsure about himself and what he wants. In fact, if Ronan wasn’t a character at all, then Adam Parrish would most likely have been the character I would have latched onto to give a queer reading of for myself. Because there is some inference within the text that a lot of what makes up Adam is his need to be constantly playing a role, rather than being himself. He’s the poor boy at the rich boy school, and he won’t take handouts because he doesn’t want to be pitied (although, funnily enough, he’s fine with Ronan helping him out, hmm). He wants to be one of them, one of those boys with their expensive cars and expensive accents, with a different girl on their arm every week (also it was a boy who looked like Ronan that made him decide to go to Aglionby in the first place, and now Ronan is all he sees when he thinks about that decision, weird, huh?). There’s also the fact that, for all Adam talks about Ronan in a seemingly dismissive way, he does still seem to spend an awful lot of his time thinking poetical thoughts about him:
The former two were problematic only when they took time away from Aglionby, and the latter was only problematic when it was Ronan Lynch.
Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves. – TRB, pg 43
Or like this:
From the passenger seat, Ronan began to swear at Adam. It was a long, involved swear, using every forbidden word possible, often in compound-word form. As Adam stared at his lap, penitent, he mused that there was something musical about Ronan when he swore, a careful and loving precision to the way he fit the words together, a black-painted poetry. It was far less hateful sounding than when he didn’t swear.
Ronan finished with, “For the love of … Parrish, take some care, this is not your mother’s 1971 Honda Civic.”
Adam lifted his head and said, “They didn’t start making the Civic until ’73.” – TRB, pg 263
(Notice how as soon as Ronan stops his ‘musical’ swearing, the first thing Adam does is say something to annoy him all over again? Yeah, I noticed that too.)
There are many other instances throughout the two books so far that hint towards these two boys feeling more for each other than what’s actually on the page: the fact that they both speak Latin so well; how they work together to save Cabeswater; the fact that they save each other, Ronan saving Adam from his father and Adam saving Ronan from being arrested. But the thing that ties them together the most, is also the thing that proves Ronan’s queerness irrefutably; the bookending of The Dream Thieves. The beginning:
There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need at least two people for. One to keep it. One to never know. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself. Every day, thousands of confessions are kept from their would-be confessors, none of these people knowing that their never-admitted secrets all boil down to the same three words: I am afraid.
And then there is the third kind of secret, the most hidden kind. A secret no one knows about.
[…] Ronan Lynch lived with every sort of secret.
[…] Ronan told him, “I know where the money comes from.”
“Don’t tell anyone,” his father said.
This was the first secret.
The second secret was perfect in its concealment. Ronan did not say it. Ronan did not think it. He never put lyrics to the second secret, the one he kept from himself.
[…] When he opened his hand, the keys lay in his palm. Dream to reality.
This was his third secret. – TDT, pg 1-5
And then the end:
Ronan Lynch lived with every sort of secret.
His first secret was himself.
[…] Ronan’s second secret was Adam Parrish.
[…] The third secret was the cavern itself. – TDT, pg 447-449
I mean, really, this can only mean one thing. I’m actually pretty good at removing my queer-glasses when I need to for the sake of analysis, but even when I do that, I cannot think of a single way this could be interpreted other than Ronan is gay and has a humongous crush on Adam.
Let’s be honest, I could throw in about a hundred more examples that point to both the definite queerness of Ronan Lynch, and the likelihood of a future queer romance, but some people just aren’t going to get it. And that’s fine, I don’t mind arguing until I’m blue in the face that the earth revolves around the sun, because convincing people like that isn’t the point. No, the point is that Ronan Lynch is a perfect example of the type of representation queer people would like to see. His queerness isn’t his storyline, but it is a part of who he is. His feelings for Adam aren’t what the story is about, but neither are they overshadowed by the other relationships. He is obviously queer without there being a need for a PSA about it, and without making us go looking in the Queer Fiction section of a bookstore to find it. Ronan Lynch, in short, is exactly the type of queer character that I have been waiting far too long for. I don’t need my queer characters to grab a megaphone and tell the world their sexuality, because that’s not what representation is. Real representation is treating queer people as actual people, and this is what Maggie has created in The Raven Cycle. Ronan Lynch is an Irish 17 year old boy who can make things out of his dreams. He’s full of sharp edges and soft spots, he’s unflinchingly loyal and his swearing sounds like music.
And he’s also gay.
That, my friends, is representation. Thank you, Maggie.
(Seriously though, if Ronan and Adam don’t get together by the end of the series, I swear to God I will find you, Maggie. I will find you and then make you watch as I drown myself in tears. /shipper moment.)
(NB: I’ve been using the term ‘queer’ in this post to represent anything non-conformative to cis-het ideals; I apologise if the use of this term is offensive to anyone.)
If you want to find Lauren and tell her how awesome this post is, you can leave a comment or you can find her on Twitter!
We’re now in the homerun of the (re)readathon, and I’m getting a little bit emotional over here. It’s been a fantastic couple of months filled with excitement, enthusiasm, craziness, and many brilliant people. Thanks to everyone who has taken part, but don’t leave yet because there is still so much more to do! In less than 7 days, Blue Lily, Lily Blue will be out and we will be reading like crazy. I expect I will already be finished with it. But until then, we have a Ravenagram, a Q&A, and another Twitter chat to get through!
This week you will have the opportunity to look through the eyes of the most important character in the Raven Cycle series: CHAINSAW! Time to get creative with your photos, and don’t forget to tag them with #trcreadathon!
Other things to look out for:
+ October 17, 2014: The Dream Thieves Twitter Chat @ 8PM GMT/3PM EST
+ October 19, 2014: Q&A with Maggie Stiefvater
+ October 20, 2014: Blue Lily, Lily Blue Speculation Post @ Books of Amber and Readers in Wonderland
+ October 21, 2014: Event Wrap Up and BLLB RELEASE DAY!
I hope you’re all having a grand ol’ time, and that you enjoy these final few days of the readathon!