Category Archives: Under the Gaydar

Under the Gaydar: Trans and Nonbinary MCs in YA

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This edition is dedication to YA with trans and/or nonbinary main characters, with the aim of helping readers find books that explore gender identity and can more safely be read in unsafe spaces. Please note that most of these have some potentially triggering content, including transphobia and abuse, so I do encourage reading reviews, if that’s helpful to you.  (And please do read the notes below as well.)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – This absolutely lovely m/f romance steeped in magical realism includes trans boy Sam as one half of the couple.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – This was a Backlist Book of the Month on the site in 2021, so you can read a lot more about it here. For the sake of this post, I’ll just mention that the protagonist is a trans girl and that’s not in the copy.

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman – Note: this is only under the gaydar with the British copy; the copy on the version coming out in the US in October 2022 does state that Jimmy is trans. You can get the UK version via Book Depository, Waterstones, or Blackwell’s.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Note: This blurb can be read as Sapphic, so do read it carefully and consider your environment, but there’s no visible nod to the fact that the main character is either genderfluid or bigender.

Even if We Break by Marieke Nijkamp – In this gaming-themed thriller, there are five POVs, one of which belongs to a trans boy and another of which belongs to a nonbinary kid. The copy is 100% thriller-centric with no descriptions of the POVs to be found. (You can also find hidden nonbinary rep in one of the three POVs of Nijkamp’s newest YA thriller, At the End of Everything.)

For a books with gender questioning as a non-central element, check out This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano. (This is also true of And They Lived… by Steven Salvatore, though obviously that book is not under the gaydar. Feels like I should mention it, though, in case this is a thing someone is looking for where it’s not mentioned on the cover.)

Non-queer-specific anthologies are also great resources for hidden trans and/or nonbinary rep. You can find trans stories in:

Under the Gaydar: YA Sci-Fi

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This edition is dedication to YA Sci-Fi, so buckle in, yank on those space helmets, and come find some great books that are safe to bring to unsafe spaces, or just that you just might not have known were rocking the rainbow!

Proxy by Alex London – I know, it’s a little weird to be kicking off with one of the first major gay YA sci-fi titles, but! It fits! And even its sequel, Guardian, fits! So if you haven’t already devoured this action-packed sci-fi thriller duo, now’s the time!

The Disasters by M.K. England – And speaking of m/m sci-fi, this wildly fun space opera helmed by bi boy Nax and his new fellow flight school reject friend group is another safe bet in more ways than one.

Crownchasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer And speaking of wildly fun space operas, here’s we’ve got one of the very few in YA narrated by a panThe Dis girl, the delightfully bold and brash (and pan) Alyssa Farshot. If you love books full of competition, banter, betrayal, and an understated but excellent romance, this will extremely be your jam.

Sound by Alexandra Duncan A standalone companion to Salvage, this slightly older title (2015) stars Miyole, a research assistant on her first space voyage who gets into trouble when her ship saves a rover that’s been attacked by criminals.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston – a near-future thriller with loads of rep (intersex! bisexual! polyam!) that explores what the world would look like if the British Empire never fell and the crown princess did fall…in love… (Johnston’s got more where that came from, so do check out her other work, including her Star Wars stuff!)

The Sound of Stars and The Kindred by Alechia Dow – both standalone titles, these sci-fi romances both have demisexual main characters, and the latter has a bi boy as well. Clearly your perfect go-to author for under-the-gaydar demi sci-fi!

Under the Gaydar: F/F YA Fantasy

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This edition is dedication to F/F YA Fantasy, which has blown alllll the way up in 2020 and is the perfect way to enjoy the queer lit you need in an environment that might not be safe for it. (Or just to find more stuff you never knew was rocking the rainbow – whatever your situation!)

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust – What luck that maybe my favorite YA standalone fantasy also happens to be a bisexual f/f YA? Based on Persian mythology and exploring monstrousness in the most glorious way, I cannot advocate harder for adding this one to your shelf. (Bookshop)

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski – In more 2020 glory, my fave YA fantasy author also has a new f/f out this year, and yep, it is freaking excellent. Get to know and love the rakish Sid and morally complex Nirrim in this series opener, and then take a seat six feet away from me and let’s mourn the wait for book 2 together. (Bookshop)

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco – You probably already know this book as Frozen meets Mad Max: Fury Road, but you may not know that one of the two goddesses mentioned in the blurb is super gay and in an f/f romance! Want my specific feelings on this book? Good news: I blurbed it! “Complex, brutal, romantic, and terrifying. With a phenomenal cast of characters who stick to your bones and vivid worldbuilding that shows up in your dreams, this is a book that demands to be experienced.” (Bookshop)

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – Yep, more Melissa Bashardoust glory! The romance in this one takes a backseat to the incredibly done stepmother-stepdaughter relationship in this Snow White-inspired fantasy, but it’s still sweet and great and undeniably queer. (Bookshop)

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia – As a caveat, this is the first book in a duology, and the second book does have clear queerness in the blurb. But if you’re good to venture in under those conditions, this is a timely enemies-to-lovers story about immigration and revolution in a highly stratified society, (Bookshop)

New Release Spotlight: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

It’s such a great feeling when you read a wonderful debut and know it’s just the beginning for a fabulous new voice, especially in queer lit. YA has seen some incredible social justice books in the last couple of years, and I’m so excited that this excellent queer one is in the mix, especially since it’s Under the Gaydar and also has a really phenomenal and superqueer secondary cast as well. Do yourself and YA lit in general a favor and grab this one as soon as it releases on May 22, or better yet, use those links at the bottom and preorder it now!

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A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * Indie-BoundBooks-A-MillionPowell’s* iBooks *Google Play

Under the Gaydar: Hide and Gay Seek

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This terribly titled edition is dedicated to books with gay and bi male characters, and I really am sorry for the horrible pun. And yes, some of these books are well known as queer, but part of the point of this series is to help people find books they can safely bring home. So, stock up!

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Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley – an agoraphobic boy is befriended by a girl he doesn’t realize is using him as a psych project to pad her college applications…and he’s also crushing on her boyfriend.

Proxy by Alex London – probably the best-known queer YA sci-fi duology of all time, for good reason! But there’s nothing in the blurb that suggests Syd and Knox have anything more than a business relationship…

Satellite by Nick Lake – A teen boy who was born in space makes his first trip to Earth and finds himself questioning his sexuality while he’s at it!

And I Darken by Kiersten White – This trilogy may be best known for the ruthless and hetero Lada, but her brother Radu very much has his own POV. And while the blurb tells the truth of him making a close friend in Mehmed, the text makes it rainbow clear that those are not Radu’s only feelings by a long shot.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – I know for most of us, just the name “Adam Silvera” on a cover is a dead giveaway, but the cover reads like a friendship story, and it definitely is that too. (Just, you know, between a bi guy and a gay guy who totally fall for each other.)

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro – Not only is this excellent debut about a gay Black boy who’s forced to become even more political after a tragedy under the gaydar, but it is so, so inclusive in its secondary cast, it will make your heart explode in all the ways.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert – This is a beautiful contemporary about an artistic Asian boy named Danny whose friend group is recovering from the loss of their own and just happens to be in love with his best friend.

Coda by Emma Trevayne – This Dystopian sci-fi with a bi MC does refer to romance in the blurb, but it’s only to the one Anthem currently has with a girl. There’s no mention of the ex-boyfriend who’s still very much in his life, for better or for worse.

Under the Gaydar: Bi-ding Their Time

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This edition is dedicated to YAs coming up in 2017 with bi main characters but no hint of queerness in their blurbs – extra key for collections that need for whatever reason to remain a little more discreet!

Top Ten by Katie Cotugno – the blurb from Cotugno’s excellent fourth novel focuses on the main relationship in the book, i.e. the BFFs-maybe-turned-more situation between Gabby and Ryan, but inside the book, Gabby is not only openly bi, but still in touch with (and flashing back to) her ex-girlfriend, Shay.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston – all I know about this one is that there’s definitely main bi and intersex rep, it sounds killer, it’s got a gorgeous cover, and everyone I know who’s read it thinks it’s freaking fantastic. So, there’s that.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – of course, if you’re at all familiar with Adam Silvera, you know all of his books have main characters under the rainbow umbrella, but this is his first with a bi MC, and spoiler: it’s great.

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore – as with her past books, this one is m/f with a female main character who is clearly interested in more than one gender but doesn’t use the word on the page. I must bitterly admit I haven’t read it yet, but if there’s anyone I trust to do everything from rep to prose gorgeously, it’s the author of When the Moon Was Ours.

Under the Gaydar: YAs with Underrepresented Identities in Secondary Characters

OK, so the title’s a little clunky, and the books themselves mostly aren’t Under the Gaydar (*indicates cishet allosexual MC), but bear with me. While LGB are pretty frequently found in YAs these days in both primary and secondary roles (YAY!), other IDs under the rainbow umbrella…not so much. You’ll see plenty about those characters here when they get starring roles in books, but for those seeking some more representation in significant roles, here’s where you can find some:

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Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee – trans guy BFF, who’s also the MC of the upcoming sequel, Not Your Villain  (MC is bi)

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson – BFF character is genderfluid, uses alternating pronouns (MC is gay)

On the Edge of Gone* by Corinne Duyvis – MC’s sister is transgender and bisexual

Lunaside by J.L. Douglas – on-page asexual secondary (MC is a lesbian)

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman – BFF is on-page demisexual in m/m relationship (MC is bi)

Honestly Ben* by Bill Konigsberg – asexuality, pansexuality, and gender fluidity are all represented in secondary characters (Note: while book is m/m, MC does not ID as queer; you can see my personal thoughts on that execution here. Tl;dr: they are positive.)

You can find love interests using the word pansexual on the page (though some are still considering their labels) in Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (bi MC), Looking for Group by Rory Harrison (gay MC; LI is also trans), and Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (trans MC)

Coming in 2018: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake – love interest is genderqueer (MC is bi); Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp – BFF is pansexual (MC is asexual)

Under the Gaydar: Asexual Rep

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This time around we’re looking at books with major characters on the ace spectrum that don’t have that info in the blurb (and haven’t been on every post about this since the beginning of time; at this point I assume most people have discovered books like Quicksilver by RJ Anderson) – hopefully this will help expand your library a bit!

Depositphotos_40057967_s-2015This Song is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin – Though the book doesn’t include the label “asexual,” discussion of being a romantic asexual (and finding your place in a romantic relationship) is a significant portion of this 2016 contemporary YA.

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate – Redgate’s debut is delightfully infamous for being the first mainstream YA to feature an on-page Pansexual main character, but among the 7 POVs is another queer character on his own journey to figuring out he’s aromantic asexual. As with the above, you won’t see the word on the page, but you won’t be able to miss it, either.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Maguire – Portal fantasy with ace rep and atmosphere to spare, from one of SFF’s most popular prolific authors.

Overexposed by Megan Erickson – M/M NA Romance with an on-page demisexual main character. I think that’s maybe all I need to say about that?

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman – I don’t usually feature books in which the character in question isn’t a POV character, but the presence of a major on-page demisexual character in YA is just too great to ignore! If you’re not in the UK, where it released in 2016, make sure you nab this one as soon as it’s available where you are.

27 Hours by Tristina Wright – Coming out in October 2017, this sci-fi YA features a host of underrepresented POVs, including one who’s ace.

Before I Let Go by Marie Nijkamp – Releasing in January 2018, this fabulous Alaska-set contemporary YA I have read and you have not (#CPlove) features an (#ownvoices) ace MC.

For some more instances of on-page labels in non-POV characters, check out Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham, Lunaside by JL Douglas, and Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg! And do check out this interview with Erica Cameron, to see which of her books apply as well!

Under the Gaydar: YA Fantasy Worlds

While most of books you’ll see on this site are strictly LGBTQIAP+ MC, I’m going a little outside that box for this post. (Not to worry; there’ll be plenty of posts on that too.) Most of these books do have at least one queer primary character too, but this is sort of a bigger-picture look, because these are the series that wouldn’t necessarily come up if you searched for LGBTQIAP+ YA fantasy, and, well, this is Under the Gaydar; what else do you think we do here but build your TBR list with stuff you didn’t know was actually bleeding rainbows?

(N.B.: every book listed is the first in the series, but that’s not necessarily the book with the greatest amount of Rainbow Rep.)

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The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine Not only is the premise of this book, about a girl who’s supposed to become a queen with massive powers and then just kinda…doesn’t, pretty epic on its own, but the main character is also quite besotted with her handmaiden. As per usual in Fantasy, the word “bisexual” isn’t used, but the differentiation of her feelings from simply being friendly is done clearly, and the guy she ends up with never feels like a romance she settled for. Next year will bring the sequel, The Cursed Queen, which according to the author similarly has a bi MC, this time with f/f endgame.

And I Darken by Kiersten White – This historical fantasy is one of my biggest obsessions of the year, and features two narrators: a bloodthirsty girl named Lada and her brother, a softer, more beautiful boy named Radu. Oh, and both are in love with Mehmed, the son of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire in which they’re effectively being held captive.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – The voice in this one alone could kill me, but one of the best things outside of the main character, macaron references, and NYC love is the amazing haters-to-lovers banter between Jasper and Dorian, two of the guys in her gang, who bring yet more wittiness to the series, along with some gayness and pansexuality.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu – One of my favorite fantasy series so far (two books down, one to come this fall) is all about villainy origins, but I’ll take a spin off on the queer romance that edges in through the cracks any day.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – I have to cop to that this is the one series on the list I haven’t started yet, but the absolutely glowing comments on varied representation in Shadow Scale, the second book in the duology, won’t allow me to leave it off the list until I do, especially since it’s the only mainstream-published fantasy I know of with trans representation.

Under the Gaydar: Heartbreaker Edition

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This week we’re looking at some f/f YA heartbreakers – books that will totally kill your soul, but are so good, you need to read each and every one anyway.

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Far From You by Tess Sharpe Part murder mystery, part tragic love story, and a whole lotta excellence in Sharpe’s debut. Not only does main character Sophie possess one of the only (very well-done) examples of invisible disability in YA, but she was also the first character many current readers had ever seen self-ID as bisexual in a YA novel. (Also one of very few examples of an on-page sex scene in YA between girls. Basically, this book broke a lot of molds, and we’re very grateful for it!)

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp – Plenty of people are aware of This is Where it Ends; after all, it is a New York Times bestseller, and it’s kiiiinda hard to ignore that cover. That tagline. That premise. That…everything. But not everyone knows that two of the four POVs present in the book belong to two halves of a lesbian couple, Sylv and Autumn, and they’re at the center of the hunt.

Paperweight by Meg Haston – When people argue about sexuality being a spoiler, this is the kind of story I imagine they mean, but at this point, if you haven’t picked this one up, then allow me to use this to steer you in its direction, because I also know it to be one of the best representations of an Eating Disorder in YA.

Beautiful by Amy Reed – Cassie is in a major downward spiral, shifting into a life of popularity and beauty in her new town that’s as alien to her as her new skin, her new friends, her new capacity for adventure. And in that journey, Cassie only truly gets close to one person, but Sarah is every bit as full of pain and not quite as thoroughly numbed.