Good morrow, GGA folx! In this go of “Queer Tested, Teacher Approved,” we’re shining a spotlight on young nonbinary* characters in young adult media. Sure, July 14 is International Nonbinary People’s Day, but this list’ll help you celebrate all year round. Below are seven young nonbinary characters whose stories are front and center.
*Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people who fall outside the gender binary. Therefore, I am including characters who identify as: nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and anywhere in between or beyond.
What are “Queer Tested” Young Nonbinary Characters?
First and foremost, if I didn’t personally enjoy the content, it’s not on the list. Further:
- Books: I’ve read at least three chapters; books I’ve finished are marked with an asterisk*.
- TV Series: I’ve watched at least two episodes; series I’ve completed are marked with an asterisk*.
- Graphic novels/webtoons: I’ve read at least two volumes; those I’ve finished are marked with an asterisk*.
- I’ve read reviews from other nonbinary people.
- All content is available for legal streaming or purchase (in the US).
And What the Blazes Are “Teacher Approved” Nonbinary Teens?
So, I just had two criteria: one) is the character complex and two) do they live? That being said, I’ve included age recommendations and content warnings. Some of my age recs are lower than what you’ll find elsewhere on the internet. Kids and teens aren’t often given enough credit for what they can handle, so please take into account your own limits and triggers. Be safe out there!
Also, I want to add: We desperately need to increase visibility of nonbinary characters in general. But, specifically, the lack of main characters who aren’t white, thin, able-bodied and privileged (outside of their gender identities) is disturbing. There’s so much work to do. ‘Cuz, you know, we all deserve feel seen!
~ Reader beware: light spoilers ahead! ~
Ben De Backer
You always point out the problems with the paintings or the drawings. But what about the things you got right?
First up on our list of young nonbinary characters, we’ve got Ben. They are the protagonist of Mason Deaver‘s novel, I Wish You All the Best*. Ben’s parents kick him out when they come out as nonbinary. They then move in with their sister and her husband. They have to start all over at a new school in the middle of senior year. Ben has a lot thrown at them, which understandably aggravates their severe anxiety. This book has a special place in my heart because reading it basically helped me come to terms with my own nonbinary identity. Bonus, Ben’s best friend is a nonbinary, hijabi YouTube star. Deaver has also written another book with a nonbinary protagonist, The Ghosts We Keep, which I’m look forward to reading (when I lift my self-imposed moratorium on book purchasing; ebook readers are dangerous).
Content warning (CW): Anxiety, depression, panic attacks and suicidal ideation; child abuse, gender dysphoria, homophobia, transphobia, misgendering, underage drinking, therapy. /// Age recommendation (AR): 12+
“American Horror Story: The Corrupt School System,” Cris says.
Steven Salvatore‘s Can’t Take that Away* is another book that’s near and dear to my heart (sensing a theme?). Carey is genderqueer, and each chapter subheading lets us know whether Carey is currently identifying with they, he or she pronouns. The book is hard to distill into a logline. But, essentially, Carey gets cast as Elphaba, the “female” lead in their school production of Wicked and gets kicked out because queerphobia. Carey is a funny, chaotic and endearing protagonist. Can’t Take That Away packs a heavy punch; this is no light and fluffy book: It’s intense and deals with death, queerphobia, therapy and teens getting political.
CW: Alzheimers, cancer, death of a grandparent, death of a parent (referenced); assault (verbal, physical, sexual), blackmail, bullying, hate crime, queerphobia, transphobia, forced outing, misgendering, shooting (threat); gender dysphoria, suicidal ideation and attempt, therapy. /// AR: 12+
I’ve since learned there’s an English word for this feeling, this strange and wonderful amorphous all-consuming wonder. Non-binary.
Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans is magical realism set in a forested suburb in Australia. Iris, a nonbinary teenager made of plants, was literally born out of a seed in the ground. They become best friends with two other trans kids and soon have to deal with a literal witch. I’m only halfway through the novel, but y’all it’s one of the funnest book rides I’ve been on in a while. Lush imagery, frank discussions of trans life and magic. I mean, there are dryads who literally cannot with human gender concepts. <3 <3 <3
CW: Absent parent, misgendering, transphobia /// AR: 12+
I don’t change my gender. I exist as both.
People are gonna disagree with Loki being on this list. And that’s not because he’s not queer. He definitely belongs in the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ category, going all the way back to Norse mythology. I’ll admit that I hesitated to include Loki. Arguments that the “crumbs” Marvel has given us aren’t enough since they can easily be edited out in foreign markets (and have been) are valid. However, Loki, the character, the Norse God, fits this list’s criteria, even if Marvel’s/Disney’s motives are suspect. It seems the artists behind Loki have tried their hardest to represent him accurately and that deserves recognition.
CW: [Loki: Where Mischief Lies]: Outing, queerphobia, violence (murder, gore), death. /// [Loki]: Body horror, parental death, possession, gaslighting, flashing lights, forcible removal of clothing, queer death (an alternate version of Loki), violence. /// AR: 12+
So we’re going to watch Earth’s national sport … competitive frolicking!
Our next young nonbinary character is Nokia. Set in the way future, The Immortal Nerd is a slice of life webtoon about Nokia, a nonbinary person who’s just received their immortality. So, Nokia lives on another planet and is ob-sessed with 2015 internet memes from Earth. Their parents grow tired of them being on the internet all day, natch, and send them to Earth to study the memes at university there. H-P Lehkonen‘s webtoon is a quirky series where gender diverse people are a normal part of everyday life. It’s nice to read something where our identities aren’t fodder for drama.
CW: *The webcomic was published before Lehkonen came out as trans and art is signed using his dead name.* /// AR: 12+
My whole life is other people deciding what’s acceptable. When I put on a dress, I get to decide what’s silly.
So, Jen Wang‘s graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker*, is about the relationship between Prince Sebastian and his dressmaker, Frances. At first, Sebastian hides that he loves to wear dresses and wigs, but that eventually becomes impossible. Wang says that she feels Sebastian is genderqueer. But, she’s cool with readers interpreting Sebastian as a cis man or as trans woman. Regardless, Sebastian’s story is an uplifting, sweet fairytale with a Happily Ever After befitting the genre.
CW: Forced, public outing. transphobia, sexual harassment. /// AR: 12+
And, finally, we have City of Ghosts. This one is an interesting creature. Ostensibly a children’s show, its quirky, neorealist-mockumentary style will def. appeal to adults — it did to this one, anyway. Set in Los Angeles, the show follows a group kids who search for and record the stories of ghosts in the city’s different neighborhoods. One of those kids is Thomas (Blue Chapman), a seven-year-old whose pronouns are they and them. How cool is that?
CW: Ghosts. /// AR: 5+
Young Nonbinary Characters (A La Carte)
As a bonus, here’s a list of good young adult entertainment in which nonbinary characters are prominent side characters.
- Degrassi: Next Class*- a TV series.
CW: Flashing lights; alcohol abuse, addiction; parental death (mentioned), child abuse, school shooting (attempted); anxiety attacks, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt; cheating, stalking, violence, sexual assault; abortion, hospitalization, coma; misgendering, hate speech, queerphobia; sexual content, therapy. /// AR: 13+
- Inhibit – a webcomic by Eve Greenwood.
CW: Blood and body horror. /// AR: 12+
CW: Death, gore, kidnapping, murder, war; self-harm, misgendering; mild sexual content. /// AR: 13+
- One Day at a Time – a TV series.
CW: Drugs and addiction; anxiety, anxiety attack, suicidal ideation (mentioned); sexual assault (mentioned), emotional abuse (referenced; hate speech, misgendering. /// AR: 12+
- Sovereign – a novel by April Daniels
CW: Ableism (r-slur), misgendering and transphobia; PTSD, alcohol abuse, gore, guns, death and torture. /// AR: 12+
- Steven Universe – an animated TV series.
CW: Flashing lights; animal death, parental death (mentioned), domestic violence (implied), child abuse (implied); anxiety attacks, claustrophobia, possession; misgendering, a nonbinary character is killed, but revived shortly after; violence (cartoon). /// AR: 10+
- The Brightsiders – a novel by Jen Wilde.
CW: Alcohol abuse, anxiety, queerphobia, emotional abuse, gaslighting, sexism. /// AR: 12+
Okie dokie, my artichokies! Those were the awesome nonbinary characters I found! Who’s your fave? Do you have a ride-or-die I missed? Till next time, whether you’re part of the community or not, may your days be filled with queer magic. <3
Update: Todxs Nós (He, She, They) has been removed from the list because the main character, Rafa (Clara Gallo), comes out as a trans man in the season finale.
This article was originally published on 7/14/21.