Heroes Like Us
A personal essay on the importance of intersectional representation.
As a kid, I devoured books and fell in love with stories, even though the heroes never looked like me.
Fat kids were goofy sidekicks, if they were there at all. Fat teens were never much more than punchlines to cruel jokes. Fat adults were cautionary tales, faceless bodies on TV warning about obesity. No one of my size was ever allowed to fill up a storybook page or a screen with their body, and if by chance they did, they were certainly never allowed to be the hero.
Realizing that I was bisexual was a journey much the same. There was so much loneliness and longing from a distance, as I watched the few and far between queer characters get killed off. I spent years identifying with every queer character I could find, all while staying firmly in the closet until I reached the end of college. And as for realizing I am non-binary, that is something that at 31, I am still only just beginning to figure out.
These intersecting identities within me, with the added weight of having both chronic depression and an anxiety disorder, made trying to exist in reality feel like wading through polluted waters. I often shrank myself down so as to not take up space, because I didn’t believe there was anywhere that I belonged. I learned to detach and dissociate myself into something so formless, I may as well have been invisible. My only solace was escaping into stories, even though those heroes never looked like me.
It’s taken me years of therapy and shadow work to unlearn those toxic behaviors, and I still often fall short. Learning to love oneself after experiencing a lifetime of trauma is a complicated odyssey. But as someone whose heart was shaped by stories, I know first hand that seeing characters like me conquering their own demons was one of the most powerful and personal parts of my journey. Ever since I began harnessing that feeling by writing characters like me—fat, queer, mentally ill—I’ve discovered a kind of healing that I never imagined I might find.
This feeling of self love is all I want for the teens today. I want you to know that you belong everywhere that you are, and that your differences are the very things that create the unique magic of you. I want your shelves to overflow with books that remind you that you deserve the universe.
So my characters I write are queer and complex and joyful. They are fat and fearful and fearless. Their dimensions and multitudes are not limited to the size of their body. They exist in worlds with people who love them for all they are, no questions asked. I leave my fingerprints all over my books by writing fat, queer teens into starry adventures and sending them on quests to save their worlds. I make heroes out of young adults who struggle to see their own worth, even though they, like you, are absolutely priceless.
It’s my hope that through these characters, maybe you can come to understand yourself sooner, treat yourselves kinder, and love yourselves harder than I ever could. It’s my dream for your world to be full of heroes like you.
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This piece was originally featured on the YA Pride blog in September 2021.