Hi, friends!! I am a little uncertain of how to start this post tbh. I have been thinking about writing this post for so long, like, since I started my blog. I have went back and forth about it and how I didn’t want to bring this up because I know that a lot of people have found these books comforting and I don’t want to invalidate that, but at the same time, this book really messed up the way I thought about my own and sexuality in general for a hot second and I have finally decided it’s time to broach that topic. Big thanks to the like fifteen people on twitter who said they would support this post, y’all are the reason I actually took the plunge to write this.
Anywho, let’s just start. If you haven’t heard of Leah on the Offbeat (I will be very impressed tbh), it is a sapphic contemporary that follows up Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, following Leah, who is Simon’s best friend. It is pretty much the most accessible sapphic book (at least it was to me, but I live in a conservative small town and may be an outlier) and was indeed the first sapphic book I ever got my hands on and therefore the first sapphic book I ever read. From what I understand, I am definitely not the only person who had this experience. I suppose I should talk about why I hate that this is the case, so let’s just jump right in.
Before I get to the part that I really have a problem with, I am just going to say that there were some other miscellaneous things that made me uncomfortable. There was a race subplot that I don’t remember clearly and do not really have the right to comment on it, but it made me feel uncomfortable and I have seen some other reviews where it is mentioned. The writing in general also wasn’t great? I remembered thinking Simon was decently written but that kind of went out the window when it came to Leah.
I am just going to jump into the actual issue I have with this book now because I don’t see a point in postponing it anymore. This really stems off of one scene that is in no way ever challenged or even brought up again after it occurs that sends a super super problematic message. This scene takes place at about 70% through the book and does contain spoilers, so if you don’t want that, I would stop reading now.
I have no idea how to broach this without just giving quotes, but before I’ll do that I will give some context. This takes place after school on a Friday when Abby, Leah’s love interest, takes her down to one of the school’s athletic fields because she has something important to tell her. That important thing turns out that Abby thinks she is bisexual, but isn’t completely sure yet (which is totally fine!! so valid!!! you do! not! have to be certain of your sexuality in order to talk about it, especially to a close friend) and um, I am just going to quote the response given to this news.
“You’re either bi or you’re not. That’s like being a little bit pregnant.”
Ummm,,,I am no expert but I am a person who has come out to many people and if any of them had responded to me like this I would have immediately stopped talking to them. And also cried. So much. Because this isn’t fucking okay and this is not how to be a supportive friend. Don’t worry, though, it gets worse.
“It’s not a real label!”
This is specifically in response to Abby saying she feels like she could be “lowkey bi” which apparently Leah, who is, friendly reminder, our protagonist, finds unacceptable and literally tells someone who is confiding in her. Coming out is such a vulnerable thing, I have literally never done it without sobbing afterwards. It is so hard. You are laying your heart on a platter and having to let whoever you are talking to decide whether they want to accept it and you as a person who has valid feelings.
Anywho, don’t worry, it still somehow gets worse?
“Seriously? Lowkey bi?” I laugh flatly. “Otherwise known as what—you’re bi, but you don’t want to admit it? I’m not saying you have to march in a Pride parade. You don’t have to come out. But God. At least admit it to yourself.”
I don’t have a critique to give here. I will just say, fuck this. Fuck it. Admitting your sexuality can be so so so fucking hard and having someone essentially telling you that you are doing it wrong or not admitting to it “enough” is so fucked up.
“You know what? You want to be ‘lowkey bi’? Good for you. Have a blast. But if you’re not all in, leave me the fuck out of it. Don’t you dare come knocking on my door with your post-breakup identity crisis.”
You do not have to be “all in” with your sexuality to talk about it! To explore it! To talk to people who you know have experience with the same thing! And this is so fucking harmful to have as apart of the narrative of one of the most readily available queer books out there. I am and will testify as to how this messed with me as a young queer, but before I do that I would like to just share Abby’s reaction to all of this from Leah.
She hugs her knees. “I’m trying, okay?” There’s a quiver in her voice.
I could go on and on about how this is not okay but I really don’t want to get even more upset and angry than I am right now. I will just say this: this is not how to treat someone when they come out. Do not immediate ask for a label, if they know it and feel comfortable sharing it they will likely tell you then or in their own time when they are more comfortable. If you do, do not immediately tell them that label does not exist. Here are some better responses, just for examples:
“That’s great! I know that was really hard to do, how are you feeling about everything now?”
“I support you and love you, I am so proud of you for taking this step.”
Now I suppose I should talk about the way this rhetoric affected me post reading this. In the weeks after I read it, I could not stop thinking about this scene. I had not been consciously questioning my sexuality at this point, but I had been checking out a bunch of LGBT+ books from my library to read more. I had read five or six before Leah, but guess what I did after I read that scene. I stopped. I stopped thinking about it and reading those books because I thought that I had to be certain of whatever I was before I could explore things further.
That fall I went to college at a historical women’s college. You know the best thing about all women’s colleges? They are so fucking progressive and accepting. Every professor and leader would ask for pronouns, there were gay pride flags in so many people’s dorms, one of my classes was made up exclusively of sapphic people (and our old male professor, but he doesn’t count). I was surrounded by gay people, to be quite honest. There would regularly be dinner conversations where people would talk about their sexuality and how hard it was to figure out. I should have been in heaven, talking to all of these people who had gone through the same thing and maybe could have even helped me.
Guess what though. I never brought it up. Ever. I was convinced, partially because of this book and because of my upbringing, that I could not mention my feelings until I knew they were real, until I had a label that I could give people when they asked. If I had been able to talk freely about this I probably would have started this blog by being like “Hi, I’m Arin, and I’m a lesbian.” I didn’t do that, I said nothing until at four am in my dorm I sobbed as I typed a coming out post.
You can read that post here, if you want, just for the record.
Guess what one of my biggest concerns was with that post? The fact that I didn’t have a label. Sapphic and gay didn’t seem adequate and I wasn’t comfortable with lesbian (fun fact! it would take me over a year to become comfortable with that label! and guess what, that’s okay!!) at that time and I was so worried that someone was going to, well, be like Leah. Someone was going to tell me that my sexuality as I saw it wasn’t valid because I didn’t have a label. And that is exactly why this rhetoric is harmful. I can never recommend this book to someone and have them go through what I went through. From twitter it seems that I am not the only one who had to go through this and that’s not fucking okay.
Anyways, since I don’t like this book and will never recommend it, I do feel obligated to recommend some other books instead.
Sapphic books with bi MCs that I would highly recommend:
Far From You by Tess Sharpe: Sophie comes back to her hometown to try and figure out just who murdered her best friend.
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst: Denna and Mare are sapphic princesses. I cannot give summaries, but just know that there are sapphic princesses.
How To Make A Wish by Ashley Herring Blake: A summer contemporary that deals with grief, unstable parents, and so so much more.
Sapphic books set in high school that I would highly recommend:
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura: Sana and Jamie are super cute and talk about poetry a lot. Bonus!! A coming out narrative that is actually not harmful.
Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi: A Gilmore Girls retelling where Rory and Paris fall in love. This book owns my heart, please read it.
All the Worlds Between Us by Morgan Lee Miller: Childhood best friends to lovers, featuring a future Olympic athlete. (Someone please read this book so that I can get emo over Quinn with someone else).
Colorblind by Siera Maley: Okay, so this is set over the summer but the characters are high school so I’m counting it. Harper can see the age a person dies and still finds herself falling for a girl who will be dead before the summer is over.
They Gay Girl’s Guide to Prom by Siera Maley: Zoey finds herself falling for the girl whose heart she is supposed to break.
That is it for my recs for this post specifically, but here are some other queer creators you can turn to for more recommendations. Please note this is not an official list, this is just who I could think of off the top of my head. Please don’t feel bad if I accidently left you out!!
Okay, this post is about to hit 2,000 words so I’m going to shut up now. That you for listening to me rant and ramble and please, please remember you are valid. Your sexuality is valid. You do not have to be certain of anything to start talking about it, please feel free to reach out to me at anytime if you need someone to talk to about this stuff.
Stay safe friends, I’ll see you again soon!