It might seem obvious to many but, why is representation important?
Representation makes people feel seen, understood and empathised with. At the same time, they empathise with a story. Sure, various elements in a story above and beyond one’s sexual or romantic orientation or gender identity can make readers empathise but undoubtedly, queer people share similarities in their stories that are often left out of literature. It’s very easy to look at a story, not connect with it, and put it down.
From another perspective, if people don’t feel represented, they will search elsewhere. There are options, especially if one knows English well (although this means that mainly Maltese-speakers are excluded. Or migrants living here. Neither of which is a good outcome).
People can go read fanfiction (and this is done by many, many people that we have spoken to) rather than books. They might also turn to English books or they will switch to comics and manga. The result is that they move away from local literature.
There’s also zines for those looking particularly for subjects that are not covered in mainstream media because they are deemed not as important or too controversial.
If we want people to read books, you need to give them books that they are looking for.
Are LGBTIQ+ people represented in modern Maltese literature?
It’s increasing, that’s for sure. But there is still a great lack especially towards minorities within the LGBTIQ+ community. Rather than community, it’s communities under one umbrella that share some similarities such as struggling to accept themselves, questioning and trying to be brave even when facing hostility and trying to be themselves.
Representation is increasing in modern Maltese literature, but this growth is still too little. Various identities are also not represented (that I know of). For example, asexual people, aromantic people, pansexual people and so on. Various intersectionalities such as queer people with disabilities or migrants are also not well represented because we are not just one identity.
Readers will probably wonder why there is the need for such labels or why there are so many or “do they actually exist?” and the answer is yes, we do, but you don’t see us in literature and very little in the media in general.
We had made a list of books in Malta that had some kind of representation (not necessarily good) and it wasn’t that long. We included secondary characters but now, we’re pleased that each year people tell us of a few books to add to that list.
What are the barriers?
If in Maltese, then terminology and language are a barrier. For example, authors wouldn’t know how to translate certain terms, how to write about them in Maltese and also gender-neutrality is an issue as the Maltese language is very gendered.
Authors may be scared to write queer characters if they are not queer themselves and that’s a valid fear, but there are numerous tips out there how to write queer realities. After all authors write about so many things that they have never experienced! If they want to write genuine representations, they should go for it, do their research like with anything else.
There are other barriers such as in publishing, but while we self-published a book, we are by no means experts.
Probably the biggest barrier is taking a leap and putting yourself out there as an author. People wonder if people will actually want to read their (not necessarily personal) story. Many people, especially teens and young adults have a tendency to write something and publish it on the internet under a pseudo-name, whether fanfiction or original fiction. We can never really know how many Maltese or Malta-based queer people actually publish online.