Non-Existent Unnaturalism: Queer Co-optation in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (Emma B. and Allyson S.)

In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, love is treated as a disease. Anyone who acquires the love disease, known as amor nervosa deliria, is punished in one of three ways: they are quickly cured, placed in a psychiatric hospital, or executed. This pathologization of love echoes the way queer people have been and continue to be oppressed by the medical system. Despite this parallel, the novel renders queer people invisible. In this article, we argue that Delirium co-opts and subsequently disregards queer oppression. We do so by using queer theory, a framework that “is concerned with the ways of being and relating that are possible when the normative sequence of heterosexual romance, marriage, and reproduction renders those who do not follow the sequence invisible, irrelevant, or impossible” (Owen 259). Delirium’s erasure of queer experience is evident in the similarities between the fictional cure and the real medical oppression of queer people, the absence of government surveillance to combat “Unnaturalism”, and the lack of concern adults have with Lena and Hana’s close relationship.

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Delirium frames heterosexual love in the same way that queerness has been framed historically. The deliria is referenced as “The deadliest of all deadly things” (Oliver 52) in all mental health documents. Those who contract it are supposed to have “obsessive thoughts and actions” and eventually experience a “complete breakdown of rational faculties” (147) that is reflective of mental illnesses. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Doctors tried to rid homosexuals of their disease, which was seen as a perversion or sign of stunted development (Dresher 565). This continues today in the form of conversion therapy, an unscientifically proven and traumatic practice that is supposed to cure homosexuality (Lang). This focus on curing queer people is similar to the way teenagers are cured of heterosexual love in Delirium, in which “everything [is supposed to] get better” (Oliver 107) after undergoing the surgery. In this way, the deliria is explained and resolved similarly to oppressive medical approaches to homosexuality.  

Queerness is briefly acknowledged in Delirium and then never addressed by its social structures. Early in the novel, Lena mentions “Unnaturalism”, which is “a result of the same kind of chemical and hormonal imbalances” (Oliver 52) as the deliria and results in “boys being attracted to boys and girls to girls” (52). Despite this medicalization of queerness, there is a distinct lack of governmental surveillance of Unnaturalism. Gender segregation is used to prevent interaction between uncured boys and girls to the point where Lena has “hardly ever exchanged two words with a boy before” (60) meeting Alex. However, the segregation does nothing to prevent romantic interaction between those of the same gender. As such, relationships amongst one gender are allowed with little to no intervention. This segregation establishes heterosexuality as the default with no explanation. Although queerness is considered a part of the disease, Delirium does nothing to address queerness in its society. These concerns are instead shifted onto heterosexual characters, where virtually all surveillance fixates on their experiences.

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Lena and Hana share a close relationship which can be subtextually read as homoromantic. Throughout Delirium, Lena is preoccupied with Hana’s beauty, frequently describing her physical appearance. During their final run together, Lena comments, “I really think she might be the most beautiful girl in Portland, maybe in the whole world, and I feel a sharp pain behind my ribs, thinking of how she’ll grow older and forget me” (386). When Lena is confronted with her last moment with Hana, she thinks, “now I know why they invented words for love, why they had to: It’s the only thing that can come close to describing what I feel in that moment, the baffling mixture of pain and pleasure and fear and joy, all running sharply through me at once. […] I love you” (418). Lena’s feelings for Hana culminate in this moment and she is able to acknowledge them internally. Lena’s love for Hana and concern for their future demonstrates their deep connection, one that can easily be interpreted as homoromantic. 

Despite the emotional intensity of Hana and Lena’s relationship, Carol shows no concern about Lena being infected with Unnaturalism. Instead, Carol emphasizes the fleeting nature of their friendship, which is ultimately viewed as harmless. As Lena’s cure approaches, Carol begins to limit communication between the two. Lena believes this is her aunt’s attempt to “hurry up the inevitable, skip us both to the ending, the part where Hana and I aren’t friends anymore” (186). As far as Carol knows, Lena has been spending an increasing amount of time with Hana, but does not dissuade her from doing so. Carol only intervenes to explain how their friendship will inevitably change after their procedures, reminding Lena that “it won’t be like this for very much longer” (305). When Lena tries to leave before her approved match, Brian, arrives, Carol simply says that “You’ve been spending enough time out of the house as it is” (310), with no further questioning or discussion. With no mention of Unnaturalism and no clear queer representation, all possibilities outside of heterosexuality are “ignored or marginalized instead of explored as logical options and extensions of contemporary life” (Day 90), reinforcing the heteronormativity of Delirium.

Delirium uses the medical oppression that queer people experience without including queer people in its narrative. Although the government constantly surveils for heterosexual romance, there are no measures to monitor queer sexuality. Lena and Hana’s friendship is intense and deeply intimate, but never seen as a potential sign of Unnaturalism. Delirium creates a world where heterosexuality is policed while ignoring that queer people are the ones who society is trying to cure “for being trans and having different gender expressions and ‘same sex attractions’ and for simply daring to be ourselves” (Condren 2013). As a result, Delirium reinforces heteronormative ideas of how young people should behave and denies them the opportunity to see the medical repression currently happening in their own world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Allyson and I had difficulty finding sources about queerness in YA dystopia for this assignment. Why do you think there’s an absence of queer characters in YA dystopia as a genre?
  2. Have you seen a similar co-opting of queer experiences in other YA dystopias or other literature?
  3. Are you familiar with any YA dystopias that do include queer representation? If so, how were they framed in comparison to Delirium?

Works Cited

Bansheeheart. “Delirium Meme | Four Relationships | Lena & Hana.” Tumblr, http://bansheesheart.tumblr.com/post/76668090017/delirium-meme-four-relationships.

Brunskill, Tina. “The symptoms of love. Delirium by Lauren Oliver.” Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/407153622535832428/.

Condren, Chelsea. “The Government Can’t Stop Our Heterosexual Love: YA Dystopia From A Gay Perspective.” Young Adult Library Services Association, 27 May 2017, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/05/27/the-government-cant-stop-our-heterosexual-love-ya-dystopia-from-a-gay-perspective/.

Day, Sara K. “Docile Bodies, Dangerous Bodies: Sexual Awakening and Social Resistance in Young Adult Dystopian Novels.” Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction, edited by Sara K. Day, Miranda Green-Barteet, and Amy L. Montz. Ashgate Publishing, 2014, p. 75–92.

Drescher, Jack. “Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality.” Behavioral Sciencesvol. 5, no. 4, Dec. 2015, p. 565–575.

Lang, Nico. “Conversation therapy is ‘torture’: LGBT survivors are fighting to ban ‘pray the gay away’ camps.” Salon.com, 21 March 2017, https://www.salon.com/2017/03/21/conversion-therapy-is-torture-lgbt-survivors-are-fighting-to-ban-pray-the-gay-away-camps/.

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. Harper Collins, 2011.

Owen, Gabrielle. “Queer Theory Wrestles the ‘Real’ Child: Impossibility, Identity, and Language in Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 3, Fall 2010, p. 255–273.

19 thoughts on “Non-Existent Unnaturalism: Queer Co-optation in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (Emma B. and Allyson S.)

  1. I think that one of the most interesting aspects of queer erasure in “Delirium”, which you both clearly point out, is that LGBT folks do not face discrimination or persecution in the text but rather are not acknowledged at all (save for the passage regarding “Unnaturals”–a couple sentences). It reminds me of the novel “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is about an all-female utopia. The women in this novel have evolved to function without men, including a capacity for asexual reproduction, but at no point over the course of the story is there a mention of either romantic or sexual relations between any women in the society; indeed, upon the arrival of the protagonists (three men) there is a series of somewhat experimental heterosexual relationships, all of which culminate in marriage. I suppose, then, to answer your first discussion question, relationships in dystopian and utopian fiction mirror the society they are being written in; Gilman’s novel, published in 1915, did not even acknowledge the possibility of homosexuality, while Oliver’s novel gave a brief nod to queerness but ultimately did not linger on the subject. These attitudes show, I think, how attitudes surrounding LGBT individuals have progressed, but only slightly–from outright ignorance of the subject to only a cursory mention. So long as topics related to queerness and/or LGBT issues are relegated to the margins of romance and sexuality–that is, present but seen as something “other than” or outside the norm of heterosexuality–I’m not sure that popular culture, including YA dystopian lit bestsellers, will be free of heteronormative messages.

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  2. I want to first off say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and thought it was really well written. I too found it interesting that the concept of a queer relationship was not a concern of the government, especially when the readers know that relationships between the same sex do exist (albeit it was only briefly mentioned in two sentences). I thought that the relationship between Hana and Lena was explained away like many lesbian relationships in Hollywood, meaning that they were just seem as really good “gal pals.”

    Like the previous comment, I believe that the lack of queer representation in YA dystopian novels is mostly due to the time period. As of this point there has been little to no representation of the LGBTQ community in dystopian novels. Throughout the 1900s people still believed that homosexuality was a disease and from the 2000s until early 2010s the discussion surrounding it started to pick up but it was still considered a taboo topic. However, we can see that the younger generations are starting to stand up and advocate for the representation and the rights for the community that they may personally identify with. That being said, I am an avid reader myself and I believe that the proliferation of queer representation in YA fantasy and single novels I have noticed over the last couple summers is because of the growing amounts of discussion that is happening surrounding this subject and the fact that the readers of these novels are voicing their objections to the lack of representation in novels. Unfortunately, the YA dystopian genre continues to lack queer representation. I think is do in large part because the genre has seen a decrease in popularity over the last few years. However, it has come to my attention recently of a new novel in a YA dystopian saga (The Nightside Saga) that has six queer protagonists (all of the characters are either bisexual, homosexual, pansexual or asexual. There is also a character who is transgender). I have yet to read this book but I have only heard great things about it and I hope this means that this saga will lead the way for better representation of the queer community in YA dystopian novels.

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  3. Hey! I loved reading this post. I found it really engaging as I personally felt the same as I read the novel, especially about Carol’s unconcern for Lena’s potential “Unnaturalism” which could lead to serious consequences. As to answer your second question about co-opting of queer experiences in other YA novels, I found that “Divergent” by Veronica Roth did this a lot. While Tris and Christina’s relationship can be seen as gal pals, in multiple points in that series Tris pauses to think about Christina’s looks, like in the first novel when they meet and Tris thinks “She is tall with dark brown skin and short hair. Pretty”. Not once in this novel is a queer relationship mentioned, considering the city Tris lives in has no laws about marriage that we learn of, or children bearing. This always irritated me considering that she transfers to the “Dauntless” faction which seems to be where the most non-stereotypical (white, straight) people live and there’s not a single queer relationship, both there or in any of the factions that we learn about.

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  4. Hi Emma and Allyson I really like your post! What I find interesting about YA dystopia is though homosexuality is “marginalized”, the protagonists share some similarities with queers like “I know I am different and I decide to do something that may put me in danger but I won’t be alone”. It confuses me too why there’s an absence of queer characters in YA dystopia but have anyone noticed that Asians are also hardly mentioned in “The Hunger Games”, “Parable of the Sower” or “Delirium” though all these three novels are set in a world based on the States? I guess maybe the authors want readers to focus on the dystopia theme or their world settings are simply flawed.
    I am not sure if it can be considered as a YA dystopia but I’d like to take the BBC TV series “In The Flesh” as an example of challenging the heteronormativity. In the series the 18-year-old protagonist Kieren Walker (mind the surname) and other people who died in 2009 were resurrected, and they attacked the living in unconsciousness before a medication was found to return their minds to who they were before dying. Survivors of militia hunting were rounded up and given contact lenses, cosmetics, and daily injections of medication to help them CONCEAL their deceased status by the government in a plan to REINTRODUCE them to society. (Sounds familiar?) They are officially referred to as sufferers of Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS). But Kieren faced prejudice from the villagers upon his return (wikipedia).
    SPOILER ALERT. In the first season we know why Kieren committed suicide at 18 years old was because of the loss of his best friend (or romantic interest?) Rick, but only until the second season do we learn about Kieren’s sexual orientation when he began to date another PDS suffer Simon, an activist of the Undead Liberation Army. “In the Flesh” is not a LGBTQ TV series because the protagonist just happens to be gay and that won’t affect the plot. It has a heterosexual couple too. Amy, Kieren’s best friend after the Rising, who is also a PDS suffer, has a relationship with Philip who greatly diminishes his chances of climbing the political ladder due to his “special” romantic affection.
    It’s a pity that “In The Flesh” would not be renewed for a third series due to cuts to its budget for its final year as a televised channel so we get no chance to learn what will happen between PDS suffers and the rest of the world. Sorry for my chatter, but It could have been a thought-provoking and perhaps YA dystopia work which challenges the heteronormativity.

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    1. I loved In The Flesh! That’s a great example of how frameworks of “othering” can be used implicitly and explicitly to reference queerness, and even disability. (It really is a pity it was cancelled).
      As for your earlier point about Asian representation, I agree that it seems to be greatly lacking in most YA Dystopias–although there are some exceptions, like Marissa Meyer’s Cinder which we’re reading later in the course. I’ve seen in other science fiction a prevalence of East Asian cultural representation, specifically the show Firefly (2002) and the film Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982). Both use the iconography of different Asian cultures for set design, costumes, props, etc. without including any Asian representation in the casts. I think it would certainly make more sense in terms of the setting that these texts present in which there is greater globalization (and at least in the case of Firefly, in which China is the largest global power alongside the United States) to have equal representation of Asian people.

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  5. I think one of the reasons there’s an absent of the LGBTQ* community is because there are still perceived as a taboo. Disney receives an excessive amount of hate whenever they try to portray a queer couple. (Though they did just premiere a show with a gay main character). Nickelodeon took one of their highest earning shows, The Lengend of Korra of television and made it only available online because the main character was bisexual. Essentially, if big companies like Disney and Nickelodeon have a hard time presenting queer characters a lot of publishers won’t be brave enough to tackle the challenge either. There’s also the problem that political correctness is constantly criticised as “catering” to the “others” in society. A lot of writers won’t force themselves to write a queer character or a characters with a minority race if it wasn’t initially part of the vision. They don’ wont to conform to society and instead by true to their art. The problem with that mentality is that we are raised on shows where 90% of characters are white and straight. It’s inevitable that when we imagine stories the characters we are used to seeing are the ones who will the main characters. It will take an active effort to change and have actual diversity, instead of just letting characters have their own flow. I was looking up YA and dystopian with queer characters, I fell upon Ash by Malinda Lo. Ash isn’t dystopian, but the main character is lesbian and Asian. The problem is that Lo couldn’t make the fact that Ash is Asian obvious. It would have been too much of a risk for publishers to have a queer person of colour as a main character. The publishing world is picking and choosing what kind of representation they are willing to invest and promote. Having queer characters is a gamble that many publishers don’t want to take on. There’s also some authors who simply don’t believe that representation is important, especially if it doesn’t add to the plot. Some people believe that if they have queer characters than the whole plot line has to centre on them being queer. Which encourages the belief that being queer is the only defining aspect of a person. Despite the fact that being straight is not the only defining aspect of a straight person. Often times, they just don’t want to be the one to represent queer people. The only way that such mentalities will change is if people force themselves to write queer characters as actual people and stop being afraid of the possible negative comments

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    1. I think your point about there being industry pressure to only write straight characters is so important. During our research, Allyson and I found this article from Autostraddle where two young adult authors talk about being told by literary agents to change queer characters to be straight to enhance their marketability: https://www.autostraddle.com/straightening-gay-characters-in-young-adult-fiction-are-ya-books-keeping-you-a-secret-110596/. So much of this is rooted in the overall idea that stories about marginalized characters won’t sell. I think slowly that is changing through phenomenons like Hamilton the musical, but I do get concerned that corporations will just decide to co-opt these characters so they can use their identities to sell products without shedding light on the systemic oppression queer and racialized people face. I agree that people should be more driven to include characters with marginalized identities, and we should also have more spaces and opportunities for writers, producers and actors with diverse identities. (I also loved The Legend of Korra! Seeing bisexual characters in media who are not hypersexual is always so meaningful to me.)

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  6. I enjoyed reading this Blog post as it was something I was wondering throughout the novel as well. I do not find it surprising that you had trouble searching for sources about queerness in YA dystopia as queerness was barely mentioned in Delirium, and the other two novels we have read this semester, apart from the one line about them being considered unnatural. Especially in Delirium where they are legitimately trying to erase queerness through assigning life partners. Ultimately the lack of queerness throughout YA dystopias I believe are based on traditions and the want to sell more copies. We live in a society where queerness is seen as ‘the others’ and not the norm. We do not have to come out if we are heterosexual because everyone is believed to be until they say otherwise. Queerness is lacking in most of our entertainment industry, while recently we are seeing more representations of people other than the ‘default,’ we continue to see the majority of the industry being run by people who are heterosexual, or there is a lack of communication so we, by default, believe them to be heterosexual. I believe that it is more prominent within YA dystopia because it is meant for young adults, and our society has a tendency to not discuss these issues with the young generation. We continue to teach children and young adults traditional values, and so as a society we continue this cycle of heterosexuality as the normal.

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    1. Hi Ariana, I agree with your comment that the lack of queer characters in YA dystopian fiction is due to authors remaining hesitant of straying from the dominant narrative of heteronormativity. I thought I would propose a more explicit reason why this is so pervasive:

      In “The ‘Can-Do’ Girl versus the ‘At-Risk’ Girl”, Anita Harris argues that advertisers recognize the immense market value of young women and regulate their investment in girls through the construction of the “can-do” vs. “at-risk” dichotomy. By generating these constructions that appeal to binary thinking, the dominant narrative can then more easily be sold as a commodity. Any threat to these binary constructions challenges the regulation of the dominant narrative, marginalizing its success. Hence, particularly in a genre characterized by critiquing existing social systems, authors may fear challenging an additional non-binary component of this dominant narrative.

      Unfortunately, this silence only serves to perpetuate the status quo. While we are slowly seeing more queer characters in YA dystopian fiction (as demonstrated by the inclusion of queer characters in subsequent novels in Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, albeit with limited roles), this progress is clearly being impeded by destructive marketing strategies.

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  7. You made a really strong argument for the invisibility of queerness. It’s not something that registered with me while I was reading the book to the extent that you described in your post. This is especially true of Lena and Hanna’s friendship. It seems to me that if the political situation described in Delirium were to occur in our present time, there would be just as much focus on queer instances of love as for heteronormative ones. Given the history of queer discrimination and the ongoing struggles for equal rights that queer people face on a global ongoing basis, it seems plausible that there would be even more surveillance allotted to prevent cases of “unnaturalism”. For instance, and to tie in with your third discussion question, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale citizens are executed on a regular basis for engaging in homosexual relations, and anyone who does not conform heteronormatively is labeled “gender traitor”. The Handmaid’s Tale is not YA but it is a dystopia that deals with control over interpersonal relationships, lack of rights, and heavy surveillance. Like, Delirium it also deals with themes of medical crises and forced medical procedures in order to maintain the social order. In its presentation of queerness, there is quite a bit of visibility, but in the sense that any citizens found to be queer would be punished by death.

    I have not come across any examples of YA dystopia which include representations of queerness and I wonder why that is. In today’s world, and in most modern media, there is a growing amount of queer representation, so it feels odd if the intention of the invisibility of this community in YA dystopia is a result of not wanting to engage with a taboo. However, Oliver’s reference of instances of “unnaturalism” seems like it was done quickly and in passing in order to answer the question of whether queerness is relevant to this particular society. She implies that is not and then makes no further mention of it. What I mean is that it feels as though she just ticked the box off her list of things to mention in order to answer any questions the reader may have. Considering that the story and the experiences of the characters co-opt the experiences of queer people, and the social struggles they have faced, it in unsettling that Oliver offers no further discussion of queer characters or queerness in the society she has described.

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  8. I enjoyed reading this blog and your analysis of “Delirium”. I found your connections to queerness interesting. I agree with your ideas that identities outside of heterosexual positions are invisible reinforcing their marginalization and simultaneously emphasizing heteronormativity within the novel. I found Lena and Hana’s relationship as “intense and deeply intimate” closely connected to the notion of “romantic friendships”. This term suggests the idea of bonds between women that were common in the visual culture of the Regency Period (early 1800s). Even married women had these bonds with other women. These bonds reflect homosocial relations within a heterosexual world. Homosociality, referring to friendships between people of the same sex, was dependent on the rejection of homosexuality. During this time lesbian desire was thought of as impossible. While reading your post I connected Lena and Hana’s relationship to these ideas. As you mentioned, there is clearly some type of bond between them but it is never developed as anything more than a representation of intimate friends. Therefore, I think that Delirium adapts this belief system in which queerness is nonexistent in its society or thought of as impossible. To answer your first discussion question, I think there is an absence of openly queer characters in YA dystopia as a genre because it is easy for authors to play into this nonexistence. I also think that YA literature is a key reflector of teens beliefs, as teens are caught in between two worlds, childhood and adulthood. YA is a space that they can navigate to develop beliefs and perceptions of society and it is important to have accurate reflections of diverse identities within spaces that young adults occupy, such as YA literature.

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  9. Thank you for your insightful essay, I am so glad you brought this to attention! As I was reading Delirium, I was convinced there was going to be some sort of romantic or sexual connection between Lena and Hana because of the ways Lena talked about her best friend throughout the novel, until she starts having enamoured feelings for Alex. For example, as you mentioned in your blog post, when Lena describes the love she feels for her best friend and the constant fascination with her beauty, I was further persuaded that Lena had feelings for Hana that would result in more than just a friendship. Although I think it is fair to feel love for best friends, I think it is problematic to completely ignore the possibility of a queer relationship due to the sheer lack of queer representation and the constant perpetuation of heterosexual norms in pop culture today. I think there is a lack of queer characters in the YA genre for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons I would like to focus on is the idea that authors of YA novels, whom are generally adults, often use such literature for didactic purposes – they are trying to teach young adults how to navigate the world and teach them what they believe is morally ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Due to generational reasons, it is possible that such authors espouse values that do not always align with more current feminism and LGBTQ+ ideals, or may have not had as much exposure to such ideologies that would maybe make them rethink how they illustrate characters in their novels. If this is the case, I can see how an author would only write about what they are familiar with or think is correct. However, I do not think that this gives them a ‘get out of jail free card’. We should hold authors responsible for the perpetuation of norms that are harmful to groups that have been historically ignored and disadvantaged. In addition, I believe the lack of queer representation in our society teaches individuals about what is possible in our society. When an individual is rarely exposed to something, it makes it seem as though it does not exist. This is hugely problematic as it further bolsters the heteronormative ideal, illustrating any other type of sexuality as wrong and abnormal.

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  10. I found your interpretation of the novel interesting, as I had a very different reading of the implications it has for the LGBTQ community. Delirium, was published in 2011, when the legalization of same-sex marriage was a prevalent topic of social discussion. So far countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Iceland, and many US states had begun legally recognizing same-sex marriage as early as 2001. In 2011 the pressure was being put on the United States to recognize same-sex marriage on a federal level, which was not achieved until 2015. So while I agree with your assessment that queerness is not represented in YA dystopia at this time, it was being thoroughly discussed in the media. While I understand the importance or representation, I read this novel as a parody of societal views of queerness. A parody in the sense that it mocks real-life views of how some people believe love can be restrained. Can we not read the surgery in the novel that removes your ability to love as analogous to conversion therapy? Then read what happens to people who have been literally ‘brain-washed’ in the novel, as their brains have been altered as a representation of people who have had to suffer the trauma of conversion therapy? I think that this novel does shed light on the oppression of queer people by mocking the concept that a government could dictate which people should be matched together. The government’s matching system in the novel can be seen as a criticism of the US government which in 2011 still had not recognized same-sex marriage on a federal level. Similar to the novel, there were only certain ‘matches’ they recognized. This may be a stretch, but could we not see Carol’s reaction to Lena and Hana as an embodiment of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy? Mocking the idea that queer relationships are not happening as long as they are not talked about. During the books publication the repealing of this policy was being thoroughly debated in the media and was repealed nine months after this novel was published. I read the erasure of love, by the procedure, to represent the erasure of all forms of love. Therefore, the rebellious message that love should not be restrained, discouraged, or regulated, applies equally to same-sex love. While the novel may be seen as co-opting the way LGBTQ people have been portrayed by society, can this co-opting not be considered advocacy? Instead of viewing this as a co-opting of queer oppression, I have viewed it as a parody of queer oppression. Parody in the sense that it mocks a depiction of a society that tries to regulate love, such as a government that tries to dictate who you love. While I agree that the link to LGBT people can clearly be seen, I think the fact that the situation is applied to heterosexual people emphasizes the ridiculous concept of regulating love, and therefore can be applied as a critique of how the United States government was attempting to regulate love by not acknowledging the legality of same-sex marriages federally.

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    1. I hadn’t thought of it before, but your comment sets up an interesting argument that the novel could act as a parody or social satire. However, I think the links between the historical treatment of queer people (conversion therapy, government policies, etc.) and the treatment of heteronormative love in the novel needed to be more clearly defined in order to be effective in this way. It’s fairly easy when analyzing the text to notice and create these connections, but I don’t think the average reader would pick up on the subtleties, making it less effective.
      While I agree that “the rebellious message that love should not be restrained, discouraged, or regulated, applies equally to same-sex love”, within your argument this comes off as a little problematic. This reads to me as “All love matters”, which ignores the unique experiences of queer people. Similarly, I have to disagree with your point about co-opting as advocacy. I don’t think you can advocate for a group without accurately representing them. Especially with the one sentence Lauren Oliver provides to essentially dismiss queerness in the novel.
      Ultimately, I think it’s very important for queer people (and all oppressed groups) to be able to express their experiences and perspectives themselves, rather than superimposing them onto a privileged outside perspective. You made a lot of great connections, but I don’t think Delirium does enough, as a parody or otherwise, to represent queer issues.

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  11. In Delirium, Non-Existent Unnaturalism is depicted by societal concern for heterosexuality romance while the same society being oblivious of homoromanticism. Lena is allowed to spend a lot of time with Hana, who she thinks she is beautiful and cares for, and Carol is not worried or concerned about this relationship. Heterosexual love is treated as a disease and anyone who acquires it is punished. However, heteronormativity is reinforced when the cure is due. The gender segregation in Delirium is to make sure that ‘uncured’ boys and girls do not interact. As a result, Lena had hardly talked to a boy before meeting Alex, and it fueled the relation of Lena and Hana. Unlike our current society, where homosexuality is recognized even by the law and heterosexuality is not policed, in Delirium, heterosexuality is reinforced as normal without reason.

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  12. Fantastic post! I really enjoyed how you compared “unnaturalism” in Delirium with historical perspectives of homosexuality as a mental illness. I have read the entire Delirium series (not that I’m recommending you do that same, but that’s just my opinion) and I also wondered why Lena never considered for a moment if what she felt for Hana was in the slightest bit romantic. I found it odd how the author framed homosexuality almost a rarity, with the term “unnaturalism”. I was left unsatisfied both times I’ve read the novel that the author never expands a queer narrative even in the slightest throughout the book as if homosexual characters were some sort of myth that people would only hear rumors about. In that sense, the dehumanization of queer characters, or the mention of them possibly existing, was very disappointing to me.
    To answer your first question regarding why there is an absence of queer characters in dystopian literature, I find that heterosexuality is still seen by larger society as the “default” sexuality and anything outside it is still “othered” in Western society in particular. I was pleased to see that many other commenters of this post have agreed with such a sentiment. find when it comes to queerness, whether it be characters or narratives in pop culture, there are many people who have the mentality of “Its alright if you’re gay but you don’t have to shove it in my face all the time, it’s unnecessary.” Despite how problematic such sentiments and ignorance can be, queer literature is still seen as a sub-category in my opinion and therefore unable to be part of mainstream literature. Many publishers may be unwilling to print queer dystopian lit because it will not be as “relatable” to readers as heterosexual characters and storylines “would” be.

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  13. Emma B and Allyson S,

    Your response to Delirium has gotten me to stop and rethink the whole novel and how Oliver wrote it. I would have never thought about how the dystopian world that the book takes place in doesn’t discuss queer relationships. The fact that didn’t even cross my mind is a problem. Unfortunately, I am sure I am not the only one who didn’t think about how a queer relationship would exist in this society, and that’s sad. I would like to address your question why there is an absence of queer characters in YA dystopia genre? To start, most dystopian worlds in YA Lit are taking place in the future. Although these stories are told in the future there seems to be a pattern of regression. For example, cars becoming obsolete, politics becoming dictatorships, relationships being arranged for you and televisions and computers only accessible for the wealthy. If we use this pattern of regression and apply it to queer relationships, that could explain it’s absence in YA dystopia Lit. In the 19th century and earlier, queer relationships or homosexual relationships were hidden and seen (as you guys said), “as a mental disorder.” These relationships were not as common, not to say there were any less queer relationships but they were not something that was discussed out in the open. So maybe the lack of queer relationships in YA dystopian Lit is thanks to the pattern of regression in these novels. Going back to a time where these relationships were simply not talked about. I also thought of another answer to your question. YA dystopian Lit deals with a wide variety of ‘heavy’ topics. Some of those topics including; politics, poverty, environmental crisis, sex, love, race, suffering, coming of age and rebellion. Since these novels are dealing with so many ‘heavy’ and controversial topics, it makes it hard to address each one and do it justice. YA dystopian Lit is known for delving into the themes I mentioned above, and its readers expect that these issues will be a part of the plot. So maybe the absence of queer characters on YA dystopian Lit is simply due to the fact that the genre doesn’t typically address it. By adding the motif of homosexuality or queerness into YA dystopian Lit you are adding just one more ‘heavy’ and controversial topic, and maybe the authors of this genre feel like they are already addressing enough ‘heavy’ material.

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  14. Hi! I really enjoyed reading your post!
    As I was reading Delirium, I thought a lot about the way the gender binary and LGBTQ relationships were strangely portrayed. I think due to the plot of the novel the “problem” of being queer, in any sense of the word, is not as prevalent as an issue in this society as one would assume. It isn’t clear in the novel the exact portion of the brain that ‘the cure’ surgery affects, but reading about the passive nature of ‘the cureds,’ the lack of familial love between Carol and her family, as well as Rachel and her husband, I can infer that one could not have the capacity to have any sense of personal identity. The combination of the surgery and the systemic promotion of forced heteronormative pairings, wouldn’t allow one to be exist beyond that structure. I started thinking about how Carol did mention how much time Hana and Lena spent together, as well as, Lena’s assumption that Carol’s comments were due to her surgery being soon, meaning, Hana and Lena’s relationship would soon drastically change. Also, being cured pre-initial surgery date due to being in love, would also ‘save’ the person from the disease. These two facts interested me as, if in an alternative universe, Hana and Lena were in a homoromantic relationship, and Carol actively knew about it, would their relationship be harmless as their society strictly values straight pairings? Or, if Carol knew about Hana and Lena’s possible lesbian relationship, why did she view it as harmless but view Alex and Lena’s relationship as dangerous and illegal? My possible answer to these questions is that Carol’s reactions may parallel how larger society views queer people. Often straight relationships (or forced pairings in this case) are the default and are the optimal option. Queer relationships aren’t always viewed as valid loving relationships. This may explain the fetishizing of queer people in larger popular culture. Further, it is possible as well that Carol didn’t detect Lena and Hana’s possible homoromantic relationship at all, as the option of a queer relationship wasn’t even a possibility in any of the characters’ minds. This may also parallel the way popular media views lesbians. For example, years ago, when Kristen Stewart began dating her ex-girlfriend, tabloids assumed the pair were just close friends (or gal pals) for months.
    This novel reminded me of the governmental structure of The Giver at times, especially in the case of the lack of gender related queer identities. In both novels, the heteronormative pairing systems are so rigid, that one living in these societies wouldn’t even think that a gender identity beyond the binaries was even a possibility. In Delirium, with the ridiculously heavy propaganda of ‘Unaturalism,’ censored media, and the grooming since birth to prepare for one’s pairing test, Lena’s society clearly promotes a binary gender identity.
    I do think that Oliver did erase any semblance of queer identity in her novel, which is interesting, as I’d optimistically assume that a story set in the future would normalize queer identities.

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