The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
We’ve all heard of it, we all love it, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is the book that took TikTok by storm, and if you ask me (and our Instagram followers) it deserves all of the love. This book follows the missing pieces of the legendary Greek hero Achilles leading up to and during the Trojan War through the eyes of his best friend, therapon, lover, and philtatos, Patroclus. It addresses the question of whether or not Homer is meant for Achilles and Patroclus to be lovers in his poetic epic the Illiad (Spoiler Alert: He did. I love my best friends, but I wouldn’t request for our ashes to be mixed together in death so that we’d never be parted in Elysium), but more than that it fills a space thus far severely lacking in modern literature. Although The Song of Achilles has themes of war, mythology and grief, above all it is the story of two boys in love, and for me it was the most important read of the year.
For me, of all the powerful things this book addressed, the most powerful was Miller’s ability to share a queer narrative that didn’t center around homophobia or coming out. Although the book acknowledges that relationships like the one Achilles and Patroclus had were more common amongst boys in Ancient Greece and then often abandoned as adults, this part of the narrative never negatively impacts their relationship. When Achilles’s goddess mother disapproves of Patroclus, it isn’t about him being a man so much as to what she perceives to be inherent weakness. Additionally, neither Achilles nor Patroclus ever struggle with their love for one another, their love just simply is and it is never questioned. To Patroclus, Achilles is the sun. To Achilles, Patroclus is the true “Best of the Greeks”.
I could never have anticipated how much a story like this would mean to me before I read it. While YA in particular is making huge strides with including diversity in their novels, often times queer characters are exploited for their trauma. It seems the only type of queer narrative that is actively making it to the shelves are books about LGBTQ+ youth interacting with straight society, and in many ways these books are more for straight audiences. Can you imagine being a young person and feeling like the only stories you believed were valid were the ones about navigating a society that wasn’t built for you? The queer experience is so much more than coming out, and so much more than homophobia. These stories are important, but so are stories of LGBTQ+ relationships that aren’t about trauma.
For me personally, this book helped me to take a final step in understanding and accepting my sexuality. Although I have been an out bisexual for nearly 10 years, I may be the oldest baby bi you’ll ever meet. I could never put my finger on it, but something was holding me back from living my truth. To this day I cannot be sure. Maybe it’s because fluid sexuality is so accepted in women that some people think being attracted to women doesn’t make you bisexual. Or maybe it’s because I was asked, “If you’ve never been with a woman, how do you know?” one too many times. Or possibly I was struggling with internalized homophobia. Whatever it was, reading a book about two boys who loved each other unconditionally and knew instinctively that that could only possibly be the way it was meant to be spoke to me deeply. This book empowered me to completely embrace who I am, 10 years later than my closest friends did.
It is so important for the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth that we move away from sharing stories of just queer joy or queer trauma and learn to start sharing stories of queer life. This book may be an entirely fictional Greek tragedy about a legendary demigod, but to me it’s a step in the right direction. I want to see non-romantic dystopian novels with casually lesbian heroines, a teen romance novel about someone non-binary, a horror story where everyone is queer and the author simply CANNOT bury all of their gays. The Song of Achilles is hardly the perfect queer narrative, but I hope it challenges authors of the future to continue normalizing LGBTQ+ identities and stories, outside of the straight narrative.
“It is so important for the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth that we move away from sharing stories of just queer joy or queer trauma and learn to start sharing stories of queer life.”
Please remember, if you are struggling with your mental health because of your gender or sexual identity: you are loved, you are valid, it will get better. If you are binding or tucking, please do so safely. And please, drink some water after that iced coffee.