'Twilight' Helped Me Figure Out What It Meant To Be A Queer Teen In Love
Before my now-fiancé Macey and I started dating — back when we were just friends and I had an inkling of a secret crush on her — we were at the beach with her family one August weekend. It was three years after Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was published as a book and just a few months before the movie adaptation was released, and everyone had an opinion about the story's famous love triangle.
“You two are like Bella and Edward,” Macey’s younger cousin, Sydney, said, completely out of the blue while we were sitting together at a picnic table, toes in the sand. “Because Macey is always saving you!”
I blushed and turned away, mumbling something about how that didn’t make sense. Sydney, who was nine at the time, had no idea I had feelings for her cousin. Macey and I laughed about it when Sydney was out of earshot, and for months after, I called her Edward as an inside joke.
The first Twilight book came out 14 years ago, and every girl I knew was reading it, even people who normally weren’t into fantasy or vampires or books to begin with. It often came recommended with, “You have to read this!”
Almost as quickly, people started to hate Twilight. The same people who once loved the books now hated them. My friends and I all began to question our own taste: How could we have liked something so toxic? Did we not see what was in front of us?
The first Twilight book came out 14 years ago, and every girl I knew was reading it, even people who normally weren’t into fantasy or vampires or books to begin with.
There were rightful, legitimate critiques of the series, of course. Twilight promotes unhealthy relationships, stalking, and obsessive behavior. The series misrepresents the Quileute people, and Stephenie Meyer mistreats her Native American werewolf characters throughout the books. Some of the plots are just downright creepy, like the entire pregnancy in Breaking Dawn.
But a lot of the hatred toward Twilight was rooted in the fact that teenage girls liked it, and it affected me. I went from asking Macey to see the first movie with me in theaters to hiding my copies of the books behind others on my bookshelf that I was less ashamed to own.
It’s been 10 years, and I don’t want to be ashamed that I enjoyed Twilight anymore. When I first read them, I really liked the books — and they even brought Macey and I together.
We weren’t an awkward, clumsy teenage girl and a centuries old vampire. We were two queer teenagers who were still figuring out who we were, what we liked, and how we wanted to relate to the world. When Sydney announced that Macey and I were like Bella and Edward, she was pretty far off, but it still helped us find words for our feelings as they evolved from platonic to romantic.
In the late 2000s, LGBTQ+ YA books were still sparse, but there were marked improvements in numbers and quality. The aughts delivered Malinda Lo’s Ash, a groundbreaking lesbian Cinderella retelling, which was published in 2008. Hold Still by Nina LaCour came out in 2009. According to data compiled by Lo, between 2003-2013, an average of 15 LGBTQ+ young adult novels were published by major commercial publishers every year.
That meant there were more options — but it was still rare for me to come across a young adult book about queer teen girls that felt quite as urgent as Twilight felt. And when those queer YA books did feel urgent, it was often because of a plot that left an empty hole in the pit of my stomach, like one of the characters realizing she was straight at the end or someone’s parent kicking them out of the house for being gay.
As problematic as its portrayal of romance is, what felt right to me at 15 was the way Bella and Edward’s will-they-won’t-they felt even more high stakes than the actual vampire plots. And it gave me words for the tension I felt about discovering my romantic feelings, all without the backdrop of homophobia that was present in so many LGBTQ+ novels at the time.
When you’re 15, romantic relationships can feel like life or death. I spent three months crushing on Macey before she found out, and the weeks in between me telling her and the progression of our relationship felt agonizingly slow. I reread passages from Twilight while I waited, wondering if she liked me back. The story was filled with enough tension to keep me distracted from my anxious thoughts.
I thought Bella was a bit melodramatic when, in New Moon, she risked her life multiple times just to see hallucinations of Edward. On some level, even if I couldn’t admit it, I also understood her. I ached to be loved and, unfortunately for present day me, I still have my diary from those years to serve as proof that I thought my life wasn’t worth living without the people I cared about most. I couldn’t imagine loving someone as much as she loved Edward, only to have them disappear on me. It would have crushed me.
Macey and I used Twilight to define our early relationship language, before the stigma of reading the books set in. When she finally told me that she liked me, she returned to her cousin Sydney’s analogy from the beach: What if we could actually be like Bella and Edward?
Macey and I used Twilight to define our early relationship language, before the stigma of reading the books set in.
We were best friends testing the waters together, equally terrified that it wouldn’t work out and we’d lose our friendship as a result. She was shy and not even out yet, and I was only out to a handful of people. When you’re a closeted queer teen in love with your best friend, every choice feels as urgent as Bella deciding to date a vampire who thirsts for her blood. Edward and Bella choose to be together despite the fact that he could kill her by accident without even trying. Fantasy elements aside, from a purely emotional perspective, how is that any different from risking your relationship with the person you trust most when you’re a sophomore in high school?
Ten years later, fans are pointing out that some of that Twilight mockery was just misplaced misogyny. And Macey and I are still together; we celebrated our 10-year anniversary in January, and we’re getting married in September.
When you’re a closeted queer teen in love with your best friend, every choice feels as urgent as Bella deciding to date a vampire who thirsts for her blood.
I’ve never said a word to anyone about the fact that I called her Edward for months or that we used the series as an analogy for our early relationship. Our relationship doesn’t feel as urgent as it did then and we have a library of other books that we use in our love language now, more focused on a lifelong partnership as equals — Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. But there is some small part of me that will always remember what it felt like to be 15 and in love, when it seemed like a logical choice that Bella would turn into a vampire to stay with Edward forever.
When Macey and I moved in together almost four years ago, I donated all my hardcover Twilight books to the library. I probably wouldn’t read them again, but I wish I had kept them. I love what Twilight gave me — a relationship with a story that was never about literary merit or what other people thought of me. I read it for 15-year-old me, and I should have kept it for her.