Monday, December 5, 2011

Gay in YA? Preposterous

I'm a twenty year-old gay man. I have no qualms about that. If you do, then you have every right to leave and never come back. It's a free country and I'm not holding a gun to your head, so I would away now if that is offensive to you:

This post is about the portrayal of gay characters in Young Adult fiction.

If you've been here for a while, you might remember my post about GLBTQ characters in fantasy and sci-fi (The link to said post is here.). I read through my older blog posts the other day, as I tend to do on occasion, and came across it.

Before I continue with this, I have a personal anecdote to share with you all.

I knew I was interested in boys at the beginning of seventh grade. I won't go into too much detail (I don't really want to have to put an adult content warning on my blog for this one post), but I was interested. I came out in eighth grade.

As bisexual.

The modern culture, advanced as we are, accepting as we are, open as we are, left me feeling as though there was a gap in me because I was gay, a gap so deep and jagged that I convinced myself that I was maybe still interested in women for a while. Finally, thankfully, I figured it out by my sophomore year in high school--gay and fecking proud of it.

When I look back, even with only a few years of perspective on the subject, I can't help but notice something that, as an avid reader, I should have noticed in middle school or high school: in all of the YA books I read (and there were a lot), not one character was anything but straight.

The books I grew up reading preached heteronormality, whether they were meant to or not. I admit I noticed it once, in ninth grade, talking about Harry Potter--I thought it very unlikely (and still do) that none of the hundreds of students in Hogwarts were LGBTQ--but I passed it off back then as nothing.

When I sat down today, I was going to write an appeal to the masses to write, read, and generally support LGBTQ characters in YA fiction. Being an intelligent person (at least I like to think I am), I thought it my duty to check something online first--it was very possible that I simply had not read any YA fiction with LGBTQ characters in it. I did a quick search for "gay characters in YA fiction".

I was appalled. Two sites I found on the first page had a non-negative view of using LGBTQ characters in Young Adult books. The others were either against it, or saying that somebody else was against it. I clicked on a link from Genreville, I site I trust to have high quality and intelligent fare. I continued to be appalled. This is the article I found. I encourage you to read it before continuing.

It enraged me to think that an agent--someone we are supposed to trust as a knowledgeable, cosmopolitan individual--would flat out say that they could publish their book, but only if they changed the gay character.

The article pretty much makes every point I wanted to make when I read it. The most important? LGBTQ youths need (not want, need) to see characters like them in their fiction, the fiction specifically geared to help them through the developmental years.

I can't say if this is the fault of a market unwilling to progress or take risks, the fault of outdated Puritanical values that should have been abandoned when we decided that not all women were evil and damned to Hell, the fault of parents so attached to the heteronormative "ideal" that they would refuse to buy such books, the fault of authors for not writing them out of fear or said heteronormative ideals, or a combination of all of these things.

What can I say, then?

This is a problem in our society that requires attention--and not next year, next month, next week, or even tomorrow. We have centuries of time to make up on this front. It stands to reason we need to start now, if not sooner.

What can we do? We, the writers, can write LGBTQ characters as they are and throw them into the lion's den along with all of our straight characters.

We, the publishers, can do our best to remain open to LGBTQ characters and judge the book on its merit rather than two boys kissing.

We, the readers, have the most power here, believe it or not. Publishers want to keep us happy, to give us what we want to read. Tell them what we want, what you want, what the LGBTQ youths need.

All it takes is one foot in the door--from there, with all of us pushing, we can get this in, get it recognized, and make it, as it always should have been, acceptable.




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