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Sep 162011

Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith have a problem. Their co-authored young adult novel has five viewpoint characters. One of them had the temerity to be gay.

Naturally, our intrepid literary agents – who totally work for and represent authors, really – have, by and large, found themselves lacking the courage to take on this project, and the pressure’s on to ‘straighten’ poor Yuki Nakamura.

I’m not going to tell you why this is wrong, because Brown and Smith have done a bang-up job of that already, in their description of the situation and open call for more representative fiction:

When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

Dear publishing world: I know you want to run your business like it’s still 1868 and you just got a humdinger of a steam press. I know that. I understand. Change is hard! But in between your cynical attempts to mainstream the life out of the books you purport to improve, why not actually poke your heads out the window and see what the world looks like, today, in 2011?

 Posted by at 12:05 pm

  4 Responses to “Say Yes to Gay YA”

  1. What a great post. Excellent.

    In my next book, Troll or Derby, my protagonist is a teen girl who is undoubtedly queer, although in the beginning of the book, her sexuality hasn’t really blossomed yet. She’s only 15, and pretty butch, and in the Midwest, where you’re straight until proven guilty. We get that pretty much off our chest in the first couple of chapters. But that’s not the most important element of the story.

    In the early stages of writing this one, I recall reading a blog post from an editor at Tor, and one from an agent in NY, both decrying the lack of good YA queer fiction. I personally did not sit down to write LGBTQ, but it evolved naturally as part of the story, and I am happy with it.

    That WIP was born three years ago. It saddens me to hear this is even an issue, still. I really thought the homophobic gatekeepers were a thing of the past. I guess it’s just as well I’m going indie.

    • Unfortunately, when we’re talking about the big money – and thin profit margins – involved in the launch of a book through trade channels, it’s inevitable that most of the folks who make the decisions will err on the side of never ever rocking the boat. I imagine this is particularly true of YA, given the Concerned Parent lobby stupiding up the place.

      To me, this sort of thing is the reason why independent productions are likelier to save the industry than harm it. Trying to paint-by-numbers one’s way to broad-based appeal makes for bland, samey and unrepresentative books.

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