The theme that’s developing this week is that of the internet being quietly brilliant and providing a voice for those who often find themselves shouted down (see yesterday’s “Speak out With your Geek Out” post for more examples of internetly brilliance). In this case, in defence of two things that are important to me – namely, fiction writing and LGBTQ equality issues.
See this post for details :
Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith approached an agent with their YA novel, in which one of the five major viewpoint characters was gay. A representative from a large agency called them to say he would sign them, on the condition that they “make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.”
Luckily, Brown and Smith had the courage and integrity to refuse this nonsensical imposition, but it has highlighted a problem in YA, as the comments on their blog post at Publisher’s Weekly show. It also highlighted the problem of authors being asked to “white up” their YA fiction, or remove references to disabled characters.
All of this is WRONG. And it’s wrong because books change lives. And YA particularly can reach out to teenagers at a vulnerable age and say “Hey, you’re not alone, here’s someone just like you, who is going through the same stuff…” And that can be a tremendous boost to anyone who happens to be going through a hard time. I firmly believe diversity breeds tolerance.
Not all readers of YA fiction are white, straight, able-bodied kids, so why the inclination towards only showing white, straight, able-bodied kids in YA fiction? Sales? I don’t believe that; I believe publishers are limiting their market by excluding teenage readers who don’t fit into that white/straight/able-bodied box. Maybe it’s a fear of offending parents? I hate to suggest it, but parents who object that a protagonist is black, or gay, are probably the kind of parents who burned copies of Harry Potter because it “promotes witchcraft.” In other words, the kind of people who are actively looking for something to complain about.
Earlier in the year, following the death of Joanna Russ, writers came together and drafted the Russ Pledge, to try to address the issues surrounding the lack of visibility of women in Science Fiction. (See http://asknicola.blogspot.com/2011/06/taking-russ-pledge.html for more details). Surely, in order to promote diversity of gender, sexuality, race and ability in YA fiction, it’s time to consider a similar Brown/Smith pledge?
*Disclaimer – I don’t write YA, but I do read a lot of it, and I have close friends who write it who feel very strongly about this subject. And “Art of Forgetting” featured a bisexual protagonist in a relationship with a person of colour. It might not be YA, but I have an interest in stamping out this kind of nonsense and redressing the balance.