Tuesday, September 13, 2011

People. It's 2011.

When co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith submitted their post-apocalyptic YA novel to an agent, they were offered representation... on the condition that they make a gay character straight. They refused. And then they told the Internet.

First of all, don't agents realize that controversy equals attention equals sales?

That aside, though, ew.  As I've said before, the industry is rapidly getting much, much better about representing characters who aren't all the same and don't all want to be with the same people. But just as books like The Snowy Day helped normalize kids of color by featuring one without focusing on his race, a book like the one Brown and Sherwood submitted would be good for readers of all orientations. If there's one way to show that gay kids are normal, it's to let them be part of the apocalypse just like everyone else.

There are great (and not-so-great) works of "LGBT fiction" out there, and that's awesome. But the mainstream needs to work on letting everybody in. YA needs more non-straight and not-sure-they're-straight teens slaying dragons and worrying about their SATs. More kids in middle grade need to get grounded by their two moms, and yes, even kids in picture books need their wild flights of fancy to end in the comforting arms of both their dads. Whether you're gay or straight, life is not all about sex, folks. It's not even all about dating. Life is about all the things it's about, and that's true no matter whom you love, where you're from, what you look like, whom you worship, what your abilities are, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I hope Brown and Sherwood's novel gets picked up by a smarter agent and published. I hope the flap copy and the reviews mention the same-sex relationship if it's important to the story, and don't if it's not. I hope this industry, which has so much influence on the images humans see at the beginning of their lives, starts sending the message that people are people are people. It's 2011.

Edited to add: Hmmm. An agent has responded to the original post, stating that she believes the post is about her and that her editorial comments were significantly misinterpreted or misrepresented. It's hard to know for sure what happened here, so I won't make any accusations against either side. But whatever happened in this particular case, we as an industry do need to get better about letting young readers of all backgrounds, orientations, etc. see themselves and the people around them represented in normalizing contexts.


  1. This is a really good piece on LGBTQ characters in YA: http://www.autostraddle.com/straightening-gay-characters-in-young-adult-fiction-are-ya-books-keeping-you-a-secret-110596/

    It discusses the weird dichotomy of a lack of diversity and the trend towards "dark" and controversial YA lit.

  2. Thanks, Dani - that *is* a really interesting piece. To be honest, I wondered when the "Darkness Too Visible" article came out whether "gay" counted as "dark."

  3. LGBT equality! I was overjoyed when NY passed the law allowing gays to marry in state. has the army gotten ride of its "don't ask don't tell" policy yet?

    Anyways, really well written and totally right!

  4. You rock, Piper! ;) The DADT policy officially expires on Tuesday, which is pretty awesome.