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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Publishers say no to gay protagonists

So, in a repeated fail that we've seen before in the publishing industry, authors who have written YA stories with a gay protagonist have been told by publishers that they need to make their protagonist straight

Yes, they will publish the story so long as the authors de-gay it.

I haven't read the authors in question so I'm not going to recommend or encourage their works, but the very idea of demanding a protagonist be made straight is something that never fails to infuriate me. It's a pet hate of mine and a major issue close to my heart that we rarely get a decent portrayal in any form of media. If anything this is even more important when it comes to YA fiction.

I want a lot when it comes to fiction. Not because I'm demanding – but because we're currently so lacking. Because there are so few portrayals and so few good portrayals. And because there's so much damage caused by our erasure and the deeply flawed portrayals we so often see.

We deserve to exist. I am tired, beyond tired, of picking up book after book and finding not a single GBLT person within it. I am tired, beyond tired, of my escapism being eternally to the Straight Land of Hetlandia where I don't exist. I am tired, beyond tired, of having to identify with protagonists who are not like me. I don't want yet another generation of GBLT children to think they don't exist, that they're freaks, or that they're so obscene they must be hidden from view.

I am tired, beyond tired of casual homophobia in books. I'm tired of being the joke. I'm tired of being the insult. I'm tired of being the freak and the outsider and the thing. I do not want another generation of GBLT kids growing up thinking there's something wrong with them, or that they deserve to be mocked, ridiculed and laughed at at best – or attacked, hurt and destroyed at last.

We deserve to have our stories told. And for them to be our stories. We deserve to have our stories told – we deserve to be the hero. I want GBLT kids to be able to pick up a story and see that they can be the action hero, they can be the saviour, they can be the strong one, the leader, the protagonist. I want GBLT kids to see themselves as being the centre, the point, the ones that matter

I don't want to see us as constantly the token inclusion (where we exist). I don't want to be cast as the side-kick, the friend, the victim, the sidekick, the tool, the pet, the comic relief. I don't want to be supporting cast in someone else's life. And I don't want our kids to grow up seeing themselves as part of someone else's story – tools and props in someone else's life.

I don't want to see us constantly playing the same roles, cast the same way. I don't want to feel like every GBLT character is stamped from the same mould. I don't want us to establish a set way to be GBLT, I don't want our youth to feel they have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, be a certain way to be GBLT. I don't want to constantly face the chains of stereotypes, constantly facing the same tropes. I want GBLT kids to grow being anything and believing they can be anything.

I want our stories to be written for us with some understanding of us. I want to see more than fetishisation and straight gaze romances. I want to see more than freak shows and documentaries into our spooky weird world. I want to see more than straight-warming pity parties. I want to see more than clumsy stereotypes and cookie-cutter portrayals. I want our kids to see they matter not just as a subject matter, but as an audience as well.

I don't want to see us perpetually having GBLT issues. I want us to save the world, to catch the villain, to get the love interest. I want us to slay the monsters, to fly the plane, to captain the spaceship. I want us to be the monarch, to be the cleric, to be the politician, I want us to be the saviour, the hero, the champion. I want us to actually have stories and problems and issues and lives that aren't all about GBLT issues. I'd like to see a trans story that isn't about transitioning. A gay story that isn't about coming out. I want to see a GBLT story that isn't about coming to terms with being GBLT or GBLT bullying or AIDS. I want to see us in stories that don't feel like PSAs. I want us to have more in our lives.

And I want to see us on every shelf. I don't want to have to go to the special GBLT section (assuming there even is one!) to find books about me. I don't want to be treated as some kind of weird niche. I don't want our kids having to risk outing themselves to try and find a portrayal of someone like them (I was lucky the first time I saw a GBLT section of a bookstore – because it was half a shelf. Even then anyone watching me probably thought I was hiding a bomb or dealing drugs). I want them to go to the YA and find GBLT protagonists. I want them to go to Fantasy/Sci-fi and find GBLT protagonists. I want them to go to Romance and find GBLT protagonists. I want them to go to the children's section and see GBLT protagonists.

I want quite a long list. But it's not a hard list and it's not a demanding list. It's a list that we should already have. It's a list we shouldn't even have to ask for.

And I don't want another kid growing up where the first representation of GBLT person they see is Ann “tent peg” Mccaffrey's awful drek (can you tell I'm bitter about that? Yeah, I am. I'm bitter because I clung to every stereotype in that damn book. I read it and re-read it, and thought I needed to change to be more like that but kept reading it even though it made me uncomfortable because it was all I had).

Our kids deserve better than what we had – and better than what they're getting.