Monday, September 12, 2011

YA Authors Told to "Straighten" Gay Characters by Agent

Apparently I should be reading Rose Fox's work over at Publishers Weekly more often, because she keeps coming out with really interesting articles. This time she's using her column to relate the difficulty YA authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith encountered when their (unnamed) literary agent attempted to force them to alter a gay character's orientation in their upcoming post-apocalyptic YA novel. In their own words:

"Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. 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.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!” "

You can read the full article over at the PW website.

This is just really sad. I'm used to hearing about religious groups or parents complaining about content in books, and I've read about librarians censoring materials when making ordering decisions, but I never really considered how much censorship can (and apparently does) happen so close to the source: the publishing companies. This makes me wonder how many books that have been altered by authors willing to make concessions to their works to get them published. Then again, I know tons of authors who are anti-censorship advocates, so it's hopefully really rare that an author caves.

What do you think?


Emma said...

It makes no sense to censor LGBTQ characters in books. Most people I talk books to, me included, are always looking for great fiction with LGBTQ protagonists. I find it appauling that in this day and age, publishers would believe having a LGBTQ protagonist would keep people from reading that book. It's time that people with homophobic views shake the habit.

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