You’re a writer, you have worked hard on developing a plot for your young adult, fictional novel. You have created a character you love and you know will reach out to your readership. The excitement builds as you get a call from a literary agent who says they love the book but… for the manuscript to be more palatable to the publishers they want you to write out the black character and make him white. The outcry would be huge, with such an idea hitting the six O clock news. Yet it was only twenty years ago when children’s author Malorie Blackman was asked to do just that.
So when she was told that last week, two American writers, Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, were told by a literary agent that their young adult, post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, was of interest, but only on the proviso that they re-wrote the gay characters as a heterosexual couple; her adamant response was, “Are we still not over this nonsense? When I was asked [to whiten her character] I said no. It seems to me this is more of the same … With all these things it stems from ignorance, and ignorance breeds fear. A good way of tackling this is to show gay or Muslim or black characters in our fiction for children.” Thankfully Smith and Brown refused the offer, saying; “When you refuse to allow major characters in young adult 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.”
To think that this was an isolated case by a rogue agent would ease things, but there have been many other authors who have come forward, speaking out about similar experiences of being asked to erase their LGBT characters and replace them with heterosexual characters. Jessica Verday, faced similar discrimination with the characters she had created for the, Wicked Pretty Things, trilogy; again the publishers wanted to turn the gay relationship straight. Rather than give into the publishers demands, Verday walked away from the project saying, “Wesley and Cameron’s story isn’t an agenda or an issue. It isn’t an “I have to prove something to the world” story. Wesley and Cameron’s story is a love story. About one boy who loves another boy so much that when something bad happens to him, he’ll do whatever it takes to get him the help he needs.”
Now, envisage how much better it would have been for all of us growing up, knowing inside that we were different from our heterosexual friends, if an author like Verday was around. Imagine then if we could have picked up a book that the majority of our friends were reading and there was a main character who was either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. How fantastic it would have felt if that book had a LGBT character in it whose friends and family had no hang ups about their sexuality, and they just got into the same adventures as their straight counterparts…What a difference J.K. Rowling could have made to her young teenage LGBT readers if she had decided that either Harry, Ron or Hermione identified themselves as either gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender. Who knows, perhaps she did, but the publishers stepped in and said you can have a token gay character once the public are onboard with the series…hmmm.
I doubt such archaic ideas on sexuality in young adult’s fiction are going to be cracked right away, but by speaking out supporting those writers who understand that the world we live in is filled with an array of different characters is a step forward in stamping out yet another incident of causal homo/lesbian/bisexual/transphobia.