Joining the choir

by , under books

Of people who say yes to gay YA (original link gone, 2018), that is. Together with Seanan McGuire, Green Knight, Zeborah and Swan Tower and countless other people who don’t happen to be in my RSS feed or to get linked by people who are. It’s even made the Dutch media, at least the faintly progressive ex-Protestant paper we read.

I wrote before about issue books, and Seanan McGuire’s post linked above treats the matter rather more comprehensively. The point is, a gay main character or indeed any gay character at all shouldn’t automatically turn a book into an issue book, because being gay isn’t in itself an issue. Er, wait, it’s completely acceptable to have a book in which that is the issue, of course; lots of things that are normal parts of life have been the issue in an issue book.

When I was a teenager, the fashion in issue books was (a) divorce and (b) drug use. I didn’t want to read about either– not relevant to me, and even if it had been, it would have been in my life! Why read a book about it as well? I was lucky to have a school librarian who understood me and pointed me to YA fantasy like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and an English teacher who wrote a recommendation for the British Council Library so I had access to adult SF, later branching out into adult fantasy. In which people face problems; people solve problems; people fail to solve problems; some people even are problems. But though there can be single-biome planets in SF there are usually very few single-problem people. I found out soon enough that I preferred books with magic set in a world where magic is normal— not “eek! I can do magic! It’s taking over my whole life!” but “how shall I tackle this thing, with technology, magic, fast-talk, or brute force?” Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (and much more by Diana Wynne Jones) comes to mind. Also, books with technology in which technology is normal, like Hal Clement’s Close to Critical. All of those being about the people and how they handle any problems at hand, rather than the problems in the abstract.

I don’t mind the existence of issue books; some people may find them helpful. But there should also be books with X without being explicitly about X, for just about any value of X that is not a problem in itself. (I can imagine that if someone in a book has anorexia, the book will be likely to be about that, because it’s a major problem; it’s hard to write a book in which a character has anorexia and it’s not important for the story.) Religion is a typical value of X, and so is being gay or otherwise having non-mainstream sexuality, or being ethnically or culturally non-mainstream in any other way. (Note that I’m implicitly saying that religion is non-mainstream; in most books I’ve read lately it seems to be.) If there are not enough books with [insert your favourite value of X] readers will think that X is either non-existent or, if they have real-life experience with X, not important enough or too shameful to put in a book.

My daughters read all kinds of books– Jane Austen, Twilight, stuff from the list of Science Fiction and Fantasy YA novels with Major LGBTQ characters (the Gemma Doyle Trilogy is among Tertia’s favourites), Terry Pratchett, Harry Potter. Also issue books and trashy vampire romances (well, I suppose Twilight is one of those too). They don’t seem to care whether people in books are gay or straight or white or black or magical or mundane, but perhaps that’s just because of the way we brought them up. It’s not as if they wouldn’t read a book with a straight protagonist if that same protagonist was gay. That is not the issue.

Leave a Reply

  • This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.