After the apocalypse, the scariest thing could be one gay teenager. At least, that's what one prominent agent who represents successful young-adult novelists seems to believe. This unnamed agent asked authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith to remove a gay character from their post-apocalyptic YA novel — or just make him straight.
Top image: Mike Vadala on Flickr.
Brown and Smith bravely came forward and told their story (without naming names) over at Publishers Weekly, and it's hair-raising stuff. The gay character, Yuki Nakamura, is just one of five viewpoint characters in their as-yet-unpublished novel Stranger, and like the straight relationships in the book, he never gets any further than kissing. But the agent asked for Yuki to become heterosexual — or else, to have his viewpoint, and all references to his sexuality, removed. Possibly, the agent said, if the series became successful, Yuki could come out in book three or so.
Write Brown and Smith:
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... 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.
They were also told that they couldn't have a boy who was consensually dating two girls — but it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. They also wondered if part of the resistance to this novel comes from the fact that none of the POV characters is white.
And they add:
When we privately discussed our encounter with the agent, we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character's minority identity-sexual orientation, race, disability-a condition of representation.
Their post includes a call for other authors to share their stories in the comments, and the very first comment is hair-raising:
My first publisher (one of the Big 6) didn't ask me to take out the gay character. My editor went through and deleted all gay references between my copyedits and the first pass pages without bothering to tell me.
I pitched a fit and my agent backed me up. The gay character stayed in the novel, as written.
Needless to say, this is really sad. The cool thing about the boom in young-adult science fiction and fantasy isn't just that it's gotten teenagers reading SF, but that it's gotten teenagers reading challenging material — stuff that, in some cases, would never be published as adult fiction. And young people need, and actually crave, to be exposed to new viewpoints and new ideas, instead of just being bludgeoned with sameness. So here's hoping that some publishing professionals respond to Brown and Smith's call to support inclusive YA fiction, and we get some more diverse stuff being published. [Publishers Weekly]