Reflect It Back #YesGayYA
When we first met I would say he was about… hmmm… maybe 12. At the time he claimed he was 16 but that baby face never fooled me.
I was on the desk when he walked past me. I knew he was looking at me. He stopped, turned around and came back.
“Do you work here?” he asked.
I’m behind the desk dude, so uh, yeah. I just smiled at him and said, “Yes, I work here.”
He let out a big sigh and then smacked his lips. “You know Dorothy Dandridge?”
“I love Dorothy Dandridge,” I said looking into his eyes. He smiled; I understood him.
A few years later he confided in me that he was 13 when we met. “Oh, really?” I feigned surprise. And that he was gay.
“Do tell,” I said laughing.
“Miss R, you always laughing at me,” he said in playful protest. “Ugh!”
We walked to the bookshelves where I pulled off several fiction books about gay teens. He looked at them and then handed them back.
He looked at them and then handed them back.
“Where’s one with a black boy?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “There are none with black boys.” He pursed his lips and then asked for Drama High.
I understood how he felt. When I was a teen I felt the same way. At the small branch library I went to there was barely an A-frame bookcase of teen books and I could count on one hand the number of young adult books that had black lead characters and still have fingers left over. I would read the books with white characters because I craved something to read, and often when the author described the character a female with blue eyes and blonde hair I would re-imagine the character as black. Yes, I read the books, but I was still sad there was nothing approaching Blissful Joy and the SATs or The Cat Ate My Gymsuit for young black women like myself.
Luckily now there are more writers of color like Varian Johnson, David Yoo, and Dona Sarkar. But still, the majority of books that are written for young adults feature white straight teens. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.
In a missive published on Booklist.com, YA authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith write about the trouble they are having publishing their latest collaborative work. It’s not that it’s science fiction/fantasy which is a really hot genre for teens now. It’s not that the manuscript is poorly written, agents seem to be loving it. So what’s the issue?
One of the lead characters is gay and Asian. And he’s not even a pining, closeted gaysian. Yuki (the character) has a boyfriend … and they kiss.
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.
With the rise in popularity of gay teens on mainstream TV shows, silencing a gay character by making him/her into a sidekick (or writing out that aspect of life completely) seems very prudish.
Where are the gay teens of color, not just in SF/F but in regular fiction? In mysteries and historical fiction? Not just as a cool best friend, but the lead characters? Why can’t I find a book with a black gay boy on the cover? Or a girl?
Part of me knows a bit of the answer: minority parents will take some issues with their children reading gay/lesbian books for fear it might make them a homosexual (although a teen reading the book may or may not be gay but they will positively be curious about sex –it goes with the hormones and age). And there are parents in minority communities who dislike homosexuality, feeling it’s a chosen lifestyle but not something innate.
Although there are parents who feel uncomfortable with the subject, I would never want to censor a story. People want to see themselves reflected back in books as well as visual media. LGBTQ teens of color need to see someone like themselves, struggling, living and existing! Can they read straight white characters to get the same messages a story is telling? Yes. But then can’t a white straight character get the same from a LGBTQ character as well?
The number of gay/lesbian teens are decreasing, the number seems to be growing as more teens of color feeling comfortable enough to come out at younger ages. My young gay friend was the first out young teen I have met but he’s not the last and more of them are looking for books they can relate to. Just today I gave a young lesbian Ash by Malinda Lo and Gravity by Leanne Lieberman. Ash has an Asian love story and Gravity is Jewish. The young woman I gave the books to are black, but happy to have something of a story line that was similar to her interests.
She held the books in her hand waving goodbye. As she left, she turned around and walking backwards she called to me, “I’m going to come back everyday and tell you about each chapter. We can talk about it! Okay?”
I’m looking forward to it.