I feel like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Forget the ark! All I want is a LGBT “Twilight” or “Harry Potter,” and my search efforts have been long and tiresome. I’ve long believed that mainstream YA fiction doesn’t incorporate enough LGBT-ness. Don’t get me wrong…my style isn’t to call up publishing and distribution companies and give them an earful. Rather, I just really want to publish books that meet the criteria.
It’s an odd circumstance, that books haven’t quite caught up yet. Between “Will and Grace” and “Glee” we’ve seen all sorts of LGBT representation on television. And I guess the striking factor in all of this is that books are always held to a higher standard than television or movies. They’re considered more of an art form. More of a deeply individualized creative process. Every TV show and movie starts with written word, and I’ll be shocked to see the day when our college English departments replace books with movies. Production is one thing. Writing is another.
So in this vastly intellectual and creative world of literature, why aren’t gays in the forefront of popular fiction? Are people just not reading the books with LGBT characters? Or somewhere along the way, whether it’s an author’s internal dialogue or a candid conversation with an editor, are LGBT characters being sucked out of our fiction? J.K. Rowling made a late comment in the Harry Potter series that Dumbledore was a gay man. This was never explicitly said in the books, for whatever reason. Some people may argue that it’s irrelevant to the story, but I actually think a little elucidation would’ve been highly relevant.
Look at it this way. LGBT people are still a societal minority. If a kid from a heterosexual family doesn’t know any gay people, is totally ignorant of gay people, and then reads the Potter series, he’ll have benefited in many ways except for one: if it’s assumed in a book that everyone is straight, then it appears normal that everyone is or should be straight. And so if this kid continues to read the popular YA fiction of his time, as I did while growing up, he’ll never come into contact with a gay character. And when these LGBT people start popping up in real life, they’ll just appear all the more deviant and strange.
So if Ron had been in hot pursuit of Harry instead of Hermione, I agree that the series probably wouldn’t have done so well. But publishing shouldn’t always be about trying to find the next global bestseller. Education and literary exposure are also very important. And if the aforementioned kid with the YA books is growing up with feelings for members of the same sex, then shouldn’t he be able to identify with characters in the fiction he’s reading? Shouldn’t he have the right to see gay characters or gay relationships, and be able to say, “oh, so I am normal.”
For the past six months I’ve been asking in our submissions guidelines for a mainstream YA novel with LGBT characters, especially if the content is somewhat supernatural. I have yet to see a single manuscript of this kind. Let’s hope things change, so that we can give that kid some options when he starts figuring out the world.
Anthony DiFiore, Publisher
Follow us on Twitter: @theingroup