Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't want my queer characters? I don't want you!

Over at Publisher's Weekly, Rose Fox has lent the soapbox to two YA authors who were "offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether."

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

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.

I think just about every queer author has been through this. I imagine people of colour go through it, too. We all choose whether or not to walk away. I dealt with this in 1994 [edit: my mistake; this was actually 1993]--instantly, satisfyingly (though it was a jaw-dropping shock). Here's my story, recorded last summer at the Lambda Literary Foundation's Emerging Voices retreat, where I was leading the fiction workshop. You'll have to turn the sound up.



  1. I probably should not be, but I'm always surprised when I hear things like this. The first question that comes to mind is, "Why?"

    I'm currently reading the Pretty Little Liars YA series by Sara Shepard (yes, I know I'm a philistine). They're immensely popular among teens. They've spawned an ABC Family TV show. AND one of the four main characters is *gasp* lesbian.

    I suspect if the publishers / agents / managers worried more about quality writing and less about things like glbt content, they'd be making more money.

  2. Dianne, well, agents are, first and foremost, sales-based lifeforms. Saying, 'Don't want queer characters' doesn't always mean 'Eeew, get those queer cooties away from me!' Sometimes it means that, in their opinion, they can't sell it. Sometimes they're right.

    Sometimes, if you write well enough, they're wrong. But you/we have to write well enough. It's the usual minority situation: you have to be better than the norm to get an equal shot. It's just the way of the world. Sigh.

    I resigned myself a long time ago to having to be extraordinary.

  3. Nicola -- if that's the case, wouldn't it make more sense for the agent to say, "I'll represent you if you're willing to rewrite the gay character so that his story is more compelling," or something to that effect?

  4. Dianne, but of course. But then you have to assume the people under discussion are smart...