So by now, most everyone interested in YA lit has seen the #YesGayYA tag on Twitter, and knows that it comes from a discussion on Genreville about two authors who were asked to “straighten” a character by an agent. You’ve probably also seen the followup/rebuttal.
I’ve got some Thinky Thoughts on the matter, so I figured I’d throw my hat into the ring.
Let’s get something straight (hur hur) up front, before we get into a real discussion here, though. Candlemark & Gleam is gung-ho about diversity. We’ve always been, but this current discussion has made clear the need to be up front and explicit about that, so we’ve added the suggested statement about diversity to our submissions and about us: “We would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.”
It’s 100% true, and we’d really love to see submissions – not just YA, but stories for any age – that reflect diversity.
But here’s where we’re going to get all controversial. (Not really, but it sounds better than saying we’re going to get all practical and thoughtful on you.)
You see, we don’t want to see characters that are gay for the sake of being gay. Just like we’re not going to tell you to go straighten out a character in order to offer publication, we’re not going to tell you to go write in a gay character. That’s not how this should work.
How it should work is that fiction should look like life. Not in that we can only tell stories about dull office jobs and going to get groceries; HELL no. But fiction should look like life in that its characters should resemble what we see around us. There should be straight people and gay people; cis-gendered and trans-gendered people; nice people and angry people and bitter people and happy people and people having bad days; people with all different skin tones; people with all different levels of physical and mental ability or challenges. And these people should just be people - their various characteristics shouldn’t be a big deal, unless it is actually relevant to the plot. We shouldn’t whitewash things, but neither should we add token characters – that doesn’t help matters, it just makes it so that we’re sitting here going, “Oh, but see? I put a gay person in there! Diversity, rah!”
It doesn’t HURT to have more gay/black/Asian/Latino/disabled/purple people in our fiction. But what HELPS is having people simply be people – having a fictional oeuvre where no one bats an eye that the lead is a crippled half-Asian half-black conservative Jewish lesbian. Where diversity isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.
Because that’s what real life is like, no matter what certain folks might like to assert – diversity is present, and all around us, and diversity is a fact of life. So it should be a fact of fiction, too.
And that’s the sort of thing we’d like to publish – and to read, as well. Not just in YA, but all over the place.
So send us your stories with diverse characters. But don’t just inject diversity as a bullet point. Make it integral; make it a non-issue. Don’t default to straight-white-WASP-boy.
And, while we’re at it, take a tip from amazing agent-author Lindsay Ribar and go buy a #YesGayYA book. Don’t just talk about how we need more diversity, and how publishers should be putting more muscle behind books that include a diverse cast. Go buy those books, and prove that they’ll sell.