Saturday, October 08, 2011

Gays in YA?

Do publishers and agents prefer straight characters over gay ones in Young Adult books? There’s something of a debate going on at the moment.

Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel and sent it off to agents. They got offered representation, on the condition that they make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.

The authors decided that was the line they wouldn’t cross and they declined the offer. Brown 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.”
This one agent was not the only agent to reject the book:
 Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character.
And they did have an offer to represent the book, but turned it down because of creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.
Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

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.
You might be worried that these YA characters where having explicit sex. The author say there is only one kiss between the gay characters.

You can read the longer article in Publishers Weekly.

Is there a bias against gay characters? Or characters of color? Or disabled characters?


  1. This is disgusting. So glad the authors had the balls to deny such changes. I'm sure it would have been a bit of a struggle considering how hard it is to get and agent nowadays. Wonderful to hear news like this.

  2. Hooray for them! I think there's a bias - and not only in YA. I've received 'closet' bias against my gay character in one of my novels (which you read) from some readers and there wasn't any sex in it at all. People that are uncomfortable with someone unlike themselves would rather close their eyes and pretend.

  3. I'm disappointed in the agents but very impressed with the authors. I hope they stick to their guns.

  4. I guess it comes down to being published, or living with yourself. So glad the authors chose the proverbial higher ground.

  5. I had a guest author recently who had the opposite experience - the publisher wanted a straight character to be gay and she said no. It wasn't young adult though.

  6. That brings up another aspect, Alex. Is there less bias if the character is in an adult book?

    It seems to me that there is much more acceptance of all different kinds of people in our everyday lives than there used to be, so it should follow that there would be acceptance in books. TV, movies and books are influential in our society.

  7. It certainly looks that way, mostly because it is. Even ethnic characters are white washed (long straight hair, dressing/acting mainstream, speaking a certain way) until they fit in with their white counterparts. When was the last time you saw a main character in a paranormal that was ethnic? I admit I haven't read every paranormal, but I'd say the mainstream characters are coming down on the white or nearly white side.

    The same is true of gay characters. There are television shows created around gay characters and most of them are white as well, with a few ethnic gays thrown in as occasional color, so that it's gay friendly and still white washed. There needs to be a lot more diversity and that will take time to change.

  8. Yay for these writers! And boo to the agents, who are not only prejudiced but short-sighted. Have they ever heard of a little musical called 'Rent'? Hugely popular with young theatre goers. Or a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Wow, that book'll never make it big, right?

  9. I read very little YA, but I would have thought gay characters would be acceptable by now. On the other hand, I haven't read a lot of adult books that have gay characters lately.

  10. An article like this and we keep asking what happened to traditional publishing.

    Really, do agents and publishers believe that if you keep those we perceive as different out of YA books they will cease to exist?

    There are so many "different" heroes in all walks of life to recognize them is a gift. To embrace them is a blessing and to share them with others is love at its very best.

  11. My kids are grown, but if they were youngsters, I'd want them to read about all different kinds of kids. Why shouldn't the story world reflect the real world they live in?

  12. I'd like to think that I'd stick to my convictions on an issue like this ... but if I was offered representation I'd be sorely tempted to waver ... huzzah to Brown and Smith!

  13. I know what you mean, Christopher. It would be a difficult decision to make, especially if you've been trying for a long time to get an agent. I second your "huzzah".

  14. Young adults are much more accepting of ethnic and sexual differences than the older generations, and you can't sweep those differences under the proverbial rug. I applaud the writers for holding out for a more enlightened publisher.


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