In this week’s Genreville, authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith shared something very disturbing. In a nutshell, these co-authors of a yet unpublished dystopia YA novel were offered representation for this novel—on the condition that they drop or make straight a gay character. The post stirred up some mighty interesting discussion about how / if gatekeepers (agents, editors, etc.) may be straightening and whitening YA fiction. (Go read their post. I09 also covered it. I love their title: "Top literary agent says it's not okay to be gay after the Apocalypse.")
By weird serendipity, I watched the Celluloid Closet this week. (It’s one of Current’s 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die). And guess what it’s about. Gatekeepers—this time in Hollywood—preventing open and honest depictions of gay and lesbian characters.
Here’s a clip:
One of my favorite parts of the doc is when Gore Vidal (screenwriter of Ben Hur and many other films) explains how Ben Hur was shot as a love story between Ben Hur and Masala. The director and Steven Boyd (who played Masala) were in on it, but they didn’t tell Charlton Heston. ;)
Anyway, the important point many of the interviewees—such as Susie Bright, Armistead Maupin, and Harvey Fierstein—made is that everyone looks for themselves in movies. When you don’t see yourself reflected on the screen—or what you are is made out to be evil or less than human—you feel invisible or even that something is wrong with you.
The same holds true for fiction—YA fiction, in particular. If teens don't see themselves reflected in the worlds we create, what are they going to think about themselves? What are straight white kids going to think about people unlike them? Just like Hollywood, the publishing industry influences how straight kids think about gay ones, and how gay ones think about themselves.
I should add that my experience with my editor and agent has been just the opposite of Brown and Smith's. One of the main characters in Memento Nora is gay, and no one ever mentioned it let alone suggested that I change her in any way.
What do you guys think? Is there a YA Fiction Closet?
New addition: Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe refutes Brown and Smith's claims. Thanks, Charity for the link.