Thursday, November 3, 2011

Poking again at the aftermath of the YA drama

This is a mid-week guest post by our beloved Sparky. It was originally guest posted on Ars Marginal.

There have been a lot of rumblings after the well publicised YA drama of (OH-SO-SHOCKING! Except, y’know, not) GBLT protagonists being rejected. And one I have seen a lot of are people flocking forward to post book lists. Books with GBLTQ protagonists – come read ‘em. Which I was fairly glad to see – I dropped in, had a look… and sighed. I sighed because, of the books I’d read, I would most certainly not recommend them or their portrayals. Here are just some I saw being recommended

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments. Aside from the fact I found these books extremely homophobic, I boggle at the idea that you can consider Alec to be a main character of the books. He barely even qualifies as a side-kick.

Ann McCaffrey’s Dragonflight Series. Seriously – Ann “Tent peg” McCaffrey is presented as a RECOMMENED GBLT YA. The gross stereotypes, the demeaning, insulting portrayals, the condescension – and even then out of the whole series, the gay characters cannot be more than the smallest, most minor of bit characters.

Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment? Don’t get me wrong, I love that book – but there were 2 lesbians and a portential for trans characters (albeit a bit of a stretch and arguable) and none of them could be called the protagonists.

Even George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones. How any of the GBL characters in that series can be remotely considered protagonists is beyond me.

Mercedes Lackey was mentioned – now I only read a few of her books but there was a whole lot of abuse and rape going on.

And it frustrates me, actually I have a full blown tantrum. Because even when confronted with the blatant lack of decent GBLT characters out there we respond by putting together lists of stereotypes, tokens and sidekicks? Or even utter side or bit characters. Is this the best we can do – or is this the best we can expect? Well, I know that the answer to both those questions is “no” but I do fear the answer to the third – is this what we’re willing to settle for?


Because sometimes I feel just the presence of a GBLT character, no matter how minor, how offensive or how token, is enough to garner rhapsodies of praise and a legion of cheerleaders.

Personally, I say no – hell no in fact – I am not settling. And I’m not going to write my own recommended list because, frankly I don’t have one. I haven’t come across enough half-decent portrayals, certainly not in dominant roles, to justify writing a list. But I will make a demand list – what I want from a book before I will praise it, recommend it and give the author those precious precious cookies for it

I want a lot when it comes to fiction. Not because I’m demanding – but because we’re currently so lacking. Because there are so few portrayals and so few good portrayals. And because there’s so much damage caused by our erasure and the deeply flawed portrayals we so often see.
  1. Drop the homophobia. Just drop it. I’m tired of books that don’t even HAVE a GBLT character still throwing f*ggot around. Or having a HILARIOUS scene where 2 guys realise that someone thinks they’re gay and they have that oh-so-funny freak out. Enough.
  2. I want a GBLT presence. Preferably more than 1. And this is ACTUAL presence. Not subtext, not “oh they looked at each other for 5 minutes, totally gay” not slash goggles or implications or possibly could/maybe. No retconning after the fact. No author edits after the book has been published. In fact, no single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference from which their GBLTness never ever rises again
  3. I want a GBLT protagonist. That means the book is about them. They’re the person we follow, the main character. Not the side-kick, not the villain, not the supporting cast, not the distressed damsel – they can be them as well, sure, but I want a protagonist. I am sick of being the supporting cast in someone else’s story
  4. I want to see an actual decent portrayal, not a cookie cutter stereotype, not following the same insulting tropes. I want it written for our gaze, for the consumption of GBLT people – not something odd for the straighties, not something grossly fetishised or presented as some exploration of the alien. And I want to see diverse portrayals. I don’t want us doing the same thing every time, acting the same way every time.
  5. I want to see GBLT people doing things beyond coming out/facing bigotry/transitioning/being bullied/dealing with AIDS. I want to see us on every shelf, not just the special issue shelf. I want us doing everything straight, cis protags do. And I don’t want our stories being treated as “niche” just because it has a GBLTQ character – a sci-fi novel with a GBLTQ character and a historical fiction with a GBLTQ character shouldn’t be filed together.
When I get this lot? Then I’ll praise, hail, cheer lead and bake a hundred cookies. But I’m not settling for less and I’m not hailing less. I’m tired of settling, I’m sick of praising the mediocre and really beyond fed up with the scraps from the table.

I don’t think I’ll be doing that any time soon.