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Editing the ‘gay’ out of young adult books

BY NOREEN FAGAN – Who knew that books for teenagers could have only straight
characters? I didn’t — and neither did writers Rachel Manija Brown and
Sherwood Smith.

Publishers Weekly posted an article by the authors describing their interaction with a publisher that was willing to take on Brown and Smith’s
post-apocalyptic young adult (YA) novel on one condition: they make a gay
character straight, or cut him out altogether.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“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.”

The authors went on to say, “previous agents had also
offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the
viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his
sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only

So how many young adult books cater to
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth?

Writer Malindo Lo compiled the stats and they aren’t great.

Since 1969, Lo writes, “the most notable recent dip occurred
in 2010, in which only 11 LGBT YA titles were published, compared to 36 in 2009
and 25 in 2011.”

She then narrows the numbers down to 2010 and 2011, and
again, the stats aren’t great.

In 2010, approximately 4,000 YA books were
published; only 11 queer titles were published. And to date, 2011 numbers aren’t much better — less than one percent of YA novels have any queer characters.

Lo’s takeaway from all this? Statistically, it is
not true “that publishers aren’t willing to publish LGBT YA, or that each
publisher only publishes one LGBT YA per year,” but “the proportion of
LGBT YA to non-LGBT YA is so tiny as to be laughable.”

Malindo Lo has a vested interest in the topic; she wrote the book Ash, a YA retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist. In her bio, Lo writes, “In the first draft of Ash, the Cinderella
character falls for the prince. It wasn’t until my good friend Lesly read it
and said, “You know, the prince guy is kinda boring,” that I realized that
Cinderella was gay.”



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