Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Censoring Books Before They're Even Books

A couple months back I wrote a post about diversifying YA and how I don't set out to actively diversify my reading. If the story's good, I don't care who the characters want to bed, I don't care what color they are, I'm going to read it. I find it absurd that as readers, we need to actively seek out diverse reading material. It should just be there for us, for US to make the decision whether we want to read it or not. I then made a point that that decision is already being made for us with things like whitewashed covers. Publishers are assuming that, with the greater reading public being white, readers wouldn't want to read books with non-whites on the cover. Note the word ass/u/me.

Lo and behold, our reading decisions are being made for us even at the agent level. Some authors have come forward and stated that an agent tried to straighten up their manuscript. Basically, he or she wanted to take the book on, but only after removing the gay protagonist who's story it was. Of course, not all agents are doing this. Kristin Nelson was quick to say that she found that kind of behavior appalling and Nelson Literary Agency was open to any YA story, regardless of the sexual orientation or skin color of the characters.

So I ask this: for those agents that are actively trying to WASP up YA literature, why the hell are you doing it? Why are you actively removing our reading choices? Why does everything have to always be all nice and white and straight and Westboro Baptist Church in the reading world?

People come in all colors, sizes, creeds and in a variety of sexual orientations. Teens have a hard enough time coping with who they are. By trying to eliminate certain people from fiction because they're gay or Hispanic or a gay Hispanic, what kind of message is that sending to the real gay Hispanics out there? It says "you are not worth knowing so do us all a favor and disappear." Good message. Why don't you just hand them the razors while you're at it?

It's bad enough to have psycho as shit book banners trying to rip the already eclectic mix of YA reading material off of the shelves because it's far too torturous for their widdle Bwilly's eyes to read. But to sanitize our reading before it even gets to us? To not only whitewash but de-gay it? What decade is it, exactly? This might be a hard pill to swallow but gay isn't a disease that doesn't set in until you're an adult. Gay is a trait a person is born with just like blue eyes, brown hair or being straight. It's not a choice, it's not a lifestyle decision. It is an is.

This is like getting a peek behind the curtain to see a twerpy Wizard of Oz pulling the big bad strings. Don't push fantastic authors away or offer them ultimatums because they have un-white, un-straight characters in their stories. How about the publishing industry, all the steps between the author and us, take an active approach in giving us choices and letting us decide if we can handle those two dudes kissing in that YA fantasy novel. Chances are we'll be just fine about it. Just don't remove that choice entirely. Don't censor the authors and then underestimate what it is we want to read. Let us decide that. And let us prove to you that you really need to stop that sanitizing horseshit. It's old. Like 1950s old. No one's going to be shocked out of their pearls for reading about them gays.

Don't assume gay/black/Hispanic/Asian/lesbian/bisexual, transgendered/Mexican doesn't sell when you're not even testing the waters to see if that's true. Take a chance. You'll be surprised.

Support LGBTQ and ethnically diverse YA books by buying them and taking to Twitter with the hashtag #YesGayYA.

ETA - There has been a rebuttal post to the original PW article stating that nothing in that article was true. You can read that rebuttal here. I do this in the interest of fairness because both sides of the argument deserve to be heard. Just don't expect me to pull a 180 and swing onto the other bandwagon. I don't regret a word I said here, even though it was written a little hastily, and I don't appreciate being told I should be ashamed of myself for promoting #YesGayYA (as so stated in the rebuttal article, not me specifically, of course).

The concern is a real one. YA absolutely needs to be more diverse and the publishing world needs to allow it to happen. Whether these particular events unfolded as either party claimed we'll never know because, as it appears, this happened over a conference call. As I'm very often reminded at work, especially if I need to say something I don't want etched into the permanent void, I should say it over the phone because, well, you can't prove I said anything that way. Or didn't say it. Unless that supposed phone conversation was recorded no one will know the absolute truth. So right now we have A LOT of hearsay and finger-pointing and a whole pile of "should haves" going on. This is very obviously a major fail that happened in communication and maybe it wasn't handled properly but each party perceived a wrong. Based on their perception, what happened was true. Perception is a funny thing. Especially since everyone involved can have a vastly different interpretation of the events that happened. It doesn't make them wrong or right; that's just how they perceived it and if no one took the time to explain themselves, then that perception would only fester.

So, personally, I'm not apt to believe that the original PW article is wholly untrue because someone of authority said so without any more proof to back it up than 'because I said so.' But because the shadow of doubt has been cast over that original PW article, I am taking it with a bigger grain of salt. Of course it could be overblown. Such is what happens when we get all riled up. But does that mean it didn't happen? Or was perceived to have happened? The thing is, I'm more inclined to believe the original article because I've seen proof of this kind of thing with my own eyes. It has been PROVEN that the publishing industry has attempted to sanitize YA, to one extent or another. So yes, I'm leaning more towards the authors on this one. If that's what they perceived to have happened, does that make them right or wrong or did someone not explain themselves properly? We'll never know.

I don't think either article should be entirely discounted but at the same time I don't think people who were so up in arms when this first came out should turn tail and hang their heads in shame. It's one opinion against another. Why is one being handled as so much truer than the other when there's nothing but conjecture backing it up? Until someone throws down some verifiable proof, both are going to have some salt taken with them.
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