Poking again at the aftermath of the YA drama

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, cheerlead 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

19 thoughts on “Poking again at the aftermath of the YA drama

  1. You already know you’re preaching to the choir as far as I’m concerned.

    Books I will recommend you check out (I’ve read/am reading them and will vouch for them):

    Hero by Perry Moore

    Huntress by Malinda Lo

    Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

    Hollowstone by Dennis R. Upkins (I hear he’s a very talented writer. That’s what word on the street is. Tru fax. Tru fax. ;-) )

    Interesting how all of those excellent recs have gotten praise and are all written by actual queer writers.

    Funny how that works.

    • Liiiiiist. I have become outright paranoid now about so many recommednations That i shall have to sneak up on them like a hunter stalking his prey (well, a hunter who isn’t me because that whole wilderness thing? Naaah not for me)

  2. 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.

    We should come up with a Bechdel Test for LGBTQ characters. What would be our 3 criteria?

    • Well if we’re going to start with “needs 2″ like the Bechdel then we’re already shit out of luck! But it’d be nice to have that one.

      How about “spends less than half of their lives devoted to straight people” (whether that’s as friend, side-kick or pining desperately after them)

      Oooh oooh, or “doesn’t die horrifically in pain and tragedy!” that would be nice too…

      • The problem is, we really need THREE, not two. Or, at least, it doesn’t count if there are two, exactly, who are thrown together romantically because they’re the only two gays in the village.

        • oh that’s another one – Fred is gay, John is gay THEY MUST DEFINITELY BECOME PARTNERS AND LOVE EACH OTHER!

          Or the only 2 GBLT characters around have to be in a relationship with each other.

    • Oooh and isn’t sex obsessed. But actually gets some and it isn’t a billion times more sanitised than the het versions.

      This could take a while… only 3? I suppose for a base line.. Hmmm

      My baseline 3 would be:

      1) Has their own damn life and doesn’t revolve around a straight person
      2) LIVES preferably without suffering
      3) Isn’t a freaking sex predator (I was torn between sex predator or completely sexless since they’re both common)

      • I got one for the baseline.

        4) The gay guy has another (straight) guy friend as his bff and not a straight woman. Because gay guys kicking it with their boys, it does happen.

  3. It is hard to find books with decent, LGBT characters in it, but they are out there, like in the list that Neo provided. I’ve read most of those books and they’re all excellent reads with great stories and characters within.

    It’s hard, too, because the Power That Be don’t want fully three dimensional characters who are LGBT. Dumbledore being gay had to be snuck in under the wire, because if that had been brought up at the beginning, you can damn well be sure that the publishers would not have allowed it. They’d either have demanded that Dumbledore be straightened out or that he be removed entirely.

  4. May I ask what about “The Mortal Instruments” you found so objectionable? I agree that Alec and Magnus aren’t protagonists, they’re supporting characters, but I actually thought they were fairly well-handled. Maybe I’m reading it wrong.

    • I have several problems with how Cassandra Clare treats gay characters and homosexuality in general. Her appropriation of a gay rights pamphlet for vampires was one particularly memorable one – and one that sticks in the craw

      Alec, despite being a Shadow Hunter and older than Jace and Issy is considerably less fierce and dangerous than either (he has no kills unde rhis belt as well) – gay men as weaker/less aggressive/less powerful. He also very much exists to serve – he risks (and outright sacrifices) for Jace constantly

      He also fits the classic trope of him pining after a straight guy – ensuring his enduring loyalty (well, service) to Jace. When Alec does finallyu enter a relationship, Magnus gets to enter service as well. While he is the most powerful and important warlock in Brooklyn who has lived for centuries and is massively powerful, he practically ends up with a pager to be on call to serve the needs of teenaged shadowhunters.

      Cassandra Clare builds a homophobic world when it’s convenient to have Alec closeted, then turns the homophobia off when it’s no longer useful. It was a convenient tool and discarded when it was no longer useful. And Clary can magically tell Alec is gay within minutes of meeting him – then spout a homophobic diatribe using it to attack him.

      Magnus’ and Alec’s relationship follows so many of the tropes we see in slash fiction – Magnus is dominant, parental, alpha – Alec is whiny, childish, lesser. Classic forcing of very tired (and sexist) gender roles on a same-sex relationship. Of cours,e it doens’t help that Alec is, himself, considerably less mature than Jace, Simon and Issy – all of whom are younger than him.

      A more lengthy, but non-exhaustive, list I have here

      http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2011/08/cassandra-clare-proves-that-all.html

  5. I would like to see a gay character who:

    1) Hasn’t been abused / raped as a child
    2) Doesn’t angst about being gay
    3) Doesn’t exist solely to be discriminated against

    I hate it when authors put a gay character in their story and subject that character to all sorts of degradations, supposedly to show the audience that homophobia is bad. Trying to tell us that homophobia is bad whilst constantly depicting a gay character being bullied / assaulted / humiliated for being gay is a bit of a Broken Aesop, methinks.

    Also, relationship cliches. You know, Seme/Uke, Butch/Femme and such bullshit. It would be nice to see a gay couple in a healthy relationship, instead of a relationship based on very strict (and sexist) gender roles with creepy abuse undertones. Seeing a gay character who doesn’t possess the cliched characteristics of the “opposite” sex would also be nice.

    I would also like to see a lesbian relationship that:

    1) Is not there solely for the straight boys to drool over
    2) Is not sappy and overly sentimental
    3) Doesn’t exist solely because one party is ‘disillusioned’ with men or was abused by men

    That last one is especially aggravating.

  6. some y.a. books with more than one lgbt* character:
    will grayson, will grayson – john green and david levithan
    bermudez triangle – maureen johnson
    gemma doyle trilogy – libba bray (not the main characters, but still.)
    dangerous angels – francesca lia block (i haven’t read this one in 10 years or so, so i can’t remember whether the characters were real trope-y. but i sure loved this book when i was 17!)

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