Thursday, April 7, 2011

G is not for Gay Literature

I must admit, lately I feel like I've found a cause I want to get on a soapbox for. It wasn't intentional, just a strong feeling when I explored my emotions on the subject. It has to do with gay characters in books.

If you've read my past posts, you'd find I have nothing against gay characters. Bring them on, I say. Hey, I'll even write a few of my own. And I have and those stories have been a blast to write. But through it all, a thought has wondered. What will happen if I pursue publishing those stories?

The biggest tragedy would be someone would ask me to change my characters to make any relationships hetero. That's not happening. Nope, I'd turn down the money (mind you I would wince but as of right now I'm sticking to the idea that I would say no deal.) What if my story did get picked up to be published? Where would it go, what shelf would it occupy?

My friend Chris said something that struck a cord with me. (He also said I made him feel all warm and tingly. A first for him I bet... Okay, something I said made him all happy but I'm still counting it because I said it. =P) He said he hated the term gay literature. I had to agree. Any story I've written that has a gay character isn't a gay story. It's a story with gay characters and when you view it like that you might agree that gay literature is wrong. We don't say a story with male and female leads is hetero literature. Nope, we say it's a paranormal romance of young adult.

So what's the deal with labeling stories with gay characters as gay literature? Some might argue it makes it easier for a gay person to find those stories. Now we're assuming gay people only want to read stories with gay characters.

How about this?

How about we get rid of the GLBT section? How about under the romance section we add a subcategory next to the Western romances or historical romances for books with gay characters? Why don't we stop shoving those stories away in their own little, dark corner and let them have a place with the rest of the stories out there? If someone doesn't want to read them, then pass over the section. I have no desire to read westerns so I never look at them. It's labeled, a person shouldn't be surprised at what may be contained between the pages.

I guess my problem is I cringe thinking of all the wonderful stories that aren't getting the same chance because two characters that dig each other just happen to be the same gender. Same can go for writing containing characters of ethnicity. Why exactly do they need their own section that cuts them off from potential readers? Why can't they go neck and neck with the rest of the books? They deserve the chance, don't they? This is America, where equality reigns free? Then why are we hiding the books that are different?


  1. I live in Davie Village (which is the gay area of Vancouver) and I use to live in boystown (which is the gay area of Chicago), so I'm use to seeing gay specific stores... gay bookstores... gay coffee shops... gay movie theatres etc. It doesn't bother me that they categorize themselves separately because these areas are like bubbles... It's like a world apart from the real world. It's hard for me to imagine that there are people out there who are uncomfortable around gay people, because everyone around me is so cool with it... but I'm sure they are out there (especially in America). I think there's still a gay fiction section because there is a lot of people who want to read only gay fiction (or at least who are very gay-centric), which is fine by me. I would never choose to read a book just because the main character was gay, nor would I not read a book with gay characters... It's still the writing that counts for me.

  2. Interesting post. I will have to disagree a little because I wish more stores had GLBTQ sections. I wish it were easier to find books at random that have gay characters instead of having to do tons of research or only being able to order online to get them. Then again, I live in Wyoming and before lived in Utah. I do agree that there is a different between stories with gay characters and gay fiction. I wrote a post discussing the differences over on my blog last month. I tend to write more of the Gay Character type, like boy mutant saves his boyfriend from villain. This was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Dawn's Writing Blog

  3. I didn't realize this was an issue. I guess if the military is adjusting their stance, the book stores shouldn't have a problem mainstreaming all books, regardless of character type.

  4. @Gail, I think it's one of those more quiet issues. People are either too afraid to talk about it or they just don't know. And maybe also it's not a big issue to people as well. It's just recently I've seen a few stories where writers have talked about how someone (agent or editor) told them to change the race or gender of their character. I've talked about that a few times on my blog as well.

    I guess I just feel that those types of books get shoved out of the way. I can find the romance section easy breezy but GLBT section? I don't recall seeing those in any bookstores I've been in.

    @Dawn, I'm not proposing we totally get rid of them, I'm proposing we take them and give them little subcategories under the main categories so EVERYONE can easily find them instead of hiding them back in some corner people might over look.

  5. I'd beg to differ with you here ... No one is hiding books that are different.. They are giving the reader a choice to make, a choice to pick what book they are investing their money in, to relish / enjoy what they like reading more...

    Imagine wading through 100 books to find 2 have "male character names" (and that too with unisex names, it is a gamble), I pay my bucks and realize out of the 2 only one is M/M.

    This is the exact reason why I love the "categories" in any publisher's website... I know what I want, I go after it ;)

    Thanks for the stimulating blog post! Following you from A-Z challenge!

  6. Ju,on websites it's easier and should have everything categorized. I'm talking walking into a bookstore. It's easy to find the romance section, the YA section or the crime section but if you're looking (physically searching) for something different, it's not as easy.

  7. Ju, my question is why does the sexuality of the characters even matter? I read M/F stories all the time, and not for lack of M/M stories, but because I choose the story not the characters.

    For erotica I would say yes, go ahead and segregate them. But for regular fiction? Hell no. The problem here isn't to do with reader's choice, it's to do with alienating a whole sub-genre of books based on something as asinine as sexuality. It's making a big deal out of something that shouldn't matter. What kind of message does this send to today's youth? It's saying that being gay is 'different'. It's saying that most people don't want to read about gay people so we're gonna shove you off in some little corner.

    And the question then is why are straight people so afraid to read about gay characters? Maybe if these books weren't packed into one corner and labelled as different, this would go some way to alleviating people's fears. And representation of gay people in literature, and in literature that straight people actually read, is gonna be one step towards true acceptance and equality. Maybe not now, maybe not in our lifetime, but some day.

  8. I'm with Shiku on this one. I read stories that are interesting regardless of pairings.

    It's interesting, however, that some authors have slipped gay characters into the mainstream. I'm thinking of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar fantasy series where the protagonist of the 2nd trilogy was gay.

    I'm not sure if I'd like to see LGBT sections moved into mainstream or not. As a teen it likely would have helped me because I was too shy to go to a gay bookstore, but when I did find gay characters (like in Lackey's books) I silently sang Hallelujahs at discovering characters I could really identify with.

  9. @Alex, maybe keep the shelves that have put the LGBT books together but put a subcategory in the YA section so youths nervous and shy about it can find books they relate to?

    I think that's the saddest thing is we're touting it's okay to be gay but then turn around and make a big deal if someone is gay and thus making it hard for a teen to deal with it.

  10. Little knowledge is a dangerous thing.