As was the Custom In that Time and Place

October 8, 2011 at 9:03 am (Book Commentary, Life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Do you believe in synchronicity?

Everywhere I turn this week a certain topic kept reappearing.

Though Monday’s Dr. Phil was essentially about extreme parenting what I remember best is the book mentioned:

My Princess Boy, which is a picture book by Cheryl Kilodavis and is based on the true story of her five year old son.

Then, a friend asked me, via Facebook, for my comments about the recent controversy over gay characters in YA fiction.

Do you think gay characters are supported in publishing these days? This is YA-specific (which may be relevant, if you’ve seen the recent ad in the papers down east) but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article anyway.

Thankfully, I had already read about the controversy here and had time for my thoughts to gel a bit.

I am other. I have always been other. I am shy. I am socially awkward. Often, I don’t know what to say or how to act.

However, until I speak I can pass as normal.

I have always read. I normally read between 100 – 200 books a year and have done so since I was eleven or so.

I search for who I am through books. I try to find me. I don’t usually find me in the popular books.

I am not Anne of Green Gables or Nancy Drew.

I am closer to Harriet the Spy and Emily of New Moon.

I might be Jo March of Little Women fame.

I found it hard to find myself in Young Adult fiction growing up. Then, as now, most popular book characters were white, middle class, not too skinny and not too fat. These character types are what corporate publishers consider to be the norm and the majority of the reading public. The thinking appears to be that if you have a normal character as your main character to mirror your normal readers you will sell more books and make more money. That is the publisher’s goal, is it not, to make money for themselves and the writing community?

I am other and unique. We are all unique.

I am unique in that I will read any thing and everything. I read across genres and ages and cultures and worlds. I read over 100 books a year and thus, to keep up this pace, cannot be picky.

I have always read. I will always read. I live to read. I must read.

Like most readers, I started with picture books, moved on to series books and never stopped looking for representations of who I saw myself to be. I looked for representations not just of the physical me but also of the essence of me, the me I am inside myself.

I read books that helped me explore who I was and who I was becoming. I wanted books that explored all of me including my sexuality. These were not easy to find when I started reading in the 1960s. I loved Judy Blume’s frankness. She was not afraid to tackle the forbidden, the taboo. I was a teenager in the 1970s, in a very small town and everything seemed forbidden. I didn’t belong. I was other. I was wrong.

Books saved me. Reading saved me. I learnt through books that there were others like me out there and maybe even in here, within this small town and conservative province that I was currently residing in.

It was not just reading that saved me. It was also access. What I needed to read was there. Publishers published and stores and libraries provided. I was thirteen and reading Ms magazine and the Village Voice, which oddly enough made me want to go to San Francisco not New York City.  Who was the genius that brought these print publications into my small town long before they would ever be available worldwide through the internet? I don’t know but oh, how brave they were and how cherished.

Through Ms magazine I discovered feminism and The Story of X, a picture book that dealt with gender issues. I also was exposed to William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow which I blogged about before.

Not only was I seeing who I was through reading but I was also discovering who I could be.

But I’m supposed to be answering a question here, aren’t I.

Do you think gay characters are supported in publishing these days?

Yes, I do. I don’t think it’s ever easy to get published. I do think that writing for the norm makes it a little easier. There are, and always have been, controversial books being published. As readers, we have to learn how to seek out the books we need. We have to be vocal and tell publishers and bookstores and libraries what books we want and put our money where our mouth is. If you want books that focus on gay characters, support the writers and publishers and filmmakers who are truly diverse when creating worlds and characters within these worlds.

I’m not an expert. All I am is a reader who looks for herself in what she reads and finds it everywhere.

I am Carrie (Stephen King).

I am Evie (Deliver Us From Evie/M.E. Kerr).

I am Ash (Malinda Lo).

I am your Little Brother (Cory Doctorow).

I am Joanie Caucus (Doonesbury).

The world I live in is portrayed in the universes I read about.

I know these people. These people are white, black, brown, olive, pink, yellow, red and blue. (Are you blue? Seek out an answer in this book: Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence, edited by Marion Dane Bauer.) They are gay and straight and other. They are Canadian, Aboriginal, American, European, Asian, African…etc, etc, etc.

I am Other. I thank the stars for books that allow me to find bits of me here and bits of me there.

In the words of Kelle Groom, from her book I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl

[She] doesn’t like to talk; we talk for her. (p. 78)

Here is a list of websites for books that deal primarily with gay issues, which was mostly the main issue of today’s ramblings.

YA Fiction With Gay/Lesbian Content 1969-2009.

ALA Stonewall Book Awards.

Rainbow Books.

The last list deals with other controversial and diverse YA books as well:

Library Booklists.

This looks to be a very good source for many types of books – most explore further.

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