Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of numerous books including Pay it Forward and the upcoming Don’t Let Me Go. She can be found at her website or tweeting under @cryanhyde.
As recently as the 90s, when my first novel saw print, things were different in LGBT publishing. Authors worried about the positioning of books that contained LGBT characters. No one wanted publishers to perceive their books as being only for the niche “gay market” instead of the wider mainstream one. Authors always felt their work had that indefinable “broader appeal,” and didn’t want to be put into a smaller gay publishing box.
Which, if you think about it, contains the inherent silliness of assuming a straight person can’t or won’t read about a gay one. Well, they can. But, I guess the question is, would they?
Now, at least in YA fiction, I think we have our answer.
Suddenly LGBT YA is a phenomenon. A force to reckon with. And, more and more, I pick up (on Twitter and in the blogosphere) that lots of straight readers enjoy the genre.
This little post by no means claims to sum up how and why this sea change happened. It’s just a reflection on one aspect that resonates most with me.
For the purpose of illustration, I call it The Brent Effect.
It was only a little more than a year ago that a gay teen named Brent started the book blog Naughty Book Kitties. Fairly soon after, he emailed me, interested in an ARC of Jumpstart the World. I poked around on his blog, as I always do in cases like that. Not because there’s some special blog standard required before I’ll submit a book for review. More because I’m always curious about why someone wants to read something of mine. I also love discovering new blogs. We emailed a couple of times, and I asked Knopf to send him an ARC.
Just a couple of days later a Facebook friend posted a link to my wall. It was a post by a gay 15-year-old who publicly blasted his school librarian for refusing to stock LGBT books, which she said were “inappropriate.” Brent went viral, because, in my opinion, he was spot on. Here was a kid who needed to read about people like him, and was told that people like him were inappropriate reading for people his age. Suddenly “age appropriate” was called out on the carpet and boldly labeled discrimination. Which, of course, it was. Had been all along. Somebody just had to say it. Eloquently. Loudly.
Maybe Brent wasn’t the first to say it, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But he was the first to break into my awareness with this message. He was my first exposure to the new breed of out gay teens.
I think it affected me so deeply because I wasn’t that brave when I was Brent’s age. I was not an out gay teen. In my defense, it was 1970. A number of factors had to fall into place to make that kind of honesty possible. The more honesty is shouted out, the more factors fall into place to allow even more honesty. Then, with any luck, you have a full-on revolution. Or, as they call it on Fox “News,” the Gay Agenda. And we all know what the gay agenda is, right? To be seen as human and treated with respect. To be ourselves and pursue our own happiness. Oh, wait, that’s everybody’s agenda, isn’t it?
Let me not get too far off track.
After meeting Brent (we’ve been friends ever since), I’ve also met John of Dreaming in Books. A very different, but also very out, young gay book blogger. I’ve met Craig of Craig’s Gay Word, a teen athlete who helps teach his entire school how to treat LGBT students. I even got a great review of Jumpstart the World from a young woman named Maggie who essentially came out as “closer to bi” or “at the very least questioning” during the review. I told her I thought that was important and good, because every person who does so makes it easier for the next. She told me she had wrestled with it and come to the exact same conclusion.
The more people speak up, the more people speak up.
Say what you will about social change, but you cannot, in my view, devalue these contributions. Sure, you have to multiply it by all the Brents and Johns and Craigs and Maggies, including scores I don’t know about. But coming out in itself is a force to be reckoned with. And blogs have embraced outness (as Brent would say, pretend that’s a word) in a way that’s changing the landscape.
When I was young, people actually made the ridiculous statement that they didn’t know, that they’d never known, someone who’s gay. The joke was on them, of course. Sure they had. They just didn’t know it. I believe intolerance finds its roots in fear. Humans are (like?) animals, wired for survival. Our brains tell us to fear the unfamiliar, and, when few dared come out, gay remained unfamiliar.
Now we have the beginning of a trend: straight teens who are perfectly happy to read a gay love story, if it’s a good story. So as an author of (among other things) LGBT YA lit, my hat is off to the new out gay teens.
Expect a snowballing of the Brent Effect. And celebrate it with me. It’s long overdue.