Since the release of my debut novel, Hollowstone, I’ve been making the rounds to promote the novel via interviews and guest posts. One of the most frequent topics of discussions is the representation of marginalized people in the media.
Being a queer storyteller of color, it goes without saying that diversity, inclusion, and representing minorities with respect is something that’s very important to me.
I wish I could say things are getting better, but I’d be lying if I did so. Having a story with POC and queer characters as the leads shut a lot of doors as far as many markets went. Not surprising as this is still an industry that blatantly whitewashes book covers with POC leads. And let’s not forget that a New York Times bestselling author was forced to remove a short story from an anthology after being told that she couldn’t have gay teens as the romantic leads in the piece.
While bigotry and discrimination isn’t exactly new for me, the impact of the erasure of queer, POC and other marginalized representation didn’t really hit me until I began promoting Hollowstone.
It was sobering to be reminded by interviewers and readers alike that Hollowstone is a rarity in that of the three main characters, one is an African-American teen while the other is a bisexual female teen. Not only that but as I’ve been reminded by readers, both characters debunk many stereotypes that inundate the media. While I’m thankful for the accolades for doing something positive, I’m also disheartened that more novels aren’t doing the same.
It saddens me because even in LGBTQ friendly/centric fiction such as YA, the roles of queer characters are immensely limited.
As a gay geek, I desperately want to read more stories of queer male protagonists kicking butt and taking names in the spirit of Jack Harkness, Wiccan and Hulkling, Daken and Midnighter for my fellow comic book geeks. Sadly too many stories consisting of gay characters is usually limited to us being the sassy best friend, the walking gay tragedy, the gay romance (most of which aren’t even written by queer males and not surprising our depictions are grossly inaccurate and homophobic).
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have gay romance novels (when done right) or tackle homophobia and other challenges that queer youth face. I did so myself with Hollowstone. But like Oliver Twist, I’m holding out the bowl, and asking (in a wicked cool British accent) “Please sir, I want some more.
LGBTQs need more and deserve more. We need escapism just like our cis straight brothers and sisters. We need to be portrayed in roles we wouldn’t be expected to be in. Because in real life, many of us are defying convention. It’s not even enough to have gay characters in gay stories. We should also be leading characters in well-crafted mainstream tales where the protagonists happen to be queer as opposed to our orientation being the be-all-end-all of our identities. While being visible as the sidekick or the supporting character is nice, it’s past time we take the lead.
Queer readers should be able to walk into the YA section of a local bookstore and have a selection of stories featuring queer protagonists to choose from.
The next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl doesn’t have to be cis, straight white males. Queer teen characters are just as capable of having epic adventures, saving the world need heroes and heroines that represent us. Whether it’s Hero by the late Perry Moore, or Huntress by Malinda Lo which I’ve recently been reading and enjoying.
Queer readers need to see ourselves portrayed in a positive and encouraging light. But more than that, cis straight readers need to see us portrayed in a positive and encouraging light.
But change doesn’t happen passively. The industry has to be be proactive in improving things. Editors and publishers have to actively seek out well-penned stories featuring queer protagonists, allow queer writers the opportunity to share our stories and our experiences. Queer allies have to step up as well. They should be pushing the issue and not allowing the burden of the heavy lifting to fall solely on LGBTQs
Change is rarely easy, but it’s not impossible.
One thing I’ve learned as both a black man and a gay man is that real pride is demanding better, of yourself and of others. Equality is not a dirty word, it’s simply something that we’re all entitled to.
Dennis R. Upkins was born and raised in Nashville, TN. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling.
His debut novel, Hollowstone, was released in June 2011 by Parker Publishing. More information on Upkins and his other projects can be found at http://dennisupkins.com/.