The links in question:
Disclaimer: Rachel Manija Brown is a close friend of mine.
I am not an agent, editor, book publisher, or author. I'm a reader who sometimes—less often than I'd like of late—writes up what she reads on her blog. And honestly, I think the point of the first post about the lack of LGBTQA YA isn't that there are evil homophobic people out there, but that systemic inequalities are easily perpetuated
The sentence that caught my attention most in Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's response was: "Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog
. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple... yet, it's not so simple."
As a reader, I'd like to agree that it isn't so simple. And, in fact, pinning the start of the change on readers vastly oversimplifies things. I don't think there's ever single start to overturning systemic oppression. The change needs to start everywhere, or else you get stuck in an endless loop of chicken-or-egg: "As a reader, I try to support diversity in YA, but it's kind of hard to when there are only [x] number of books out!"
My experience as a reader is that it is pretty damn hard to find books starring characters with diverse sexual orientations, race, levels of ability, and class out there. I've actually had a bit more luck in YA with regard to race than I have with SF/F and romance, but if you're like me and you love SF/F, it feels like the choice is to either read about POC teens in YA in contemporary settings, or white people doing white people things in YA SF/F. Ditto with LGBTQA characters. You can read about them in contemporary settings, but if you're looking for genre, good luck! POC LGBTQA characters? In YA SF/F? Watch the numbers drop even further.
As a reader, I also don't think the way to start change is to make publishers publish more, or agents buy more, or authors write more. Or for readers to buy more/read more/blog about more. I think the way to start change is all of the above
. And all the above actions are not actions that run in sequence, but rather, actions that run in parallel. I can blog about LGBTQA books, make lists, buy the books, and suggest to various local libraries that they should buy the books (all of which I have done). Publishers can put out a ton of books. Agents can try and represent. But if you only have one portion of the equation working, the entire thing falls apart.
Again, my experience with this is more in finding POC characters in YA and/or SF/F. And it is hard. I subscribe to a number of blogs that focus on POC in YA, on international SF/F, on POC in SF/F (books and otherwise), as well as reader groups who make it a point to find these books and talk about them. Even with all this support, it feels like uphill work. When I asked my local librarian for more YA with POC protagonists, I began to realize how limited that sphere was when I had either read or heard of almost every single book she pulled out, and not only that, but that I knew of upcoming YA with POC protagonists before she did.
Furthermore, most books tend to only deal with a single underprivileged identity at a time, a character at a time. It's hard enough finding YA with LGBTQA protagonists, but it's even harder finding YA with someone who is bi, poly, mentally ill, and lives outside of the US. Within YA with Asian protagonists alone (not a huge number of books), how much more difficult is it to find narratives that don't come from East Asian hyphenated families from a very specific set of economic circumstances?
I put this out there not as a way of giving out cookies to individuals who do look for diversity in their reading, but to say that the main point I got from Rachel and Sherwood's article was that the system sucks. And that the most important part of the post isn't even that, it's the part beginning "What You Can Do":
If You're An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. [...] If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. [...] If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren't white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.Full article
If You're An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying "we appreciate diversity" could mean anything. [...] For instance: "I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin."
If You're A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. [...] Your reviews don't have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. [...] [annotated lists of books provided in the original post]
If You're A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville's pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.
If You're Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.)
I want more diversity in my reading. I want to see all the ANDs and the intersections that go into identity, how it's never as easy as picking "I am female" or "I am Chinese" or "I have depression." And we're never going to get it unless everyone
* I like Robin Talley's It's More Complicated Than #YesGayYA
note on terminology, especially given Lo's pie chart on the gender divide in LGBTQA YA.