What the fuckity-snacks is wrong with you, dude?
Sorry, let me back up.
Earlier today I got a bit of hate mail — though I guess hate mail is strong, as the writer of said email was not like, threatening to murder me with a brick or anything — from what appears to be a male, adult reader of my young adult series. In particular, he read the third book in the series, which came out last week: The Harvest.
I won’t reprint the email here, but he said, and I quote, “I didn’t like that you had a main gay character reviling [sic] in a homosexual sexual relationship.” (Reveling, I guess he means?) He feels I “corrupted” the book with the presence of “gay male relationships.” He then added that he feels I was jumping on some kind of “bandwagon,” which I assume (he did not clarify) means that I was doing this to fill some kind of diversity bingo card. Finally, he concluded that it “didn’t matter” or “effect [sic] the story” that the character was gay so why include it at all?
Here is my response that I won’t actually bother sending to him, but maybe he’ll read it here:
Dear Pouty McGee:
Thank you for reading my book. That’s nice of you.
I’m sorry* the book features gay characters who love each other and engage in sex. I suppose the more pleasing alternative to you would be for the characters to suffer in loveless abandonment and quietly pray to themselves while looking directly at heterosexual pornography, but that feels fucking goofy to me, so I didn’t write it that way.
I’d much rather write characters who are nuanced and complicated and who also are free to partake in the human spectrum of love and sex and sexuality (and their opposing sides which is betrayal and breakups and the loneliness that results).
I did not do this to jump on some kind of gay male bandwagon, though I would assume that a gay male bandwagon would be a lot of fun. I love both bands and wagons very much.
That said, while I do not subscribe to the notion of diversity bingo or writing books simply to fill some kind of imaginary social justice quota, I do like to think that it’s important to write books that feature people who aren’t me because I really, really hope that my readership is not just a room full of beardo white dudes with grumpy sourpuss faces staring at each other. Diversity matters to my readership, and I don’t mean that in a salacious “equates-to-sales” way, but rather in a, “equates-to-acknowledging-the-vast-complexity-of-the-humans-who-exist-around-us” kinda way. I also think it’s vital to read books that aren’t by people like me so that my own perspective is opened up. You should try that. Maybe you thought because I looked like you in some way we shared a certain bigoted point-of-view, like how sometimes white guys go up to other white guys and then say racist or misogynist stuff thinking that our whitemaleness is enough of a self-selected symbol, like it’s basically an invisible Swastika or Confederate Flag imperceptibly branded across our foreheads to indicate a shared social shittiness.
I did not write the character into the story because he affects the story, but at the same time, he does reflect it — the Heartland begins as a world where teenagers are forced to marry each other, and that means very explicitly that the Empyrean government enforces heterosexual couplings and nothing else. Which is a pretty horrible place to be as a person who isn’t heterosexual like, say, how America was just a few short months and years ago. Also, is gayness supposed to be a “plot point” if the character features? Is that essential? Why does that not apply to straight people? Why weren’t you mad that the character’s straightness didn’t matter and affect the story? And how exactly is that supposed to happen? The bad guys build a machine meant to run on one kind of sexual orientation or another? “BRING ME MORE GAYNESS THE MACHINE MUST FEED.”
I think your complaints are weird. What the hell, man. What the hell. Maybe you’re a parent, and that’s what this is? Certainly a lot of the complaints I receive from the readers of my YA work are from adults who have teenagers. These parents tend to be mad because I acknowledge that teenagers sometimes (gasp, I know) have sex and do drugs and say naughty words. One reviewer once said that teenagers, carte blanche, don’t say bad words. Like it’s never happened in the history of teenagerdom. But ignorance of teen habits is how you get abstinence training which is how you get pregnant teenagers and bad MTV reality shows about those pregnant teenagers. Teaching abstinence is like telling people not to ever get in a car (ever!) instead of teaching them where the fucking seatbelts are. Either way, your kids will not be harmed by fictional exposure to gayness, or gay sex, or bad words, or sex in general, or drugs, or any of that. I got bad news, Jack — your kids go to school and live in the world and that means they’re in the middle of it. That’s just how it is. Better to lend narrative context instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.
Your teenagers are probably socially way ahead of you, by the way.
Is it just that you think two dudes making out is gross and weird? Because that’s gross and weird if you think that. Don’t be gross and weird. Be awesome and cool instead.
Oh, and as a sidenote, you’re on the third book of a series and this character isn’t new, so…? The whole gay thing has kinda been in there since the first book. (Not to mention: the book is filled with violence and yet, none of that seemed to bother you at all. Ah, Puritanical handwaving. Violence is cool. Love is bad. Good times.) How’d you get here? There were signs. Big gay signs. That had to be a willful choice on your part, or you don’t know how to count. If it’s the former, then I ask again: what the hell? If it’s the latter, I remind you: it’s 1 then 2 then 3, not 3 then 2 then 1. I’ll let my four year old teach you about counting and I think I’ll also let him tell you about loving consensual relationships between adults of any stripe because he literally has no idea that any of this is wrong and in fact I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even notice at all.
Anyway, thanks for reading! Here is a picture of a cuddly pug** to help soothe you.
**not a photo of a cuddly pug