Whenever readers talk about the lack of LGBTQIA+ characters in a book or series, there are varied negative responses. A lot of these are along the lines of:
1) Write your own book with LGBTQIA+ characters, then.
2) Friendships are important. Why can’t we have friendships anymore?
3) The author owns these characters. She/he/they don’t have to write LGBTQIA+ characters.
Sure, there are other responses, but these three above are the ones that I most often see floating around the book community.
And, because I am sick of seeing these excuses given in response to asking for LGBTQIA+ characters in a book or series and legitimate discussions about the lack of diversity in the YA publishing world I thought I’d write a little something about it.
1) You know, I actually am writing my own book with LGBTQIA+ characters in them. I’ve written two already, in fact. But that does not detract from the fact that I want to see LGBTQIA+ characters outside the books I write myself. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see them in a series that I’ve invested time and money into. It doesn’t mean that suddenly my desire to see LGBTQIA+ characters in the pages of books disappears because I’ve written my own.
And furthermore, if a reader wants something – if a reader wants to see themselves in the books they read – it is not up to that reader to do it. There is no responsibility for readers to write what they know, or what is lacking in the book industry. To put such a responsibility and weight on the shoulders of marginalised readers just shines a light on the privilege of the people saying they should write the books themselves.
2) This one actually almost makes me laugh more than it makes me angry because the complete dearth of canonically queer romantic relationships negates the entire claim. Please, name one friendship that actually resulted in any kind of queer romantic relationship. I will wait. Literally. I will wait because it will take you a long time (if not forever) to name one of these precious friendships of yours that has actually moved beyond friendship and into the realm of beautiful, queer love.
3) Oh, naïve and ignorant person. Have you never heard of The Death of the Author or New Criticism? The author holds rights to their words, yes. But they do not hold rights to interpretation of their characters. They are not the be all and end all of how their readers will perceive a character’s emotions, actions, and relationships. Yes, they wrote them. No, they do not own them. Once a book is out in the world the author is not the sole authority on how their text is going to be interpreted. In fact, The Death of the Author and New Criticism all but deny any relation of the author to the text, except for the fact that the author wrote the words.
You do not get to tell readers how to perceive a character. You do not get to tell readers who to ship. You do not get to tell readers that whatever the author says goes because it just does not work like that. The author is the creator, sure. But the author does not hold some kind of god like power over every single interpretation of what they have written. They cannot argue with readers (although we have seen this happen, horribly so) over who their characters are. They cannot tell a reader that, in fact, they read those two characters incorrectly and that there is just unequivocally no homoerotic subtext between that prince and his guard.
It just does not work like that.
Now, sadly, I know that just because what these people are saying is nonsense it doesn’t mean they won’t keep saying it (I mean, look at the real world media lately). But I just hope that if you are one of the people having these ridiculous things said to you – don’t believe it. You can want LGBTQIA+ characters, you don’t have the responsibility to write those characters, and you can ship whoever the damn hell you want to ship. Because that’s how reading works. It works for the reader, not against them. And you can ask for diversity. You can ask for representation. You can ask for an author to do better. Because you’re the reader. Because you’re supposed to be the person that the publishing industry is doing this for.