I am a proud subscriber to an email list-serve for educators, librarians, authors, etc. I know, there are a lot of those, but I want to keep this as anonymous as possible. The collective brain provided through this email group is amazing! We share our quandaries, frustrations, and epiphanies in a community where YA books are just as important to the other subscribers as they are to me. I have found everyone to be accepting and encouraging.
Until this past weekend. A subscriber posted an email about this article from Publisher’s Weekly about “straightening” gay characters in YA lit. Yes, the article is a little old but I’ve never counted something out just because it wasn’t this week’s recycling. But another subscriber replied to the email implying that because this article was several months old and it had already been “aired” within our group, that it wasn’t worth discussing. Granted, TONE IS VERY DIFFICULT TO INTERPRET VIA EMAIL. I have been guilty of sending what was interpreted as a snarky email or text when that was definitely not my intention. I have no insight on this particular responder’s intent, but it just sat wrong with me. And the longer I thought about it, the more it bothered me.
It bothered me because editing “potentially-offensive” characters out of books is an issue that we should keep talking about as long as there continues to be anti-gay – no, scratch that – anti-OTHER sentiment out there toward YA books or any books. As a teacher of teens, OTHER is about all I deal with. Teens are trying to determine who they are and what they believe and how to make a mark in a world where anyone can have 5 minutes of fame on YouTube. As most reading teachers know, the power of books is that our students can see themselves in the characters. They can live vicariously through characters and learn what to do and WHAT NOT TO DO as they see these familiar characters navigate the same waters they are swimming in.They see themselves in these characters and their stories and they are validated knowing that they are…that THEY ARE.
If we start erasing these characters, we are telling these teens that they are erasable. If we silence these writers’ voices, we are telling these teens that their voices are not worth being heard. If we allow one book, one character, one LINE to be changed because it might offend someone, THAT SHOULD OFFEND EVERYONE.