Recently, I was asked about the lack of GLBTQ characters in dystopian teen lit, and responded with some thoughts about how dystopic storytelling tools might be used to highlight American intolerance.
Responses to that post really highlighted for me how important it is also to look at the idea of simple inclusion of GLBTQ characters in stories—both those intended as social commentary and those that don't have any particular agenda in mind.
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While dystopian fiction has excellent tools for social commentary, let's face it, most current dystopian YA is intended as raw entertainment. It's a wild ride that requires no specific gender or sexuality to participate. And yet there's a strange dearth of GLBTQ characters simply living their lives, defying Big Brother or fighting off the zombie apocalypse, where gender or sexuality is not necessarily the dominant part of the narrative at hand—which is, after all, mostly focused on blowing zombies to pieces.
Some writers do portray a wider variety of characters (Try the blog The Outer Alliance for some recommendations), but that probably doesn't get the rest of us off the hook for creating distressingly monotone futures. Still, finger shaking aside, there's another reason to look seriously at how we writers present our characters.
The more I write stories for young people, and the more young readers I meet, the more I'm struck by how much kids long to see themselves in stories. To see their identities and perspectives—their avatars—on the page. Not as issues to be addressed or as icons for social commentary, but simply as people who get to do cool things in amazing worlds. Yes, all the “issue” books are great and have a place in literature, but it's a different and wildly joyous gift to find yourself on the pages of an entertainment, experiencing the thrills and chills of a world more adventurous than our own.
And when you see that as a writer, you quickly realize that you don't want to be the jerk who says to a young reader, “Sorry, kid. You don't get to exist in story; you're too different.” You don't want to be part of our present dystopia that tells kids that if they just stopped being who they are they could have a story written about them, too. That's the role of the bad guy in the dystopian stories, right? Given a choice, I'd rather be the storyteller who says every kid can have a chance to star.
Am I great at doing this? Not yet. Not if I'm honest. But more and more it's a guiding goal for me to be more inclusive. If a young person wants to be written into one of my broken worlds—whether to sail hydrofoil clipper ships, or tote AK-47s, or monkey wrench the corporate machine—I welcome them. And I'm honored to shovel dynamite to them as they fight the zombie horde.