Rewriting History: Why Book Publishing Must Embrace LGBTQ + Stories – And Soon

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The absence of the past is a terror, wrote Derek Jarman, in his essential book based on a 1993 diary. At your peril, in which he described the trauma of being left out of the story and not being represented on television, in movies, in stories. This is something that those of us in this industry, I imagine, understand that it is a deep and basic human need.

If you’re straight, imagine what it’s like not to have had books and movies that show what it’s like to be you: no “Romeo and Juliet”, no “Casablanca”, no of “Gone with the Wind”, no Adrian Mole and Pandora, no Bridget Jones and Mr. Darcy, no Hermione and Ron, not just about any book ever written that centers direct relationships in the story. I don’t think you can imagine. It’s horrible. It makes you feel, on a very deep level, that there is something wrong with you and who you are should be kept hidden. It’s so painful to write this list, it makes me want to cry. That’s why in 2017, when the first studio film about a gay teenager finding love came out, “Love Simon”, I sat down and watched an audience of young and old gays and lesbians cry. . If you’re transgender, up until the last five years, chances are you’ve never seen characters like yourself in the mainstream. It matters. Like Mohsin Zaidi, author of one of the only books ever to be published on being gay and Muslim, A devoted boy– explains so sensitively that representation can be a matter of life and death.

When I was a teenager, I searched the school library for books on people like me. I was suicidal, desperate for the support I wasn’t getting in the real world, and I couldn’t find any. Even if there had been relevant books, I would not have known because they were not being talked about. Even EM Forster was so ashamed of his sexuality that he made sure that Mauritius was only released in 1971, when it was in the ground. Twenty years later, studying End Howards for my A-Levels, a teacher asked me why we read “this book written by a homosexual”. Even now, there are hardly any books or films like these, with same-sex relationships at the center. The ones I started reading were depressing: everyone died of AIDS or suicide; no lesbian ever survived.

In the mid-90s, I found Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series (first published in 1978), about the lives of normal people in their twenties – gay, straight and trans – and I have them. all run. Despite their iconic success, there still hasn’t been another popular gay-themed series since. Is it really because there are no such stories, or writers to tell them?

Clearly no. Of course, many LGBT writers tell other stories, but this is often due to the fact that, as has happened to countless colleagues, we are so used to being invited to ‘de-gay’ projects that we preempt and often self-censor. In 2012, when I bought the proposition for my first book, Straight jacket, on gay mental health, an editor complained that there weren’t enough straight people. “That’s the point,” I replied. “It’s about homosexuals and for homosexuals. I wanted to explain that it would be like complaining The eunuch woman didn’t have enough to interest men, but I didn’t.

There are hundreds of writers and books that could have made publishers money. I am thinking of lesbian author VG Lee; one of the funniest and warmest writers in the UK who has been shockingly underfunded by the industry. There are dozens more. An audience exists, but it must be marketed. The recent census will be fascinating. Let’s say 2% of the UK population identifies as LGBT. Wouldn’t it be reasonable that even half of one percent of published books deal with LGBT stories? It makes business sense but also touches the heart of the publishing industry: what good is it if it can’t tell a diverse range of stories?

Over the past five years, the industry has made considerable efforts to change this situation. I am proud to have been published by Penguin Random House, whose WriteNow initiative has actively sought to publish writing from under-represented communities. Individuals also play a role. My second book PRIDE: The story of the LGBTQ equality movement (Welbeck) was defended by Welbeck editor-in-chief Isabel Wilkinson. Having a gay brother, she realizes the urgent need for publishers to broadcast diverse stories.

Today, as you can see in this week’s roundup of new titles Bookseller (April 30) What is remarkable is the number of YA novels and children’s picture books that are published. It is important. I don’t mean any disrespect, far from it, but over the past 20 years the industry has championed gay literary stories – some brilliant – but in my opinion the most important thing is that we see our lives normalized in commercial fiction and non-fiction, especially so that young people see that they are not alone. For all of the award winners (many of whom I love and own), what I really needed was teenage romances like Becky Albertalli’s. Simon against Homosapiens (transformed into “Love, Simon”). Don’t hate me, it’s true. We’ve all been teenagers once.

Expansion of representation
It is heartwarming to see that on both sides of the Atlantic there are works of black homosexual voices being published, like that of Paul Mendez. Rainbow milk, Bernardine Evaristo Girl, Woman, Other, Dean Atta Black flamingo and Brandon Taylor Real life. But it’s still a drop in the ocean. Where do you turn to see yourself if you are a black or Asian homosexual? What if you were a lesbian or bi-colored woman? Editors such as Jessica Kingsley are doing a remarkable job of publishing trans voices and it is encouraging to see different books by trans authors hitting the mainstream this year, including other work by Juno Roche, Rhyannon Styles, Paris Lees. , Monroe Bergdorf and Shon Faye. But it took decades to get there. Will 2021 be a failure?

There also needs to be more ways to ensure that the industry recognizes what makes it successful in this area as well. Many LGBT books are unlikely to do business with JK Rowling, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t successes that should be celebrated. Straight jacket, the UK’s first title on the LGBT mental health crisis, was, as far as I know (prosecute me if I’m wrong), the most successful non-celebrity LGBT non-fiction book of the past decade, selling regularly for the past five years, causing constant flows of emails and messages from readers. But I’m not sure the industry knows about it. I haven’t been asked for new ideas, although readers are constantly inquiring about them.

I really believe that one of the reasons Straight jacket resonated, that’s because gay readers are so unaccustomed to being spoken to explicitly, directly about their own lives in an authentic voice. When The Bookseller asked publishers to submit details of upcoming titles of LGBT interest, I noticed that the majority were mainstream books that “slipped” in gay or trans characters.

It’s awesome in so many ways. We should appear, as in life, but often times you can hear the press release desperate not to put off the general public by presenting something like “a gay book”; often to the point where they don’t even talk about it. I understand. But publishers shouldn’t be afraid to order books for LGBT audiences on specific issues that directly affect us. If the idea is strong enough, back it up with marketing and promotional support and great things can happen.

Today we are entering a time when centering LGBT characters will not automatically turn off the general public. I was shocked at the number of gay and straight people who had no idea of ​​the horror of the AIDS crisis until “It’s a Sin” was screened. Rejected by several channels, it became one of Channel 4’s biggest hits. It’s a shame it wasn’t a book that caused this cultural moment, but there are a lot more stories to tell. It’s not just a blind spot that the publishing industry has. On television, I have only seen one documentary on homophobic hate crimes. The National Theater is set to produce the classic American AIDS play “The Normal Heart”, which is sure to be brilliant, as is the last American classic AIDS play it produced several years ago, “Angels in America”. As Straight jacket shown, AIDS is by no means the only major problem that has affected the gay community over the past 40 years. There are plenty of British writers who could write the next classic British “gay play”, but they are not being commissioned.

A question of attitude
All of this cannot be kicked out of the publishing industry. When i was editing Attitude magazine, I decided to publish a short fictional film in each issue and asked the writers to submit their work. Almost everyone was gloomy and miserable. LGBT life has its challenges, but when the industry tends to never commission upbeat commercial fiction, then maybe writers think that’s how stories should be told. Like Laura Kay, author of The split, writes, lesbians deserve happy endings.

Fortunately, more of this is happening. Picture books such as Nen and the Lone Fisherman would have been impossible to imagine when I was younger. YA fiction like that of Atta and Simon James Green, festive titles like the anthology of Jack Guinness The queer bible, and novels such as the Sweet and Charming novel by Matt Cain The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle, would not have been published 10 years ago. The industry is changing. It’s important to celebrate. There is a long way to go, but we are moving forward. Let’s keep doing it.

And don’t forget the lesbians. (The well of loneliness that was a very long time ago).


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