The Guardian UK reports on the previously secretive phenomenon of authors, Young Adult writers in particular, being asked to "straightwash" their characters.
Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown's co-written YA novel, Stranger, includes the viewpoint of Yuki as one of its five main characters. Yuki is gay and has a boyfriend, with whom he does "nothing more explicit" than kissing. Writing in the US trade magazine Publishers Weekly, the two published authors say they were contacted by an agent from a "major" literary agency, who offered to sign them up "on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation".Author Jessica Verday experienced a similar problem.
The two authors believe that "forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mould is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action". They suggest that both editors and agents who are open to novels with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protagonists make this explicit, that readers vote with their pockets and that writers speak out about similar experiences. "How many published novels with a straight white heroine and a lesbian or black or disabled best friend once had those roles reversed, before an agent demanded a change? This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world. Let's make a better world," they say.
Author Scott Tracey discusses this issue on his blog.
I had agents who said there wasn’t a market for a paranormal with a gay character who had a romance. I had editors suggest they would reconsider the book if Braden and Trey became Brenda and Trey. Or if I removed the romance and made it a straight girl/gay guy buddy comedy.
Now, at the end of the day, my book wound up exactly where it was meant to: at a publishing house that loved the story, and an editor who was super supportive right from the beginning.
And his most important statement: "If you want more books with LGBT content, buy the ones that are already out there. Show publishers that there’s profit to be made by investing in these books."