I’ve written and rewritten this multiple times. I’ve written it angry. I’ve written it calm. I’ve written it crying. I’ve written it laughing at the sheer stupidity of the thing. I’ve thought about the hatred that gets thrown at people online whenever they raise their heads above the parapet, and considered not writing it at all.
But then the Orlando massacre happened, and silence was no longer an option.
Let me be honest: I want to swear. I want to call you names. I want to write a reply so scathing it would burn away the memory of your question. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the internet awhile, it’s that anger and insults are never a way to change someone’s mind. So instead, I’m going to bite my tongue and try reason. Your lack of email address suggests that you aren’t actually interested in engaging with me, but I hope that’s not true. I hope you’ll come back and have this conversation, because it’s only by talking – not arguing – that we’ll ever understand each other. Because, as it stands, there are many things I don’t understand about you.
First of all, I have never understood why the presence of LGBT characters in a book is ‘pushing an agenda’ and yet their absence is not. Newsflash: there are many kinds of people in the world. Some are straight. Some are gay. Some are neither. And when I write books, I want them to be a reflection of reality. (Check my website title: it does what it says on the tin.) I want my characters to be a tiny microcosm of the vast population of this planet we live on, not multiple copies of myself. It’s the same reason I write my characters to have different skin tones and hair colours and eye colours and genders and etcetera: because these are traits that exist in the world. Indeed, it would feel odd to me to write a book that isn’t trying to say something specific about race or gender or sexuality, yet deliberately omits people of particular races or genders or sexualities. Because that, in itself, says something specific about race or gender or sexuality. And it’s not something I want to say.
Look at it this way: to me, asking ‘why is this character gay?’ is like asking ‘why does this character have black hair?’. Or rather, it’s equivalent to asking ‘why aren’t all your characters straight?’, which is like asking ‘why don’t all your characters have brown hair?’. Surely anyone would agree that the latter question would be a strange one. And I think most people would also agree that in such a case, it wouldn’t be me who was pushing the agenda, but the person who wanted all characters to have brown hair even though other hair colours exist. So why, when it comes to sexuality, is it suddenly ‘pushing an agenda’ to include people of more than one orientation?
(Note: I’ve often seen people make a rather spurious argument that proponents of diversity in fiction are going too far the other way by trying to force every single book to include different genders, sexualities, races, etc. I don’t even want to get into that argument here; this is a reply to your specific question about my specific book. However, my opinion in brief is that saying ‘the publishing world as a whole should make more effort towards diversity’ is not at all the same as saying ‘only books with these kinds of characters should be published’. Maybe it’s already obvious that I am in favour of the former, not the latter. In fact, it’s the latter statement in a different guise that you appear to be supporting when you complain about the LGBT characters in Darkhaven – essentially, ‘only books with heterosexual characters should be published’ – which brings me back to the question of who, precisely, has the agenda.)
In addition, I don’t understand how you can cite the existence of Naeve Sorrow as proof of ‘pushing an agenda’ when she is only one out of a handful of characters. Let’s take a look at the seven POV characters in Darkhaven, shall we? On the evidence presented in the book, we’d surmise that four of them are straight, one of them is really effing creepy and straight (looking at you, Captain Travers), one of them is queer, and one of them is still figuring the whole thing out. Which part of that is pushing an agenda, exactly? Over the course of the book we see two straight relationships and one gay relationship, which means that if I’m pushing the gay agenda, I’m pushing the straight agenda twice as much. Funny how you didn’t complain about that, eh?
I can’t help thinking the difficulty here is that when you find characters who are ‘different’ from you, you scream that it must be because the writer has an agenda. Yet when you find characters who are the ‘same’, the idea of an agenda never even crosses your mind. It doesn’t seem to occur to you that everyone is different from you, and everyone is the same. We’re all human. If I can be said to have a driving belief when I write, and when I read, it’s simply that we’d all be better off seeing each other as individuals instead of collections of labels. You can call that an agenda if you like, but I think it would be hard to argue it’s a harmful one.
As for my second book … well, let’s just say that if you don’t like Naeve and Elisse then you definitely won’t like Miles and Art. So I guess I’ve lost you as a reader, and you know what? I can live with that. It’s a shame, because maybe you would have gained something from Goldenfire, but everyone is entitled to their own preferences, however narrow. Go and find a book with 100% heterosexual protagonists to read instead. But please don’t try to pretend that I’m the one with the agenda. You’re the one who wants all your fiction to erase the existence of a considerable fraction of the population.
Which brings us back to Orlando, and the horrible events that pushed me into writing this after I’d almost decided not to. People died. Many people. For apparently no other reason than that they were members of the LGBT community. That’s where hatred takes us. That’s where seeing ‘difference’ takes us. To innocent people dying.
JJ, I’m not comparing you to the Orlando shooter. I’m not saying you would ever pick up a gun and murder 50 people because you didn’t like their sexual orientation – or their hair colour. But if you feel any kind of empathy for the victims, and any kind of revulsion towards the shooter, you might try asking yourself why it’s not OK to erase LGBT people from the real world, but it is OK to erase them from fiction.