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A censored life?

When I was ten or eleven, my mother, knowing I liked reading about the Greek myths, handed me her copy of Mary Renault, The Last of the Wine, suggesting I might like it. I liked it very much -- indeed, I loved it, and read and reread it to this day. That same old paperback is still on my bookshelves. It was moving and absorbing and yes, it talked about Socrates and Plato, but the heart of the book -- and the thing that I loved most about it -- is the relationship between the narrator, Alexias, and his older lover Lysis. I adored them, I loved that they found each other, I loved them together. They went straight into my private pantheon of great romances, along with Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre, Aragorn and Arwen and Maxim de Winter and his second wife. (I read ahead of my age. A lot.) It didn't matter at all that Alexias and Lysis were both male -- not to me, not to my mother when she recommended the book. What mattered was that it was a good book. The history in it is wrong. But the characters remain amongst my all-time favourites. The history in The Three Musketeers is wrong, too, but it doesn't stop me loving and admiring it anyway.)
The point, though, is that my mother saw nothing wrong in letting her 11-year-old daughter read a book about a gay romance. She was quite right. There is nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. (My mother, as I may have mentioned before, is a remarkable woman.) My best friend saw nothing wrong in encouraging her teenage daughter to read it, either.
As far as I can remember, The Last of the Wine was the first book I read with a gay theme. Within the next 3 or 4 years, I came across many more -- more by Renault, but also books by Samuel R Delany, and others. I met the group marriages and characters with fluid sexualities of Heinlein. Later on came characters in books by Katherine Kurtz and Radcliffe Hall and Jean Ure and Alfred Duggan. There was slash, too, which my older Star Trek fan friends wouldn't let me read (they didn't know how cool my mother was) but which I found anyway and decided wasn't as good as Mary Renault. I learnt a lot about love from Alexias and Lysis, and I would not be without them.
The point is that the book was there for me to read. Friends and acquaintances say the same things about books by Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Fiona Patterson, Lynn Flewelling, Elisabeth E Lynn, Chaz Brenchley, Hal Duncan, Ellen Kushner... I could go on and on. All those books were there. Now, I'm straight. My choices are reflected back at me by mainstream British literary culture. But not all my friends are, and those books meant even more to them than to me. It showed them that they could be heroes and lovers, accepted and acceptable. And that really matters.
Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown have written a YA book with a gay viewpoint character which they currently trying to sell. An agent offered them a contract, on the condition that they make the gay character straight. You've probably heard about this already, but if not, take the time to read what they say.
And pass it on. Because books matter. Books change lives. Some books have even saved lives. But to do that, they have to be there on the shelf to be read. Taking them away, or rewriting them, or denying people of all ages access to them is censorship of words, of realities, of people's daily lives.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
My very old school housemaster had no qualms about recommending Mary Renault to the teenage boys in his charge.
Sep. 13th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Good for him.
Sep. 13th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
I cannot say that I read any gay novels, but I did read the Jean Auel novels when I was 13-14. I don't think mum realised how much sex it is in them. Heh. OTOH, she gave me the Longship by Frank G Bengtson when I was 12.
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:03 am (UTC)
Goodness, yes!
Sep. 13th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Sep. 13th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re-posted the link to the PW blog.

I'm more than a big boggled that this has happened now, today. I guess I'm exceptionally fortunate in that when I wrote HASTUR LORD (or finished the partial manuscript Marion had left), no one -- not my editor, not my agent, not my publisher, not the MZB Literary Trust -- told me it wasn't okay to write about heroic passionate loving gay characters, bisexual characters, polyamorous relationships, people who behaved with integrity and honor not because they were gay or straight or anything in between but because of who they were. And while I was working on it, the campaign against California'a Prop. H8TE was going on.

Haven't we come any farther than that?
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
I know what you mean. I do think we are hugely lucky with DAW -- they are so positive about LGBT writing and writers, and so supportive. But this incident is depressing, because it shows that the old 'protect the children!' lies are still out there destroying and warping lives.
I don't know what the situation is here: I only know one YA sff writer and she hasn't as yet commented on this. (I haven't seen her on-line for a bit, so suspect she's busy.)
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
Yes, that was what mine did to, more or less. (I remember that my father saw me reading Brave New World when I was 11 or 12 and saying that he thought I might not understand it, but that was more in a 'Do ask' way than as 'don't read'. I thought this was normal, of course -- it's only as an adult that I've come to realise how fortunate I was in their attitudes.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
I've never read it either. I did read Papillon because my father had said it was good, and found it quite gruelling. But I'm glad I read it. He also got me reading Le Carre, who can be harsh.
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Sep. 14th, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
Wow. Total agent fail.

'Farenheit 451' comes to mind. Bradbury is a genius and a prophet.
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. Precisely.
Sep. 14th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
That sucks. Sadly,I'm not surprised that well-intentioned narrow-mindedness still has so much influence. But how moronic do you have to be to try to censor teens in Teh Age of teh Interwebs? Ever time I've agonised and decided my two are now mature enough to risk exposing them to something fairly shocking, the answer has always been pretty much, 'Oh that, yeah. 'Sgood. Saw it at school.' Of course, the school internet is supposed to be heavily censored, but censored by adults with limited IT skills and even more limited time--they don't stand a chance. So I'm not worried that many young adults will really miss the chance to see a range of ways to live. But of course they'll pick up on the aura of shame and silence. And it could be another nail in the coffin of book publishing :(

Ironically, I discovered Mary Renault through the school library in my Christian, highly conventional, girls' school. Books with any hint of sex caused such ripples of excitement on the grapevine that their borrowing rate soared, alerting the teachers, who promptly disappeared them. MR escaped the cull. I never worked out if it was because most of the girls self-censored by not borrowing 'yucky' gay books, or if the teacher who ran the library (a classicist and minimally closeted lesbian) spared her books on purpose. I hope the latter.
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC)
I bet it was 'educational' because of the history!
And yes, trying to protect teens in this age is just... well, silly. Even in the US.
Has Squirrel read Renault? It occurs to me he might find some of them fun.
Sep. 14th, 2011 11:06 am (UTC)
I fear Renault lacks sufficient action scenes and jokes for squirrel (and isn't nasty enough for spider). The most recent Young Monkey reading hit with a nicely mixed-sexuality cast was The Demon's Lexicon--a present from tamaranth.
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
Perhaps if they offered it to a non-US publisher or agent? The point is to get it published somewhere and therefore available through the magic of the Internet.
Sep. 14th, 2011 09:44 am (UTC)
Absolutely. I will be following the story to see what happens next. There is at least one YA friendly US publisher, who publishes Malinda Lo.
Sep. 14th, 2011 10:56 am (UTC)
what annoys me even more about this thing is,k if you write about a young characgtyer, teenage, it's considered young adult. so, if you write about a teenage gay character, you have to ungay him, whether you intend it to be young adult or not because publishers have decided it's young adult. (basically my hero is gay, he's also 18 and i've been told that means it's a young adult book,l even though it's not. and i would then be told to straighten him to please a market im not aiming for)

it's wrong. there are gay teens. there are straight teens, girls in particular, who like to read about gay boys! i did. i wrote about them too. we are cotton wooling kids and teens, spoiling them ridiculously and then trying to protect them.

besides which, most kids/teens read adult books anyway! and i think reading terry goodkind is FAR more damaging to any young reader than a book with a gay character.
Sep. 14th, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)
It's crazy. Marketing boxes combine with prejudice to make it harder and harder for writers and readers to connect.
Sep. 14th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
yep. i don't think publishers or in this case agents are even thinking about readers. they're thinking, this sold big, we should just copy this. that's why i barely buy new books from new authors anymore it's all the same stuff (one of my new fav games is, how many covers feature a dude in a hood on. lots do! tho name of the wind did and that is a brill book so it's an unfair game! but still, my point, i think, covers are samey. the insides are samey) it's sad. i used to buy EVERYTHING. and now nope. the last new author i got was you :)
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
Reading posts like this helps explain to me why people thought I was weird when I was younger. I'm pretty sure I've never been oblivious to sex scenes in books... goodness knows I remember reading things when I was 11 or 12 and feeling a little like I shouldn't probably be reading them because, well, SEX WAS HAPPENING. But I devoured Renault along with so many other things, and it's never occurred to me till now that it was omg gaysex. Probably the fact that my mom worked at the post office in the Bay Area, and a lot of her friends were gay had something to do with it. But there was never any conversation about teh gay. It was simply, "yes, so-and-so and so-and-so are both women (yeah, I know that one of them dresses and acts more like a guy, but she's a she), and they are a couple. Oh, and by the way, we're going to their wedding next month" (seriously -- I went to my first gay wedding in 1977-ish, and then had to tell my friends who saw it on local news that it was no big and no, it didn't make me gay).

It's always such a reminder of how clueless I am sometimes about what other people think of as "normal". My first reaction is never outrage as much as it is, "seriously??" And then I get pissed off.

Sep. 16th, 2011 11:44 am (UTC)
That's a very good place to start from, though - that 'normal' can encompass far more than the 'mother, father, 2 kids' model.
Sep. 17th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
yeah. I'm just always so surprised at the sorts of things we can end up being sheltered from. We all boggle when we meet people who don't get that there's poverty, or abuse, or drugs, or other such things. But when it comes to cluelessness about how intolerant people can be, I'm right up there with the freshman who thinks that the parents who fill their shopping carts with ramen noodles must not care about their kids, because if they did, they'd buy fresh fruits and veg.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2011 11:43 am (UTC)
It sounds like your mother and mine would get on very well!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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