Friday, April 9, 2010

A Sinister Homo Sapien Who Masticates Every Day

There's a line in MINDER in which a couple of ignorant guys sexually harass my MC, and she threatens to mess with their brains and make them fall in love with each other. It's been nibbling away at my conscience for a while. My MC isn't homophobic, although the guys bothering her are. So it's an effective deterrent in the situation, particularly since the harassment is heterosexual.

But would it be OK to treat other characteristics like that? Wouldn't it be horribly inappropriate to threaten to change the race of white rednecks, assuming such a thing was possible? It's like validating their belief that OTHER = BAD.

Sexual orientation's a divisive topic in American culture, and it needs especially careful handling in the YA genre. Some books and series make it a major component of the story, such as THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB and the MARKED series. In MARKED, some of the MC's best friends are a gay, teenage, vampire couple.

Try to find THAT box on the census form.

So I'm torn. The scene works, but I'm concerned with the greater message it sends. As it stands now, I may alienate liberal readers (e.g., MARKED fans). If I swing too far the other way, I may alienate more conservative readers (e.g., TWILIGHT fans). And I want both groups to give me money to enjoy my books.

I have another character who happens to be gay, but I haven't developed this aspect of her identity, since it's irrelevant to the plot of the first books. I'm worried that, when I finally address it, it'll seem like tokenism, like Apache Chief, whose superpower was "being Native American," apparently.

So, now I heave a trepidacious sigh and throw the question open to comments. How should sexual orientation be handled in YA fiction? I'm a little afraid to see what people will write--a few years ago, I sold purple-ribbon lapel pins in support of legalizing gay marriage, and I received several emails telling me I was going to burn in Hell.

Oh, and as for the title of today's post:
Sinister=left-handed (in Latin)

Homo sapien=human

Masticates=chews. Why? What did YOU think it meant?


Disgruntled Bear said...

Interestingly, every single hate-email I received contained multiple spelling errors.

"Your going to Hel."

Disgruntled Bear said...

I also have a character who's a committed Christian. My MC's telepathic, so she hears a lot of Hannah's silent prayers. I debated how much of those to include--the same groups would be offended if I handled that aspect of the story wrong.

* sigh *

I wish everyone could just get along.

glacierlilies said...

Kate, I see your point and the worry, but I'm not sure any of the ways I can see to fix it would improve things - and I don't think it's written wrong at all. She's a teen, right, and she's the sympathetic character, and the boys are caught in an unfortunately pretty darn common threat-to-masculine-identity homophobic stage. The way you wrote it is true to many a high school culture. As the author, that's a big task. If you get all lecture-y and have the good doctor give her a talking-to, I'd think that would be hard to pull off - not impossible, but hard, and it would slow the pace a bit. And b/c this IS such a well-written - and funny - little scene, I hate to have it go. And honestly, no, I wouldn't find it horribly inappropriate for her to threaten to change white rednecks' race. To do it, yes, that would raise all SORTS of issues about power and control and who sets values. But merely to threaten seems to me clever use of someone's weaknesses to harm them in a way that wouldn't harm them at all if they weren't such appalling weenies. It's using their self-unseen flaw to cause them to stop actively harming people. And the harm is, fear that if they hurt people, they too will be hurt. I'm not sure that's bad. I'd call it deterrence. And you can't deter people without a credible threat of something they wouldn't like. And, your idiot sexually harassing boys ARE idiot homophobic boys. She could threaten them with, I don't know, making them want to shove bamboo splinters under their nails, but that just gets gruesome and inelegant. Your solution is elegant, and fits very well with the world your characters live in, and with your MC's talent and personality.

The broader issue about what sort of message your books send about tolerance is a different matter, but one I think you can address without wholesale hauling around of scenes. Like with your Dumbledore, can you foreshadow now, lightly, with just a phrase or two? Just a few words shouldn't distract too much from your early story, but if it's there as a subtle possibility in the characterization, it won't look token when you develop it later.

glacierlilies said...

oh, and now I see your Christian comment. Well, the way you handled it didn't set off either warning bells or annoyance for me...I think it works, for what that's worth. You could bring in more prayer to show rather than tell...but that too would distract from the thrust of your MC's story. I think you've got things painted so you can see who other people are without their stories taking over the one you're telling.

Osman said...

I want to masticate on your point a little longer. You would though be showing a couple of homophobic guys that being gay is acceptable, and they would emerge from the experience with respect and understanding. From that standpoint, Maddie's actions appear acceptable.

Peter said...

There is nothing like Hate comments or notes with spelling or grammatical errors.I have a framed one with dozens of errors from somebody who didn't like my friend Keith's ugly van parked in front of their house.

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