Please join us in welcoming today’s guest to Writer Unboxed: Leta Blake, author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season. Leta’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively, however, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made-up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
Why is diversity important to Leta? In her words:
In the wake of the United States’ Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality, it’s obvious that true change is on its way for LGBTQ rights. However, it would be premature to think that enough change has been accomplished and it’s a smooth road from here. We still have a long way to go before true emotional equality is achieved. Recently a child came out to his 6th grade teacher and she related to me that despite the child having accepting parents and peers, there were still layers of rejection: “It’s fine. Just don’t talk to me about the dudes you like.” “It’s okay, but don’t tell your grandma.” Breaking down these more subtle barriers and giving kids a future to look forward to are key goals if we truly want to impact the quality of the future lives of LGBTQ kids and adults.
Diverse Voices Series: Showcasing Diversity Within the LGBTQ Community
When I was approached to blog for the Diverse Voices series, I agreed easily enough. But once I started examining from which angle I wanted to come at the topic, I momentarily went into a tailspin of panic. That was partially due to a series of migraines that made thinking quite difficult, but mostly due to the fact that the subject of writing LGBTQ books is so huge, with so many different puzzle pieces to consider.
For example, each letter of the rainbow has its own issues with regards to representation. Books about trans* characters face different hurdles than books about lesbian characters, which face different hurdles than books about bisexual characters. I spun out for a while, trying to fathom how I was going to present an eloquent, all-encompassing, and persuasive narrative about the need for representation of the entire LGBTQ community.
Eventually, I decided to come back to what I know to be true: when it comes to the LGBTQ population, certain types of representation in fiction can truly mean the difference between life and death for some people. In the past, much gay literary fiction (and gay movies, for that matter) showcased grim storylines: boy meets boy, boy falls for boy, boys are murdered in back alley for showing their affection in public. I believe these were necessary books and films. They provoked a sense of outrage in LGBTQ people and their allies, appealing to their compassion and empathy, until everyone was riled up enough to help change society for the better.
But for the queer youth and adults of the world, these books promised not much more than a depressing and possibly deadly future. It’s easy to imagine that these stories might have done nothing to sustain a young man or woman who was already on the edge.
In recent years, however, there has been a change of form. With the advent of gay romance books for adults and young adults, there has been a change of focus from “gay = sad and dead” to “gay = happy and in love.” While many people scorn romance books as being empty of value, I’d argue that when it comes to the LGBTQ community and youth, romance books are actually invaluable.
There is a quote from Gloria Steinem: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The idea is that unless you can imagine it and picture it clearly in your mind, it’s highly unlikely that you can ever achieve it. If the main stories that young LGBTQ people are seeing and hearing are ones of disgrace and misery, then how can they envision and live another kind of life? It’s going to take a lot more effort for them, and they might decide it’s not worth the struggle and opt out of life. It’s a horrible ending that only reinforces the sad storyline they believed to begin with.
LGBT romance books offer visions of all kinds of possible happy futures: a fey veterinarian making a happy life with his wounded warrior boyfriend, a rock star lesbian making a family with her attorney bride, or a bisexual business man falling for his trans* woman taxi driver. There are all kinds of ways to live a happy life that is full of love, and LGBT romance novels are leading the drive in offering these visions to kids and adults alike. You can be it and you can see it!
There are other ways to show happy futures for the LGBTQ adults and youth out there, too. It doesn’t just have to be romance novels, though it’s awesome that they are leading this charge. Sci-fi books featuring successful and smart queer leads with or without romance would be amazing. Mysteries. Fantasies. Political intrigue novels. Thrillers. I’d love to see mainstream books with gay main protagonists where they aren’t separated out as “gay books” or minimized by publishing and marketing as being only for a certain kind of audience.
In that vein, I’d love to challenge anyone who hasn’t read a book with an LGBTQ main character to leave a comment below with your preferred genre and I’ll give you a personal recommendation. There are books out there now for all kinds of readers featuring LGBTQ characters. It’s up to us to give them a try and up to us to encourage the world to see these characters like any other: worthy of our interest and their own story.
Over to you.