Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Here's the thing by Emily O'Beirne blog tour: Why the LGBT Label Still Matters

Why the LGBT Label Still Matters


I was asked a couple of questions as a prompt for this guest post.

The first was: Is LGBT a genre?

The answer to this is simple: no, it͛s not.

I͛m just going to pop on my teacher hat on here. The term genre, which translates from the
French to ͚kind͛, is used in popular culture to define a set of conventions and expectations
of a type of story.  For example, when I͛m teaching my media students about genre, I start
by asking them questions like what they expect to see when they are about watch a new TV
sitcom. They͛ll inevitably spout a bunch of conventions like canned laughter, lots of one-
liners, the short length, limited sets, the lack of narrative continuity etc. And when I ask
them what they͛ll expect from a fantasy, someone will inevitably call out ͞dragons!͟

The ͚LGBT͛ label describes a demographic, not a genre—in the same way the ͚Young Adult͛
label does. By using it, we know who the book is about, and, to some extent, who it is for.
And like YA, a vast range of genres exist under this label, too.  There͛s Malinda Lo writing
LGBT fantasy with Ash. There͛s Robin Talley dabbling in horror with her Macbeth re-render,
As I Descended. There͛s Molly Beth Griffin writing historical romance with Silhouette of a
Sparrow. There is no set of rules or expectations of the label ͚LGBT͛ as such. Except, you
know, the presence of LGBT folk.

The second question I was asked was: do we still need this kind label for books?

The answer here is an unequivocal, emphatic yes.

Because it doesn͛t matter that LGBT is not a genre. That͛s not what͛s important. What͛s
important about labelling a book LGBT is that it offers an indicator both for readers that
here is a story about them. And given there are still not enough of these stories, for some
readers this is a crucial identification point.

I had a teenage reader write to me earlier this year who was saved by a literal LGBT label.
She wrote to me asking how she could get a copy of my first book, an YA book about a
lesbian relationship, A Story of Now. We wrote back and forth a few times, and in her emails
she told that no one outside her online life knows she is gay. Not her parents, not her
teachers, and not her friends. And this is because her mother and father are religious and
vocally intolerant of homosexuality. She doesn͛t dare come out—even to her friends— in
case it gets back to her parents. She doesn͛t dare buy LGBT books online or in a shop in case
her parents find records of her purchases. In fact, until she learned how to hide her
browsing history, she was nervous about just looking at anything related to being gay
online.

What had saved this girl until this point was physical books. A few years ago she was visiting
a public library with her mother when she discovered that some helpful librarian had put a rainbow sticker on the spine of every LGBT book in the YA section. This sweet, colourful
identification point told her that queer people lived inside the pages of each and every one
of those books. The next chance she got, she came back to the library alone and has been
reading her way through all of them ever since. Inside them she found characters she could

identify with and stories that made her feel possible. Now she hunts online for LGBT YA
wherever she can find the category.

The LGBT label is vital for people like her, who need to find themselves in books. They are
also important for building a community of writers in an area of under-representation so we
can support and promote each other. And sure, I guess I like to think that one day in the
future there might be a time when there is no need to label a book LGBT, but I don͛t kid
myself it͛s close yet. Not when I͛m still hearing stories like this. This is why we need to keep
putting rainbow labels on the spines of our novels—literally or figuratively. Because that͛s
how they get to those who need them.


      


Thanks a lot Emily!