So I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes trying to write a post. I’ve written 500 words, deleted them, written 500 more and deleted those too. It’s because I want to write something long and scathing that expresses how annoyed I am. I’m annoyed because someone questioned why I forced a gay couple into FML. As if there needs to be a reason for someone who isn’t white, heterosexual, male, able-bodied, cis-gendered to be in a book. As if that one aspect of their life has to define their whole place in the story. It doesn’t. It really fucking doesn’t.
Over 20% of the population of Florida identities as Hispanic. In Miami-Dade County, it’s 65%, Broward County is almost 30%, and Palm Beach County is 20%. The percentage of people who identify as African American is 17% in Florida, 19% in Miami-Dade, 30% in Broward County, and 19% in Palm Beach County. Both Deathday and FML are located in fictional towns in South Florida, which is made of up Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. If those books had contained only white characters they wouldn’t have accurately reflected the realities of the places the occupied. Cassie is mixed race Black and Cuban. Why? Because she is, that’s why. Is there some rule that a minority character has to have angst over their minority status in order to justify their inclusion in a book? If there is then that rule is bullshit.
Ben and Coop are a gay couple. Why did I include them in FML? Because I could. Because I’m gay. Because I have gay friends. Because lots of straight people have gay friends. Because I have gay readers. Because gay people are people first and gay second.
Ben and Coop aren’t in the story because they’re gay, they’re in the story because they’re great characters. They’re in the story because they’re a stable, loving couple that provides a necessary contrast to hormone-driven Simon and his unrealistic expectations of a romance with Cassie. They’re in the story because they provide some much needed levity. Their story isn’t about being gay, it’s about supporting Simon as they simultaneously grapple with their decision to lose their virginity to each other. Would any reader have asked why I’d included them if they were a heterosexual couple? Hardly. And the proof is in the majority of books published today.
They’re flawed, I’m not going to say they’re not. An astute reader pointed out to me that they made too much of a show of how much they loved each other when I’d made it perfectly clear through their actions. That’s a case of me not trusting the reader enough, something I need to be better at. But they’re not extraneous characters. FML doesn’t work without Ben and Coop. Simon drives the story, but Ben and Coop are the brains and heart of it. What does it matter that they’re gay? Why does being gay mean they have to do more to justify their place in the story? There are a hundred kids at the party in FML, why do the two gay kids have to justify their inclusion? Why does Cassie have to justify being mixed race? Why does Eli have to justify being Jewish? Diversity in books isn’t a checkbox, it’s the reality of life.
Just because the default in books and movies seems to be male/white/cis-gendered/heterosexual doesn’t mean that any character who doesn’t fit that narrow mold needs to justify their inclusion. Fuck that, that’s not the world around us. That’s not reality. And if you feel like they do need to justify their inclusion, ask yourself why. Ask yourself why any person would ever need to justify their existence to you. Then ask yourself how you’d answer if they demanded the same of you.
To close, I want to point you to this fantastic study done by Malinda Lo over at DiversityInYA.com breaking down the percentage of books featuring diverse characters. She looked at 123 books in the 2013 PW best books list and found that only 19% featured diverse characters. Now compare that to another study Malinda Lo did that looked at the percentage of diverse books that were banned where she found that 52% of the most banned books featured diverse content. Draw your own conclusions.