Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program offers many literary events throughout the year. On October 3rd, one of these events entitled Gayly Forward: The Future of LGBT Publishing brought together a panel of queer writers and editors to speak on the topic of queer representation in the publishing industry.
- Alexander Chee, novelist/essayist and a professor at Dartmouth
- Anna deVries, novelist/essayist and an editor at Picador
- William Johnson, editor/essayist and the Lambda Literary Program Director
- Bryan Lowder, culture writer and editor at Slate
Although the panel consisted of four well-spoken, well-versed, and well-read writers, only two letters of the titular acronym had a presence on the panel: lesbian and gay. Ironically, the topic of representation composed a large portion of the event: should queer writers have their own section in bookstores or be interspersed among the different genres within the store? Are queer writers more inclined to take the position of activist or journalist when covering gay events? Are Young Adult novels the only texts doing a good job of portraying queer stories and characters?
The panel had a large load to unpack over the hour and a half talk. First, unanimously, the group made a quasi-tongue-in-cheek decision that queer novels should appear alongside of non-queer books and have their own section, claiming to “want it all.” And after so long without adequate representation, why shouldn’t the gay community have it all?
The moderator, assistant professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis, broached the question of conflicting identities for queer writers, especially on the newspaper and magazine side of publishing. Activist or journalist? Is there a way to embody both identities without sacrificing the integrity of either? The group was unable to reach a verdict, instead deciding that the truth mattered most, no matter which stories were being told.
Young Adult novels, the panel concluded, not only have been doing an excellent job of representing queer stories but are planting the idea in the minds of young writers that these stories can—and should—be told. Chee’s comment on J.K. Rowling’s post-publishing reveal that Dumbledore had, in fact, been gay was especially poignant: he said it sounded as if she had regretted not explicitly adding that detail in the text and only felt “safe” to make that apparent after the book series’ completion. This is the crutch of representation: safety. When do we feel safe to be ourselves and share our own stories?
The panel and the panel’s audience constituted a strange moment for me, a cis woman who identifies as pansexual. I felt like an outlier in an already sidelined community—not just underrepresented, but lacking all and any representation. Outside of a brief mention of the ostracized bisexual community, the panel focused on only the experience of gay (the majority) or—severely limited—lesbian experiences. No trans men or women made an appearance either in physicality or anything more than a passing mention.
Writing this post harkens back to the moderator’s query: activist or journalist? I was hesitant to describe the event as anything other than an all-around positive experience with meaningful talks of representation. And, for all intents and purposes, it was a great look into the publishing future of “L” and “G.” Although the length of the acronym itself was briefly touched upon, not all of the letters it contained received equal representation.