In which I tackle two questions that emerged from a discussion on SLJ’s Someday My Printz Will Come blog about Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue:
What constitutes “subtlety” when it comes to describing same-sex relationships in fiction?
Is it believable to have same-sex relationships in a medieval-esque fantasy world?
I have seen this critique for books a lot (generally, I don’t just mean my books, though mine as well). It was ‘too obvious,’ ‘too PC,’ the writer was trying ‘too hard’ to be inclusive.
I remember one person saying about a book ‘gosh, having all the names for the tenants in this one apartment building be of different ethnicities was just SO OBVIOUS and self-conscious, I didn’t like that’… and I knew the writer, a friend of mine, had simply written down the names from her own apartment building.
Because writers make something clear, they’re seen as making it too obvious… but only because readers are used to seeing such things presented obliquely, as if they should not be spoken outright. (The love that dare not speak its name, but can sort of say ‘the name sounds like…’?)
It’s jarring for readers for a book to explicitly defy the default: it either jumps out to readers as discordant, or they refuse to absorb it. (Remember all the people shocked, shocked, that there were characters of colour in the Hunger Games.) So someone saying ‘a girl fancies a boy’ passes by without making much impression (of course! such is the way of the world!) but a ‘a girl fancies a girl’ is seen as Terribly Obvious. When of course, they’re the same amount of obvious: they’re both just facts.
I am not talking about all readers, of course: I’m just talking about a readerly trend, and one that should be examined.
The sense of discomfort comes from the world, not the writing.