Book Twitter today, in between the excitement over the US elections, has been busy fuming over this tweet:
— brandon sheffield (@necrosofty) November 7, 2017
It is a particularly crass example of something which I fear is rather more common than we’d like to think, particularly in literary fiction (or at least fiction that thinks of itself as literary). It is also an example of the sort of thing I was talking about in my paper at the conference in Italy.
Now of course I was talking about trans people in fiction. How does that relate to Koreans? Well, in the case above what I think the editor is really saying is not that Chang’s characters are not Asian enough, but that they don’t sufficiently conform to the editor’s stereotypical idea of what a Korean-American character should be like. In other words, the editor doesn’t want authentic Asian characters, what they want are characters that will appeal to the book’s presumed straight, cis, able-bodied, white audience, of whom the editor assumes themself to be typical.
The same is true of trans people trying to write authentic characters. Here’s a quote from Meredith Russo, author of If I Was Your Girl, after she was asked in an interview to give advice to trans authors who want to get published.
Like, right now, the story that the cis world is most ready for and willing to accept is like “The Danish Girl”. It’s like “hello, I am a trans person, hello, I am a boy who thinks he is supposed to be a girl. Here’s me dealing with it. Here’s a very heavy emphasis on how all my cis friends and family feel about it. I might die. I’ll probably be heartbroken at the end.”
See the similarity? Russo is saying that publishers don’t want authentic trans characters, they want characters that conform to a cis readership’s expectations of a trans character. Nicola Griffith tells me that disabled people face similar issues.
The good news is that, with the small sample size I have of recent YA books about trans people (the subject of my paper) it seems much easier to get an authentic portrayal published in genre fiction. My theory is that’s because the publishers of genre fiction don’t think that character is all there is to a book. They are happy to buy a book on the basis of the plot, and not worry whether the readers will demand certain narratives for the characters.