I have another story from Austin I can’t believe I forgot to write about it last week. I really should be at the grocery store right now because I forgot to get basil for the pizza I’m making (I cook Tuesday mornings because I work Tuesday nights) but I hate the grocery shopping.
Anyway, at the #genrequeer presentation where panelists spoke about the need for LGTBQ readers to be able to see themselves in genre fiction other than the sad, “coming out” or bullying stories. The panel was amazing and pretty inspiring. I want all the teens I work with to feel like the books and stories they read represent them. The important of books being “windows AND mirrors” got thrown around quite a bit at the conference and I think that’s true. Books can help you learn about people different than you, but should also reflect yourself back to you.
At the end of the panel the presenters answered questions and then there was time for one final question. A woman in the back raised her hand and said, “So I just finished Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds and my teens and I just thought it was a lot. It’s the story of a writer and you read the fantasy book she’s writing along with the story, so that was hard to follow and I’ve never seen that before.” Really? You’ve never read a book within a book? Sigh. Then she continues, “Then he makes the main character an lesbian who happens to be South Asian, and it all just seems too much.”
There was silence in the hall for a split second before one of the panelists, I can’t remember who, said, “What about that is too much?”
Someone in the audience said, “I think it’s too much that I have all these straight white dudes in all my books.”
By now the lady asking the question is trying to backpedal and I can tell everyone else in the room is thinking, Was she even here for this whole panel?
After a few comments from Robin Talley and Kristin Clarke about examining why the reader would think an Asian, lesbian writer is “too much” and other identities are not, Malinda lo leans forward. She pauses before she says, “Well. I just want to say in closing, I am Asian. I am a lesbian and I write fantasy. I exist; it is clearly not ‘too much.'”
It was the best mic drop moment of the conference for me.
Differences and the complexity of humanity is not too much; it is the whole point. We need to have empathy for our fellow members of the human race. Empathy is something that should be remembered in the week (and every week) when National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson has to hear as much about Daniel Handler’s racist comment as her brilliant book. I’m in the middle of it, so lovely. We should also remember empathy when we consume media about Ferguson, MO, too. Remember that a son is dead and many more sons and daughters are killed everyday. That the country is not a post-racial one, and we haven’t moved beyond homophobia in so many places. We need to have compassion for all.