How Should We Then Respond?
And now we come to the last installment of my “gay characters in children’s fiction” posts. How are we to respond to authors who put gay characters in fiction—or, for that matter, how should we respond to authors who put anything in their book that we find morally objectionable?
Today I want address the blog post that prompted me to write this series. A fellow blogger—a Christian writer and librarian—commented on a book she was reading. Noël, the blogger, loved Laurel Snyder’s work. But when she came to a place in Penny Dreadful where the young protagonist meets a happy, healthy lesbian woman, who is one half of a happy, healthy lesbian marriage, the love affair between blogger and author was derailed.
I don’t know what Noël was thinking when she posted, but I wonder if her negative reaction to Snyder’s happy lesbian couple was so strong because of her love of Snyder’s writing. I know that I have stronger negative reactions when authors I love say something that conflicts with my worldview than when authors I care nothing about do it. When I’m reading along with an author I love and I come across some dearly held conviction that I don’t share and that I didn’t see coming, it always gives me a jolt.
So I sympathize with Noël’s reaction.
I also think she makes excellent points about Snyder’s motivation in her writing. I haven’t read the book, but from the portion quoted it does look to me like Snyder is saying, “Of course, silly! Being a lesbian isn’t out of the ordinary, not one bit. Look at me. Lesbian relationships are satisfying and joyful. People just happen to be a lot of things. White, black, timid, brave, rich, poor, old, young…”
Snyder confirmed this motivation on her website. “I want to think that if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue. I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal.”
Where I part ways with Noël is when she says, “Characters like Willa and Jenny, however, with their happy little family, show elementary-age readers that Christian beliefs are hateful and silly.”
I understand her logic and I even agree with it, to a point. I don’t believe that two opposing ideas can be true. I agree that when we teach one positive thing (homosexual marriage is normal and healthy) we are teaching the opposite negative thing (people who think homosexual marriage is sinful are either hateful or ignorant). But I don’t think we can expect an author who is not a Christian to hold to Christian beliefs. Laurel Snyder could just as easily complain that when I say the Bible is God’s infallible word I am teaching that homosexuality is sinful.
Well, duh, I’d say. Of course that’s part of what I’m teaching. It’s what I believe. But if she complained that by saying the Bible was God’s infallible word I was encouraging people to bully homosexuals, I’d protest.
So why should we be upset when Snyder puts her own worldview into her own books? She’s an intelligent woman, she has strong opinions as most writers do, she has thought about what she wants to give back to the community, and she has decided she wants to promote peace by helping children understand that there are all kinds of cultures and beliefs and colors and sexual practices, and they are all good and normal. I can disagree with her on some of this, but I certainly think she has a right to express it without us implying that she’s trying to teach children that Christianity (or Mormonism or Judaism or Islam, for that matter) is full of hateful people.
I just don’t think that was what Snyder meant when she put a happy lesbian couple into her book. We’ve all met happy homosexual couples, and for nonChristians all kinds of sexual practices outside of heterosexual marriage are normal. And why shouldn’t they be happy when they engage in the sexual practice they like best? Why should we expect nonChristians to hold Christian sensibilities?
Of course, I don’t believe, as Snyder says she does, that all varied human experience is normal. If everything is normal then the word abnormal loses all meaning. In our society, killing small animals for pleasure isn’t normal. At the other end of the spectrum, refusing to swat a fly isn’t normal. Those things are extremes.
But people choose to kill flies or not to kill flies, and Snyder doesn’t see homosexual union as a choice people make, I think. She seems to be making a case for lesbian marriage being normal like left-handedness is normal. I think her argument breaks down, because sexual activity is always a choice. People may be born with homosexual leanings, or they may acquire a preference for homosexual activity at a very young age, but they do not couple up without making a choice to do so.
That said, I think every author has the right, and even a responsibility, to educate young people to the best of her ability. We all, if we love children, want to give them books to read that will make them better people. We want them to be sympathetic and fair and brave and self-sacrificing and loving. And I think it’s good for Laurel Snyder to work at helping kids grow to be all those things. I also think it’s good for Noël to challenge Laurel and for all of us to think these things through and to keep on talking about them.
And in the end, I’m glad I live in the US of A and not in…say…North Korea, where speaking your mind is a suicide mission.
Thanks for bearing with me through these long posts.
Previous posts in this series are:
- Homosexuality and Children’s Literature
- Honoring Suicide Victims
- Choosing and Changing
- The God Box: Part One
- Writing About Characters Who Don’t Share Your Beliefs