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Last week, I wrote a post at Silverstring Media about the risk of ghettoizing stories for certain demographics, the risk of (for example) labeling a story within a transmedia property as the gay story, and thus ensuring no one else will ever experience it, and that the driving platform (the mainstream storyline) will not feature the gay character very much.
This ghettoizing of demographics certainly occurs beyond transmedia; it’s a constant scene in bookstores. When I walk into a bookstore I begin looking for certain things.
I check out the teen fiction section as research for my career. I look for what books are front and centre, how big the section is (it seems to be growing, but the selection isn’t always there), etc. I usually check out the mythology section (if they have one) to see if there are any more obscure mythologies I’d be interested in (or just more Greco-Roman). And I look for an LGBT section.
I honestly have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ve talked before about the arbitrary and elitist labeling of genres in bookstores.
For example, why is Oryx and Crake in “Fiction” or (worse) “Literature”, and not in “Science Fiction”? Is it because Margaret Atwood wrote it? Is she somehow superior, or different, to Heinlein and Asimov and Gibson?
There is this sense of ghettoizing specific to LGBT books — if they’re not put with the rest of non-LGBT fiction, no one will find or read them unless they’re specifically looking for them. I don’t think most LGBT books would be particularly less appealing to straight readers. I read about straight characters all the time.
However, by restricting those books to their own little shelf, you ghettoize them, removing them from the bulk “mainstream” fiction, keeping them out of sight for those who don’t look for them, as if they’d make people uncomfortable.
On the other hand, I find myself judging bookstores harshly if they don’t have an LGBT section (or, as it’s widely called, a “gay and lesbian” section — because clearly those are the only queer demographics out there…).
If I walk into a store and I want to find books about my life, my demographic, I’d like them all to be in one section for easy discovery. Otherwise I might not know that a book has a gay main character or theme, and that’s what I’m looking for.
But then, “gay and lesbian” sections tend to be mostly romance or erotica. Nothing wrong with those, but it comes across like that’s all we’d read. And why aren’t those books shelved in the general Romance or Erotica sections?
The ideal, in my mind, would be to have an LGBT table that collects all books with LGBT characters and themes regardless of genre, but then also to shelve those books in with their respective genres (fiction, romance, sci-fi) to serve both purposes.
I know shelf space is hard to get, and it would require multiple copies of each book, so I could see that that’s probably not an option for most bookstores.
So, what do we do? Ultimately, it’ll be up to someone smarter than me figure out a solution. What I can do is make sure we’re at least talking about this.
Is there a solution? Can LGBT books find their home on the shelves of the mainstream or do our books belong in a section that is easy to find and browse, but is often ghettoized, possibly even stigmatized?
Read Johnson’s post: “Broadening story threads” @ silverstringmedia.com