Raziel Reid Calls Petition Against His Young Adult Novel's Award Homophobic, & It's Easy To See Why
In case you needed a reminder today of just who you're sharing the planet with, here goes. There's a petition to strip YA author Raziel Reid of his Governor General's Literary Award for his debut novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies, which centers on a gay, gender non-conforming teen. And while the movement against the novel and its recent win doesn't quite come out and announce itself as homophobic, it isn't hard to read between the lines.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies follows a foul-mouthed teen named Jude as he grapples with life in a homophobic small town. It's a very in-your-face coming-of-age novel, one that Reid says he wrote to be deliberately provocative. And it recently won one of Canada's highest honors for a young adult novel: the Canada Council for the Arts' Governor General's Literary Award in the children's category. But though the win is a big one for those who want more LGBT representation in young people's literature, there are lots of people who are upset.
In an editorial for the National Post, Barbara Kay complains about Jude, his friends, their inappropriate language, the book's "[a]nti-Christian images," the lack of "moral growth," and the fact that sex pervades "the bulk of the narrative." She also comments sarcastically that "We aren't in Green Gables anymore," as though Green Gables — where everyone is white, straight, Christian, and reasonably well-off — really has all that much to offer modern teenagers. Still, Kay determines that giving Reid the award was "wasted tax dollars."
A petition to have Reid's award rescinded seems to feel the same way, and also focuses on how "vulgar" the book is, criticizing its profanity and relatively crude sexual content. “I know it’s difficult to write about difficult and sensitive issues,” said young adult author Kathy Clark, who started the petition. “But it’s very possible to write about them in an appropriate way without resorting to vulgar language.”
Reid, for his part, sees the attacks as homophobic. He said he was surprised by the outrage and "didn’t realise there was still such a strong anti-gay sentiment among adults in Canada."
It’s obvious that for those who have signed a petition to censor my book from a teen audience, that it is only socially acceptable to be gay as long as you act and look like everyone else ... If you are a flamboyant, gender non-conforming rebel who isn’t shy about wanting to lose your virginity to Zac Efron, you’re crossing a line and scaring people. The fear is tedious.
While it's important to note that the petition does not specifically reference the LGBT content of When Everything Feels Like the Movies or display blatant homophobia, Reid's points about homophobia are still well taken. And it's difficult indeed to imagine that the book would receive this kind of backlash if it instead focused on the sexual fantasies of a straight boy; many novels have. (Think Looking for Alaska or Feed.) And seeking to revoke Reid's award at the very least indicates that those who have signed the petition don't care about how affirming it can be for LGBT young people to see such a book receive critical acclaim.
The need for more diverse representation in literature — especially young adult literature — is a very real problem, one that is only slowly being addressed. There's nothing wrong with characters whose experiences living outside the bounds of what's considered acceptable have given them a whole different worldview and who unapologetically make people uncomfortable.
Reid's win was an important moment in Young Adult literature. Whether someone approves of the book or not, trying to take that away is closed minded and unfair.
As of press time, the petition has received 1,880 signatures.
Image: Arsenal Pulp