OPINION: Bury your gays: Queer visibility in publishing has a long way to go

by Andrew James | Frog Literary Agency
Tuesday, 8 August 2023 10:08 GMT

A copy of "Heartstopper" by British author Alice Oseman is displayed in Hungary's second largest bookstore Lira in Budapest, Hungary, July 14, 2023. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For every queer success story like Heartstopper, there are many homophobic and transphobic books being published by major publishers

Andrew James is Founder and Literary Agent at Frog Literary Agency.

From LGBTQ+ writers winning the biggest book prizes to Heartstopper dominating the bookseller charts - recently it feels like queer representation in publishing is finally having its moment. But how much have things really changed?

It has certainly come a long way in the last decade, with more publishers seeking out queer authors and books across the sector than ever before. Yet, publishing has a reputation for chasing trends, moving on quickly and favouring tired tropes.

So far, 2023 has seen a wealth of successful titles by and about gay people, but few asexual, bisexual, and pansexual books.

Where are the messy, complex stories covering the realities of queer life that are not about coming out, being deviant, killing yourself, or being killed?

Where are the intersectional voices that explore the rich and evolving tapestry of the contemporary queer experience across age, class, race and faith?

And where are all the bad gays? Gay men are not all the innocuous and sexless ‘best friends’ the media loves for them to be.

If we want to see a permanent shift in queer representation, publishers must avoid the straight and narrow, but instead continue to champion and diversify their output.

More opportunities need to be given to queer writers to ensure publishing is open to all. This will broaden the landscape of queer literature with writing that is diverse, nuanced, and accurate. It’s why I launched a literary agency solely dedicated to representing queer writers.

LGBTQ+ writers need agents who understand the queer experience, who are open to authentic stories and voices, and who will support and promote them throughout their careers.

But this is not to say they should only be represented by queer agents or published by LGBTQ+ publishers. It is about redressing the imbalance in the industry and providing queer writers with a safe space and a chance to share their work with someone they can trust.

Queer agents and editors will bring a unique perspective to submissions and be able to identify those gems that might otherwise get overlooked by someone who lacks that personal experience.

For every queer success story like Heartstopper, there are many others published by major publishers that are deeply transphobic and homophobic.

These reflect a darker side to publishing, one that is mercenary and cowardly, and uses LGBTQ+ peoples’ lives to fuel divisive arguments that result in profits for the publisher.

Sustaining and improving queer representation in publishing, then, means increasing LGBTQ+ diversity across all levels of the industry. From agenting to bookselling, and from Editorial Assistants to Managing Directors.

The time has come for publishing to resurrect its gays rather than bury them, and to embrace queer stories from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Publishing has the power to help fight for LGBTQ+ equality and to change people’s perceptions, but long-lasting and impactful change can only happen if it starts from within.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Update cookies preferences