Being from the deep South, i.e., the Bible Belt, I have witnessed discrimination against homosexuals my entire life. I've just never personally felt it. My views are summed up in my Huffington Post article titled A Straight, Southern, Christian Redneck on Homophobia. So, yeah, being straight might have something to do with it never hitting home -- until now.
Recently, however, I have experienced a tiny sliver of it due to my latest novel. In my story, there are three same-sex couples mentioned in a society of over one million people. It does not dwell on same-sex unions; they just happen to exist. In fact, the reviews from people who love the book point out this fact.
Excerpts from reviews on Goodreads:
"I liked that Piri is gay and marries Niko, but that it isn't a big deal in his society at all."
"In the society favored by the reader, same-sex love and marriage is as commonplace and accepted as heterosexual marriages."
"Same-sex pairings are common and normal among the Children, and it's never given a second thought. Nobody has a harsh word. There's no taboo; there's simply nothing wrong or unusual about it."
People not bothered by the gay aspects of the story seem to catch almost everything else the writing has to offer. People who do seem to be bothered by the gay aspects miss or ignore everything else. Here's an excerpt from Kirkus Reviews, which had nothing good to say at all.
"Wooten's [novel] is a derivative science-fantasy that uses its futuristic setting to turn a critical eye on theocracies while promoting the normalcy of same-sex unions."
Yes, according to Kirkus Reviews, same-sex unions are not normal. I realize reviews are subjective, but if this is the focus of their negative assessment, perhaps this particular reviewer should stay clear of LGBT literature.
I couldn't understand why my novel was being shunned due to one small aspect of the story. After all, there are books about slavery, the KKK, pedophiles, murderers, terrorists, etc., that are not judged by those elements. I finally realized the answer lay in the reviews themselves. It's not that my story has gay people in it; it's that no one bashes the gay couples. No one expresses their intolerance. In short, no one cares.
Forget the fact that the story is fiction and set approximately a hundred thousand years into the future, the problem is gay couples not being held accountable for their lifestyle, and that is clearly unacceptable to some people.
There were other subtle shuns as well. The bookstore in my small hometown in Alabama, which has sold several hundred copies of my books, has so far not mentioned that my new novel is available. And of the several hundred Southern friends on Facebook I asked to post an announcement about the release date on their wall, only a handful did. They were quick to promote my first novel, which was a Christian novel, but remained mute for this one.
One of my Southern friends, a fellow named Skip, was one exception to the rule, and boldly posted about it, saying he supported the author. It made me proud. But his post was not without incident. Here was the first reply:
"Skip I had been told about this book a week or two ago by some of Neal s family. Did not know if you knew that it promotes gay life as being normal and acceptable."
Great, some of my family members hopped right onto the bandwagon. When I asked this person if he had read the book and if that was all my family had to say about it, here was his response:
"I have not read the book. Yes, that is what they had to say about it. And I was just letting a Christian friend know what I had found out about it. As a Christian I believe that it is my responsibility to stand against homosexual life style."
To which I replied, "Thanks. But to be clear, in the book there is also poor people dying of oppression, disease and hunger. There is violence and even cannibalism. I only wish my Christian friends could take a stand against things like this. That would be nice."
At least now I know my sin. It wasn't that my story set a hundred millenniums in the future still had a small percentage of gay people; it was that there wasn't a strong narrative representing a portion of the population that hated them, shunned them, pointed out their evil, and maybe even beat them to death in a homophobic rage.
I'll keep that in mind for my next book. Maybe it will be another Christian novel where that kind of stuff should fit right in.