As I’m writing this, I’ve been reading Steve Brezenoff’s Guy in Real Life, a contemporary book involving characters involved in gaming: MMORPGs and table-top gaming. Now, for the most part, I’m enjoying this book – it has an addictive quality that keeps me going back to it, much like my on-again-off-again relationship with MMORPGs. BUT. This book is continually using faggot/fag/gay as an insult – five times already, and I’m only at the 75% mark.
To say that this makes me very uncomfortable would be an understatement. I have so many QUILTBAG close friends and even family, and I love them with all my heart. This should not be an insult – neither to people who are gay, nor, in this book’s case, to people who are not gay but do “lame” things, like a guy playing video games, a guy using a female avatar, or a guy simply not going out one evening or not hooking up with that girl. But then I was met with another question in my mind – doesn’t it paint an accurate picture though? I know gaming culture. I know the guys who spend HOURS on their MMOs, who are competitive as all hell, and yes “faggot” does get thrown out a lot as an insult when other gamers show “lame” or “weak” behavior. It’s wrong then too – but doesn’t that mean that the book is accurately depicting our society today?
The problem to me is that whether or not this is a term that gets used in our society, if you put it in your book as a casual insult that’s okay to fling around (as indeed, no one in the book has remarked how wrong it is to say this about people – even though there are also LGBT characters in the book), I feel like you’re more or less accepting its usage in society – almost, in effect, endorsing it. Much like the rampant sexism in September Girls, in an ideal world, I would only want such inappropriate behavior and language to be used in a book if you’re going to make a strong statement about it being wrong.
A lot of why I was disappointed in September Girls was not only because of the aggravating sexism that I had to witness, but that it was labeled as “social satire” – but the character didn’t learn anything by the end – he didn’t resolve to change his behavior. Instead, it was just sexism and misogyny on display – and especially in young adult literature, this could very well send the wrong message to readers. A lot (but certainly not all) young adult readers are still in their formative years, so using such language and depicting such behavior could cause them to accept it as “normal” and start emulating it in real life. I don’t want that to happen.
Now I’m not saying that books have to be all rainbows and butterflies. Insults are a part of life – this does happen. Some people are mean, so some characters in books are mean. But I wish that insults like faggot or retard would just be placed off-limits – unless you’re going to make a point about it being wrong. If you don’t, you may either encourage this negative behavior by making it seem accepted, OR you may seriously alienate and aggravate your readership. And for your benefit, Cuddlebuggery has recently compiled a list of insults and swear words that you could use instead. You have SO many options. Just pick ANYTHING else. Another insult would serve your purpose just as well, and is any reader really going to despair that you called that character a shit slinger and not a faggot?
But I want to hear from you.
But what about you guys? How many of these “insults” can you stand in one book? Does it affect your rating and review? Will you put the book down if it happens (too often)? Or do you just ignore it? (No judgment here!)