Monday, February 29, 2016

Discussion Question Monday: Identifying with Characters/Diversity in Books

Hello! Welcome to Discussion Question Monday! This week's question is:

I don't identify with characters very much. It's incredibly rare for me to actually see myself in a character. But do other people? Is it just me and my own identity that isn't shown much in YA books? Do you identify with characters in books?

Of all characters, I identify most with gay males...usually very closeted gay males. Though I think it's pretty well known that gay males are shown in books and videos way more than gay females. Let alone someone who's agender, If there was a book with a gay female agender main character, yeah, I'd probably identify with them more.

There's the problem of having most white, straight, cisgender, middle class, American teenagers as main characters most of the time. Occasionally books are set in Europe..but not really. Most of the really popular YA books all follow this trend, which makes it incredibly difficult for people to identify with characters because they come from such different backgrounds.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that books with these kinds of characters are really bad, does it? Some people are white, straight, cisgender, middle class, American people. Especially popular authors. I mean, sure, a good amount of them are British as well, and I can name some Australian and Canadian authors, but there still mostly white, straight, cisgender, etc.

Honestly, it took me so long to realize that this problem even existed. Sure, I noticed I never really identified with straight females in all of the books I've read, but I am a white, middle class, American teenager surrounded pretty much entirely by people that look just like me that, yeah, were in a lot of the same situations as people in the books I've read.

I always forget that the world is huge and that there's more than what I see day to day, and then I realize that I haven't learned about any of it because all I read about is people just like me. How am I supposed to learn about other cultures if so many books are set in the same place with the same type of people?

I never really know what to say to the people that aren't white and American and straight and cisgender and middle class because they're basically forced to read about characters that maybe aren't really like them. How must it feel to never be able to see yourself in a book?

But do you have to identify with characters in order to enjoy a book? I think not, actually. I think you can learn from books and apply them to your real life even if the characters aren't just like you. Even if you aren't gay, you can still learn something from reading a book with a gay main character.

It's important to read books about characters that aren't like you all the time, and I'm definitely going to be working on doing that this year. I've compiled a list of LGBTQ+ books I plan to finish all of in the next few years. I also plan on specifically working to find books with more diverse characters
overall and deal with everything from race to religion to sexual orientation to nationality etc.

If we start demanding books with more diverse characters from more diverse authors, I think we're going to get them, and I hope we get them soon. I plan to support more diverse books this year overall, as I think I've been failing at that up to this point.

And if you guys have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

But back to the original question - Do you have to be able to identify with characters in order to enjoy a book?

I've definitely enjoyed books even when I didn't have anything in common with the character, but my very favorite books? I always identify with them. That's usually why they're my favorite books. They're the kind of thing I read over any over again because I see myself so much in them. I only cry in books when I really get the situation. Books that have characters struggling and being ashamed of your sexuality is something that I get and it hits so close to home it just makes me want to cry. I like to think that it would be the same thing for any "difference" that someone may have or be.

The struggles with homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. is something so many of us go through, and I think it means a lot when someone in a book, no matter what the actual plot is, goes through these things as well.

What do you think?

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