The existence of bisexual people doesn’t require a damn content warning
The print is super duper tiny, so let me blow it up. This is a review of the book Run by Kody Kepplinger from the prominent library review magazine VOYA* aka Voices of Youth Advocates :
Agnes is legally blind, and leads such a sheltered life that she cannot even take the bus home from school or attend parties. Bo Dickinson has a drug addicted mother, an absent father, and is rumored to be the town slut. Although opposites, they become good friends through their kindness and acceptance of each other. Bo’s cousin Colt is almost a brother to her; they have grown up together and are part of the family “you steer clear of because nothing good can come of getting mixed up with that bunch.” Agnes has a different problem; her parents hover over her and limit her activities so it is impossible for her to be a normal teenager, until she begins sneaking out to go places with Bo. When Bo hatches a plan to leave town to find her father, Agnes decides to go along, thinking she and Bo will live together. They steal a car from Agnes’s family and begin their road trip, along the way visiting Colt, with whom Agnes has a sexual encounter. When Agnes discovers that Bo intends to live with her father, they separate and she gets in touch with her parents, leaving Bo to a disappointing meeting with her father, and an eventual return to the foster care system. The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.–Rachel Axelrod. 304p. VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES, c2016.
I helpfully put in bold the part that gave me rage hives :D
This reviewer (Rachel Axelrod) and VOYA are saying the very existence of bisexual people is on par with swearing. That the very existence of bisexuality can only be shown to junior and senior high schoolers.
And this is where I need to disagree with Angie a little here because that isn’t a microagression. That is full-on biphobia folks.
And its a particular kind of biphobia that tags bisexual girls and women in a particularly pernicious way. Mature is a coded word here. Its hypersexualization – where being bisexual and being out and using the word ‘bisexual’ for bi women is considered on par with sex acts. And like I said on twitter this afternoon, you can draw a straight fucking line from this review to bisexual women being constantly sexually harassed and facing astronomically high rates of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Bisexual women and girls are not seen as peoples, we are seen as machines that dispense sex. I would expect a publication like VOYA to challenge that narrative, not reinforce it.
Also, does VOYA think that bisexual teens under grade 11 just don’t exist? Because TRUST ME they do. And they deserve to read books that reflect their inner worlds just as much as straight teens. I have NEVER seen a book review of any type claim that only juniors and seniors can know about the existence of straight people. How many people at VOYA put their eyes on this review and NO ONE noticed that?
I spend a fair amount of my time on this blog complaining, critiquing, and analyzing books that refuse to use the word bisexual to describe their characters. And while I haven’t read Run (though I put it on hold at my library today), all accounts are that the bisexual character Bo actually uses the word bisexual several times. But instead of celebrating that as an important YA development, VOYA seems to think it needs a goddamn content warning.
Oh but just wait.
It gets better.
It gets so much better.
You might be thinking that perhaps this book just had a lot of steamy bisexual sex scenes and this is just a case of poor wording.
In this reviewers mind, the actual HAVING of heterosexual sex doesn’t make this book in appropriate for younger readers, but the very EXISTENCE of a bisexual character would. You don’t need to warn against actual sex but you choose to slap a ‘here be monsters’ on the map if there are bisexuals?
There is nothing to that but base and blatant biphobia.
Librarians and booksellers use magazines like VOYA because they can’t read every book. Now we have VOYA telling entire swaths of professionals that this book (and by extension bisexual people) are somehow inherently inappropriate. VOYA has a reputation among librarians as being progressive, less enmeshed with book publishers, and more focused on intellectual freedom than other review sources (PW, Kirkus, LJ, SLJ). Their name is actually Voices of Youth Advocates. We trust their reviews to advocate for youth.
Well I’m sorry VOYA but you need to explain to me how promoting this kind of biphobia makes you a ‘youth advocate’. Or how it helps you uphold the mission statement of your publication – which reads: “Young adults have rights to free and equal access to information in print, nonprint, and electronic resources, without infringement of their intellectual freedom due to age or other restrictions.” How exactly does advocating an age restriction on a book solely because of the sexual orientation of a protagonist advance that right to free and equal access to information?
This also frustrates me to no end because we’ve all heard that mantra about how ‘diverse books don’t sell’. WELL NO SHIT THEY DON’T SELL WHEN YOU REVIEW THEM LIKE THIS! This is a textbook lesson in how to use base-level bigotry to bomb book sales. I swear to god, the next person who tells me that books with bisexual characters who actually use the word bisexual ‘just don’t sell’ is gonna get nothing but a giant squid of anger.
Right now, I’m calling on VOYA magazine and it’s Editor RoseMary Honnold to apologize to author Kody Keplinger and to the entire bisexual community. This review is offensive and it needs to be retracted. I’d also say that Rachel Axelrod needs some LGBTQ cultural competency training (with a particular emphasis on the B in there).
This is #BiWeek, the week where bisexual community celebrates our history, culture, and art. It would be a great time for VOYA to remove their foot from their mouth and apologize for this biphobic trainwreck.
*I know you’re really not supposed to post content such as entire reviews up on the internet from trade publications but if VOYA doesn’t like it, then fuck it, they can C&D us.