When a small US publisher accepted my first book for young adults, ‘Crosstrack’, it wasn’t long before things went pear shaped. The novel follows two teenage athletes, one a middle class American, the other a young Syrian refugee. Apart from cycling ability, they have another thing in common: both are trans.
I’d anticipated a backlash at having the temerity to describe someone outside my own experience, and expected it to involve the Middle Eastern migrant (a la Jeanine Cummings). Yet when my publisher passed the book to a new editor for a final edit, she took exception to some of the views expressed by the other main character, and in particular a comment where she refers to ‘trannies’.
‘The word tranny is offensive to a lot of trans people,’ the editor informed me pompously, suggesting I find a more ‘acceptable’ term. The fact that it was a character (a trans character at that) who used the term didn’t matter; there was a risk that some people who read the book might be offended, and we couldn’t have that, could we? I wouldn’t compromise and withdrew the book – perhaps rashly, as it was the first full-length novel I’d had accepted in a decade.
I had similar issues in 2017 when I tried to sell ‘Kidology’, a comic novel about a man who voted to Leave – and whose life subsequently fell apart. My agent said the book was so funny he almost wet himself; yet when I sent it to another agent, she responded prissily: ‘I’m not sure anyone’s ready to laugh about Brexit yet.’
Perhaps unwittingly, that ‘anyone’ gives the game away. In that agent’s worldview, Brexit is unquestionably a tragedy; a view that seems common in the publishing world.