Welcome back, intrepid readers, writers, and researchers. It’s a brand new school year, and we embrace it with new… prejudice?
Let us explain:
There is a publication called VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates that is widely read by those who pick out books for young adult readers (the term “young adult” officially refers to readers ages 12-18, but there is nothing keeping a 30-year-old from reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl). On September 22, 2016, VOYA published a review of the book Run by Kody Keplinger. The reviewer, Rachel Axelrod, stated this about the book: “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.” (And all this during Bisexual Awareness Week.)
Many people online, librarians as well as bloggers, were upset by this line. Even the author of the book was upset. After all, the sex between straight characters had not been called out for being for “mature” readers. In response to VOYA‘s review, Tristina Wright, herself an author, sent an email to the editor in chief, expressing her concern about the review. Wright is not only bisexual herself, but also the mother of a genderqueer daughter. She was concerned that not only would readers see bisexuality as “something to be warned against,” as well as something only for the consideration of “mature” readers. The editor in chief, Rose Mary Ludt, responded, in part:
Our writers and reviewers have various lifestyles and beliefs and that has never been a concern of mine and usually not even revealed to me unless the writer chooses to do so, so the assumption that I or VOYA magazine might be bi- or any other kind of phobic is just that, your assumption. A misguided one.
Since this is Bi Visibility Week, I understand your need to find and destroy your enemies in a public forum, however, VOYA magazine and I are not your enemies.
Thank you for reading VOYA magazine.
While Wright shared this email with all names blacked out, VOYA had no problems with posting the exchange on their website with all names visible. The magazine did, however, go back later and delete the post.
As you might imagine, hilarity ensued. Or not. Many people, LGBTQ+ people as well as allies, complained to VOYA. VOYA published non-apology after another on their Facebook page, then going back to delete the non-apology posts, comments included, as well as blocking several people from replying to them on Twitter.
Things got so bad that the folks at SorryWatch had to step in:
…Saying “our writers and reviewers have various lifestyles” is like saying “some of my best friends are Black.” DO NOT. (Also, “lifestyles”? Ironic PBR-drinking-and-mustache-cultivation is a lifestyle. Being bisexual is a life, integral to someone’s sense of self.) Finally, the parting shot about “your need to find and destroy your enemies” is just WHACKADOODLE. (Sorrywatch.com)
Sorrywatch.com even gave VOYA a free apology that they could use to defuse the situation. They declined the kind offer. And the situation continued to spiral downward, to the point where all sorts of websites and media are commenting on what was going on:
- Splice Today, “Progress in YA Fiction”
- School Library Journal, “Sunday Reflections: Where’d you go, VOYA?”
- Bitopia, “Bi week, VOYA and the art of the non-apology” (although your faithful blogger here at VC saw everything happen, she supported her anecdotal observations with information from this article)
- Bustle, “Library Magazine Faces Intense Criticism Over Controversial Review of Book With Bisexual Female Character”
- Refinery29, “Is Bisexuality Too ‘Mature’ For Young Readers?”
It remains to be seen how this debacle will continue to affect VOYA; several librarians have declared online that they have not only lost respect for VOYA, but will also no longer use the magazine for book-buying purposes. One reviewer quit as soon as things started going south. A reputable literary agent stated that he would pull his ads from the magazine and encourage others to do the same.
Now what, VOYA?