Okay, I have a confession to make. I’ve never really paid much attention to all the discussions in the bookish community about the importance of diversity in books. I tend to concentrate mostly on the plots of the books, rather than the characters, and when I do focus on the characters, I focus on their personalities rather than their races, genders, sexualities etc. I know for a fact that I’m not sexist, racist, homophobic or ableist, and I don’t think reading a book with problematic representation would change that about me.
However, an incident taught me something about the importance of diversity in books. I was on the phone with my twelve year old sister, who like me, is a huge fan of the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series.
“Someone told me that Dumbledore was gay and he was in love with Grindelwald”. She said.
“Well, yes, that’s true.”
“I’ve also heard Nico Di Angelo is gay.”
“that’s also true.”
“No. Why does Nico have to be gay?”
I did not know what to say. I am from India, which is not the most LGBT-friendly place in the world, and so I guessed she hadn’t been exposed to that many representations of LGBT characters. My sister’s reaction to Nico’s homosexuality disappointed me a little, I wanted to explain it to her that it was perfectly normal, and to ensure that she does not end up with misconceptions about the community. However, I did not know how to do that over the phone. I was also aware that, while my parents are perfectly accepting people, back in their time, there was very little awareness about those issue, here in India and I didn’t want to confuse her by saying something that contradicted what our parents would say.
Later, during the vacations, we were having a casual conversation. Being of an age when children are curious about the birds and the bees, she bombarded me with such questions, which I tried my best to answer. At one point she told me that she used to think that homosexuality was ‘weird’ but she changed her mind after reading about Nico Di Angelo, and now, she understood it, and accepted that it was perfectly alright. Lately, I heard her talk about a certain Youtuber’s coming out video, and she said something really positive about it that warmed my heart. It made me really happy that she was growing up right, despite being in a not so conducive environment with regard to this particular issue.
This incident resonated deeply with me. I finally realized the importance of diverse representations in books. While my parents may not be as aware of LGBT issues as most people of my generation, they are definitely not homophobic. However, I do know there are children living with homophobic families, and books with a good representation may help broaden their minds, and reject the bigotry drilled into their heads. Similarly young people growing up in racist households/societies may learn something from books with positive representation of people of color. Young people who have grown up with misogynistic influences may be impacted by books with strong female characters. It may not single-handedly undo all the social conditioning, but it may be a step in that direction.