homophobia young adult the outsiders S.E. hinton

Young Adult Classic ‘The Outsiders’ Author S.E. Hinton Blasted For Homophobia: ‘I Am Being Attacked for Being Heterosexual’

If one book created young adult fiction, it was the classic The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, a short novel that has remained wildly popular even a whopping half-century after its initial release.

Yet, even though The Outsiders’ words remain relevant, many other terms have taken on new prominence in the American lexicon — namely ones like homophobia and diversity quota.

Because of that shift, The Outsiders now finds itself functioning inside of a brand new universe of young adult fiction where LGBTQ characters are almost more likely to found in the pages of a bestseller than not.

S.E.’s book is especially relevant to this evolution in gay visibility as her novel focuses on close friendships between men, yet was written at a time when openly gay teen boys could never have been at the center of a young adult novel. Since the release of The Outsiders, fan fiction has run wild with steamy recreations — partially spurred by a 1983 movie adaptation featuring top heartthrobs like Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, and Patrick Swayze.

Despite any life of their own that these characters may have taken on for her readers, Hinton is incredulous to the theory that there are any gay characters in the book. Her denial that she wrote The Outsiders this way in October was apparently still getting her hate mail, so she took to Twitter a few days ago to clarify her position again: She did not write the characters as gay.

For many who have followed the cultural appropriation debate in fiction over the last few years, this attack on The Outsiders may seem somewhat confusing. Authors like S.E. Hinton have been heavily criticized for writing about characters who exist outside of their own experiences. Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, gave a lengthy speech on the subject at the Brisbane Writers Festival last September.

“Thus in the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happens to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful… Use different races, ethnicities, and minority gender identities, and you are being watched.”

homophobia young adult the outsiders S.E. hinton
Other authors like Lionel Shriver have faced criticism from the opposite end of the spectrum. [Image by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Images]

S.E. was clearly not unaware of this trend in literary criticism, as she referenced it several times in response to those who were unhappy that she would not write about gay characters. Hinton, like many authors, sees herself in a lose-lose situation as a writer of fiction, something at least some of the fans reading the debate over The Outsiders seemed to agree with her on.

The Outsiders has created controversy ever since its publication for its depictions of gang violence and underage drinking, themes that still see it challenged in some schools across the country today. For those who feel that she did not go far enough when she wrote in the book in the 1960s, S.E. Hinton has a firm message: Go write your own great gay young adult novel.

[Featured Image by Stf/AP Images]

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