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Review: Out by Laura Preble
I was extremely wary about picking up this book. I have yet to read a discrimiflip novel that worked and didn’t end up being really appropriative and offensive. I find it doubtful they can work due to the inherent nature of making minorities the evil perpetrators of the very crimes committed against them. Still, I’m told it is possible, people assured me it was possible, so I picked up this book when it was released to see if it actually managed it.
So we have the story of Chris. A straight boy living in a world where, it seems, just about everyone is gay. Being straight is considered sick and wrong, condemned by both the church and the state (which are closely entwined). He tries to navigate this discrimination, as the son of a minister, and try to find freedom with the woman he loves.
And no, this discrimiflip did not manage it. Not even close. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to put a trigger warning for homophobia simply for having to discuss the contents of this book.
The author has appropriated every aspect of homophobic oppression imaginable. We have child bullying, we have demeaning dehumanisation from the pulpit, we have a horrific description of conversion therapy, we have chemical castration; we even have concentration camps, actual concentration camps.
All of these are extreme examples of oppression that have constantly been used to persecute and destroy gay people and they’re all used in this book – often graphically – but flipped. The victims of this torture and even this genocide are now made the villains. Those who inflicted them are now the victims. It is unbelievably offensive and enraging to see these despicable crimes that were – and continue to be – inflicted on gay people depicted with gay people as the perpetrators and straight people as the innocent victims. Even some of the basic language of anti-gay oppression have been callously appropriated by this straight author: we even have straight people being called “queer”. The book's even called "Out"! There really is no limits to the appropriation in this book and the extent to which gay people are presented as inflicting exactly the same cruel persecutions that, in reality, gay people have endured and died from.
To take the history of gay persecution, to take all of these horrendous things that have been used to victimise gay people and then mangle them to make gay people the villains makes me choke with rage. I have no words to describe how offensive this is. I had to stop reading several times because the book was so painfully offensive to read I couldn't keep going
The actual depiction of someone living with a closeted sexuality is also ridiculously shallow, especially for a young person. Chris finds out he likes a girl (note: A girl. Not girls. Just the one twu luv that follows the endlessly dull love at first sight meme that I’d complain more about if it weren’t such a tiny problem compared to the gross offensiveness of this book), it’s a shocking discovery. Within the hour he seeks out his friend to tell her. No, really.
In this society where being straight is illegal and demonised universally from birth, he couldn’t even keep it a secret for an hour. In fact, he goes home and his sister – in this ultra gay-normative society – already knows he’s straight! She even has some subversive literature for him! Yes, within a day of realising he’s straight, he already has a support net in this overwhelmingly gay world where heterosexuality is constantly demonised from the highest echelons of government. As an extra bonus, he meets Carmen, his love interest and she tells him she is straight in their first ever conversation, in a public café no less. They’re complete strangers, straight people are tortured and killed with the full blessing of the theocratic government but she’s going to spill her secret. I boggle how it can even be called a secret if 5 minutes acquaintance are sufficient for the big reveal.

To go with all these suddenly revealed straight people (including his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his sister’s friends – seriously there seems to be more named straight people than gay people in this gay majority world!) Chris deals very quickly with any elements of self-loathing, low self-esteem etc he has from spending his entire life being told he’s diseased, wrong, mentally ill, a plague on society, bringing about the end of civilisation, hated by god and going to hell. Within the first three days we seem to be totally past such questioning and the focus quickly changes to the terrible forces that are keeping him and his beloved apart and the utter cruelty of living without her. There is a brief attempt to have him doubt himself in the very beginning but it takes less than a week for it to fade as a distant memory and him to be sure that the persecution of straight people is wrong. He's actually openly challenging and arguing against persecution of straight people on his first day realising he's straight- and it's used as an excuse to clumsily shoe-horn in many of the arguments the gay rights movement uses in the real world (and I have to say how unpleasant it is to see straight people taking our words and arguments for our survival and putting them in the mouth of a straight boy being attack by the evil evil gay folk).
In fact, it seems far more like a star-crossed lover’s story with extra offensive appropriation than an attempt to build any understanding of what it’s like to be gay in a straight society. If Carmen and Chris had been from foreign countries that were at war, or if she were a princess and he were a peasant, the story wouldn’t be vastly different – only the attacks and dehumanisation they faced would be a lot less offensive.
I find it unbelievable that this was even remotely supposed to try and convey any idea of what the closet is like. And it goes with the general sloppy and shallow way this book has built its "heterophobic" society. (The book's also sloppy in its convoluted info-dumps, but it pales next to the appropriation)
For a start, even in the pulpit the evil gay persecutors call themselves Parallels. Why? If you look at the homophobes in our world they don’t need to refer to themselves as heterosexual – in a world and a belief system where the minority sexuality is overwhelming defined as wrong, sick and deviant, you don’t use a word for “normal” people. They’re “normal.” Or there’s the fact that they refer to Romeo and Juliette. In a world of gay normality and straight suppression, why would this play even have been written, let alone be permitted reading in such a repressive anti-gay society? Especially for 17 year olds? In our world getting "Heather has Two Mommies" on the shelves requires actually going to war - let alone actual school-taught classics! In a world were gay marriage and relationships are the only ones allowed, why would “Mrs.” exist as a reference for married women?
But what about the gay people in the book which is supposed to be empowering? Well, firstly, there’s not actually that many for a society that’s supposed to be overwhelmingly gay, there seem to be a lot more straight characters unless you count faceless antagonists. And they’re unpleasant – whether it’s cowardly and weak like Warren and Andi, or outright evil like David and, well, just about everyone else. Gay people in this book are evil or pathetic, pretty much universally except for faceless and nameless possible supporters (who may or may not be more hidden straight folk).

And not just evil in the persecution of the poor straight folks suffering under the oppressive might of the terrible gay government – but to each other and especially their children as well: this gay society itself seems to be toxic

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Angry, seething, vaguely amused... just wish I was in any way shocked.

I'll happily put my savings on the author being straight, but with gay friends who totes approved or... something.

Pretty much sums up my emotions - well not the vaguely amused since I had to read the damn thing (an experience I wouldn't wish on anyway).

Yes she is and she uses gay family as her human shields.


Hold my earrings, I'm going in.

Thing is, I've seen this flip done well before, with race. It CAN be done, and it can make for a very compelling story that makes people actually THINK. Instead, we get this.

I'm still on the fence because I haven't seen it work though a lot of people advise Noughts and Crosses to me.

Want me to hold your coat?

Noughts and Crosses is the only time I've ever seen it work. It was mandatory reading in school, and it pretty much blew my mind because it really made me think. Probably helps that it wasn't written by a well-meaning white woman...

Take my coat, sure, but it probably won't fit you :p

I've just finished reading Noughts and Crosses and I'm afraid I don't know if it entirely works. It is a black/white binary world devoid of other minorities, there are barely any redeemable black characters and the examples of racism are all quite overt ones taken from the Jim Crow era. i wish it had focused more on the subtle racism that many people still experience on a day to day basis and is still mostly acceptable today.

Where it succeeded I feel was in examing white privilege (or black in this case) in the main female character through her "well intended but badly thought out" actions.

I think my main confliction with Noughts and Crosses is that a white teenager reading the book would need to see a white person being oppressed to feel empathy for what people of colour experienced in Jim Crow segregation. Why isn't reading these stories through a black point of view enough?

I haven't read that book - but my co-blogger and reviewer has and reviewed it and wasn't too thrilled.

"Why isn't reading these stories through a black point of view enough? "

I just dislike the idea of "creating empathy" by using privileged faces - because it trains us to have empathy... for the privileged. It's hard to look at Noughts and Crosses and not think "isn't it awful... when white people are treated this way" or Out and hear "it's terrible when straight people are abused like this".

When the ACTUAL REAL LIFE abuse of real marginalised people is not seen as sufficiently hear rending? That's a problem. Especially since we already have an issue with minorities not being listened to without a privileged person backing them up or speaking for them. This just adds to that "look, you can care, a white/straight person has validated their pain!"

Why the fuck do you do this to yourself?

In this case because I had enough people buzzing around fawning over the idea that a) I had to check if it was even remotely possible to do this right (which I doubt) and b) I wanted to at least try to speak out and counter the positive buzz if/when it turned out to be as bad as it was especially as it's being pushed as an amazingly wonderful GBLT YA book - that gives me chills.

I've abandoned a lot of books and even genres and sub-genres because of the grey hairs they cause but this, with it's marketing as being so pro-gblt and so damn SUPPORTIVE and EMPATHIC, could not let it go past. Discrimiflips are also a severe pet hate of mine. And 'tis part of what we do at Fangs.

Your fortitude is admirable.

This is what rum is for. And not staying up all night with fury festering

I wish I could be shocked at this... fucking straight people, I swear.

May I ask how you feel about Forever War?

I haven't read it to know exactly how it is handled. The fact it was written in 1974 makes me wary, but it also sounds like homosexuality isn't the primary focus or a clumsily handled primary message. I can't say it looks ideal by any stretch - with gay normativity being a dystopian thing apparently

IIRC, it's how society back on Earth copes with the need to end population growth. The bold heroes are in an almost aggressively het bubble; initially they bunk up in het couples that change every week or so, to build binds across the whole team or something. They choose to start relationships instead. I assume that's a reaction against some of the 60s hippy stuff about future relationships.

I wouldn't read it if I were you because the gay society is not portrayed as especially healthy, it needs the het warriors to hold up a mirror to it or something (actually, don't read it because I found it unrealistic *while* I was reading it, and my teenaged self just didn't do that, I just chomped up everything back then, and suspended disbelief and critical faculties while reading)


It's about the experience of coming home from deployment in the Vietnam war and having the world get different increasingly faster so that your farther and farther out of sync with society put into a future science fiction universe.

I think the previous end of deployment was significantly more dystopian what with the health care situation. I'm not defending the depiction of homosexuality, but I was interested in Sparkindarkness' take as it handles the flip differently than the homophobic screed reviewed above, the context being really different.

(Editted because I realize I was unclear as to what I was referring too.

Edited at 2013-01-24 09:23 am (UTC)

I'm puking blood here.

That was my reaction. blood and vital organs

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