Writing Nowadays–Those Gay Characters

Goodness, but everyone is busy during HIV Awareness Month this year.  It looks like the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act and the ruling on California’s Proposition 8 are headed for the Supreme Court.  The FDA may be giving approval to Truvada, a daily-dose drug that inhibits the spread of HIV and will initially be targeted at sexually active gay men.  And two major comic book characters, Northstar at Marvel and Green Lantern at DC, are grabbing headlines for their same-sex love affairs.  Fiction and reality overlap.

I’m seeing more and more gay characters on TV and in books.  That’s nice.  Unfortunately, I’m also seeing some bad mistakes with them.  That’s not so nice.  I thought we could take a look at a few things to remember.

(Small note: I’m going to use the single term gay for the number of terms associated with gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer/transgender/transvestite/transsexual people because it’s simpler and because almost no one is writing about BQTTT characters anyway, which is a column in itself.)

–We’re all tired of the wacky gay sidekick.

Seriously.  Introducing the protagonist’s fabulous! gay best friend won’t persuade us you’re cool, progressive, or edgy.  The character is annoying and stereotypical, a magical gay fairy who will at some point show the protagonist a bit of wisdom to help her change and grow.  Always.  It’s dull and stupid and tiring to read about yet again.

–Stories about gay teens don’t have to be realizing-the-gay.

For some reason, many YA authors have the idea that the main thing on a gay or lesbian teen’s mind is discovering that sexual orientation.  “Gosh, I’m attracted to my best friend!  What do I do?  Am I gay?  Oh, the angst!”  But this plot and this character have lost their sheen.  In these days of easy information and visible gay people, that particular journey of discovery is becoming much shorter.  Gay and lesbian teens and their supporters are worried about other issues: suicide, bullying, school support, parental reaction, their peers, and other related issues.  Realizing their sexual orientation isn’t so high on the list–and a bazillion other authors have already written about it.  You don’t need to hop onto a crowded bandwagon.  Please don’t.

–Sexual orientation shouldn’t take center stage.

This is related to the above issue.  So often, I see a book’s entire plot revolving around a gay character’s sexual orientation–what it means to be gay, living in a gay world, working out a same-sex relationship, dealing with anti-gay prejudice, hanging out with gay friends, gay, gay, gay.  Ack!  Please stop.  You’re trying to compose a symphony using one note.  Write instead about people who happen to be gay.  We can have an emergency room doctor who spends a long day at the hospital, then goes home to her wife.  Or a spy who flees the evil government agents, dodges an explosion, and calls his boyfriend for a place to hide.  Write about people, not their orientations.

–It’s not more poignant if the gay character falls in love and his boyfriend dies in the end.

The idea started that a gay character was already tragic.  “Gay” ironically meant “unhappy,” since gay characters were reviled outsiders, the ultimate “man vs. society” plot. So what does a cutting-edge writer do?  Why, give such a character a shot at romantic happiness, then, when things are looking great, yank it all away by killing off the boyfriend.  Now our already tragic character has to live with a double tragedy!  Cue tears, drop curtain.  Total win!

Really?  Really?  No.  All this does is send the message that gay people can’t be happy, that their relationships can’t be positive or go anywhere good.  You don’t see books with straight relationships ending this way all the time.  Know why?  Straight readers don’t like them.  What makes you think gay readers and their supporters like them?  And why do we want to pile more tragedy onto a community that already has enough to deal with?

Not to mention that these endings are cliche and predictable.  I can spot them by the second or third chapter.  Sometimes I can spot them by the cover blurb.  So can everybody else.  And you don’t want to use cliches in your writing.

Always keep in mind that characters who are gay (lesbian, transgender, queer, transsexual) are people first and everything else second.  They have hobbies and non-romantic hopes and skills and jobs and so much to explore.

Next time: Those gay superheroes.

–Steven Harper Piziks

http://www.stevenpiziks.com/

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Writing Nowadays–Those Gay Characters — 2 Comments

  1. It’s not everywhere. Positive gay characters in YA still is under two percent of published books, according to Malinda Lo. But otherwise, yes, yes and YES!!!!!!!!

  2. Someone said this about women in fiction, but it’s equally applicable for QUILTBAG characters – by showing them only as the exception, as the single x fighting to carve a place in the world and be accepted, as the first x to reach [landmark] you are telling important stories – but they’re still stories within the framework of opression, because they confirm that a) the character needs to conform and b) they’re _spe-shul_, which means that all the other x presumably deserve to be dismissed out of hand.