Oh, look who it is, the prodigal blogger.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. I disappeared for two months. You guys can totally cope without me, right? (Or not, looking at the state of YAvengers Tower…) I’m a busy guy. Things to do, worlds to save, suits to build. And really, you can’t expect me to remember to post while I’m mired in that kind of thing.
But who cares? I’d say sorry, but I’m not exactly the apologising type, so I’m just gonna go right ahead as though I was here all along and I’m pretty sure by this time next month you’ll all have forgotten that you missed my wonderful insights on voice and … whatever the other thing was that this lot talked about. I don’t even remember. That’s how awesome it was. I’m just so gutted not to have made it, truly.
I’m here right now to talk to you about diversity, though, and specifically about LGBTQ+ characters. See, they’re hugely underrepresented in literature, particularly books aimed at kids and teenagers. People think it’s inappropriate for children, forgetting that kids can be queer too. And straight authors are often afraid to approach the issue in case they somehow get it wrong, so I’ve got a few tips to help with that.
And I’m decorating it all with gifs of Felix Dawkins from Orphan Black because it is a quality show with quality queer representation. Deal with it.
It’s easy to think you’re gonna get something wrong when it’s not your personal experience. Even I get things wrong occasionally, because hey, I’m a white guy, there are a lot of things I don’t experience myself. Plus, it can feel like whatever you write will always upset or offend someone. It may be a picture-perfect representation of your lesbian neighbour, but to others, it seems inaccurate.
How do you get around this?
include more queer characters
This actually goes for other types of diversity and it’s the most important point I’m gonna make in this post. The more representation you have, the better chance that you’ll provide a well-rounded perspective and avoid stereotypes. More of your audience will be able to see themselves in your work.
So while one character might encounter homophobia from their family, another might have had supportive parents who reacted wonderfully. One character might have struggled and fought against their identity, while another might have embraced it. Stereotypes are usually based on fact, but they’re rarely representative of a whole group.
Yeah, so you could have a super butch lesbian with short hair and a propensity to fight people, but you could also have a very feminine one. Some bisexual characters might be very flirty and promiscuous, but others could be shy and inexperienced in relationships. Some asexual characters might struggle to engage with close friendships, while others surround themselves with intense platonic friendships. The camp gay man exists, but so do many who appear more traditionally masculine.
And to be honest, having more characters is more realistic, too, because…
queer people travel in packs
Seriously. What is with this trend of writing about the token gay friend? Since when did LGBTQ+ folks surround themselves with straight people deliberately, so that they’re isolated and out of place? Okay, so this happens sometimes. In some environments, queer characters will be isolated, perhaps if they’re closeted and don’t want to be seen associating with other LGBTQ+ people in case it outs them.
But a lot of the time that’s not the case. Queer teenagers going off to college or uni for the first time seek out the LGBTQ+ society or some kind of GSA. Why wouldn’t they? They’re out of parental supervision and this is their chance to get to know people like them, maybe even form relationships.
And a little amusingly, this often happens accidentally, too. I once knew some folks who started hanging out back when they all thought they were straight. A few years later, only one of them still identified that way. People change, and for some reason, they find each other even before that happens.
Birds of a feather stick together, and that’s important to bear in mind when you’re writing diversely. If they’ve got a choice, it’s fairly unlikely that your one queer character will deliberately surround themselves exclusively with straight people.
queer characters deserve friends
Fun fact about your gay or trans or bi or ace or intersex or other queer character: they deserve to have friends just as much as your straight cis character does. They’re not there to have a tragic / secret / unhealthy / overwhelming relationship in the background. They deserve to be a part of the storyline.
Pepper pointed me towards a post about love interests that is relevant here, too. Regardless of gender, your love interests should be party members: a part of the action, with their own desires and strengths and flaws, not just a cardboard cutout.
Don’t relegate your queer character to the background by making them all about their relationship (which is usually with someone outside the group). Give them friends, straight and queer alike. Friends who’ll stand up for them and defend them. Friends who are there.
Treat them like a person.
not all LGBTQ+ characters need stories about being LGBTQ
By this I don’t mean that their sexuality should only be referenced in passing and then never seen again. People respond to their own identity in different ways. Some make unsubtle jokes about it (‘my hair’s the straightest thing about me’). Some are touchy about the subject. Some seek out books with queer characters, while others avoid romance altogether because it makes them feel different.
It is going to be a part of your character’s life, but it’s not their whole life. Maybe they’re a wizard. Maybe they’re a police officer. Maybe they’re a modern-day knight, fighting anarchists alongside their girlfriend, who just so happens to be the leader of a group of predominantly queer students who are also knights. (Such as one particular novel of my alter-ego’s creation. Of the main characters, only one is canonically straight.)
Give them a storyline that doesn’t erase their sexuality. Give them relationships and crushes and difficulty buying clothes that outwardly match their inner self. Give them crises when they look in the mirror and confusion when somebody flirts with them and amusement when somebody makes a comment about their future which clearly displays their assumptions. Give them the chance to state their identity, and give them the chance to respond to it. Let them tackle what comes with who they are.
But give them a life outside of it. Let them save the world. Let them learn magic. Let them travel to another planet. They’re a person too.
Okay, that was a long one. Ought to make up for my absence, don’t you think? Any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments. I probably won’t answer, but maybe I can get JARVIS to pretend to be me and answer them for you. Because I care. I care so much.
-- Iron Man