Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Queer Characters Are Important In Fiction

I'm queer. Most of you probably knew that already (or could gather it). I'm a woman who loves me some other women. I'm very fortunate and privileged to be able to share this so openly with you - for I have very rarely felt personally threatened to be out in any society I've lived in, including my super conservative home area. There have been some instances in which I was the target of "gay bashing" in my university days a couple of years ago, but for the most part I've been lucky to be comfortable with who I am and sharing that with those closest to me.

Therefore, I have never shied away from embracing my array of queer characters. I mean, straight people write about straight characters all the time, why shouldn't I have my lesbians and gays (and everyone in between?) But there are very big differences in writing about straight characters vs. queer characters, whether you intentionally made them that way or they just "happened" to be queer during development. (Yes, I shall never forget the day I realized my old guys were queer. Should've seen that one coming, eh?)

1) Queer Characters = Queer Themed? Even in today's publishing world, whether self or traditionally, having queer main characters means taking big chances. The biggest one, and my biggest point, is that any main queer relationship in a story gets that story labelled "Gay" themed and can have two big repercussions. The most noticeable one is that it may be turned down or "requested" to be "made straight" if going to the traditional publishing route. This leads into the other repercussion:  labeling. Whether you write mysteries, science-fiction, YA, thriller, etc etc, if you've got you some queer main characters having queer love, odds are you're all packed together in the bookstore's "LGBT" section. Which is great if you're shopping for books with queer characters in them, but not so great when leading into...

2) It's a Gay Gay Gay Gay World Welcome to a society that says "oh, you're gay? Let's make this all about your sex life" because that's all queer people care about, right? Oh, and how woefully awful it is being gay. In fact it's so awful that if I'm a queer character, my entire plot and development has to be all about how Awful it is and how Awful I feel and how Awful the outcome between me and mine is going to be. Stories with queer characters often go down the road of making it all about how they're gay. There could be other plot going on, but let's face it, all that matters is that this person has gay sex. Or wants to. Oh, and of course there's going to be hate crimes around every turn and the love interest will either die a horrible death or suddenly realize they're straight. Or everybody will die. Happy endings do not generally exist for queer characters in any medium, because we queers need to be constantly reminded that Being Queer is Awful. (Yes, many of these things do happen. And it is awful. But that doesn't mean we want all our fiction to be Awful. We want happy endings too sometimes!)

3) Visibility, or, oh! You're gay! Straight people are everywhere. In fact, it's the perceived norm. Everyone is straight until proven queer, and this goes for fiction as well. Thus, straight people don't really have a representation issue. Anywhere. Even in Pride. Trust me. But as much as I love going "oh! she's a lesbian!" it's always wonderful to find that out later as No Big Deal. This kinda ties into #2 up there. I may be queer, but it's not My Life. I've got bigger stuff going on than constantly thinking about how Queer I Am. Which I'm guessing is the same for a lot of straight people. I don't need the first thing known about a character to be that they're queer, unless that actually IS what the story revolves around. But if romance is secondary to the plot like in most cases? Let me find out by seeing him flirt with another man, or seeing her get a phone call from her girlfriend after that long day at work. Or heck, have her get a call from her boyfriend and then go flirt with that cute waitress. Or any number of possibilities.

With these three main considerations, you can probably see where the title ties into everything. Queer characters (who have developed naturally, and not queer to fill some Minority Quota alongside the Token Black Guy) are important in all sorts of fiction, in all sorts of mediums. But of course I'm mostly talking about novels here, since that's what I care about. Right now queer characters tend to either fall into fetishism or Life Is Awful. Or teaching tools. Or all of the above. It's critical that queer characters begin to be seen in "normal" life and situations more and more as we go along this wonderful writing journey - hence why I tend to write a lot of queer characters in my fantasy...because while I am queer myself and want to write characters similar to me in that regard, it's also important to me that readers be able to see queer people in the same exact shit straight people get involved in. Which is why I tend to steer away from the Awful unless it's just general relationship awfulness. Because that is amazingly fun to write regardless of who's involved.

I look forward to the day where I can see LGBT characters represented in mainstream genres and not relegated to the back corner. Yes, I realize that there are a lot of books like this already (the Kushiel series keeps jumping up at me) but most of those types of relationships are fanciful background shenanigans. What I really mean are the series lead by the LGBT heroes who really don't give a damn about it. Think Lord of the Rings, but Aragorn ends up with, I dunno, Hugo Weaving in the end instead because that's just how they roll.

Welp, excuse me now. I'm off to work on my urban fantasy series with some power lesbians and old gay guys (omg they're gay??) and yeah I guess a few straight people running around too. Oh, and the dog. I dunno how the dog swings. I don't think he cares.


  1. You go girl! I am not 'queer', but I have plenty of friends who are...and what do you know...they are normal!!!! In fact, we don't even talk much about the their sexual preferences because, well, straight people don't make a habit of talking about it, so why should they?

    Even worse, I am Christian. Oh boy, I can already feel those Christian hypocritical minds staring at my comment with their mouths inelegantly hanging open. Can you believe some of us are open minded enough to remember Jesus taught love not hate?

    I look forward to reading your WIP when it is finished. I just know I am gonna love reading about those gay old men.

  2. Great post. I think you're right on about queer not being everything that a character is about. Love it. And I hope that the literary world can get there one day.

  3. I love your post! I think society is slowly (slooowly, really, really slooooowly) catching on to the fact that sexuality is not the be all and end all of Gays and Lesbians. White Collar comes to mind, where (dang, I forgot the character's name)the woman FBI agent is a Lesbian, but we didn't know that until her girlfriend came up and kissed her after work. Cool. We totally had our impression of the character formed way before the issue of sexuality came up. Which is the way it should be!

  4. Thanks for writing this. One of my peeves about writing and publishing is how homogenous it is; there are almost no books, let alone TV shows or movies, that accurately reflect the diversity of the world and the society we live in. And that goes for race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability and so many other wonderful ways that people differ.

    I tried to put some of that into my book, but I was conscious of the fact that most people don't go around thinking about themselves all the time - they're trying to live their lives.

    So, this is another challenge for the writer to deal with. As a first step, I think writers have to take a really good look around themselves and at the people around them. Look at what sets them apart, what makes them individuals and ask yourself honestly how you tend to lump people into categories, and whether you have any hope of being accurate.


Thank you for the comments! I always try to reply to comments, but I mostly do so in my blog here - so if you'd like to know of any replies I give you, be sure to subscribe to the post by email!