LGBTQ+ Characters: How you should (and shouldn’t) write them

Thought about adding a little diversity to your writing? Worried that you don’t have what it takes to write LGBTQ+ characters? Well, my friends- its time you gave it a shot.

Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to keep in mind but it should (hopefully) give you some ideas of what to do (and not do). Also, it is geared mainly to people who do not identify as LGBTQ+- but my fellow queer writers, feel free to join this little voyage (we can always have a rant in the comments about how irritating the lack of representation in fiction is)

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Luckily you won’t have to- because you can write LGBTQ+ characters without being queer

*Gif credit: Giphy.com

In General

  1. Don’t be afraid to write about characters who are different to you

     

    It might be a little daunting to write about characters whose sexual and gender identities differ from yours. How are you meant to write about something you’ve never experienced? What if you stuff it up and make a fool of yourself? What if the LGBTQ+ community is so infuriated by your portrayal of them that you get hunted to the ends of the earth with torches and pitchforks?Easy now, let’s not get dramatic. If you are straight as a flagpole you can still write characters who aren’t. That’s the brilliant thing about writing- you can inhabit the shoes of a billion different people. The characters you write shouldn’t be a reflection of you and your experiences. In fact, I daresay it would be better to get out of your comfort zone and try to write from a perspective that is entirely different to your own. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and get the chance to see what it’s like to be someone else with their own unique joys, interests and struggles.

    So leave your fear at the door and give it a shot!

    ~

  2. When in doubt do your research (or talk to an LGBTQ+ person)

     

    Writers know the importance of doing their research. Writing a story set in Ancient Rome? Better research what it was like to live back then. Writing a story about assassins? Better learn a thing or two about killing (just remember to clear your search history so people won’t think you’re up to something).The same applies to writing LGBTQ+ characters. If you’re not sure that you’re portraying them right- do some research. Of course the best research would be to ask an LGBTQ+ person about their experiences and their thoughts on your questions (make sure to be polite and not intrusive, because no one wants to help someone who is going to be a pain in their ass).
    ~

  3. Acknowledge that Cis-gay white men get a lot more attention in books than other LGBTQ+ characters- and this is a problem

     

    I will admit that I lost my sh*t about the 2015 Stonewall movie. The lead was a white and classically Hollywood-style handsome guy. Why is this a problem? Well, besides the movie being historically inaccurate and erasing much of the impact of Trans activists, it also adds to the ever growing list of white cis-gay characters. Of course white members of the LGBTQ+ community deserve representation. The issue is that they seem to be some of the only ones being represented. Where are the POC and non-binary characters?As writers of fiction we should be endeavouring to add more diversity to our stories. People who are often marginalised should be given a voice in stories. Keep in mind the wide variety of people who inhabit the world when you write and try to vary what you write. Because I don’t know about you, but I am getting pretty sick of trawling through books with almost exclusively white, cis and heterosexual casts.
    ~

  4. Realise that stereotypes are hurtful, overdone and uninspired

     

    If you’ve ever thought about a Trans person as ‘a dude in a dress‘ or a gay person as ‘a girly boy‘ or ‘a butch chick‘, you are a victim of gross misrepresentation.

    hugh

    Hugh Laurie may be gorgeous in a dress but he shouldn’t be your basis for a Trans character

    The fact is that LGBTQ+ people are grossly misrepresented in the media all the time. Aside from being straight up wrong, these stereotypes are just plain annoying and offensive. The idea that being ‘gay’ or ‘bi’ or ‘Trans’ makes you just a label or an archetypal character to be laughed at is terrible but prevalent.

    When you write a LGBTQ+ character you need to be aware of the kinds of tropes and stereotypes that have been used to label and humiliate real-life people. Having an awareness of this should also keep you from further perpetuating those stereotypes.
    Of course it is fine for men to be feminine, women masculine and for characters to cross-dress but your portrayal of these traits shouldn’t be used mockingly.
    ~

  5. Remember that gender is complex and varied

     

    Unless you live under a rock with no Wi-Fi (in which case I wonder how you could possibly be reading this) you’ll have heard people describe gender as a spectrum (newly emerged hermit friends can find out more here). While some people will argue black and blue that there are only two genders, acceptance of people who do not fit the strict male/female binary is growing.The simple fact is that gender is a spectrum. Gender identity plays an important role in shaping a person’s personality and overall identity. Because there are so many ways of being- so many different mixes of gendered qualities- it would be nearly impossible to compile a concrete list of all the genders in the world. But that doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t try to explore even just a fraction of that vast ocean of potential gender identities and expressions.

    Think beyond just men and women. There’s a whole lot more to being human than just one or the other.

    ~

  6. Coming out stories are great, but not every LGBTQ+ character needs to ‘come-out’ or grapple with their identity in the story

     

    Coming out stories can be really empowering and important- especially for readers who are figuring out their sexuality or gender identity. But not every story with an LGBTQ+ character should be centred around their ‘coming out’. LGBTQ+ characters should be more than a bunch of one-trick ponies. They should have as many chances as their hetero/cis counterparts to go on adventures, fight villains and generally kick ass.Furthermore, they shouldn’t have to see their identity as a problem. We need more characters who are comfortable in their own skin regardless of their sexual orientation or gender orientation. Those kinds of portrayals are just as important as those of struggle and ‘coming out’. They show that LGBTQ+ people can achieve just as much as anyone else.

    So if you plan on writing an LGBTQ+ character into your story solely for the purpose of ‘coming out’, sit back for a moment and think about the bigger picture.

    ~

  7. Don’t forget that LGBTQ+ people are people- and people are more than just their sexuality or gender identity

     

    This. Is. So. Important.
    Token queer characters can be frustrating. No one should be in a story for the sole purpose of being gay/bi/trans/queer. That isn’t representation, that’s just being lazy.If you want to write decent LGBTQ+ characters you need to see them as something more than a label you can stamp onto the page to call your story ‘diverse’. Just like any other character your LGBTQ+ characters need to be fully fleshed out. They need to have hopes, dreams, motivations, fears, joys… they need to be people.

    There is no such thing as a person who is ‘just gay’, just like there is no such thing as someone who is ‘just male’. Write characters with layers. Characters that are complex and interesting not because of their queerness alone.

    ~

  8. Remember that sexuality is about more than just sex

     

    Yeah, yeah a lot of us love a raunchy m/m or f/f story. But remember that sexuality isn’t just about having sex. It’s about forming connections, romances, relationships and families too. Some people do just enjoy the sex aspect of their sexuality- and that’s fine. But your LGBTQ+ characters shouldn’t just exist to shag their way through life.And please, no more making bisexual people out to all be be promiscuous (seriously, a lot of us are too lazy for multiple orgies).

    ~

  9. Gender identity is about much more than how a person dresses

     

    How a person presents themselves can be very important in expressing their gender identity. But this presentation isn’t just donning some fine heels or a suit and tie. It is about how a person carries themselves, speaks, acts. Most of all it is about showing how they feel and wish to be treated.So if you have any plans to write a Trans-woman who loves dressing up, remember that she is so much more than what she wears. Her identity is about more than her clothes. It is about who she is and how she wants to live her life. Same applies for Trans-men and non-binary people. Layers, people. Lots and lots of layers of personality and expression.

    ~

  10. Avoid offensive language

     

    I can think of so many slurs but I’m not going to put them down on this blog. You’ve definitely heard your fair share of them thrown around everywhere from alleyways to the evening news.How you refer to people is important. Of course you can choose to use slurs if your character is being harassed or something like that. But don’t go using terms like that if you aren’t using them for the express purpose of being offensive. What I mean is that words like Tr*nny are not an appropriate way for you (the author/narrator) to refer to your character. Leave the assholey behaviour to your story’s assholes.
    ~

  11. Treat your LGBTQ+ characters with respect

     

    LGBTQ+ characters tend to get thrown to the dogs a lot. There are so many instances of queer characters being killed off that it has become a well documented trope. Now, I’m not saying you can’t kill your LGBTQ+ characters, but you should really consider if it is really necessary or beneficial to the story.Also- not every queer character needs to have been horrifically traumatised. Yes, rape, assault and other horrors do affect LGBTQ+ people (and often) but your LGBTQ+ character doesn’t need to have been harmed. In fact, it is probably better if they haven’t been horribly harmed because a happy and healthy queer character is a much more comforting thing to read about, especially when we live in a world where LGBTQ+ people are being grossly mistreated so frequently. Yes, it is important to address the high levels of assault, rape and murder that affect the LGBTQ+ community but non-violent portrayals are equally important.
    ~

  12. Get to know your terminology

     

    Research. Research. Research.
    Don’t know what Genderfluid means? Look it up. Know what you’re talking about so you can do the best darn job you can of bringing your LGBTQ+ characters to life.
    ~

Here are some genre-specific points:

In Fantasy and Sci-Fi

  1. The way that LGBTQ+ characters are treated in your world shouldn’t just be a copy-paste of (a) Ye Olde days, or, (b) 21st Century Western society

     

    I’ve already ranted a bit about how we need to normalise and include queer characters in Fantasy and Sci-Fi here. But let’s expand on that. Often the rule of thumb seems to be that medieval-fantasy setting= homophobia and misogyny. Basically a lot of writers tend to copy-paste the social norms of the time period they base their setting on. But why? Why should a fantasy world operate under the exact same rules and patriarchal codes as our world?Fantasy offers writers a chance to create something that is different to our world. That’s the point, isn’t it? So why go through all the effort of creating an interesting world with magic or dragons or what have you only to make everyone act like a bunch of European peasants? Or 21st Century western people for that matter.

    Fantasy and Sci-Fi settings shouldn’t automatically operate by the same codes as our world (past or present). Maybe your LGBTQ+ characters do experience discrimination. But maybe they don’t. I, for one, would find the latter far more interesting.


In Romance

  1. LGBTQ+ relationships are not all that different to Cis-Het relationships

     

    Yes, there can be drama and struggles to get parental approval and all that. But is that really that different from a non-queer relationship? All relationships have their ups and downs, their complexities, their dramas. Keep in mind that, at the end of the day, queer relationships operate on the same foundations of trust, support, honesty and intimacy.

    ~

  2. But they also have their own unique struggles and quirks

     

    Depending on where your story is set your queer characters will encounter different issues in their relationships. Some of these may include insecurity about their sexuality, their body or their identity. Being accepted and loved can be a challenge for some, and often for LGBTQ+ people those struggles are multiplied thanks to discrimination.
    ~

  3. M/M relationships are not a matter of ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’

     

    Just like in heterosexual relationships there can be variation in how couples choose to engage in (and out) of the bedroom. Sometimes one partner is more dominant than the other or chooses to take a submissive role. But those roles can be reversed over and over again in the same relationship.That and gay couples are not always composed of one really macho dude and one really feminine guy. Seriously, that’s such an overused stereotype.
    ~

  4. F/F relationships are not a matter of ‘Butches’ and ‘Femmes’

     

    In the same vein as with m/m relationships, lesbians aren’t just labels of ‘butch’ or ‘femme’. Like all human beings they come in all shapes and sizes and form relationships with other people of all shapes and sizes. Some might be more masculine, some more feminine. But there is no set dichotomy of butch/femme. These terms like butch, femme, top and bottom are getting kind of outdated, don’t you think?
    ~

  5. Trans and non-binary people can have loving and sexually satisfying relationships just like everyone else

     

    Not fitting the gender binary does not doom a person to eternal loneliness. Love is for everyone and non-binary and Trans people have just as much of a right to enjoy loving and satisfying relationships. They may face struggles along the way, but be sure to give your characters the chance to love and be loved.
    ~

  6. DO NOT fetishise LGBTQ+ characters

     

    Just don’t. Okay?
    Trans-women are not objects. Lesbians are not here to entertain straight men. Stop all that crap right now.
    ~

  7. If you write about sex- do it right!

     

    It may surprise you that a penis cannot simply slide into an arse without a little *ahem* assistance. Do your research if you don’t know how different people do the do. Seriously, I have read more than enough ridiculously ill-informed sex scenes (of every inclination).
    ~

  8. Gay and Bisexual people are not all promiscuous

     

    I already said it but I’ll say it again. We are not all a bunch of leather whip wielding doms or ultra-horny Casanova types who seduce anything with a pulse.
    ~

  9. Polyamorous relationships are often neglected or over-simplified

     

    Polyamorous relationships seem to get excluded from fiction pretty often. When I say poly relationships I don’t mean gang-bangs. I mean relationships. People living together, loving together and building families together. Poly relationships can be just as healthy and satisfying as any other relationship so let’s see some in fiction please. 

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    Remember: Diversity is important

    That’s it, folks! I hope it gave you some kind of an idea of how you should and shouldn’t approach writing LGBTQ+ characters. Keep in mind that all of these points are my own opinion and, being scraped straight from the mayo-jar and sprinkled with bisexual fairy dust, I am by no means the number one voice of diversity. Some queer people may disagree with me on some of my points. And that’s fine too.

    Just remember that writing queer characters isn’t scary. You can do it. You should do it. But you should do it with an awareness of how representation influences society. Write complex characters and remember that to be queer is to be more than just a label.

    Now off you trot and give it your best go!

 

 

[All Gifs from Gifs.com]

 

 

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