Join us in welcoming guest blogger, Hannah Givens. We met Hannah through another mutual blogger friend over a year ago and we fell in love with her super intelligent and pop culture rich blog,Things Matter. We asked her here today to talk about an important and seldom addressed topic: how to write sensitive and realistic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters.This is a subject we knew almost nothing about, but we wanted to know more, and thought our readers would too.
Please give a warm Write On Sisters welcome to Hannah!
So, you want to write a queer character? Great! Your fiction will be more realistic, and your audience will thank you for your respect. Of course, it can be challenging to write outside your comfort zone, but it’s definitely not impossible.
For our purposes, your writing will fall into one of three categories, and your approach will vary slightly depending on the category.
1) Historical Fiction
As with any kind of historical fiction, research is your friend. How did people live during your time period? If someone didn’t want a traditional marriage or a traditional gender role, what other options were available? In ancient history, the culture might be open to male homosexuality but not female, or open to all homosexuality as long as all parties went home to their opposite-sex partners at the end of the day. Other cultures and time periods were less hospitable, and people had to find creative ways to break taboos. What code words and signals would a gay man use to meet other men in the 1900s versus the 1950s?
The most important thing to remember is that queer people have existed in every time and place, you just have to find them. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom either, even if you’re dealing with a restrictive time period. Queer people can make their own happy endings, if that’s what your story needs — look at Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, a lesbian couple in early-1800s America who lived in a de facto marriage for 44 years. It can happen.
[tweetthis]Character Tip: Queer people have existed in every time and place; include them in your fiction.[/tweetthis]
2) Contemporary Fiction
With a story set in the present, research is still your friend, but in this case you’re fortunate to have all the primary sources you could possibly want! Talk to people, read blogs, read books, find out what it’s like. Use resources like the Diversity Cross Check tumblr to locate people willing to answer questions.
We’re in a transitional phase at the moment where homosexuality is becoming commonplace, but we’re not stopping there. People are exploring all kinds of new identities and understandings. Labels are many, varied, and personal. As a writer, terminology is something to treat with great care, keeping your character’s personality and backstory in mind. Some people are accustomed to the word “queer” being derogatory, and would never apply it to themselves. Others, like me, use the term as a general catchall for LGBTQQIA+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Asexual and more.) People fall onto a whole gender spectrum far beyond male/female, and they have any number of pronouns to go with those identities. As a writer, if you’re not sure you’re using a term correctly or representing an identity accurately, hold off on that using it or presenting that character until you’re confident.
The most important thing here is that a queer person is probably not thinking about their queerness every second of the day. It’s totally fine to write an “issues” book or a coming-out novel, but don’t be limited by that — queerness doesn’t have to be the plot!
[tweetthis]Use labels carefully. Some might find a character identified as “queer” derogatory.[/tweetthis]
3) Science Fiction/Fantasy
In these genres, it’s totally up to you! You don’t have to worry about what it was “really” like in some other time period, you can design your world any way you want. If your story is based on Earth or is meant to be a human future, then modern issues might be an influence. If not, or if you’re far enough into the future, you have free reign to create not just characters but whole societies. This can be especially interesting if you want to explore different ideas of gender, like in the recent award-winning Ancillary series by Ann Leckie.
As with terminology, you’ll want to be reasonably secure in your point of view to avoid accidentally creating a world with unfortunate implications that will reflect back on you as an author. That’s easy to do even for the most well-meaning of creators. I’m not trying to scare you off, though. The most important thing here, and really with any genre, is to have the queer characters! Even if they aren’t central, you can still reference how queer people fit into the society you’ve created. If they’re totally nonexistent, if there’s no place for them at all, then I’ve got news for you… You’re writing a dystopia!
[tweetthis]Diversity Tip: Notice how other writers, like Ann Leckie, have expanded the depiction of gender. [/tweetthis]