There are plenty of plots being imagined and written furiously. When it comes to LGBTQI plots, there are a handful that writers find themselves relying on. Some of this reliance on the tropes is from fear of swimming in uncharted waters, or perhaps its even lazy investigation. I’m going to speak strictly as a gay male. There are plots, entire story arcs that I’m absolutely done reading. There are exceptions to every statement, but these handful, the moment I get a sniff of them, I believe the writer has phoned it in.
- Coming Out. The age-old story about a gay person struggling with their sexual identity being the driving force of their character development. The truth? Many of us do not “come out” anymore. Even I, a young gay male in the rural reaches of Maine’s backwoods, I didn’t really have to come out. I told one person and POOF, the news spread like wildfire. I didn’t struggle with it. I had a moment of relief, and then I went back to my life. Did it change the world around me? A little, perhaps. But if somebody wrote a story about my coming out, I wouldn’t read it. Let’s talk about the dullest story known to man. For others, the process happens later in life after being married and having kids. For some they come out only to find out, it was indeed a phase. There is no hard fast rule, and the subtle nuances will most likely be lost in a B-plot. If your story is about a character coming out, prepare for boredom, unless you rely on the trope of overcoming bullying. Then I’m snoozing twice over.
Pro Tip: If you’re writing a coming out story, write about the character’s journey and realize it’s messy and rarely incomplete. It is not a gay character’s B-Plot.
- Falling in Love. Unless you’re writing a novel where the characters are getting jiggy with it. Stop. Right now. Put down your pencil. Shut your laptop. I’m not saying gay characters don’t deserve love, but often times, this becomes their identity in a novel. If you’re writing a romance novel, I excuse you, that’s your bread and butter. If you’re not, then ask yourself, is your character content without this romance? Do they need this romance? Is the only way your gay person can be happy is to have a fulfilling romance? If that’s their burning passion, consider me bored. In gay culture there are many who believe in the monogamous happily ever after. But there are plenty of gay men (myself included) who believe in much looser definitions of the word relationship and have never believed in the idea of a singular soul mate.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about gay romances, you need to do some serious homework. Because if I see another cookie cutter romance, I might very well smash my face against my desk.
- Overcoming adversity resulting from our sexual orientation. First and foremost, never use the phrase, “sexual preference.” Preferences are what I want to do to with my same-sex lover, the orientation itself. Second, many of us do not face day-to-day adversity. I’m an out gay teacher. My school had “Pride Day” and I wore my “Yes, I’m that GAY teacher.” Not once, not one single time did a student or co-worker comment on it. Have I been discriminated against? Of course I have. I got into fist fights as a kid, been chased out of a bar, and watched a friend get the shit kicked out of him for his “swishy” walk. But that’s not the norm, or at least not each person’s norm. Yes, gay kids get kicked out of their homes for their sexuality. Relationships end harshly as one comes out, or another realizes they are not gay. But creating drama based solely on our sexuality? Your story best talk about the nit and grit about being gay. You best delve into the psyche of your character and show me that internal struggle. You best tear at my heart and make me fear for your character and cheer at every victory.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about our struggles, understand much of our struggle isn’t visual. We question our worth, our identity, our need to belong. These aren’t easily visible. Even as adults, these exist, all rooted in a single roll of the dice making us different from the status quo. Capture it.
I hope you’re reading this thinking, “Well shit, what how the hell am I going to make this character gay?” Now that I’ve disarmed the standard tropes prevalent in literature, what do you have left? Well, you have a limitless plethora of concepts that can be applied to your gay character as easily as your straight character. Dig deep, be thorough, and be willing to push past the tropes that have become the lazy man’s go-to. 10% of the human population is believed to be gay (and as people begin to open up, the number could be as high as 20%.) Step out of ambiguity, give your character this added layer of complexity. But now, I’m asking you to take a step further. And when you’re reached a roadblock, ask questions.
When I started writing, I made the decision to write LGBTQ characters into mainstream science fiction books as a reaction to the massive gap I saw in science fiction television shows and movies growing up in the eighties and nineties. (Sadly, I didn’t read much back then.)
- Gay characters in Star Trek? Not until Discovery aired in 2017-18; not until they retconned Sulu’s story in ST: Beyond in 2016;
- Gay characters in Star Wars? Hmmm…only if you gay-ship Poe and Finn;
- Gay characters in Dune? Oh wait, but he was old and evil, arguably like every Disney villain; Jafar, Ursula, Hades, Scar, Shere Khan;
- The SyFy Battlestar Galactica reboot? Yes, but the producers tucked the gayness away. You’d only know Lt. Felix Gaeta was gay and in a relationship with Louis Hoshi if you searched the Internet or watched the BSG webisode series.
- Gay Superheroes? Not in the movies, but slowly arising in the comics and daring television shows. Yay!
This points to the question that burned in my soul as kid who watched these and other amazing eighties reruns such as Knight Rider, Airwolf, Buck Rogers, The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Full House, and Family Ties:
- Where were the people like me?
- Why don’t people like me exist in the things I love, or, why are people like me portrayed as evil?
- Why did I only read about people like me in M/M romance or erotica novels?
- Why did I have to sneak downstairs in the late nineties to watch MTV’s Undressed to catch a glimpse at LGBT characters living seemingly normal lives in college and other young adult situations?
However, all was/is not lost.
The recent Doctor Who series and its spin-off, Torchwood, saw fit to include bisexual Captain Jack Harkness and his same-sex romantic delights for fans to enjoy. I was ecstatic! When David Tenant’s Doctor brought Captain Jack and Alonso together moments before he regenerated, I was bouncing on the couch with excitement. Then, newer shows like MTV’s Teen Wolf flipped the script and shocked me by providing its characters with a next-level LGBTQ environment: not one straight bullied or cared a gay student; rather, all students were accepted with complete equality regardless of whom they loved. I was finally seeing myself in mainstream characters portrayed in recent television shows and in movies, like Love Simon.
I’m thrilled to see more and more shows (Shameless, Sense8, and more) include a plethora of LGBTQ characters, and I truly hope this trend continues—but some areas of have much catching up to.
Alas, this brings me to writing quality LGBTQ characters. If the mega-studios won’t give me what I want, then I decided to write it for them and the others like me who yearn(ed) to have an LGBTQ superhero, an LGBTQ space marine, or an LGBTQ captain of a massive starship who live in happy, healthy, and challenging worlds and relationships. Because I strongly believes the real world we live in should be a place—like Teen Wolf’s setting—where LGBTQ equality and respect are second nature and never questioned, I choose to write this into my stories.
I still think there are too few examples of LGBTQ superheroes in popular media today, and most of those are retconned or made LGBTQ with new storylines. It’s not that I want television to into all rainbows and sparkly (though wouldn’t that be fun?), but I want equal airtime for LGBTQ characters. They don’t even have to bang—but knowing this superhero is fluid or that male captain has a husband would be fantastic.
Putting aside what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do, I set out to write my own stories, and this year, I’m proud to start sharing them with the world. In 2014, I started world-building for a series I’ve titled The Nitraxian Galaxy Saga, a massive, groundbreaking LGBTQ science fiction space opera. I’ve spent a lot of time world building, outlining, and organizing the characters and plots into an amazing story. In reality, this significant undertaking is the LGBTQ lovechild of Star Trek/Wars and Game of Thrones, allowing for equal page time for the main characters regardless of their sexuality. I wrote book one in 2017 and then set it aside to work on a project that would not leave my imagination alone.
In early 2018, I started—and am still—writing an LGBTQ superhero story set in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The five-book Guardians Series is the story of gay student Quinn McAlester and his best friend Blake Hargreaves, high school classmates who acquire super powers through a freak accident. I didn’t set Guardians in a utopia of equality. Rather, using real-world situations, I flipped the script on acceptance and focused on Quinn’s coming out as a superhero to a town that refused to accept him and his gifts. I did this because there are still so many teens and adults who struggle with coming out despite the progress we’ve made as a country toward accepting LGBTQ equality and rights.
I encourage authors write well-developed LGBTQ characters because LGBTQ people enrich the world in so many ways and I want to see and read about amazing, wonderful, (and yes sometimes evil) people like me represented fairly in books. Though I am aware the wider audience still rejects LGBTQ characters (yep, I have one of those infamous 1-star reviews on a book) you can help enhance people’s perceptions and acceptance by writing wonderful and loving LGBTQ characters who show the world their true colors.