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Your thoughts on non LGBTQ writers writing LGBTQ characters.


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#1 A. Wass

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Posted 16 April 2018 - 03:01 PM

Hi all,

 

What are your thoughts on a straight writer who writes a protagonist that identifies as LGBTQ? Is this a no no?

 

 

I'm currently working on my next WIP, a YA Fantasy that's basically Shakespeare's Twelfth Night meets the movie A Knight's Tale. The issue I'm having is the further I get plotting this, the more apparent it is to me that the main character (a girl who is disguised as her brother) is falling for the princess in the story. I could force the story into a different direction, but this feels more true to her character. My problem is that I don't want to offend anyone or make them feel like I'm trying to piggyback on a marginalized voice or something. My best friend assured me she wouldn't be offended (she's lesbian) and said that there aren't enough people like her in fantasy and she'd welcome it, but she's my best friend. So she could be biased to me lol.

 

Thoughts??

 



#2 DisgruntledWriter

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Posted 16 April 2018 - 04:28 PM

I don't see a problem with it.  If you're going to say you can't write someone who is gay because you're straight, it's the same concept as saying you can't write a man if you're a woman, someone old if you are young, or somone who is black if you are white.  Just my thoughts.



#3 lnloft

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Posted 16 April 2018 - 04:39 PM

With the caveat that I am a straight writer as well...

 

I think we should write stories about LGBTQ+ characters. Representation matters, and I'm trying to do my part. The book I'm querying right now has a straight POV, but there is a very prominent gay couple. I have a WIP with multiple POVs; one of them I knew right off the bat she was gay, but another one as soon as I started getting to know her I realized she was bi. As a straight white woman, when I think about how I'm addressing race and sexuality in my writing, I go back to the one thing where I am on the under-represented side and I think about how I want to see just women in general presented in fiction. I'm fine with a man writing a female character, just so long as he does it well; I want more men to write strong, relatable female characters, especially in fantasy and sci-fi.

 

The one thing that we obviously can't do is claim #ownvoices, which is fine, and I know the other thing that I'm not going to do personally is write a story where one of the main focuses is a character dealing with their sexuality. I don't know that I could do a fair job on it, so I'm going to let other people who feel more compelled and who can do a better job tell those sorts of stories. Instead, I've acknowledged that I have the power to make my worlds however I want (since I write fantasy), so, for the WIP mentioned above, I purposefully decided to create a world where sexism, racism, and bias against sexuality/gender identity/etc. were just never a thing. So when two characters are talking, and one of them refers to his ex-husband, the reaction of the other character is about, oh, you were married before, not, oh, you're gay.

 

Obviously, I've put some thought into this topic. However, I want to do things right, so if there are writers here who are of the LGBTQ+ community who have a difference of opinion on what I've just said, please let me know, and I will listen. I'm trying my best to do my small part.


Nothing to reciprocate on right now; I'm off in the query trenches.


#4 BadgerFox

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 07:54 AM

I think (I hope) it's technically a positive thing to do. Because literature has been so pale, stale and male for so long that diversity is so sorely needed, and we all have a duty to contribute to a canon of literature that real people can really see themselves in. BUT it should be done well. A representation that's 3/4 accurate with a few dubious elements is still probably, on par, better than a total dearth of LGBT+ characters. But a representation that's actually 100% an offensive, unkind, negative stereotype might be better off not existing at all!

 

So...maybe only do it if you're commited to researching character backgrounds carefully? Resources for writers exist. Tv Tropes, for example, has actually be a surprisingly good resource for pitfalls to avoid in depicting LGBT+ characters (http://tvtropes.org/...p/Main/BiTheWay !) It also helps if you can mix a lot with the people you're writing. When I started writing LGBT+ characters, like 70 - 80% of my friend group was LGBT+ people, and I was involved with a lot of Pride event stuff, people's weddings and local burlesque/cabaret/fetish/alt fashion scene events. I think it would actually have been harder to write a totally mainstream hetereosexual romance novel!

 

I think a lot of the horror over depicting people who are not you comes from a) previous experience of minorities being depicted appallingly b) demented straight white middle-class twelve-year-olds on Tumblr who've gone off the Social Justice Kool Aid deep end and convinced each other that non-japanese people using chopsticks to eat in a japanese-owned sushi restaurant is now literal genocide because SOMETHING SOMETHING CULTURAL APPROPRIATION REEEEEEE! (yeah, I'm a hardcore lefty and even I think we can just ignore these embarassing twelve-year-olds...) or c) a very understandable concern that minority peoples themselves aren't always allowed into the literary 'scene' to tell their own stories, and this has been unjust for too long.

 

So, yeah, as long as you don't inappropriately thieve the #OwnVoices tag, and you research carefully and maybe ask LGBT+ friends if they'd consider doing a sensitivity reading... seems like a good idea to include more diverse characters in Fantasy :)


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#5 Aightball

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 07:57 AM

I'm a straight writer who writes all LGBTQ+ characters.  I think as long as you're not falling into the stereotypes and you're making it a natural fit for the story, you're fine.  And definitely seek out LGBTQ+ readers during your drafts...it's always good to get their take on things!


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#6 DisgruntledWriter

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 09:04 AM

literature has been so pale, stale and male for so long 

 

This cracked me up so bad. 



#7 A. Wass

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 12:00 PM

Thanks for all the advice. My LGBTQ best friend is helping me plot and avoid stereotypes etc and I'll have a few people do sensitivity readings so hopefully it'll turn out the way I want it to.



#8 galaxyspinner

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 12:10 PM

It's tricky for a straight person to write a gay character, and here are my thoughts on why:

 

When a man writes a female character, or a white person writes a black character, for example, it's a simple matter of describing the character in very basic terms to establish this. It's expected that you paint at least as much of a picture in your audience's mind to know what a character's sex and race is, so it doesn't need to go any deeper than this. This is valuable, because it doesn't preclude such a character being otherwise treated exactly like any other character.

 

Writing a gay character doesn't have this advantage, since you can't determine that someone is gay strictly by appearance. If you want to write a gay character and let your audience know that the character is gay, you need to either evoke stereotypes or somehow bring the character's sexuality into the spotlight. It's therefore hard to write a gay character without simultaneously allowing this character to be "normal", compared to how your other characters are portrayed. We therefore end up with a lot of gay characters written by straight people who are clearly fetishising them, tokenizing them, or playing them for jokes. And then there are characters like Dumbledore, who is described by the author as gay, even though this fact never came up at all in the actual books.

 

It can be done, but the challenge is to introduce a character's sexuality in an organic way, allowing it to be important enough to mention without being so important as to "other" the character.


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#9 A. Wass

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 12:54 PM

I get what you're saying galaxyspinner, but here is basically what I plan on doing. I don't plan on using stereotypes. In fact, I'm going very out of the way to avoid them. I don't plan on bringing her sexuality into the spotlight either. I'm simply going to have her be herself. She's attracted to women just as if a straight girl would be attracted to a man. It shouldn't be any different through her eyes. Instead of falling for a guy, she falls for a girl, but falling should happen the same way. What's wrong with portraying two girls falling in love and making it solely about the act of falling, and not about their sex? From what my BFF told me, she wants more books about LGBTQ+ characters that don't make a huge deal about them being LGBTQ+. She said she recently read a book where it was portrayed this way and she LOVED it. This will take some finessing on my part, and must be done really well, but I think it's doable.

 

And as far as Dumbledore is concerned....I've read the HP books at least a dozen times each and if you pay close attention, there are tiny little hints here and there that make you wonder in the back of you mind. I think it was so subtle and brilliant.



#10 lnloft

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:00 PM

That's the approach I've taken as well. I treat my gay couples as I would any other couple. I do think it's important to avoid the pitfalls of a couple tropes, namely, Have I Mentioned I'm Gay? (http://tvtropes.org/...MentionedIAmGay), and Word of Gay (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WordOfGay). The first can just come across as just sort of checking off a box to show that you're inclusive without actually putting any effort into it, while the latter can be "I want to be inclusive without actually having the courage to put it in my book." Although there is the thought of writing a character as gay but then also recognizing that it's not relevant to the plot whatsoever (if you don't make a point of clarifying that a straight character is straight, then why would you clarify a gay character is gay just for the sake of it?). I guess the point is that it's important to be cognizant of what you're doing and why you're doing it.

 

I will add that I'm struggling with how to include trans characters in my book. As I noted in my post earlier, I've got a story set in a society where sexism and bias against sexuality were never a thing, so I figure that bias against trans people would go hand in hand with all of that. But, if the characters are totally relaxed about people being trans, then they're not going to point it out. But at the same time, even in a world that's totally accepting, I wonder how bothersome it would be to feel you were "born in the wrong body", even if you know you can do things to fix it and won't be judged. So I'm struggling with, one, in a society like this, how big a deal would it still be, and, two, how do I include it without invoking either of those tropes above? And thus I haven't included any trans characters yet, even though I want to. And I feel bad about not including, but I would also feel bad about not doing it right, and... This is a place I need to find someone to talk to.

 

And then I also worry that as a group of straight people talking about LGBTQ+ characters, we run the risk of... let's call it straight-splaining. I definitely don't want to get caught up in that. But just because there are certain complexities to think about doesn't give an excuse to ignore it.


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#11 Pen

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:19 PM

 

From what my BFF told me, she wants more books about LGBTQ+ characters that don't make a huge deal about them being LGBTQ+. She said she recently read a book where it was portrayed this way and she LOVED it. This will take some finessing on my part, and must be done really well, but I think it's doable.

 

As a black person. If a white writer were to go about it doing this way for black characters. I think it would be awesome. However there are things that come with the territory of being a minority even in 2018. So unless it's needed. There's no point in saying it, unless the setting requires it. Example: In my area you won't catch me or other black people going to a particular park in town. Period. If I were to read a story about a black person enjoying their day at that park I will think one or two things. Either that person NEVER been to that area. Or two it's a white person completely oblivious to the fact that black people in my town will NEVER go there. The Klan meets there by the way.

 

I think it's important that people in minorities can have something to be proud about. But I'm with your friend on that. No use in making some huge deal about it if it doesn't add to the story. It's like we put a label on something and now we're supposed to have a completely different perspective on how things go because of that label. If that makes sense. If not I'll clarify.

 

Anyway I applaud for wanting to be respectful and unique. Best wishes with your work.

 

No disrespect intended and apologies to any and all if I did.



#12 lnloft

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:46 PM

No use in making some huge deal about it if it doesn't add to the story. It's like we put a label on something and now we're supposed to have a completely different perspective on how things go because of that label.

This is why I haven't noted in my query that I have prominent gay characters in my book (or that my MC is black, for that matter). Because my book needs to stand on its own. If I think people would enjoy my book BECAUSE it has diverse characters, then that's more like I'm patting myself on the back for a job well done and also I think belittling the opinions of the readers. I think people will enjoy my book because of story telling, and the diversity is a bonus. Since I'm not writing as #ownvoices, I don't think it's right for me to go about tooting my horn about it.


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#13 Pen

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:59 PM

This is why I haven't noted in my query that I have prominent gay characters in my book (or that my MC is black, for that matter). Because my book needs to stand on its own. If I think people would enjoy my book BECAUSE it has diverse characters, then that's more like I'm patting myself on the back for a job well done and also I think belittling the opinions of the readers. I think people will enjoy my book because of story telling, and the diversity is a bonus. Since I'm not writing as #ownvoices, I don't think it's right for me to go about tooting my horn about it.

 

Exactly. I always like it when there's a good story that happens to be diverse without people going around trying to make a point.






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