Writing LGBTQ Characters
Every year for Pride, I always feel conflicted. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to shine a light on my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I want to shout from the rooftops that I love them and that they’re amazing, fabulous people who deserve everything this world has to offer them. Because I do love them. They are amazing and fabulous. And they do deserve everything.
On the other hand, I live for the day that Pride isn’t necessary. Instead, it’s just a fun, uncontroversial event that everyone eagerly participates in together. Until then, there’s work to be done, and the writing world is no exception. Between tokenizing LGBTQ characters or outright stereotyping them, here are a few key tips for avoiding the folly of writing stereotypical LGBTQ characters.
1. Do the inner work first.
This means that you need to do a deep cleanse of your brain to isolate and remove any potential bias lurking in the dark places of your mind. This doesn’t just include LGBT bias, but bias of any kind. Given that LGBT folks can come from any race, religion, or socioeconomic status, it’s important to consider how the identity intersectionality of your characters will show up on the page. Even if you believe yourself an ally, this is still an important first step.
2. Not every LGBT character needs a focus on their LGBT-ness.
LGBT characters should not exist for the sole purpose of checking a diversity box for your story or book. That’s the absolute wrong reason to include an LGBT character. On the other end of the spectrum, not every LGBT character requires a focus on their LGBT-ness. As one of my best friends says, "I don't want everything about my life to be gay." Just like straight people, LGBT people simply exist in this world. Not all of them require a heavy-handed focus on their LGBT identity development. Treating them as ordinary people who just happen to be gay is a great way to help the cause of LGBT acceptance. Think David from Schitt’s Creek.
3. Don’t shy away from their challenges.
While this might sound a bit contradictory to my last point, LGBT folks do experience the world a tad bit differently than straight folks. It’s okay to highlight these struggles, so long as they are treated with the same respect as the struggles the rest of the characters face.
Writing is all about the emotional connections you make between your characters and the reader, so it’s important to make your LGBT characters relatable. When it comes to challenges, LGBT folks experience the same roller coaster ride of emotions as straight folks. While it’s okay for them to have struggles that are specific to their identity, consider giving them some allies who love them through it all. This will help avoid some of those ‘outsider’ stereotypes sometimes associated with LGBT folks in the media.
4. Give them obstacles.
LGBT people aren’t fragile, so your LGBT characters shouldn’t be either. You can give them challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, and tragedies to accept. LGBT folks are some of the most resilient people I know. Let their resilience shine.
BONUS: This is also a good time to mention that LGBT characters are killed off with more frequency than their straight counterparts. Look out for this in your writing. If you notice this is happening a lot to your LGBT characters, see tip number one on this list.
5. Gay marriage is just marriage.
Gay sex is just sex. You don’t need to put the word ‘gay’ in front of everything to make the reader understand it’s a reference to the gay character.
Basically, this list is simply a reminder to write your LGBT characters as you would any other character. The only differences might be the types of challenges they face. Regardless, they should be written with just as much passion, enthusiasm, and respect as every other character in your story. Otherwise, you're not only doing an injustice to the LGBT community but to yourself and your story.
If you’re still uncertain about your LGBT characters, consider beta readers. A mix of both straight and gay beta readers will help you by pointing out any issues you may not have noticed and providing multiple perspectives!
If you’re looking for feedback on your character development, I’d be happy to connect!