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Incorporating LGBT into a fantasy world

Discussion in 'World Building' started by The_Murky_Night, Aug 4, 2015.

  1. I'll get right out there and say that I'm a gay man, and I find it really difficult to not come up with a story that does not involve a gay male character. I'm not sure if it's just me extending myself to my characters or if I'm just really that incapable of sticking to heterosexual characters. Either way, there's always the problem of working out how homosexuality works in a fantasy world.

    I like to feel immersed in my world, and I'd like anyone reading to feel the same. Thus, a rough sense of realism is ideal. Since my world is set in nations that are vaguely medieval European and Middle-Eastern, something like homosexuality would not be accepted and would be kept secret. That brings the touch of realism to this world, because we know it was like that in our world. With this, I'm a immersed within that world. When I've attempted to read fiction that describes a fantasy world that's a bit like a paradise of LGBT people (nothing from a book, just writing people have posted online), I'm automatically unimmersed. I'm taken out of that world and immediately know I'm just in the bedroom reading someone's fiction.

    But, I know that fantasy is fantasy because it's not actually our world. A fantasy world can be outlandish is it's creator wants it to be. So my question is, how do you recommend incorporating gender and sexual minorities in a way that is still immersive?
    Ireth likes this.
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Make it inherent in your world from the very beginning. In one of my WIPs, for instance, the offspring of the dragon creator-deities are mostly cisgender, but a fair number are transgender and intersex, and many are non-heterosexual as well. The dragons who later went on to create humankind likewise incorporated diverse genders/sexualities into their design. They're not really a majority, but they're not a shunned or shamed minority either. They're just an accepted part of the world, such that even royal and noble titles are gender-neutral, and the society is more equal in terms of gender roles and the like. (Admittedly i'm still working out the finer details, but that is my intention.)
  3. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    Considering the wide variety of sexual mores that have existed in various times and places throughout our history, I feel safe in having my societies not really care that much about who is having sex with who. By and large, it's a nonissue in my world. The only possible situation it might be a problem is if someone was gay and the last of their bloodline, and even then it would be more about ensuring the family legacy than the character's homosexuality.
  4. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    This is an excellent question but I think perhaps you already know the answer. My cousin is gay and he makes no attempt to hide that. From what I know about him, the last thing that he would ever want is to be singled out or overly-acknowledged because of his sexuality. What I mean by that is that even though it's a huge part of who he is, it doesn't define him.

    Having said that, I present a question to you: Why should it matter? Unless you're trying to convey a message about the discrimination, negative stereotypes and outright hatred that the LGBT community faces in the real world by paralleling it in your fantasy world, then a character's sexual orientation should be a non-issue.

    This is just my opinion and please take it with a grain of salt. Obviously I have no idea what your life's journey has been like thus far and being a hetero male, I'm the least qualified to give any practical advice.

    However, as one writer to another, I believe I am qualified to tell you that you have to tell your story the way that you want to tell it. Please don't allow any outside influence or opinions change that.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
  5. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    I'm a straight guy, and when I came up with a lesbian huntress, I treated her as I would any other character. That is, I did not get into her sex life, nor did I let her orientation define her.

    I did have concerns that I was a straight guy writing a female POV, and also, she has an interest in a friend who is straight, as far as she knows. I worried I was "doing it wrong" until a lesbian reader told me how much she loved the character—especially the "pining for a straight friend" part.

    I tried to be realistic about homosexuality, in the sense that it's uncommon, but I didn't make it something the world condemns. My reason is this: Addison wasn't created because I wanted a lesbian character. I wanted a young heroine with a bow, and in that conceptual stage, she just happened to be a lesbian. I liked her that way, but the last thing I wanted to do was shape my whole story and world around her gender or orientation. I wanted to write an adventure. I wouldn't throw a bunch of women on top of my straight male heroes, so I wan't about to do that with my lesbian heroine either.

    That said, being female is something people notice, so her gender does have a slight issue—that being that monster hunting is a male-dominated business, and men tend to be rather protective of the one woman in their group. Being interested in a woman who might be straight might cost her some opportunities for a real love life. But I didn't want to overplay these issues. Addison gets the respect she deserves, and being a woman doesn't get in the way of that. She doesn't sleep near men in her party, and the men understand she won't sleep with them. They respect that, whether they know her orientation or not.

    I don't use any kind of label. I'm not saying it's wrong to use the word "gay" or "lesbian" in fantasy, it's just my choice not to use the labels because Addison's orientation only comes up in her own thoughts (1st-person narrative) and I don't think she'd use a label even if the world did. (She kinda does her own thing and doesn't worry too much about the world's approval.) If you click the Awesome Warrior link below, you can read Addy's first story and see that there is only brief mention of her orientation.
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The sad truth is that sexual conduct has always been the subject of judgment and moralizing, and has always been politicized throughout human history.

    For instance, while there appears to be a lot of gay male sex going on in the Roman empire, the "active party" was considered quite masculine, while the "passive party" was looked down upon and mocked, not for having had sex with another man, but for being the passive party rather than the dominant party.

    Pretty much every culture has politicized or fetishized or judged sex in various ways. To create these utopias of sexuality may be hard for a reader to get immersed in can be hard. And it usually makes for crappy writing because Utopias are boring and don't give you much tension. It is the dark, hidden underbelly of that utopia that makes for a great story.

    Sex in the medieval period is far more complicated that we might think, and the church position on such things varied from time to time. For instance it appears that it was well known that Richard the Lion Heart was at least bisexual, and that did not prevent him from becoming a hero of the English people.

    It also really depends on the tale you are trying to tell. But conflict and tension are fiction gold so don't be concerned about having your homosexual characters face great adversity in their world. That is what readers want.
    Creed and Manalodia like this.
  7. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

    On the one hand, I'd suggest you write what you know best - anyone can identify with feelings of terror, shame, and fear of discovery over some perceived wrong. You could really push on that to create sympathetic characters in an oppressive world, from a more unique perspective than is usual.

    On the other hand, sexuality can be far more of a grey area according to time and geography. In Ancient Rome, for example, a man would not be thought to be "gay" in the modern sense for penetrating other men, or for other non-penetrative sexual acts (cf the pederasty that was endemic in the ancent world). However, to be penetrated was seen to be a wholly feminine act.

    Also note that repression of sexuality in Europe came with the introduction of Roman Catholicism. That could be an important consideration in your world-building to sexual attitudes.

    Also note that historically, in the Near and Middle East, it has not been uncommon for some cultures to recognise a third gender, typically a physical male with feminine mannerisms:
  8. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    I believe sexuality can be a good sub-theme in a fantasy story, especially when you carry the reader through numerous cultures and civilizations with radically different mores. While being an heterosexual male, I do not find it complicated to write from the perspective of a gay man, mostly - it think - because I do not let it be a determining part of who he is. Yeah, sure, he's gay; but when it comes down to desire, love or what have you, it doesn't really matter if the character is gay, straight, bi, necrophile (... please forget that last one). People are mostly the same when it comes to dealing with emotions. What's interesting however, is to have multiple characters in different cultural context, and with a different conception of sexuality.

    Just like it seemed a good idea to introduce in my WIP both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, I thought having societies with different opinions about sexuality and gender was an interesting angle of study. One of my race is 80% male and 20% female, but these words do not mean much, since there is absolutely no sexuality involved in procreation - "females" lay eggs through parthenogenesis, while "males" are exclusively there to protect them from harm. Since there is no sexuality involved, this race has a tough time understanding other cultures where courtship is involved and where genders partially defined by sexuality - in truth, they cannot conceptually differentiate a human male and a human female if both are soldiers. To this race, sexual discrimination is complete gibberish. On the other hand, a specific human culture reprimands homosexuality very harshly, because it has been politicized that way, and it is considered a fault in front of the Gods.

    When a gay man/woman from said culture interacts with a member of the formerly described "genderless" race, the idea of making sexuality a theme of your fantasy series becomes fascinating. Its a way of showing how two earthbound souls are so far apart because of their cultural bonds. Different societies which seem different worlds.

    This would be how I recommend incorporating sexual minorities : writing about different habits, customs, describing the struggle of these men/women who suffer (or not) from their difference, and how they judge foreign cultures.
  9. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    First thing is to establish the amount of personal relationships and sexuality you want in the story. Is it going to be a major component or only a small aspect of characters' personalities and the story. The target age group is another consideration. Think of the way real relationships build over time and take the same approach with your characters. Remember that you don't have to explicitly state something for the reader to know it happens and it is often the small things (holding hands, massaging the back of the neck, etc) that provide a better indication of an affectionate relationship than a sexual act.
    I wouldn't get fixated on how LGBT people have been treated for real in various places on earth. Create your world the way you want it to be, whether that be easy or difficult for your characters. As a black man I chose not to make colour an issue in my fantasy series. There are people of a variety of colour as main or secondary characters and it's not an issue in any way. Another series I have in mind will have colour as a prominent component and there will be conflicts based on that.
    Will sexual orientation be limited to only people or can elves, dwarves, centaurs or any other fantasy being in your story be LGBT? Perhaps it is acceptable for one species but not for another. You can split aspects of the struggle for equality among the different species in your story or keep it all with humans. Go with what you think will work. Hope this helps sparks a few ideas.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Sexuality is not a "non-issue" for most people, but rather definitional – even if it's not given much conscious thought on a daily basis. A person may spend a lot of time on one type of conscious thinking, e.g. "Whoa, she's hot! Wait, that one over there is also hot!", without having a single thought about whether that type of thinking fits into a category, is non-standard, and so forth. In fact, LGBT individuals in a world that typically persecutes them may be more likely to have the intellectual, psychological introspection about sexual labels and the consequences of being a sexual minority, simply because they are confronted by the disparity at a very early age. So whereas the majority of the populace may not give it much thought, LGBT individuals might be more conscious of the differences. (Then again, in such a world they themselves might not have the labels or wherewithal to philosophize on the matter.)

    I've read many books where the subject of sexuality itself isn't given much focus while manifestations of that sexuality appear in the form of "She's hot!" type of development. I.e., there might be minor events between the primary or secondary characters and others which have a sexual nature, but the focus of the book isn't sexuality itself. I think we all could name a long list of books where adventure, political conflict, and so forth are obviously the main focus – but in which there are also occasional passages which display a character's sexuality even without addressing it intellectually.
  11. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    I think it's worth noting that just because a character has an alternate lifestyle or the interest in one, it doesn't mean they must have a sex life or it must be shown. Treat LGBT characters as you would straight characters.

    Sometimes, a sex scene can be jarring. My wife and I enjoy Murder in the First, but the sex scenes are just laughable. My wife's comment when we watched the other night was, "Ha, ha, this is totally unnecessary." She then basically says the show is trying to do soft core porn while showing butts only or less (though I think my wife has never uttered the word "porn").

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