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LGBT Terms in Fantasy

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by anony-mouse, Aug 3, 2015.

  1. anony-mouse

    anony-mouse New Member

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    I've started work on a fantasy, in a quasi-medieval setting, that has two gay lead characters, one male and one female. I don't/won't hold back in showing their love lives, but my question is: should I call them "gay" or "lesbian" due to the "time period", and have them identify that way? Like, in a fantasy world, would - or should - those markers of sexual orientation exist or be used? I don't mean for these questions to offend anyone, I am genuinely curious.
     
  2. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    If the time period is around medieval and you therefore don't want to use words which came about much later on (I do this), then you can't use those words. I just searched and even "hetero/homosexual" came from hundreds of years later.

    ( Online Etymology Dictionary I use this site for this kind of thing, you might find it helpful if you're avoiding more modern words, too.)

    You can still write these characters of course, but might not be able to use those words to identify them.

    But now I'm wondering, were there different words back then for sexual orientations? All words I could think of dated from later on than medieval times, but people of all sexual orientations have always existed...so are there words fitting for the time period which I just don't know about? Surely they must have had words for it, right? :|
     
  3. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    You don't necessarily need an adjective to describe their sexual orientation. You could just say "soandso fancied men".
     
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I suggest saying "gay" and "lesbian". Call a spade a spade.

    Like, in a fantasy world, would - or should - those markers of sexual orientation exist or be used?

    They can if you want. It's your setting.
     
    cupiscent likes this.
  5. L M Rush

    L M Rush Scribe

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    I'm pretty unforgiving when people describe gay people in my book. Purely because the characters there are uncomfortable with it, and it is taboo. They don't go 'He's gay' they're either edging around it 'He isn't interested in you, perhaps you should introduce him to your brother instead?' or at best they'd just outright say 'He fudges men.' (well, i dont use the word fudge haha). My characters are mostly okay with people doing whatever they want, but if I want a character to be introduced as bigot/idiot I don't hesitate to make him/her express their opinion.

    He was gay/she was a lesbian just doesn't roll off my pen very well.
     
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Is your world in any way based on the history of earth?

    If not, why would you feel constrained to using period correct words? I mean, don't use rocket ship if your culture doesn't have space travel, but otherwise, it seems to me that everything is fair game.
     
  7. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Depends on your setting and if you're trying to mimic a certain era or not.

    If your setting is medieval, the term "gay" would seem an anachronism, I think. I'm not an expert on when the term developed into how we now view the word, but it's probably safe to assume it meant "happy" in the 1400-1500s.

    I know the term "lesbian" comes from Greek mythology surrounding the Isle of Lesbos, but I know little more than that.

    In the end though, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish with your setting. Look at how other authors handled the same issue. GRRM uses loads of not-so-veiled euphemisms to describe the homosexual relations of characters like Renly Baratheon & Loras Tyrell.
     
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Go ahead and use the terms. Gay and lesbian readers will appreciate being acknowledged for once.
     
  9. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Is using the terms acknowledgment?

    I'd think the inclusion of two gay, main characters would be, but I'm not sure the use of those words is acknowledgment.
     
    Legendary Sidekick likes this.
  10. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    I was given some great compliments on my lesbian character by a lesbian reader. She did appreciate the representation and that I didn't let the character's sexual orientation define her. You only know she's a lesbian because she monologues some thoughts about the "straight friend" she's pining for.

    I never use the word lesbian. Click the link in my sig if you're curious. The story's only 1500 words. The reader who liked the character read another story that's 8000 words long, and still loved the character and the representation, though I don't know if I even hinted at her sexual orientation at all in the longer story.

    I believe the representation was appreciated because it wasn't all ADDISON'S A LESBIAN AND LIKES GIRLS and also hunts BUT SHE'S A LADY WHO'S INTO THE LADIES!!! It was more like she's an adventurer who kills dangerous monsters (and oh by the way, she's not in a relationship right now but she happens to be attracted to a lady). Not that there's anything wrong with having sex scenes… as long as you're treating your homosexual characters as you would heterosexual characters, you'll be appreciated.
     
  11. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Related: what about terms for transgender or non-binary people? One of my WIPs has a considerable population of both in its quasi-medieval world, among humans and dragons alike. The terms "same-bodied" for cisgender, "other-bodied" for transgender, and "mix-bodied" for intersex people are what I have to work with now. Any thoughts on these?
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Maybe I'm hashing this up. It's just . . . There are a lot of stories where being gay is a Big Deal. I don't see a lot more people asking for stories where it's a Big Deal. They tend to ask for stories where no one cares or finds it unusual that someone is gay. I feel like dancing around the subject might be making it more of an issue than it needs to be.
     
  13. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    I've read plenty of fantasies with gay characters, I think it's actually one of the biggest genres to include LGBT individuals because, well, it's a fantasy world with different prejudices and stigmas. People tend to like their fantasy worlds diverse because it's not exactly diverse in real life. Fantasy simply allows that more than other genres.

    Anyway, to answer the OP's question, if it's in your own high fantasy universe, of course they can use whatever term you want them to. If the story takes place in the real world in medieval times, yeah, it's not exactly the best words to choose.
    To me, it really depends on the world you've built. In real life, many cultures had, and many still do, a 'third gender' in which typically men would dress as women but be a lower class, usually being forced into prostitution (and, really, times haven't changed that much unfortunately). But if the era the story take place is similar the medieval ages, then you're not going to have people taking hormones or having surgery. However, in a fantasy world, magic is an easy solution (not that you need hormones or surgery to be transgender, just explaining how you could have something similar in a medieval-based fantasy). As for names, I like yours I suppose, but I think I would make the culture have a third gender like many places do in real life.
     
  14. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    Like Woohoman says: your world, your rules. The way human societies think and talk about gender and sexuality has varied wildly over history and geography, so as long as you have your own system and what terms you use make sense within that, then you're in clover.

    NK Jemisin posted her slides for a presentation on worldbuilding, which contained a great point about how the physical demands of the world shape lots of aspects of a society. Her example had a society that suffered a lot from natural disasters - tsunami and storms and more - and therefore valued adaptability and flexibility. It would make sense that a society like that might be more aware of and open to "non-standard" and fluid genders and sexuality, and that they would therefore have non-pejorative terms for describing them. Whereas another society, which valued strength, solidity and obedience-to-rules might be much more rigid about "normal" and not feel comfortable discussing variations.
     
  15. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

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    If you want to sound authentically mediaeval, then be careful about using modern Western ideas of sex and sexuality. If you describe anyone as "homosexual" or "gay" or "lesbian" then you will also certainly come across as writing about modern characters with modern issues, which could undermine your world-building. Sexuality was a far more grey area in history.

    Sex in History by Reay Tannahill might be useful for you, but so might reading modern studies on issues of gender and sexuality. If you really want to seriously explore pre-modern sexuality, I'd strongly advise you become well read on it.
     
  16. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I think this really depends on worldbuilding and tone in your work. If you're trying to sound medieval, it might seem out of place. If you aren't going for that, I don't think it's a problem.
     
  17. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    Not using the terms doesn't mean you're dancing around the subject. You can write a character who is very clearly straight without dancing around it at all without using the words "straight" or "heterosexual" at all, and the same goes for any other sexual orientation.
     
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  18. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    I agree. I think you can be clear and concise without the use of labels.

    PS- Cool teacup! => c(_) …wow, how long's that been there? I just noticed it.
     
  19. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    A long time, now, not sure how long. Spider typed it out once and I just took it :p
     
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    You say it's a "quasi-medieval setting," and then ask about word use in a "fantasy world."

    If, indeed, the setting is intended to be Earth's actual medieval period, albeit with fantasy elements, you'd be best avoiding the modern terms gay/lesbian, and look for terms actually in use at the time or perhaps avoid terms altogether as some have suggested. Otherwise, your terms may jump out as being anachronistic. (Unless perhaps part of the fantasy element includes a fantasy subculture with gay elements.)

    But if it's not Earth, you are free to use whatever terms you like. My own opinion is that a realistic milieu would include some terminology for LGBT individuals, whether positive, negative, or neutral. If LGBT individuals exist in the world, the world would know about it. In Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series, for instance, the term talímenios is used to describe a male gay lover or the bond between two such lovers; the lovers themselves use the shortened talí to address each other: "I love you, tali." I've always found this invention to be clever and clear, because it leaves no doubt about what is going on while also adding a nice dimension to the worldbuilding.
     
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