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Queer coding

Discussion in 'Research' started by Yora, Jul 15, 2018.

  1. Yora

    Yora Sage

    There is this idea in fiction criticism and theory of coding. It means that instead of outright saying or showing something about a character, the writers include several seemingly harmless details that in combination conjure up associations with certain traits in the audience. For example, sometimes you will encounter characters who show absolutely no behaviors indication affection but you still can't shake the impression that the creators made that character obviously gay.

    When this is discussed, it often comes up in regard to villains and by that making the implication that gays are evil. Especially when the onl characters who appear maybe slightly gay are villains but there's nothing similar with the heroes.

    Now I am in the situation that I would really like my setting to appear very sexually diverse, but I don't actually like dealing with sexuality in fiction. I'm not a fan of romance in adventure stories in general, and I admit that I have rather conflicted feelings when it comes to casually showing signs of queer relationships in the background. On the one hand it should be so normal it's not even worth mentioning, but by the very fact that I do mention it I feel like I am portraying it as noteworthy.

    You see my problem? If I don't mention it, we have a case of queer erasure. If I do mention it, I am automatically highlighting it. Neither feels natural to me.

    Which is where coding comes in and why it's interesting me. Being able to make readers feel that the stories are full of queer characters without having to state that any characters are queer would be perfect.

    And now my problem. How do you actually pull that off? I feel it's a bit of an Elephant Definition situation. It's really hard to actually describe, but I know it when I see it. Knowing it when we see it is fine enough on the audience side. They don't need to be able to state why they think there are queer characters, as long as they think it. But as writer I need to know which attributes to give characters in order to create this impression in the readers?

    One thing that I can think of is having a larger and more extrovert woman in a relationship with a smaller and quieter man. It's still a mixed-sex relationship but, I don't know... It feels like there are certain implications about the nature of their relationship and preferences. :D And it doesn't matter if nobody can articulate what it might imply specifcally. it's enough to make readers take notice that they don't conform to default assumptions about male and female relationship roles. Readers taking notice without me having actually stated is the whole idea here.

    Do you know of other cnaracter traits and implicit behaviors that are used in media to raise queer associations in audiences?
    Dark Squiggle likes this.
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Honestly? If you want more queer characters in your stories, just put them there. Describing people in a same-sex relationship shouldn't be any harder than describing people in a straight relationship. If your MCs are at a party or other social setting which especially warrants such descriptions, slip in mentions of "Ariane and Fiona, arm in arm in their matching dresses" or something like that.
    FifthView, Malik, CupofJoe and 2 others like this.
  3. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Troubadour

    Read Gaiman's Neverwhere, and see how he introduces Serpentine. There is definitely both something sexual and something not quite right between her and Hunter....
  4. Writer

    Writer Dreamer

    Probably the whole guessing game in what the writer is portraying between the characters' sexuality is meant to throw you into a certain direction or give you a reason for their being.
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    There's far more to being gay than sexuality.

    So, would you have a problem showing one male character in conversation with another in a tavern, let's say the tavern keeper speaking with a customer, and mentioning the unconscious reassuring gesture by the tavern keeper of putting his hand over the other's, which suddenly breaks up the conversation as they have a moment of silence? If these two are viewed at a distance (background characters or side characters not currently in the POV-MC's immediate vicinity), how will the gesture be interpreted by the reader? Would an accumulation of such gestures, or action-reactions, or styles of dress and mannerisms....

    Wait. The problem with coding is probably two-fold. First, it might be too subtle to make much difference, i.e. have too many possible interpretations. Second, on the other end of the spectrum, it could play into stereotypes and become atrocious.

    I do think that being direct, a la IrethIreth's suggestion, is probably much better than attempting to "code." That said, an awful lot of what we do as writers—or ought to do, in my personal opinion—is reveal much through implication.
  6. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

    I too think it is best to be up front with a character's sexuality, assuming that it is relevant at some point. If not, you don't really need to say anything about it. It is also possible to demonstrate a sexually diverse society without referring to specific characters. For example, casually mentioning same-sex couples, or use of gender-neutral language to refer to lovers or spouses.
    TheCrystallineEntity and Ireth like this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I understand an author wanting sexual diversity--or any other kind of diversity--in their story. The relevant question to me is: does the *story* want it? In that respect I echo Corwynn. Try turning it around. Is there a need to demonstrate that your characters are heterosexual?

    If you have a story need, then the business of how you present it is going to resolve itself in the writing. If you start from theory, you'll never get anywhere. You'll be like Pooh and Piglet, forever tracking the Woozle.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.

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