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Writing LGBTQ+ Characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Noma Galway, Dec 9, 2015.

  1. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Ignore that question. I wanted to lead into a discussion topic but I don't think it's worth discussing here.
     
  2. Cobwebs

    Cobwebs Dreamer

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    If your focus is on a character who is struggling with their gender in a society that goes against what they feel/are, then go for it.

    If you're story is about something that isn't directly related to gender or sexuality, then treat it as it is: another thing. Don't make a spectacle out of it, and maybe only spend a chapter's worth of time really delving into it if it's not going to create much more conflict other than the occasional confusion or slip up.

    I strongly dislike it when non cisgendered or non hetero characters are treated as soap boxes within the story. It takes away from the pacing and tone of the work (again, unless that is the actual focus of the work).

    I'm intersex, meaning I have both male and female gonadal tissues. I have struggled a long time with finding stories that make me feel like I can put myself in the character's shoes, and only rarely does the feeling last. Too soon does a writer fall into tropes from ad-libbing what a character's feelings might be on the subject or just become... uncomfortable and incorrect to read in the first place. I can't say it enough, find LGBT boards and ask for some interviews with people who identify with what your character is going to be. Get all sides of the story, get all aspects of feelings- you gotta learn to do it well. That and of course writing based on your own experience with it, too (if your gender is the same as your character's)!

    While some people don't like the neutral "they" for pronouns, I would generally stick with it. Using less common pronouns can break up the pacing of your words- more people can understand "they" rather than try to pronounce a pronoun they've never encountered before.
     
    Ireth likes this.
  3. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

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    I also dislike it when the focus is put on gender identity or sexuality in a work that isn't explicitly about it, but I also want my MC's identity to be clear. Because the general assumption is straight and cis, I just really want that to not be assumed about my character. Especially because I am using my general thought patterns for this character. And many of the other characters. None of my major characters are going to be straight, so pronouns and everything like that have to be extremely clear.
     
  4. Cobwebs

    Cobwebs Dreamer

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    Well luckily with the correct approach then it WILL be clear. Say for instance you have a nonbinary character, agender asexual and goes by "them." It's easy to make it clear about your character through various interactions- especially if the MC is agender there will definitely be moments where they feel that neutrality and can introspect on it. Or perhaps the neutrality extends outward- they may be androgynous in features and wear a mix match of femme and masculine clothes. Another character may comment on it. Or, another character may say "she" or "he" and the MC correct them or otherwise react- it's easy to make these things obvious to people who are looking for them. But if you try to be too up front or direct you run the risk of unintentionally making a soap box.

    Just let things naturally happen with the discovery and conclusions of your characters' genders and sexualities!
     
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  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    This is why I stopped writing my novel about a gay, POC airship captain, and his assorted crew members, including a POC female mechanic who isn't asexual but doesn't embrace her femininity as a means to an end, and a young white-ish orphan boy, and a former boudoir slave (male and white) with PTSD.

    The story was about this assortment of characters and how they became a trusting family aboard a reclaimed airship, and the main plot was about the captain and the people he was trying to outrun because of a deal gone bad.

    It had no reason to explore race issues (because in that world, there was no colonization period which would have insinuated people of any skin color were lesser or better than any other), and it certainly wasn't about anyone's sexuality or how I feel about it, or justifying anything for a reader's benefit. They were just characters, natural people with their own lives. I stopped writing it when the POC and sexuality debate blew up on this forum last winter. I submitted the first chapter for Phil's diversity challenge, but didn't write on.

    I was afraid of offending...I dunno, maybe everyone? I mean...to me, if I want to write a gay man, or a black man, or a man with PTSD because he was sold into slavery as a youth, I just want to write it. I don't want to have to take any sort of stand on an "issue" because to me, there's no issue (which I've learned offends some people). I don't want to have to make the captain's sexuality a bigger part of the story than it is. All that's important to me, the story-teller, is that the MC female mechanic is comfortable with this man because he not only treats her as a valid young woman with skills, but he's not trying to get into her pants. To her, it's nothing worth talking about, but something from which she derives secure feelings. I don't want to feel like I have to get into a POC's mind to write this young woman, because to me, there is no shame in being any color (though some people feel there are negative portrayals in our modern writing, and I agree with that, though I miss most of it because I am not looking for it). The thing is, it sort of makes me sick just thinking about all this, because in my mind, I am not consciously avoiding things I think will cause negativity or harm in our world. I am just writing a girl as I see her, her captain who she trusts, and the two other guys who share her flying home and are her friends. No one sits around talking about their sexuality of the color of their skin any more than I do with my realtor friends in the office. I talk to some of the other moms about kid issues. I talk about real estate. I talk about family and food recipes. Never once have I asked anyone about their sexuality or their race, or how they feel about either of those things. Do I have to mention it in a world where there was never any colonization, subjugation, racism, homophobia, or segregation?

    I feel like if I write a MC who's a POC or of a sexuality other than my own, I'm supposed to either make a study of their person in a way I'm not comfortable, or I'll offend people if I just don't explore the "issues" in a way that makes them more important to the story.

    When did this thing become so "damned if you do, damned if you don't?" I just want to write characters as I see them, but now I'm so afraid of offending people, i can't even write it? Sucky!

    I think the most important thing when choosing a character is having a clear picture of the character. Personally (as a rather uninformed person who has been called insensitive about race issues and has confessed to not understanding all the various sexualities recognized today), I wouldn't be offended if you had a character who was physically male and in those parts he was referred to as "he", and when he donned certain clothing or felt another way, was referred to as "she". I wouldn't be jarred by "they" as a pronoun, but writing it, I'd prefer to see sentences like, "Pat knelt beside the grave. They ran a calloused hand over the smooth stone, and missed their mother," turned into, "Pat knelt beside the grave, running a calloused hand over the smooth stone. Missing mother was always worse at the end of the year." I'd cut down the number of "they's" as far as possible because I feel it's somewhat confusing.

    I'm unfamiliar with what it feels like to be genderless or not associate with my own gender, or to have no sexual feelings one way or the other. But because I can't personally relate to it, does that mean I can't write it? I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether it's an issue of not feeling "allowed" to, or whether it's just not something I'd feel I can connect with enough to do it justice. For example, I wrote a hermaphroditic asexual sea dragon for Clichea, and I passed that on to a non binary asexual friend, who loved it, but I never wrote the character that way to fill any sort of need to explore within myself. I wrote it because I was at the point where I pictured the dragon as a male character, and then I felt somewhat limited by the classification itself. Like, does that mean I need to give it "male" traits? Or would it be as convincing as a female dragon? So I simply decided that sea dragons should reproduce as earthworms do, having both sets of sex organs, and taking turns laying eggs and fertilizing each other's brood. Worked for me. No further thought given. HA! See how insensitive I am! I pick something, write it as I see it, and let the words be their own story. No stand, no exploration of what it means to the character, just let the character be who they are.

    I hope other people feel they can give themselves permission to explore things outside their own realm of relatability and understanding. I hope to one day pick this novel back up again, because I loved the concept (however simple it is), and I loved the characters, because I felt they defied our own limited world views, idealizing a freedom we maybe don't yet truly own (though in my heart, I do). As writers, I fully acknowledge we have a responsibility to be aware of the ways character portrayals can affect people negatively, but I also feel like some folks need to lighten up. Be brave, scribes. Be brave, but tactful.
     
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  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    BTW, I have a couple Trans friends who discuss their personal struggles on Facebook, and I'm very interested in learning more about how pronouns affect people, and how I, as a straight female who has a bunch of bisexual and gay/ lesbian friends can learn more. I don't feel right flat out asking my friends about my writing as though they are research subjects, but if anyone on this forum would be willing to shoot emails back and forth with me, would you send me a PM please? i'm desperately interested in understanding how I can portray characters who are unlike me more realistically, but I'm just not comfortable asking people directly and putting them on the spot.

    I just made a new thread. Please let me know your thoughts. This relates to the same subject, a question about a homosexual character I've written into a novel, and I'm worried his name will cause unintended offense. I hate walking on eggshells, but I really could use some advice. It's here:http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/15700-strange-name.html#post225246
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2015
  7. Velka

    Velka Sage

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    Washington Post's latest style manual has adopted using 'they' as their gender neutral pronoun.

    There's a bit more meat on this in the article on this, as well as a very long musing on e-mail becoming email :)
     
    Ireth likes this.
  8. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    The main problem I've found with pronouns like xie and its fellows is that very few people outside of either the craft itself or the lgbtq+ community seem to understand them. I've always been hesitant to use those as a character's preferred pronoun as I feel it might make too much of a scene of itself. The reader could spend more time trying to figure out what I'm talking about than actually enjoying the story.

    Not ideal, obviously.

    For that reason alone I'm on the side of the Washington Post. Now I'm nothing more or less than a male cisgender pansexual, but from a writer's standpoint, they is far better in my eye. For one, it's a word the majority of people recognize. I'd even go as far to say a decent proportion of the reading population could figure out from context that it's being used as a gender neutral. You could make up pronouns but that is sometimes about as useful as calling a rabbit a smerp.

    (Of course if you're writing a character who DOES identify as sie, then, for whatever those reasons are, it might not be so genuine to start using they for clarities sake.)

    I have I sci-fi universe, that I really don't use enough, in which there is a species of alien who have three (hopefully functional) sexes. With the third essentially neutral sex I chose to use they. Not going to lie. It probably is quite jarring to read at first, but transcribing them as he or she would muddy the readers understanding of this gender trinary.

    I know that's a fairly sci-fi example which might not be too relevant to the conversation, but I personally think there's something to be taken from it. Namely, using any kind of pronoun is fine. It purely depends on the context and character.

    Eg., If the character is always mentioned in conjunction with a group of people it might be too confusing to use they. Conversely if a character has a bit of a bugbear about the dehumanizing effect of it and they as pronouns then why should you the writer feel forced to use they?

    I know I've argued both sides a bit there, but know that I do so for the sake of discussion haha
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think you just have to write what you want to write and not worry about those things. After the book leaves your hands it becomes a sort of collaboration between the author and reader. You can't stop them bringing their own interpretations and expectations to the work. But that shouldn't deter you from writing what you want to write, how you want to write it. In my current story, the MC is a lesbian. I don't make a big deal out of it or use it as some kind of representation that is supposed to have import in the real world, because in the fantasy world I created it is simply a non-issue. There's no stigma attached. So writing the story as a commentary on real-world LGBT issues simply wouldn't make sense.

    Sometimes a snake is just a snake.
     
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  10. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, see that's how I write. When i write race or sexuality, it is in context of the world--where those things aren't stigmatized. There is no shame in being gay, no jokes or insults. It just is how people are, or aren't. But again, I worry readers will see that as somehow insulting? Like I'm not emphasizing it enough? It's so frustrating, but I think you're right, I just need to write it the way I see it, and if people want to be insulted that I wrote a gay man and didn't explore the "why" and "how" of justifying it or expounding on what it means to be gay, so be it. I'm just a person who sees nothing wrong with being gay, and nothing worth justifying in the story. I can't pretend to want to explore the nature of any sexuality, because i simply don't write stories where any character (straight or gay) is expected to fulfill any sort of public demonstration for a reader's benefit. Let readers either like my portrayals, or hate them, all I can do is try to be as respectful as possible, and know in my heart that I'm lovingly crafting each character I put on a page. I'm going to try to get over this, and ask for help here whenever I need it, because you guys are awesome, and so knowledgeable, and so honest. I hope everyone else on this thread can feel secure in their own decisions, too, because we shouldn't feel limited by language and public opinions in a way that stops us from pursuing our passion.
     
  11. Velka

    Velka Sage

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    I've never heard of readers complaining about an author not exploring the hows or whys or justifying it when a character is cisgender heterosexual. I think writing a lgbtq character with the same "yeah, they're <insert identification here>, what of it? let's get on with the story" is honouring them in a profound way. It's not something that needs to be explained, it just is.

    There certainly is fiction that does explore these issues and struggles, but it is author intent to make it a focal point. If author intent is to write a kick ass story with some dragons and treasure and stuff, with an MC or characters that identify outside of the genre-norm, then I don't believe it's necessary.
     
    Noma Galway likes this.
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I agree with velka (and caged maiden). I'm not sure why it needs to be justified or explained.

    Caged maiden, I would have loved your first story with all the different people together, trying to cope and understand each other. That would have been right up my ally.

    I'm watching Jessica Jones right now and the lawyer is a lesbian with a wife. There is no justification. It has nothing to do with the story. She just is. I appreciate that.
     
  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I plan to write and finish the airship one, because I love the characters, but I got all kinds of bogged down in fearing what reader responses would be to a cast with mixed races and mixed sexualities, and though I wasn't making any sort of statement, I felt it would be seen as such. The colors of their skin and their sexual preferences have nothing to do with the story, they just are what they are, in a world where none of it defines anyone.

    I am finding a lot of support here recently, people saying they would not see the concepts as racist or negative (as in, the drunk captain), and I hope to finish it so I can edit. I guess fear stopped my progress because I didn't feel it was worth fighting for, to put across my point that people are just people, whatever they are, and a writer can write a world without that kind of hatred without specifically addressing the absence of the kind of hate we experience in our own world. A hate I just don't have, but enough people perpetuate to make writers question their very motivation in character selection.

    Thanks Helio!

    The other story, the rewrite that I've been talking about with the gay loan shark, is my current focus, because it begins off the last third of the novels I've written, so it would be nice to get that finished instead of the stand alone I don't have fully plotted. I guess I worry that if I got hung up on the airship story in the first chapter, how will I fare on the rest of the writing? As much as I love the characters, I have a gay, black airship captain who is a bit of a drunk, and then I have the orphan (whose story will touch on neglect and abuse in a small way, when he insists they take aboard another orphan girl because he recognizes the signs of abuse and it breaks his twelve-year-old heart, so he wants to help this girl escape the workhouse). I mean...for a story about an airship mechanic who is traveling the world as a young woman and feeding her sense of adventure, I introduced some heavy concepts, and I felt maybe all combined, it might become too much for readers? Who knows.
     
  14. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

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    I decided to change the pronouns to zie/hir, just to make the "they" less awkward. I'm thinking of doing an author's note if this one gets finished, just to clarify the MC's pronouns so the unfamiliar pronouns are explained immediately.

    Also, my thought is that as long as a character isn't a caricature of their race/sexuality/gender/what have you, it should be fine to treat them as a character. Like GRRM's "I treat them like people" (or some such, I don't remember the exact quote). I feel like the mentality that we can't have villains of marginalized identity is a harmful one.
     
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I'm inclined to agree. I just think it's potentially problematic if the villain is the ONLY LGBT+ or otherwise marginalized person in the story. I wrote a villain once who was MtF transgender, and while her identity did inform the plot somewhat (the MC had met her once before, but that was well before she transitioned, resulting in confusion and misgendering from various people), the fact that she was transgender wasn't the point of the story. She wasn't a "transgender villain", she was a "villain who happened to be transgender".
     
  16. Noma Galway

    Noma Galway Archmage

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    I agree there. Completely. "villains who happen to be" anything are generally fine with me. It's only when the point is that a trans person is the villain that I would be upset by it, personally. I can't speak for anyone else, though.
     
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  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    What if the fact that the character is LGBT had, in same way, lead to them becoming a villain? Perhaps they're lashing-out against institutionalized discrimination or being unable to properly cope with an identity conflict created some deep psychological issues? Would it be justified in that case?

    Likewise, couldn't you argue that making a villain who happens to be, for no narrative reason, LGBT kind of a enthymeme arguing that LGBT people tend to be villains or vice-versa? After all, why would the writer make the villain (or any other character) LGBT unless they were trying to say something about LGBT people?

    By the way, Noma, just so we're clear: I'm not trying to argue with you or say your viewpoint is wrong or anything. I'm just trying to keep the discussion going.
    I'm learning that I need to be careful about looking like I'm trying to pick fights on this forum.
     
  18. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    The way I see it, really is one thing that you are saying by including incidentally LGBTQ people (that is, people who happen to be LGBTQ whose identity/proclivity/whatever-it's-called is not relevant to the plot) and that is that LGBTQ people are people just like everyone else. It doesn't matter what the label is, they are people. And like every other people, some of them are "good", and some of them are "bad". Some of them are smart, others not so much. And these characters represent that. Just my two cents.
     
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  19. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I could be misreading you (if I am, sorry, let me know) but it seems like you're suggesting that a writer can't have an LGBT character without it being part of some kind of statement (either positive or negative).

    This is what I mean.

    I actually have a main character who is trans and when discussing this story with a group of people, as soon as the word "trans" came-up, they immediately started discussing the political and sociological implications of the character and trying to discern my personal stance on LGBT people, feminists and social justice in general.

    And I actually did try to make my character trans in a way that compliments her greater character arc and the overall themes of the story.

    Believe it or not, I have. There are stories where a character demonstrates heterosexual behavior (having opposite-gender love interests or not forming close relationships with those of the same gender) for no reason other than to, apparently, remind the audience that the character is straight. I've heard this trope referred to as "having a case of the not-gays".
    And me being a fan of comics, I always hear people saying things like "there are too many straight characters in this book, we need more LGBT characters" or "why couldn't this character be LGBT - there's no reason they have to be straight cisgender person".
    I'll admit that this isn't widely complained about and I think it may be a pretty recent topic of discussion. But it is discussed.

    There are two sides to this topic. And that supports my initial claim that you can't please everyone no matter what you do.
     
  20. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I think what Killer is saying is that, if one has characters who just happen to be LGBT, it treats them as if they're people just like everyone else. And if they're people like everyone else, they have the same capacity to be good or bad as anyone who isn't LGBT. That being specifically in response to the question of "why have an LGBT person as a villain unless you're trying to make a statement". Basically, they're a villain or antagonist because they're people, and some people do things that are bad or bring them into conflict with the protagonist. Their orientation or gender identity doesn't matter there.
     
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