Boys, girls, androids and anyone else reading: Today I have a treat for you: Author Marion Sipe has agreed to talk here, today, about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) characters in fiction.
Hi Mary, great to have you here today! 🙂
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters in fantasy are a subject that’s close to my heart. And I don’t see enough of them in the fiction I love. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good examples out there from authors like Lynn Flewelling, Fiona Patton, Mark Anthony and Tanya Huff, but these are the rarer occurrences.
I think a lot of straight writers are afraid to write LGBT characters, for a number of reasons. On the one hand, they’re afraid they’ll get it wrong. But if we don’t write the things that challenge us, what fun is the writing? And it isn’t as if we can avoid all the things that we could possibly get wrong… Well, we’d never write anything at all. Indeed, the best way to not get it wrong is the same method you use for when you’re writing about something else you haven’t experienced firsthand, research. Just type “writing LGBT characters” in to Google and hit enter to get a nice start. Read what LGBT people have to say on the subject. There are a whole range of opinions, you won’t find one clear path, but your understanding will improve.
I also think that some writers think that a LGBT character will totally take over their plot. As if your lesbian character, for instance, has to spend a significant portion of her time on this fact, or possibly come to terms with her sexuality during the course of the book. So, they think that, if they write about this character, they’ll have to include that as a part of the story, and if they don’t feel capable of doing so, they may skip the LGBT character all together. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. While LGBT issues in fiction are entirely valid and can be great, it doesn’t have to be the whole of the story. You can have a character who is gay, without having to wrap your entire plot around this fact. It’s entirely acceptable to make being LGBT not a big deal.
Queer people are… people. For some it’s a big deal, and for some its not. It’s okay to write an LGBT character whose storyline doesn’t revolve around them being LGBT.
However, you should do some research first, especially if you haven’t read a lot of LGBT characters. Just as with any other type of character, clichés and tropes accumulate around the idea of a queer character. I’m really tired of the LGBT characters heroically sacrificing themselves for the heroes/heroines. I think this particular cliché came about because writers wanted to show the character as a good person, wanted to make them important to the story, and weren’t sure what else to do with them.
But when every gay character is a self-sacrificing, flawless bit of two dimensional space, it’s not really having a LGBT character. It’s a LGBT cardboard cutout. And this is only worse if they’re the only LGBT character in the story. It kind of gives the impression that the only LGBT character that’s worth mentioning is the dead one, which is a pretty unfun concept all around.
I’m not saying that a LGBT character is no different than a straight character (the obvious difference being that they’re LGBT). There are a lot of cultural and societal influences, and these can make the LGBT character’s experience essentially different from the straight character’s experience. A gay character may be genuinely pissed off about not being able to marry his partner (and rightly so), and that adds depth to the character. But it shouldn’t be the only thing that does, because in addition to being gay, this character is–or should be–a lot of other things besides, both good and bad. When you take the whole person into account, you no longer have a two dimensional LGBT character, you have a person. And all the aspects of a character can, and will, and should come into play.
Remember that there is no one LGBT experience. This is especially true in fantasy and science fiction. Including an LGBT character means that you have to ask yourself what your culture thinks about that. How they react to it, and your character should be shaped by their society. That can mean that it’s not big deal and no one much cares. It can also mean that it’s a huge deal and then it will probably be a bigger deal to your character as well.
However, any two people will experience life in completely different ways, whether they’re gay or straight or bisexual or transgender. There is no one monolithic lifestyle. For some people being LGBT isn’t a big deal and for others it is. Life shouldn’t be the same for every LGBT character, even in the same society.
With A Sign in Blood, I wanted to make Bastian’s sexual preferences not the issue. I wanted to establish him as gay upfront, and make it clear that the world he lived in didn’t care. In fact, because of their particular caste system, and his particular bloodline, it’s preferred if he takes male lovers because there’s no risk of children. In a world without reliable birth control, that can be issue. So his being gay isn’t a central issue–in and of itself–in the book.
Let me say here that Marion has published her great epic fantasy novel called “A Sign in Blood”. I highly recommend this novel, which in all honesty is one of the best fantasy I have read in the recent years.
You can find Marion’s book at these retailers:
Just wanted to say I really enjoyed the guest post!
Yep, I too enjoyed this post. I had alot of fun writing bisexual characters in my debut novel. Involved a bisexual guy, straight guy, and an asexual myth sharing the same body, so it got quite tricky at times. Now, I’m off to download A Sign in Blood…unless I already brought it. Sad, I cant remember. Hell, I have to stop buying and start reading, and the kindle makes both so easy!
Very nice guest post! 🙂
Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Wow, sounds like a lot to juggle! Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you enjoy the book! I’d love to hear what you think!
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Great post. Most of my works have included LGBT characters (though not as the main characters). I used to worry more about ‘screwing it up’ as it were, but then I kind of realized if I felt comfortable writing female characters as a man, I should be comfortable writing gay characters as a cis-straight type. I have too many LGBT friends and served with too many in the military to not represent them in my work.
Thank you! I think that’s great! And, yeah, we write things we’re not every day, especially in SFF. Screwing it up is a big fear, cause most of us don’t want to hurt someone else. I think we write because we want to do the opposite, to speak to other people and communicate and (hopefully, now and then) inspire or touch them.
I actually think SFF has done a pretty good job incorporating — and often showcasing — LGBT characters. Certainly a better job than incorporating people of color. There are so, so many books I could list, from classics to contemporary stories, where LGBT characters are treated as, well, characters. I can remember being on a con panel 20 years ago that was focused on diversity. In fact, my fear as a writer now is that my m/m WIP — an historical fantasy set in the late Roman era — focuses too much on the MCs’ relationship. I’m almost afraid the “coming of age and to terms with one’s sexuality” has been played out far too many times. Still, in most slash novels, the relationships are portrayed not so much as how they are in real life but how the writer/reader wants them to be or thinks they should be :o)
Thanks for bringing up the topic! Literature needs more minority characters across the board!
I have to disagree, actually. While I think it’s getting better, (and I certainly agree that there are more LGBT characters than characters of color) I still don’t find that many LGBT characters outside erotica (not that there’s anything wrong with erotica, just that by its very nature it’s a genre that’s more likely to portray a wider range of sexualities). And the instances of them vary even within the designation “LGBT.” Lesbians are rarer than gay male characters, and bisexuals (of both genders) are rarer than that. Transgendered characters are rarer still.
Such characters certainly exist, but their number is comparatively small and their appearances scatter-shot in a bunch of different genres and sub-genres. “LGBT” itself is a wide designation. While I’m always happy to see any LGBT character in story, I find very few bisexual women I can relate to. The best example, for me, that I’ve ever seen wasn’t in a book, and it wasn’t SFF, and that character actually identified as a lesbian.
Slash is erotica, and while I’m all for it, its not the same as a non-erotic SFF novel. Neither is better or worse, but they are two different kettles of fish, and not everyone eats both trout and salmon. More over, I don’t think LGBT character should be confined (or even largely confined) to sexualized depictions.
Hi Marion: I think some of our disagreement lies in our definitions. Slash nowadays does not, in my understanding, equate to erotica. I consider my WIP to be slash with a level of sexuality that’s “sensual” (somewhere between sweet and spicy, so tame sensual at that). It’s mainstream historical fantasy targeted to the mainstream reader.
Some of the bisexual characters I’ve seen portrayed identify as either straight or gay depending on the relationship they’re in, which is what I’ve often run into in “real life.” Although it’s not a book but a highly popular TV series that will likely influence written stories in the future (and I bring it up because I just saw this last evening and it’s on my mind), Torchwood: Miracle Day has Jack, who is openly bisexual but refuses to identify as any label (which is, of course, an even more freeing way of considering sexuality). I will agree that bi and transgender folk don’t get the same page time. But honestly, if we’re looking only at SFF, the percentage of gay characters realistically depicted far outnumbers most every other minority out there.
I think it depends, too, where you’re looking for your reading material. There are numerous publishers who publish books by and about the LGBT community. Here’s a site that does some reviews about mainstream and niche books with LGBT characters. http://www.glbtfantasy.com/
Thank you! That is so true – I work in an aids organization and LGBT is just part of my world. But I can understand the problem. I’ve started a new series and one of the characters is gay (no problem) but another is black (similar problem that people have writing about LGBT) one becomes a soldier – lots of research needed for that one ! etc. I think one reason people don’t include LGBT is that (they think) their “lifestyle” is just as foreighn as someone from another world. By the way, some US states have legalized gay marriage as Canada has years ago. Good discussion!
This is a great discussion. 🙂 I have been thinking about creating a blog about this topic where we could contribute comments, thoughts, book recommendations and maybe also book lists on this subject for readers who are interested.