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.
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: