Writing the LGBT community can be hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re talking about. So to start off this post, here’s just a few things that are easily confused both with writers and with society in general.
- Being gay is not a personality trait. This basically means no stereotyping. Don’t make a gay man effeminate just because he likes other men, and don’t make a woman masculine just because she likes other women. While there are actual people who are like this, and it’s perfectly okay to have men and women like this, make sure your characters have personalities and not just a list of stereotypes.
- Asexual does not mean aromantic. Asexuality means that a person feels no sexual attraction. Aromantic means a person does not feel any romantic attraction. These two are often confused, but they are two very different things. It’s possible for anyone to be one or the other, or even both.
- Transgender does not mean transsexual. Transgender when a person identifies as a gender that differs from the one usually matched with their sex. Transsexual means that person is going about hormone treatment or surgery to become the opposite sex.
So those are the big three things to think about. If you want more resources to learn about gay and trans people, I’ve got this video that is a brief overview, and then The Really Awesome Trans Glossary. If you still want more information, try talking to someone who identifies as gay or transgender. As long as you’re not being offensive, most people would be happy to answer questions and provide clarifications.
With that out of the way, it’s time to address the actual characters you’re writing.
- It is perfectly fine for your antagonist to be gay. They can kick puppies and steal candy from children and be the most despicable person on the face of the earth and be gay—it’s alright. But if your character is evil because they are gay, that’s a huge problem. If you choose to have an evil character who is also gay, it’s a good thing to have a good character who is also gay to avoid any problems or miscommunications with readers.
- There is no universal “gay experience”. Don’t try to write gay or trans characters “the right way.” There isn’t one. All gay and trans people learn about themselves differently. Some people know from a young age that they’re different, but some learn it later on in life. I didn’t realize I was agender until someone told me being agender was a thing that existed.
- There’s a difference between writing a novel about gay characters and writing a novel about characters who happen to be gay. Don’t think that including gay characters means you have to suddenly make your plot about gay rights/the treatment of gays. Most people aren’t looking for that, and if they are, chances are they’ll go to issue novels for it.
- Gay couples have just as much sex as straight couples. If your features scenes with several different couples of different sexualities having sex, spend about the same amount of time with each of them. Some of the stigma that comes with gay couples having sex comes from rumors that they’re addicted to it and they have to have sex because something is wrong with them. Most people realize that it’s flat-out wrong, but there will always be people who don’t understand, and its’ our duty as writers to not promote unhealthy stereotypes.
- Don’t start shipping your characters just because you happen to have made two of them gay. This is not an excuse to put characters together. Your readers still expect them to have chemistry and work together. You wouldn’t create a relationship between two straight characters just because both their favorite colors are purple.
- If you’re writing a trans character, refer to them by the pronoun they use. Even if your character was born female, if they identify as a boy and want to be recognized as a boy, use masculine pronouns. This is also common courtesy in real life.
- Be aware of stereotypes. I’m gonna say this one again because it’s probably the most important one on the list. Being gay is not a personality. Being transgender is not a personality. Do not try to make it one.
Because stereotypes are such a huge part of the way the media portrays gay characters in television, movies, and even novels, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common ones that plague it.
Stereotypes to Avoid
- "Sluts." This is more bad stigma for anyone who identifies as a sexual minority, particularly bisexuals. People think that gays use it as an excuse to act like sluts, and this stereotype is completely inaccurate.
- Masculine women and feminine men. I touched on this topic earlier, and while it’s okay to have them, you have to make sure that your characters aren’t just empty shells relying on these stereotypes. Make absolutely sure that you have fleshed them out well if you go down this route.
- Dead gays. The LGBT community is not a plot device. Don’t kill these characters for shock value. They are not foot soldiers in the battle in the middle of RETURN OF The KING. If you kill a gay character, you had damn well better have a good reason for it.
- Lesbians trying to have a child. This one is just flat-out cliché at this point, not to mention that it creates all sorts of unwanted subtext about gay couples being “unnatural” because they can’t have children on their own. It’s just something best avoided.
But above all, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:
Gay characters are no different than straight characters. Treat them exactly as you would any other character. They don’t require special treatment—just time and effort put into learning about them. Give them the respect they deserve, and you have the chance to write a fantastic LGBT character.