The year is 2014. LGBT characters are routinely shown on TV, and 35-ish states (plus DC) will allow marriage between spouses of the same gender in the next few weeks. So why am I continuing to see the same tired old tropes in fiction? I just stopped reading a recent best seller for exactly these reasons.
I’m listing a few “rules” for writing LGBT characters that should be heeded.
1) Never refer to a character as a “homosexual” and especially do not have a character self-identify in that way. Unless the character performs research in the social sciences, this will never happen. The same applies to “preference;” the only person who would use that word is a hater.
2) Use stereotypes with care. While stereotypes typically have a grain of truth in them, the fact is that for every gay man who doesn’t know sports, there’s a Michael Sam. There is no one size fits all character that can be used. Make your LGBT character as well developed as any other character in the book.
3) Lesbian characters are not a straight man’s fantasy. If they don’t have a legitimate purpose beyond titillation, make them straight women.
4) Introduce transgender characters with dignity. Learn the differences between cross-dressers, drag king/queen, and transgender, and don’t mix characteristics of each into a single character. Use the pronouns that your characters would want used about them. If you can’t determine those pronouns, then you’re not ready to include this character yet.
5) If your character is in a relationship, know the status. Does that state have marriage equality or civil unions or nothing? What does that cover? What does that not cover? I know when I read about a same sex spouse receiving survivor benefits from Social Security that the author has made assumptions. It’s not all equal. Granted, things are changing quickly, but for readers today we will know the difference.
6) Don’t use a stereotype as a clue to the solution of the mystery. The hero should never say, “Only a man who knew the words to Funny Girl could have killed Mr. X, which means that our gay character is the killer.” Don’t give us a list of over-the-top clues to the orientation of a character to allow us to “solve” the mystery of the character’s orientation. “Jack is so tidy that he must be gay!” It was outdated in 1970. It’s ridiculous today.
7) Gay does not equal weak. I have a black belt in tae kwon do. So save the tears for someone else. The old gay as victim has been done to death. It goes back at least 90 years, which means there’s nothing new you can do with that scenario.
8) You don’t get to use the word f*****. Ever. If you have a homophobic character, show us that he or she is homophobic. Don’t have him/her call another character f***** as your shorthand for homophobic. When writing, replace it with the n-word and see how great it sounds.
9) 9 And since we’re doing away with the gay as victim, let’s get rid of the gay as villain role too. No gay person has ever murdered people to stay in the closet. Trust me, I’ve done research. So this motive is not realistic. Chad Allen and NPH were forced out of the closet. Larry Craig, despite being outed, continues to deny it. None of them have ever killed to keep a secret.
10) If you don’t know, use Google. Don’t assume that you know the LGBT experience because you watched Dynasty in the 1980s. Things have changed. Better yet. Ask someone who is LGBT. Even if you don’t think you do, you know more than one LGBT person. Chances are they’ll be happy to answer your questions.