Writing Gay Characters

On a recent I Should Be Writing episode Mur Lafferty got a question about writing gay characters. One of the replies to that response (so we're a couple degree's out,) made a suggestion along the lines of "write characters who are interesting first and gay second," I think the actual wording used the phrase "just happen to be gay." Mur handled this deftly, but I think it's worthwhile to add some more to this.

Here's the biggest problem in my mind. The experience of being gay isn't--for the most part--something that queer folks "just happen to have/be," and to write about queer/gay characters in this way, I think fundamentally misunderstands the experience.

I'm not sure if I could add anything to underscore that, or illuminate that further. No matter how enlightened these times are, being gay marks you as being different and positions you in opposition to normative culture. Living and loving in this condition has a profound effect on us. I'm not complaining, and I think being different has pretty good effects, but I don't think that this makes the social situation less relevant.

Part of the benefit of existing within a normative culture is the ability to think about sexuality as just happening rather than being a hard fought battle. And as more people start coming out (at younger and younger ages), as marriage rights are won, as non-descrimination rights are slowly gained, [1] it's easy to say "gay folks are just normal folk," but I don't think that's the case at all.


The truth is that I mostly don't write gay characters as such. I've been interested in other things, and/or interested in dealing with issues of sexuality in different ways. But in Station Keeping, I have a gay character. Part of the deal about SK is that it's set way in the future. Call it 10,000 years. (I wanted to be able to tell a 19th/20th century geopolitical crisis story, and have it not be a techno-thriller.) Anyway, so in this backdrop there's a gay couple.

And even the diehard cynic in me has to admit that in the next 8-10 thousand years, that this pesky business about being extranormative is going to have to settle down, and people really won't ever swallow hard or bat an eyebrow over queer folk. And I tell you that's incredibly difficult to conceptualize, and so much not like what I think writing gay characters typically is like. This isn't a question of writerly skill, but I can't imagine being able to nail this kind of dynamic in a contemporary or even near future world.

But maybe that's just me. Thoughts?

Onward and Upward!

[1]The fact that marriage rights seem to come before (and in front of) non-discrimination protections just seems like a farce to me.
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