My Characters are Hella Gay…Get Over It
Good Morning, Lovelies…This is a bit of a rant post but I just can’t help myself so buckle up because this might get a little bit…hostile?
I recently received a letter from a person who told me they were unable to complete my book for review because they found the “relationships” weird/strange. In the last nine months since I first published Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, I’ve learned this is code for “Your gay characters make me uncomfortable.” Now, I didn’t just jump to this conclusion after one bad review. (In fact, I’ve only ever actually had one bad review). But I’ve had more than a couple people tell me they just couldn’t finish the book for the above reason mentioned. After the second time it happened, I decided to research it. I talked to these people, queried what specifically they found strange for future reference (we can’t do better if we don’t know, right?) and while it usually takes a while for them to be honest the anonymity of the internet allows them to tell me the truth eventually. They are uncomfortable reading about a gay character who is in a relationship. They will usually then follow it up with a statement that sounds a little something like this. “Seriously, I don’t mind that people are gay but…I just don’t want to read about it. What happens in people’s bedrooms is their business.” I’d like to say I’m paraphrasing but it’s almost always this statement word for word. I find it funny that people don’t often see the hypocrisy in this statement. Gay people are forced to endure scene after scene after scene of hetero-normative garbage on television. They are bombarded with images of straight couples getting it on a hundred times a day but that’s okay because that is “normal.” It seems to escape them that it’s only their normal.
Now before you write me off as a sanctimonious bitch, I’m not claiming to be the voice of a generation or claiming that I speak for gay people or that I’m somehow better than other people. Far from it. When I first published this book, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little worried about how the world would react to an unapologetically gay teen character who was attracted to a guy who may or may not be gay also. I wondered if making him a main character was the right thing to do. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell the world in advance, like did the book need a warning label? I wasn’t sure if I should let reviewers know beforehand that my character was gay or if I was to somehow designate it to the world as such. I stressed about it for weeks before I had a real WTF moment. I was just as bad as the people I worried about alienating. I acted as if being gay was so scandalous it required some type of designation. I mean, seriously? People are gay. Hell, my daughter is gay. I needed to get over it.
My daughter and her girlfriend are constantly talking about a lack of diversity in books and movies and how it feels like they are invisible to society unless they are being exploited sexually. We were all recently devastated when a show we had great respect for pulled a card from the Joss Whedon playbook and pulled the dreaded dead lesbian trope. (Yeah, I’m looking at you The 100). There is this strange notion among Hollywood writers that lesbian characters can’t be happy. The lesbians must struggle and fight for every shred of happiness and as soon as they’ve achieved said happiness one of them must die to complete their final ascension into lesbian utopia or something. It’s insanely frustrating to me so it must be much worse for my daughter to witness. At the moment, the only happy lesbians I can think of are The Fosters on FreeForm. (I’m praying for you, Steph and Lena.)
It’s not just the lesbians. Male gay characters are often portrayed as feminine, over-sexed or self-loathing or the gay trifecta of all three stereotypes at once. When we do get a character that isn’t in the midst of some existential crisis about coming out, they are usually relegated to the background with their relationships hinted at or the affection shown as hugs and cheek kisses. And don’t even get me started on the queerbaiting seen on numerous shows targeting the 18-24 year old demographic. They love to try to appease all of their fans by giving them openly straight relationships but hinting that certain characters might be bisexual if you squint really hard or flat out promising you a bisexual character and then acting like it never happened.
Is it getting better? You would think so thanks to shows like Glee, How to Get Away with Murder and now, Shadowhunters (sigh #Malec) but that’s not necessarily the case. While their are more queer characters on television now it’s hardly demonstrative of the percentage of actual LGBTQ people in the world. The population is still grossly under-represented and a large part of that has to do with Hollywood producers and PR companies. Many actors are discouraged from playing gay characters in shows for fear they will be seen as less marketable as straight heartthrobs later in their careers. The same can be said for gay actors who are forced to stay in the closet so as not to scare off their female fans. There’s a strange thing in Hollywood where they publicly applaud actors for coming out but secretly do everything in their power to keep them in the closet.
Now, maybe it’s because I’m on Tumblr much more often than the average 39 year old, but it seems to me this next generation–the generation I write for–is so much more open to seeing people for who they are instead of how they identify. I’m not delusional. I know that there are people from every generation who are accepting and people who are homophobic and probably everything in between. But I’m proud of this generations ability to look past labels and try to see a person for who they feel they are and not who society tells them they should be.
Why am I telling you all this? Nasty email aside, I’m telling you this because when I realized that my character, Kai, had amazing chemistry with his alpha’s brother, I wrote them that way. I tried to ignore it at first but I knew that if one of them had been a girl I wouldn’t have hesitated to see the instant attraction between them. I know I’m not the only one who’s seen that? Two supposedly straight characters who have the most insane chemistry that you can’t possibly ignore it? Tumblr is filled with slash fanfiction based on this very principle…the two biggest fanfiction fandoms out there right now are undeniably Sterek (Stiles and Derek from Teen Wolf) with 40,949 fanfics written just on AO3 alone and Destiel (Dean and the angel, Castiel from Supernatural) with 53, 137 stories on AO3. I could go on and on. It speaks to me of a need for more representation in the community.
So now, finally my point….When writing my Dead Things series, I decided to let go of this world’s preconceived notions of sexuality and gender norms. I decided to live in a world where sexuality is irrelevant. Where if there is attraction between two (or more) people, there’s no reason it can’t be explored unless one of them isn’t consenting. Does that mean every character is going to be in a same sex relationship, no it just means there isn’t any reason why a character couldn’t be if they chose to be. If you aren’t a hundred percent okay with gay relationships, my books are going to make you uncomfortable.
But I didn’t become a writer to make people comfortable. I didn’t become a writer so that people would like me. I became a writer because I have stories I want to tell and I hope people want to read. I hope you want to read them too. This concludes my rant. I reserve the right to delete this later.
So TL;DR My characters are all kinda gay…get over it.