Over the last 20 years, there has been a huge increase in literature involving LGBTQ characters, especially in YA. It’s not because identifying as LGBTQ is new, but because our culture is more receptive than it’s ever been. Queer issues are now part of the mainstream, and being talked about openly in a way that wasn’t true less than a generation ago. Literature has always reflected the diversity in our culture, but sometimes this happens on the fringes of society. In the case of LGBTQ characters in YA fiction, moving these voices into the mainstream has a positive impact on LGBTQ teens who may otherwise go through life feeling isolated or alone, or like no one understands their experience. It’s important for people of any gender or sexual orientation to feel represented in literature and have a voice of their own. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to incorporate LGBTQ themes into your writing, when it’s a good fit for you and your story.
How Do I Write To Include an LGBTQ Character?
One thing to keep in mind is to write to encourage understanding within the community and because it’s authentic to your story, not because it’s a “trendy” or “edgy” thing to do. Don’t play into the stereotypes that have outlined the LGBTQ community in the past, such as:
– The effeminate gay man
– The “butch” or masculine lesbian
– Promiscuous or deceptive bisexual
-Gay football player/lesbian cheerleader
– Transgender stereotypes : “freak” or “confused gay man/lesbian”
**Do not confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. (Transgender is not the same as transsexual – transgender means you identify with a different gender than the one you are assigned at birth, while transsexual means you are undergoing hormone treatment or surgery to become the opposite sex.)
Make sure that your characters have personalities instead of stereotypical traits. While it’s perfectly okay to have a feminine gay man or a masculine lesbian, avoid making this the outline of their personality.
Your story does not have to advocate for LGBTQ rights. While you can definitely highlight the struggles this community faces, at the end of the day your LGBTQ characters need to have depth and nuance, just like any other character you might write. Don’t limit their experience to their struggles in coming out or dealing with backlash from society. It’s perfectly okay to include this kind of thread in your story, but it does not have to be the main plot line. If you want to write to highlight these struggles specifically and speak up for a movement for greater equality, you absolutely can.
Some Ideas to Write from New Perspectives
– Write your character’s story arc without determining specific gender or sexual orientation, and at the end of the story decide what reflects you as an author and your character’s development. This may help you focus more on the developing storyline and the character progression rather than placing gender stereotypes and social norms onto your character. You could also simply not reveal a character’s gender or sexual orientation and let it be up to the reader’s interpretation. (This would definitely generate an interesting debate amongst your readers.)
– Change your main characters gender or sexual orientation and see what new ideas or perspectives you experience. This may take you out of your comfort zone, which is a great thing! It can bring new perspectives when it comes to dealing with the struggles of everyday life. (For example, parenting from a gay couple’s POV may bring up different ideas for your story than parenting from a straight couple’s POV.)
– Take gender stereotyping out of your writing and using gender fluidity as a tool to encourage deeper character development outside of social limitations. When it comes to struggles in your plotline or obstacles the main character must overcome, try not to make them gender-based. (For example, not making all of the male characters do hard labor and the women doing more work at home, having men in power and no women, not placing a strict line of work on either gender, clothing limitations, etc.)
– Do a little research if you’re confused or concerned about correct gender pronouns. Some popular gender-neutral pronouns include ze, xe, hir.
It can be challenging to embody a character whose gender identity or sexual orientation is different from your own, regardless of how you identify, but remember that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can and will inspire creativity.