Friday, December 4, 2009

Writing gay folks

I was just emailed this link: Writing Gay Characters. It's got some amusing covers from the early days of the modern paperback, and it's a fine list of ways writers can screw up.

But I don't think it's what it intends to be, because I don't think you can teach people how to write gay characters well. Either you understand that all people are people, or you think people like you are people and everyone else is inferior. That applies to more than the cliché of the straight white male: There are gay bigots, just as there are female sexists and black racists. This may be the most important lesson in life: people are people.

I only noted the sexuality of a couple of characters in my first novel, Cats Have No Lord, but I'll happily pull a J. K. Rowling and retcon Thraas: He's gay. I included a gay male couple in my second novel, Witch Blood, because it was about a small community, and I couldn't believe a small community would not have gay folks in it. No matter whose figures you use for what percentage of humanity is gay, if you have ten or more folks in one place, odds are good that at least one of them is gay.

I grew up in a fairly homophobic time, but Dad had been in the Merchant Marine, and he told me when I was beginning to understand that human sexuality is complex that every ship has gay sailors who do their job just like anyone else. Dad's principle of life was one that true conservatives and communists agree with: Live and let live. It's always worked for me.

I've only written one story that was about being gay: Secret Identity. Otherwise, I just try to write the world I know, which includes gay folks.


  1. Reminds me of a story one of my friends told me, about the time he went to one of Harlan Ellison's lectures, and one of the audience members asked H.E. why there were no gay characters in his stories. Ellison said "There's lots of gay characters in my stories; there's just no reason to bring up the fact that they're gay, that's all."

    That was kind of the case with Rowling too. The last book gives us subtle indications that Dumbledore's relationship with Grindlewald was a bit more than AC; it sounded like they were becoming the wizard world equivalent of Leopold and Loeb until Ariana's death shocked Dumbledore back to reality.

    I think Rowling really wanted to leave it at that, but of course, Hollywood got hold of it and one ambitious screenwriter sketched out a lost lady love for Dumbledore (echoing Snape's love for Lily) until Rowling scrawled out an impatient "Dumbledore is GAY!" in the margin. After that, the cat was out of the bag, (or the wizard was out of the closet, if you prefer.).

  2. "but Dad had been in the Merchant Marines,"

    Surely you mean "but Dad had been in the Merchant *Marine*" Will. I have have never heard of "the Merchant Marines". . .

  3. Blue, Hollywood writers just can't leave good enough alone. But I do wish Rowling would do a story about Dumbledore to make that part of the canon. Saying it is ony quasi-canon, because you can always undo what's not in print. She might die, and her heirs could turn Dumbledore into Hugh Hefner.

    Robin, fixed! Thank you!