GLBT Characters in Mainstream Fiction

If I want to read a book with an accurate portrayal of GLBT characters, I’m best going with something that is specifically marketed as GLBT fiction.  But why should I have to do that?  We all know that GLBT persons are a component of society and are in every aspect of our lives, yet we for some reason largely exclude them from mainstream fiction.  (And I’m using “mainstream fiction” to mean anything other than that which is specifically labelled as GBLT fiction.)

GLBT characters have been very few and far-between in the mainstream fiction I’ve read in the past couple years.  Perhaps that’s why GLBT fiction thrives?  Because if someone wants to read about GLBT characters, they know they have to turn to GLBT fiction?

I sometimes wonder if part of the reason for the scarcity is because heterosexual writers are intimidated by the prospect of a GLBT character.  If s/he has no experience with homosexuality, how can s/he write a homosexual character?  I don’t buy this as an entirely valid excuse.  A great number of gay romance novels are written by heterosexual authors.  While a GLBT character can have a certain authenticity when written by a GLBT author, it is not an exclusive ability.

I also sometimes wonder if it’s because heterosexual authors generally do not think to include GLBT characters.  Again, I don’t buy this.  White authors write about characters of other races.  Local authors write about characters in other places.  (Sorry for the rhyming sentences, this isn’t turning into a Dr. Seuss poem, don’t worry.)  So if an author’s imagination can conceive of all sorts of characters and locations outside of their general experience, then why don’t they include GLBT characters, when, presumably, they personally know GLBT people in their workplaces, families, and friends?

And, again, I have another wondering.  Perhaps authors don’t include GLBT characters because they worry that highlighting such might make that character a “token gay.”  While that can be a real concern (and I can actually accept this reason, though disapprove of fear holding people back), it can easily be overcome by following one simple rule: treat GLBT characters the same way you treat straight characters.

We all fall in love.  We all go on dates.  We all have successes and failures with our relationships.  We all have families.  And we are not defined by our sexuality or relationships.  We all have jobs, we all have commitments, we all volunteer, and we all have friends.

Straight characters make references to their husbands and wives, they mention dates they’ve been on, and they refer to their family — authors can do the exact same thing with GLBT characters, just by switching the gender of the pronoun.

While I find GLBT characters rare, they have not been entirely absent.

In George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (the Game of Thrones series), it is implied that Renly and Loras are gay.  However, this is so subtle in the book that I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for the gay scene in show.

And the Star Trek books have included GLBT characters in the last several years.  Well, G&L characters.  While I applaud the regular and appropriate inclusion of sexuality in Star Trek fiction, I am somewhat exasperated by the quality of gay relationships.  Each and every single gay person in Star Trek fiction, at least from my recollection, is happily married.  The straight characters date, get married, break up, and have relationship troubles, but the gay characters present an ideal relationship where everything is perfect.  It’s not quite reality.  I’d like to see a gay character go on a date and not like the guy by the end of the day.  I’d like to see a one-night stand (because we’ve seen so many of the heterosexual characters love em and leave em *cough*Kirk*cough*Riker*cough*).

Just once (though preferably more than once), I would love to read of a transgendered character, where being transgender is just an aspect of the person’s identity and the story is not actually about being transgender.  Like… a murder mystery where the detective is M-to-F.

Movies have gotten ahead of fiction in this regard.  There have been some wonderful characters in all sorts of shows and films who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual and their sexuality does not define who they are as a character.  I haven’t seen any transgender characters that I’m aware of, but I have no doubt that at least some of those characters were handled with care and respect and were stronger for the struggles they’ve been through.

Including GLBT characters in fiction is not difficult and, really, writing does not reflect reality if all of the characters are straight.  I think we’ve managed to reach a certain level of diversity in our fiction, particularly in racial diversity (though a lot of sci-fi is still a mainly-white cast, which I don’t think reflects where society is going), but we need to push the envelope a little more and bring in other diversities.

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3 Comments

Filed under Publishing, Reading, Writing, Writing Tips

3 responses to “GLBT Characters in Mainstream Fiction

  1. Reblogged this on The Gaia Chronicles and commented:
    Interesting, I’ve never actually read a mainstream novel with GLBT characteristics. I’m completly out of the loop.

  2. kyoske

    I often think about this as a LGBT fiction writer. Especially since my main novel is more about characters who happen to be gay. Their sexuality isn’t the focus of the story. Still, when shopping to agents I refer to it as “LGBT Fiction” because the B-plot is a love triangle between 3 guys.

    I think we are seeing a bit more of LGBT characters in mainstream fiction. Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” features a rather interesting gay character, where it’s not so much his sexuality but his sexual practices which give us a glimpse into his mind. The best part about it is, no one ever makes a big deal about it. Even though it is kind of scandalous.

    I think most authors are afraid of having LGBT characters as tokens. While it is easy to say “treat them like everyone else.” Authors might worry that by doing so, they will make a boring character. LGBT people are not drastically different (at least I don’t think I am =) but the culture we surround ourselves with does have a certain flavor. Not every gay guy knows how to decorate and uses the phrase “Fabulous” or “Oh, Gurl!” however many do. I think authors are afraid of trying to write a more fabulous character and it coming across as…tokenism or insulting.

    That said, I think authors could probably ask their friends if they’ve cross that line. It’s pretty easy to spot. I worried about that with my novel, which doesn’t have a lot of women. Yet, most of my betas were women. So I asked if the fact that the most prominent female character (a brassy diva with large breasts) was insulting. They all said no, because they either knew women just like her, or assumed that’s what a lot of female actresses are like (for the record, not ALL actresses are like that, but many are).

    I do wish mainstream fiction included LGBT characters more. Most people know at least one gay person, so the fact that characters in books seem to know none is very strange.

  3. Pingback: Gay Characters in Mainstream Fiction | Vampires, Crime and Angels...Eclectic Me

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