The presentation of GLBTQ in fiction
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, but not the kind of reading that gives me spine tingling chills, or makes me laugh, or even allows me to contemplate life as we know it.
Well, perhaps that last part just a bit.
No, none of my recent reading has been fiction related (though it helps to read it for writing fiction). It’s been about the treatment of fictional characters. In particular, GLBTQ fictional characters.
I’ve seen this a lot in different forms of media whenever a gay male or a lesbian is presented. There’s a certain stereotype and it’s played over and over and over again. If a gay male, he is predominantly portrayed a feminine, and will have a certain number of traits that include his likes and dislikes. If a lesbian, she is usually portrayed in one of two ways; either butch with short hair and liking “male things”, or as the “elusive lipstick lesbian. The latter is often times (in fictional media) used as an object of desire for men, and at some point in the narrative ends up making out with another equally gorgeous woman.
In reality, which is the real world around us that we live and breath in, these stereotypes don’t exist. So why do they persist in media? Are they used as something funny? Because to be honest, it’s not very funny. At this point, it’s very, very old and tired. It’s kind of like hearing the chicken and the road joke for the thousandth time. I’ve heard it before, it’s not new, please stop trying to tell it to me.
GLBTQ people are no different from anyone else. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I guess it bares repeating. They, like anyone, has their likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, careers, and so much more. There is as much diversity with GLBTQ individuals as there is with anyone else.
This point came up recently for me when I received an email from someone who read my book, The Adventures of Black Mask & Pale Rider. They liked it, but…
It was the obligatory “but” that I had often waited for; not a critique about spelling or plot devices or flow of the story (which I really welcome, because it only helps to get better as a writer to hear what people have to say whether good or bad). But (there it is again) this particular complaint was about the portrayal of the two main characters.
Shani Wennemein and Pania Alow are a pair of gunslinging elves traveling through the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Shani is much more the gunslinger, and has a rough and ready appeal to her, wears worn leathers and a pair of Colt 45s that hang low on her hips. She has black hair that covers her shoulders and she drinks whiskey and smokes hand rolled cigarillos.
Meanwhile, Pania Alow is very much a swashbuckler. She like pretty things, dresses in finery, even when she’s in a sword duel or in a gun fight. Has long, blond hair kept in curls, and even takes the time to do up her own makeup before venturing onto the road again.
That’s a very short description of the two main characters. There’s other words to describe them; Shani is tall and thin, Pania is curvy and outgoing. All of that is fine and good, but the writer of the email didn’t like one particular aspect of the two. The writer felt that one part should have been reversed.
You see, Shani is straight, while Pania is a lesbian.
The writer of the email felt it should have been the other way around, citing that Shani seemed more “butch” than Pania. Quite frankly, I never imagined Shani as “butch”. She did wear clothes that seemed more suited to a man, but that was how she felt most comfortable. The writer went onto to say that Pania seemed more feminine (which she does and feels completely comfortable that way) and should have been straight, or at the very least bi.
Sorry to burst bubbles, but no. I will take critiques and suggestions of how to present the story, but how I present the characters is completely up to me. Pania is gay. Gay gay gay gay. Lesbian! In Shani’s words, “gay as the day is long”. If Pania wishes to dress in a frilly dress with a matching floral hat, then she’ll do so. If she wishes to dress in a pair of thigh high boots, soft leather leggings, a corset and a silk poet’s shirt, then she will. Pania is an entertainer, a singer, an actress and a teller of tales. She knows very well that a colourful style draws in the eye, and she knows very well that her shapely figure will draw in more attention, especially if she accents it with pretty clothing and finery. How she dresses does not dictate what her sexual orientation is. And the same goes for Shani.
The stigma surrounding gay and lesbian people in fiction (as well as bi, trans*, queer, asexual and so on) really needs to stop. People should be presented as people first, their orientation a very distant second. GLBTQ people should be displayed in fiction as people, nothing more, nothing less.
So, sorry writer of email, Shani will stay straight and Pania will remain a lesbian because that’s how they are, no matter how they dress or act. As are all GLBTQ people.
I’m not an expert on such things, as I have never experienced what it’s like to be gay. I’m pretty much a standard straight male, so if anyone wants to add their experiences and observations (especially treatment of GLBTQ in fiction), please do so.
- In the News: LGBT Pride Month (theipl.wordpress.com)
- Bill would outlaw “ex-gay therapy,” Obama sides with humanity and other musings (newblackwoman.com)
- Become a YouthResource Peer Educator with Advocates for Youth! (uchicagolgbtq.wordpress.com)