Writing Queer Characters Should Not Be a Special Endeavor

A rainbow of pens

Special stationery not required.

In most writing groups I’ve joined in my adult life, I’ve been asked at least twice, by separate people, “What’s the trick to writing gay characters?” I know this question is never meant in offense, but I can’t help but feel put out and annoyed because there’s very little I can tell them. What advice I can give, that you should simply write a character who just so happens to be gay (or transsexual, or bisexual, or asexual, or intersex, or genderqueer, and so on) and otherwise treat them about them same, is often met with an expression that suggests they think I’m bullshitting them. Things can get awkward fast, even though I know the question is never meant in offense.

All too often, we consider the process of writing characters we perceive to be different from ourselves as some daunting endeavor, one with secret maneuvers we need to master in order to do it right. We overestimate our own differences, and this overestimation is fed and reinforced pervasive latent prejudice in pop culture and society at large.

Being queer doesn’t enroll you into a hivemind. I’ve been asked if all gay men like or dislike certain things, or if they all adopt feminine mannerisms, and so on. The bottom line is that your orientation, your sex, your gender identity, are all only parts of you. This is as true for queer people as it is for anyone else

If you were born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, how would you feel if I asked you what the trick was to writing characters from Pascagoula, Mississippi, how weird would that seem? It would seem very strange, wouldn’t? It feels strange because you grew up in Pascagoula and know the depth of variety to be found among people there. If people assume you’re intrinsically different because you’re from Pascagoula, something you didn’t even choose and have lived with your entire life, I imagine it’s a similar feeling to being asked for the secret recipe for a queer character.

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