Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Month: May 2016

Writing with LGBT+ Characters Pt. 2

Whew, it’s been a busy week!

Today’s topic is about myths; those pesky little stereotypes that are best avoided.

Myths are incredibly prevalent in our society, whether they are classical or contemporary, and they often find their way into books. (Okay, more then often. They’re like a giant weasel burrowing admix everything. Or maybe that is just my plot holes talking…)

As you can see by the title of this post, this is the second half of my whole thing about writing with LGBT+ characters. Let me be entirely honest for a moment; this is a post that I thought would be far easier to write than it actually was. For one, there are thousands of different ways to approach this topic. There are also a lot of questions.

When writing about ‘minority’ groups, it is easy to say that all humans are humans and they should be treated as such. However, there are always certain things to avoid. That is where stereotypes come in.

Yup, those.

Everyone knows that it’s frustrating when someone stereotypes you; no matter who you are. One of the problems with LGBT+ characters in media and books is the number of stereotypes that are repeatedly used again and again. I think at least a few of the more recent queer characters that are starting to show up are finally avoiding many of these stereotypes, but they can still be a problem. Stereotypes have a way of sticking around.

On the heels of that, let’s get into the actual discussion…

Before I get into my over-passionate list of a few stereotypes, let’s go over some basic stuff:

According to the New Oxford English Dictionary (third edition), sexuality is defined as: a “capacity for sexual feelings,” or, “a person’s sexual orientation or preference.”

So… what are the most commonly used sexualities?

Lesbian: A woman who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to another woman. (Gay is also an appropriate term in some areas. It mostly seems to be based on personal preference.)

Gay: A man who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to another man.

Bisexual: Someone who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to two or more different genders.

Transgender: Someone whose gender is something other than what they were assigned at birth. (While trans is not exactly a sexuality, it is certainly a valid LGBT+ identity.)

Pansexual: Someone who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to multiple different genders. (While this may seem very similar to bisexuality (and it is), pansexuality is an entirely separate identity. Pan and bi can occasionally be used interchangeably, but it is entirely based on personal opinion and there is a debate about whether or not they should be, most people seem to stick with whichever one they feel more comfortable with.)

Asexual: Someone who does not necessarily experience sexual attraction. Most people who identify with asexuality experience romantic attraction,

All right, now that that is out of the way: what are some of the basic stereotypes to avoid?

Note: these are based off of things that I have run into around the net, and they are undoubtedly influenced by my own opinions. There are probably some mistakes as well, please let me know if you find any. I will be happy to read your comments.

The butch and girly-girl lesbian relationship. Surprised? I know, they’re cute. But it’s just one version of a relationship involving two girls. It is true that there are many lesbians who fit the butch stereotypes, but everyone else needs representation too. To be clear, this is not on the list because it is a bad one, it is here simply because it seems easy to fall into.

The sex craving gay/lesbian/bi/pan etc. While physicality can have a major place in many written relationships (just think about a lot of the popular books out there right now), relationships are about the emotional not the physical. To be honest, this is something that can easily be overdone with straight relationships as well, but I think it can be a major problem with LGBT+ relationships, especially since there is some phobia out there about LGBT+ people being attracted to everyone they meet: entirely not true! Simply put: if you are not writing in a genre that asks for a ton of sexual stuff, this is something that I highly recommend avoiding.

The feminine/stylish gay man. This is very similar to the first one I mentioned; not all gay men wear flamboyant clothes, talk in high voices, or giggle. While there are some gay men who may fit this stereotype, there is also a large majority that does not. Let’s mix it up a bit shall we?

The greedy bisexual/pansexual. Bi and pan people have the capacity to be attracted to multiple genders, it is certainly not a mark of greed. It is an ability. Bi and pan people are not attracted to everyone they meet, and being bi or pan does not mean that they wish to be in multiple relationships at once.

The confused bisexual/pansexual. This one mostly seems to stem from a lack of understanding that bi and pan are both valid sexualities. While some people might be confused, the chances are that someone who is identifying with any of the LGBT+ terms probably knows whether or not the term fits them. To be clear: writing a character who is questioning their sexuality is an entirely different (and absolutely appropriate) thing!

The tragic death. Okay, this is probably the worst one of all. It is tempting to kill off one half of a relationship for drama and *ahem* mental torture (I am guilty of falling into this plot trap). However, this is entirely overdone in LGBT+ relationships. There are very few (but more than there used to be!) LGBT+ characters who get a happy ending, and I think that this is stereotype that should be broken. Do you remember what I said about books showing people the world in my last post? Everyone should be able to read about characters in relationships that they identify with who get to have happy endings!

All right, there it is in its mess and confusion. I know that I strayed off of the path of strictly talking about writing characters at a few points, but hopefully that did not occur too much.

Again, if you have any comments or corrections, please let me know!

Until next time!

(And a cute puppy gif, because that was pretty intense):

puppy tennis

Writing with LGBT+ Representation Pt.1

With the legalization of queer marriage last year, it seems like equality is far closer in this country than it has been for centuries. But there is still a ton of work to be done.

Why am I bringing this up now, and in a post about writing of all things? Because LGBT+ representation is still extremely scarce, both in film and books.

Of course, there are many different ways to approach representation of anything, and I cannot possibly cover everything in one post. Nor do I know everything. But one of my goals for June is to talk a bit about including ignored sections of society in books.

When speaking about any group that is not traditionally considered a majority (at least in modern times), there is always a lot of debate. I think it is common knowledge that people are afraid of things that they do not understand; no matter what it is.

Part of what books do is help to create understanding around topics that might not necessarily be talked about around a dinner table. This is not the case for all books, nor should it be, but, whether the author intends it or not, books often carry messages.

The topic of this post is a tiny splinter of a much larger one, and it is only part of one side, but I believe that it is an important thing to talk about. I have run into many things around the internet about how some people see a ‘queer or gay-agenda’ being shoved in their faces; I find this ridiculous. But I’ll talk more about that in a separate post.

While I could easily go on a very long rant about my own views, I am simply going to harp on the fact that it is still hard to find good representation of minority groups in film and books.

It is true that there are far more LGBT+ characters in TV nowadays, and the number in books is rising as well; however, it is still quite hard to find books with good queer role models.

Yes, the rising amount of representation is extraordinary and wonderful, but there is a difference between the what media sees as ‘queer’ and the actual diversity of the term.

In my cloistered little world, I may not know very much, but I hope that I can at least recognize a few of the major questions relating to dealing with queer characters.

I know that a lot of people who have not written many queer characters often wonder where they should start:

How is writing queer relationships different from heterosexual ones?

How should they go about defining who has which role in a partnership?

How can they avoid offending people, including the LGBT+ community?

To start with an overview of each:

1. Queer people are still people; in short, it is a pretty safe bet to start writing their relationships just like you would any relationship. It has highs and lows, understanding and confusion, just go with it.

2. Who says there should be roles at all? Not everything needs to be defined in black and white or male and female.

3. Try to become at least slightly familiar with the typical stereotypes that you should stay away from. Do a bit of research. There is a ton of material available.

Clearly, there is much more to say about each of those, but I am going to start with a few general questions before really getting into the more nitty-gritty stuff…

First off: why include representation anyway? This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’m going to talk a bit about it anyway.

A bit of a personal story: One of the first fantasy books that I remember reading more than once is Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. I started reading at a late age, but I quickly started searching for chapter books; the Song of the Lioness series was one that I absolutely fell in love with. The main character, Alanna, is fierce as hell and just as strong. She follows her own heart and passions despite what society expects her to do, and she manages to grow stronger with each mistake she makes. She is also incredibly stubborn. Reading a book with such a strong female main character was, and still is, a major inspiration.

What does this have to do with LGBT+ representation?

Representation is all about showing people that something is possible. Every community and group of people needs its heroes and heroines. Including diverse characters in anything is a way of showing the people who are different that it is okay to be them. Having an entire world with strictly hetero-cis-white representation would be extremely diminishing to everyone who does not fit those confines.

While this world is not one with strictly white-hetero representation, it is the majority of what people see in media (film or books).

Now, clearly this conversation could reach straight into equality as a general concept, but I’m going to try to bring it back to books.

My view in this post is mostly focused on America since it is the country that I am the most familiar with. The book that I started in April for Camp NaNoWriMo has very few straight characters; this was not an accident.

Over the past month or so, I have been occasionally searching for books with LGBT+ characters to add to my to-be-read list. The number of books that I am finding with characters who are something other than gay/lesbian is pitifully small.

I very rarely read anything that is solely (or even mostly) romantic, and that undoubtedly makes the number of books even thinner. But, even when including romance, there are still very few.

For a world, and a country, with a large number of people who identify on the queer spectrum (whether it is gay/lesbian, pan, bi, trans, asexual etc.) this is something that I find sad.

Now, I know that my approach in this post may be slightly heavy handed to one side, and I have not even gotten into the writing part of the discussion yet, I think that there is very little that should be skipped over.

Because I am trying to keep each of my posts on this topic relatively small, I am going to end here for now. I hope to tackle an question that better pertains to actually writing next time.

Hopefully you will bear with me through my plethora of posts regarding representation… and I will try to keep my personal rants out of the way and to a minimum.

Until next time…

A New Quote for a New Month!

It’s May! How did that happen?

Seeing as how I posted last night, it should not surprise me, but I still do not know where this entire year is going.

Oh well!

As it is the beginning of the month, it is time for a new quote: “Words can light fires in the hearts of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss

May we all run into a book that does just that soon!

I’m Back, and Finishing Camp NaNoWriMo

Whew, it’s been a while since I last posted. Sorry about that.

It’s been a pretty crazy month. Clearly Camp NaNoWriMo has been taking up a lot of my attention (and a bit of sleep as well), but it’s always worth it!

Today is the last day of April and, as an overview of the month, so far I’ve:

  • Validated my wordcount for Camp NaNoWriMo at 87,000 (far more than I thought that I would accomplish).
  • Read far more than I usually do during April Camp NaNoWriMo (but not nearly as much as I would have liked).
  • Started multiple flash-fiction pieces and short stories (and submitted one to a magazine for consideration).
  • Started figuring out my schedule for the rest of the summer and the fall.
  • Spent wayyy too much time procrastinating (but I’m trying not to focus on that!).

It’s been a pretty good month, although I have no idea where it went. (Has anyone found that postoffice box to time yet? No?).

In the coming month, you can expect:

  • The next chapter of Beautiful Cracks (I will explain its absence later).
  • A while series of posts about representation of minority groups in books (and writing characters related to them).
  • A whole ton of stuff that I have yet to figure out… including a few things that I probably planned on doing months ago.

That’s about it for now I think! I hope everyone is having a great night!

In celebration of Camp NaNoWriMo:

And…

Until next time…

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