Tuesday, April 5, 2011

LGBT "Issues" in Genre Fiction

Disclaimer: I've been thinking about this topic for days, so below are my thoughts and opinions as they are right now. I won't claim they're 100% correct or complete (I always forget something, it feels), and I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I don't want to start any fights. I just felt the need to organize my thoughts and present them here.

I say "issues" in quotation marks because a friend said something a few weeks back that struck me. "LGBT aren't issues, we're people." They're also individuals, but it seems lately, various people are too fond of treating them as a lump group.

So some of you may have heard about the Wicked Pretty Things anthology, and how one author's story, which had been accepted, was then rejected. The editor told the author she needed to change the gender of one character, so that the primary relationship was male/female, rather than male/male. This is despite the fact that it was m/m when first submitted and accepted. Other authors in the anthology have also subsequently pulled out of the project.

I won't try to guess at what the editor was thinking or how she truly feels about the situation or the story element in question. It'd be all speculation and unfair.

What I do want to discuss/think aloud about, is the fact that the presence of LGBT characters is becoming a bigger topic in the publishing industry, and one that despite a broad awareness, doesn't seem to have made much progress.

In an urban fantasy I'm working on, I have two characters who are openly gay and in a relationship. It's a challenge for me to write them being affectionate, more because I still have a lot to learn about romance in a writing sense and consider myself a novice in that area, and because I want to find a balance between not hiding their relationship and fan service (gratuitous affection), neither of which is fair. My goal is the portrayal of a solid relationship between two adults who, because of the story plot, have to deal with a lot of new stressors on their relationship.

I feel like it shouldn't matter whether these characters are gay or straight in order for me to show that, and I think it should have no bearing (I hoe it doesn't) on how likely I am to get this story published. I try to mimic real life in my casts, and in real life, a 3/4 Japanese woman in her 20s, living near the West Coast, is going to know a diverse group of people.

These two aren't my main characters, though they are present throughout the story, but there seem to be very few (if any) fantasy stories in the mainstream with LGBT characters, let alone as protagonists. That needs to change. One can make the argument (and as I heard some time last year, when a lot of blogs were debating about the inclusion of characters of color in fantasy) that a straight white girl shouldn't be writing characters who are gay men. ~shrug~ I can't say I'll get it right the first time, or the second, but I think there needs to be more diversity in fantasy, and if I can write a character who is foremost a person, and identifying as gay is one aspect of their personality, then I'm not going to shirk from that based on another individual's opinion.

I can only do my best to help make this change, but it's a change for the best IMHO, and I think the only way it will become more acceptable in mainstream publishing is for more people to include LGBT characters, and for more people to make it known that they'd read stories with LGBT characters. There's too much disconnect, so it seems, between what readers want, and what publishers/editors/etc. think readers want. That needs to change, too.

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