Recently, I was reading the blog of one of my favourite authors, B. R. Collins (She’s since taken the post down). She was discussing a problem she’s having with one of her manuscripts. Well, not so much a problem, more like a dilemma, a quandary, even.
So she gave the completed manuscript to her agent who, while positive about the story as a whole, tactfully suggested that she might want to dial down the romance to a ‘passionate friendship’ rather than a romance.
I’m not going to bother discussing what I think she should do in this situation because it’s her decision and she took down the post so she could diplomatically begin discussions about keeping the story as it is. But what I did want to discuss is the role of gay characters in fiction and why I think it’s both important that they’re there and that we are able to see past their homosexuality. The thing that interests me about Collins’s problem is that if she dials back the romance the story will remain basically unchanged. Which means that it wasn’t solely about the two women being gay.
Now, I think I have a bit of a strange view on the whole gay issue because I learned how to write (and continue to do so, mind you) by writing scads of slash fan fiction. The first time I became emotionally involved with a romance story it was two guys making googly eyes at each other. And, for a time, I would only read stories about said googly-eyed guys.
Which means that I am well acquainted with what seems to be the standard focus for any mainstream media story about gay people: The realisation, coming out and bigotry.
Before I go further I should mention that I’m well aware that coming out is most definitely one of the most emotionally charged and often traumatic events in a gay person’s life and thus it’s perfect to base a story around. Bigotry is another huge issue and one that we still have to deal with on a day-to-day level. Both of these things (both separately and together) have your conflict and your emotional investment all wrapped up, not to mention that discussing these things through fiction is one of the ways we, as humans, learn to cope with and understand them.
Naturally, after the first hundred or so slash stories all dealing with the same topic, I started to get bored. And then I found the subset of slash writers, the ones who’ve been in the game a little longer and had gotten just as bored of the ‘I’m gay and that is my conflict’ stories. The ones who wrote stories where the characters just happen to be gay.
They wanted to tell different stories while keeping in the abnormally good-looking boys being abnormally good-looking together so they did. So instead of stories that hinge on the conflict that coming out presents, there started to be stories where the protagonists were already out and proud and were accepted for who they were. No conflict was based around them being gay because there was no need. There were more important matters at stake, an evil corporation bent on taking over the world with spinning tops, for example.
Does this sound familiar? Almost like every other story that has a protagonist that’s straight, right? When your protagonist is straight there’s no need for them to have conflict about it. It’s normal. There are more important things to think about, plot wise.
Which, I think, is the main point of this, isn’t it? Normalcy?
Our fiction and our stories help us to understand the world we live in. Through it, we see things we’ll never see in real life, face problems and heart-wrenching decisions we’ll never have to face. Through our fiction we can understand life just a little better.
So what does it say when we’ve reached the point with gay fiction where it’s not worth having conflict over a character’s homosexuality?
I think it says that we’ve finally come to the point where we view it as normal. And that can only be a good thing.
Let’s come back to Collins’s problem. Though I haven’t read the story (it being an unpublished manuscript and all), simply the fact that she can remove the gay romance without it affecting the plot too much makes me believe that she’s written one of these stories, the ones where being gay doesn’t provide conflict and rather is just how it is..
The thing I find a little gut-wrenching about that situation is the audience to whom she’s pitching the book: Young Adults. These are people who are still forming their opinions of the world. These are the people who, if they are so way inclined, are finding out that they much prefer ogling people of the same sex.
These are the people that we need to tell that being gay is completely normal. It’s not something that we need to base entire stories around, rather that it’s possible to have a protagonist who does whatever heroic thing they’re going to do before coming home to their loving same-sex partner. Young adults are the people we need to be telling that being gay is so normal it’s not worth making a big deal out of it.
There will always be room for the coming out/bigotry story, just like there will always be the ‘racism is wrong’ story and the ‘gee, Hitler was a bit of a dick’ story. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we need some variety. Stories about bigotry aren’t the only thing gay characters are good for and our mainstream media needs to start reflecting that.
Throughout this rant/tirade/well-thought-out-essay (ahem), I’ve used the word ‘gay’ rather than LGBT. This isn’t out of any reason other than laziness. What I’m trying to say stands true for everyone who identifies themselves as part of that community. Everyone deserves a shot at fighting dragons/catching serial killers/saving the world regardless of their sexuality.
Also you may notice that I’m directing my complaint squarely at mainstream media. I assume that any niche publication/community that focuses on LGBT fiction has had the same phenomenon as slash fiction: they got bored telling the same bigotry-laden story all the time so they started to branch out. And that’s brilliant because of all of the reasons that I’ve discussed above. But it doesn’t help with the whole normalcy issue simply because people don’t seek out LGBT-focussed publication unless they’re already interested in the subject. But, most people aren’t. Most people read mainly mainstream fiction (hence the name. And despite what hipsters tell you, mainstream is not a synonym for terrible) and most won’t come into contact with anything other than the same, tired story because that’s the only story that mainstream fiction seems to be able to tell.
And I, for one, would much rather read about or watch good looking guys/girls ogling each other while they save the world rather than letting the world crumble around them while they work out if said ogling is okay or not.