And neither should you.
Now, I get it. You’re a heterosexual person (or a queer one, because they mess it up, too), and you want some diversity in your story’s cast. So why not have a gay character? Or a transgender character? Or an asexual, panromantic, gender-fluid character?
I will never tell you not to have a queer character, but there are some rules that you need to adhere to.
Note: I’m using the term ‘queer’ to refer to non-heterosexuals and/or non-gender-conforming people.
- Define your character by their sexuality. Very rarely does someone refer to another person as “the straight one.” So, no one should refer to your character as “the gay one.” The only way to avoid this is to not have their sexuality be their main feature. Think about it: does your personality revolve around your sexuality? I didn’t think so.
- Rely on queer stereotypes. There are gay men who are effeminate and lesbians who are masculine, but there are also masculine gay men and feminine lesbians. There are people who you would never know are queer if you relied on stereotypes that you find in the media. Not all gay guys like to go shopping. Not all lesbians wear Crocs. Bisexual does not mean “slut.”
- Claim the character is queer, but do nothing to show it. The TV show Modern Family is really, really bad about this. Queer people want sex and relationships just as much as straight people. So don’t say that Bob is gay, and then have him do nothing about it. If Bob is in a gay relationship and Sarah is in a
straight relationship, they’ll be doing the same amount of kissing, flirting, and sex (but probably not with each other). Don’t cheat a queer character out of a relationship because you think it’ll offend your readers.
- Have a tragic backstory that has to do with the character’s queerness. This links back to number one. I know a lot of queers, and most of them don’t consider any experience — good or bad — with their queerness being the defining moment of their life. If you want to see an example of doing this right, look to Supernatural‘s Charlie Bradbury. She does have a tragic backstory, she’s a lesbian, and the two are not connected. It’s awesome. Of course, it’s possible that something in your character’s life having to do with your character’s sexuality or gender expression was traumatic or important, but unless you’re writing a book about the challenges queer people face, just avoid it. It’s been done over and over, and a lot of us gays are sick of seeing it.
- Fully flesh out the character. All your main characters should be three-dimensional, no matter their sexual orientation or gender expression. Give your queer characters as much thought as your straight ones, and keep in mind the “Don’t”s.
- Give them a satisfying romance. This really only applies if you have straight characters with romantic relationships. Don’t skimp on giving your gay characters as much of a romance as your straight ones, but don’t try to force it, either.
- Let them be happy. This really links in with #2, but in all aspects of life, let your queer characters be just as happy as the straight ones. Historically, queer characters in fiction are doomed to lives of depression and abuse, with their deaths usually the result of suicide or murder. For once, I’d like to see a queer character who gets a happy ending. This idea seems to be a magical, fleeting unicorn that you see once in a blue moon. I don’t know why it’s so hard, but come on. Let the gays be gay for once.
Queer representation is becoming more popular in all forms of media, and I’m stoked about it. However, there are problems with the some of the ways it’s being done. As you’re crafting your story and your characters, try to keep these rules in mind. Representation is great, but not when it always ends in unhappiness or loneliness. Don’t let your character be a stereotype, and don’t let them be defined by their sexuality. They’re just people, after all.