Introducing Queer Characters
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! Last week, we started off a general guide to introducing queer characters, and today we’re going to finish that guide off! Bear in mind that some of these introduction methods are good, some are bad, and some very much depend on context and execution!
The Friend Explanation
Similar to The Explanation from last week, rather than your character explaining their own identity, one of their friends does it for them! This might be another queer character, or a non-queer ally.
This can be either good or bad. On the one hand, it’s awesome to model for non-queer folx that the burden of education shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of queer people. On the other hand, though, this can toe the line toward a character being outed. I’ll touch more on that later, but suffice to say it’s an uncomfortable thing to read, and not something to model as being okay.
Foiled Romantic Subplots
This is a budding trend in fiction, and honestly, it can be really adorable. Fiction tends to necessitate a romantic subplot, and that romance is always assumed by default to be heterosexual. However, some media has recently started to play into that norm in order to make space for one of their characters to come out as queer!
This can be an actually cute and somewhat funny way of introducing someone’s identity. It allows the queer character to come out, gives space to allow some bonding between the queer character and the one who was hitting on them, and demonstrates to your audience that it doesn’t have to be a whole big thing. Not to mention that you get to take a frankly annoying trope about modern media and use it to your advantage, so that’s a win!
One of the go-to ways that non-queer writers love to show that someone is queer is by having them endure some sort of hatred. This usually looks like a character being attacked for being queer, sometimes accompanied by someone coming in to be their savior.
I don’t recommend this. Being queer is not an inherently traumatic experience, but a lot of queer people do deal with this in their day-to-day life. If they are trying to consume your fiction as a form of escape, to connect with people like them, it can be jarring or upsetting to see their identity attacked right up front.
This isn’t to say you can’t include any hatred ever in your fiction — just be mindful with it, and try introducing your character’s queerness in some other way first!
Being outed sucks.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, this is when your queerness is revealed to someone else against your will before you were ready for it. It happens in a lot of teen coming-of-age movies — either the inflection point of the narrative involves the character being outed, or the threat of getting outed is the driving force of the story.
Honestly, this is already pretty tired, and not very fun to read. Being queer isn’t some dirty secret, and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. At the same time, though, everyone deserves the respect of being able to come out on their own terms. Introducing queer characters this way is outdated, and can be jarring or upsetting to queer readers.
This doesn’t mean you can’t write stories about the trials and tribulations of deciding to come out, or that being outed can’t be an aspect of your story — just don’t make it the big dramatic reveal of your character’s identity (or, worse, the punchline of a joke).
“I’m Just Like Everyone Else, Except…”
A mainstay of 1st-person YA queer novels, this is a super frustrating (and rather uncreative) way of introducing queer characters.
First off, it implies that there is something different or abnormal about being queer. While being queer is a beautiful and unique experience, this sort of introduction marks us as outsiders and implies that there is something secret about our identities.
Secondly, it’s just… sloppy. Like, I can appreciate that it leaves little room for erasure, since the narrator smacks you in the face with their identity right out the gate. And it’s also technically a form of your character coming out, so it’s not like… problematic.
But it also isn’t elegant. It’s very ham-fisted, and it doesn’t feel authentic. Queer folx don’t sit around all day thinking about how gay we are, and it’s also rarely the first piece of information we’re going to offer someone.
So, I guess in short, introducing queer characters this way is fine, if done with a modicum of finesse to make sure you’re not painting the queerness as a dirty little secret. However, there are a ton of better ways to do this! Have your character’s gaze linger on someone of the same gender, or have an internal debate about who to come out to, or something that would actually prompt an in-narrative description!
As you can see, there’s a lot of different methods of introducing queer characters. This is also in no way a comprehensive list — there are tons of creative and inventive ways you could introduce queerness to your narrative. Whatever you do, though, make sure that you’re treating your characters with respect, do your research, and know your tropes.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with another post, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!