Introducing Gay Characters
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
It’s been a while since my last post, as I’ve been hard as work with some revisions on my novel, but the last time I posted before the hiatus was to discuss writing gay men. This week, I wanted to pick up where I left off by rounding out that little series and talking about introducing gay characters!
As a reminder, when I say gay characters, I’m referring to gay men — that is, masculine-aligned people that are attracted to other masculinely-aligned people.
So, without further ado, let’s looking at a few different methods of introducing gay characters!
Bad Ways of Introducing Gay Characters
Dating Older Men
I talked about this in more depth in my tropes to avoid post, but introducing gay characters by having a minor sleeping with an older man is bad. Why is this so common in media???
Stop having teenagers discover their sexuality because of the advances of an older man! It’s predatory and plays into a LOT of negative tropes about gay men. Just… just don’t, lord.
Young men getting mocked or abused for being gay/effeminate has long been a staple of illustrating queerness, and it’s especially rampant in media depicting young gay men. This, however, can be extremely trying to read, and should not be used simply to “set the scene,” so to speak.
If your character is gay, find a kinder way to introduce that fact (even in harsher stories), and make sure that you understand the weight hateful content can carry in a narrative before you use it.
It’s really common for writers to never actually say someone is gay, but just pile on as many gay stereotypes as possible and then pretend like it’s obvious that their character is gay.
However, reducing gay men to the standard array of stereotypes about them and their sexuality is not a nuanced or respectful way to handle their identities. There are effeminate gay men, fastidious gay men, and flamboyant gay men — but not all gay men are those things, and those things do not define gayness.
It’s never a good idea to lean entirely on tropes and clichés to define a character, as you will inevitably stumble onto something that feels hollow or even insulting to the population you’re portraying. You can definitely code a character as gay, as I mention further down, but don’t make that coding their entire personality.
Iffy Ways of Introducing Gay Characters
Queer coding is an age-old tool to show a character is queer without, you know, saying they’re queer. Famously done for villains and then for kids’ media to avoid potentially pissing off conservative parents, this has led to a lot of the baseline ideas we as a society have about queer people — especially gay men.
Usually, gay men are coded as being stylish, effeminate, confident, and clean (sometimes to annoying or comical extremes). These traits aren’t inherently negative, but just having someone “seem gay” in the background of your story isn’t enough to be able to claim gay representation. If you wanna write a gay character, say they’re gay!
Because gay men are generally seen as affable, friendly, and non-threatening (for better or for worse), one increasingly popular way of introducing the fact that a character is gay is to have a female protagonist begin to develop feelings or even make advances on the gay character, leading to an opportunity for the gay character to come out.
Done well, this can actually be kind of funny or sweet, and a nice moment between the two characters. It’s still possible to do it poorly, though — be careful of leaning too heavily on coding or tropes, and don’t make the character’s sexuality the butt of the joke.
Girls Are Icky
Similar to the point I made in my post about introducing lesbian characters, a lot of the time it seems like straight people can only conceive of gay men being gay if they also think girls are somehow gross.
Now, many gay men certainly do find the thought of sleeping with women distasteful. However, they don’t walk around declaring how gross they think vaginas/breasts/women in general are.
And, moreover, there are men who have vaginas. Trans men exist, and a lot of gay men sleep with them regardless of their genital configurations. It’s frankly rude to reduce folx to just their genitals. It’s fine for a character to have genital preferences, of course, but not for them to sweepingly say that all individuals with vaginas are inherently icky just because they wouldn’t sleep with them.
Only Kissing Boys
If a male character only ever kisses or shows attraction toward men or masculinely-aligned people, it can be a relatively safe assumption that he’s gay. However, it’s helpful to EXPLICITLY state this, to avoid any ambiguity or bi erasure (remember — men can be bisexual too!)
Good Ways of Introducing Gay Characters
As always, hands down the best way to introduce a character’s gayness is to just have them come out!
This can be them literally saying “I’m gay,” or some variation on “I’m only attracted to men.” But either way, it allows your character to retain agency over their identity. If you want tips on how to write coming out scenes, check out the series of articles I wrote about it!
Never Interested in Women
If it’s a well-established fact in the narrative that your character is in a long-term same-sex relationship, or they’ve been out to everyone in your story for a long time, it might not make sense for them to outright say they’re gay.
However, to avoid ambiguity, I would recommend that you make some mention of your character’s actual preferences. This can be a minor aside, a part of their backstory, or even a joke if done right. (Make sure you avoid any homophobia!)
Introducing gay characters requires some finesse, but it’s no more difficult that introducing other queer characters. Just make sure that you’re not relying too heavily on tropes, and you should be fine.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with a new article but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!