When I was a kid, male gay characters in fiction did not exist. And when they did, they were all very much the same. They were effeminate, catty, fashionable, cowardly, self-centered, and very promiscuous. They did not get lead-roles, because they weren’t fully realized characters. Queer characters in fiction during my teenage years were deliberately written to be two-dimensional side characters. And I would like to tell you it’s gotten better, but for male queer characters in adult SFF…it really hasn’t.
Recently, I had a conversation with a dear friend about this phenomena. I’m very grateful for this friend, because he is a straight man who is actually of aware of his privilege and deals with toxic masculinity first hand. I spoke with him recently about diversity in adult SFF (and the many sub genres therein), and we discussed the need not just for queer characters, but male queer characters that are outside the trope.
Much of the queer characters I see in SFF are female, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. But its a bit worrisome, because so much of this is a male-driven business, and to straight men, queer women are sexy, but queer men are not. I worry that this is largely a carryover from the pornography industry, since I also see bisexual women, but not a lot of bisexual men. The few queer men we do encounter are very much to trope. And its teaching men that if the trope is isn’t you, you’re not gay. Or if that is you, you’re not straight. Which is just the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard.
The friend I was talking to confessed to me that he has what many would call “a gay voice,” because his tone is more alto to high tenor than baritone. I nodded in understanding, because as a born-female but androgynous identifying person, I get lumped into the Into Girls Club, and I’m not. Sadly.
For a genre that allows you to do literally whatever the hell you want in creating a diverse cast of human and non-human characters, SFF needs more queer men. I want queer men with many varying personalities and styles and tastes and cultural backgrounds. I want queer men who are assholes, or have no fashion sense, or kill people for a living. I want queer men who get their hands dirty. I want queer men who are proud and out, and queer men who are nervous about being outed. I want queer men who behave like people, not caricatures. And I want queer men present in a non-supporting cast manner in something other than an indie romance novel.
And it’s not an impossible feat. I don’t think I’m asking for much here. I mean, just look at Skyfall, okay? Just look at this scene for about thirty seconds (or ten minutes, I won’t judge. I’ve rewatched this scene more times than I can count.)
That is bisexuality being suggested by a fictional character who has been so womanizing in the past that when a woman asked him for something to put on to get out of a bath her offered her a pair of heels (Thunderball, 1965.) And this moment of queerness doesn’t undo his character, doesn’t make him any less “cool” or “masculine.” It allows his character to undo Silva’s attempts to unravel him. It’s badass.
And that’s what I want every writer in the goddamn universe to take from this, to remember when you’re writing queer characters. Sexual identity does not rule gender. Male queer does not mean you need to sit down and say “whose the lady in this?” The point of being a homosexual man is that there is no lady, and the fact that you need to designate one means you really need to sit down and deal with your own narrow-minded straight-ass perspective, you dumbass.
And don’t even get me started on whose the top and whose the bottom, I will fight you. I will fight you by throwing a series of switching fanfictions at your head and forcing you to read them.
Fun fact you fucking nerds–I have yet to read a better queer male starring-role story in published novels then I have read in fanfiction. That’s why I read fic so much. Cause regular books are so predictably hetero I might as well read it to put my ass to sleep.
Writing queer men well is simple. Write them like anyone else, and leave their sexuality as an afterthought. Give them flaws and a backstory like you would for your lead character, and then add “they are gay, or bi, or just queer and still figuring it out,” and see how that plays into their character. How does this affect their view of the world or other people? Does the way they were brought up make them comfortable in being out, or uncomfortable? Their age should reflect this, as it will dictate what horrors to the queer community they might have lived through, or what they’ve only heard about second hand.
But remember, while you’re not writing homosexuality as a leading character attribute, you still need to say it. Having queer characters that aren’t even hinted in your text as being queer is not diversity. If you have to tell your audience later; in a blog post, or a book-signing, or what the fuck ever that your character is gay (looking at you JK Rowling), then it’s not representation, because the diversity isn’t visible within the text.
If you can wrap your brain around the concept of lipstick lesbians, then you can get your head around the idea of masculine gay men without making them into bears. You have infinite resources to guide you, *gestures to the entirety of the internet.* And if you’re ever in doubt, just ask someone! If you’re not afraid to write the damn book, then you shouldn’t be afraid to have a conversation about it.
Just. Write. People.
Now go out there and write your damn book.
Still need some help? Here’s some fucking reading material to consider: