I recently posted an article at Queerscifi.com asking the question: “Why does it Matter if a Character is Gay? I’ve since syndicated the article (through reposting and Paper.li and so on) and it’s made its way here and there. Overall, I would say that the article was well received, but I was surprised by some of the objections and caveats the question raised. I’ll grant this: it’s hard to break the bonds of habit, and hard to free ourselves from the tropes and conventions we have become accustomed to, and even rely upon. However, as writers we must do so, as readers we all but beg others to do so.
I originally wrote the article because within the greater science fiction community, there is a tendency for the question to be asked with a dismissive tone, and whether the tone is intentional or unintentional, it is an attempt to dismiss the issue–to dismiss it on the grounds that science fiction isn’t *about* sexuality. My rebuttal to that argument is that sexuality is a part of character and character is always an intrinsic part of story–it is the purpose of story itself. So yes, I absolutely agree that sexuality need not be the sole focus of a story, but I also think that it does need to be mentioned and discussed–even foreshadowed if you will. The sexuality of heterosexual characters is typically a part of the exposition, after all. Isn’t it?
To illustrate my point, I imagine an action/adventure story–something like Indiana Jones. In a marketplace, somewhere near Kuala Lumpur, the lead character is in a battle with the minions of the villain. There’s a crowd, it’s an action packed scene; chickens and goats are scattering as the fight proceeds through the marketplace, people are shouting, some encouraging the lead character, others helping or hindering the minions. Still, the protagonist is the superior fighter, he has the upper hand and he’s likely to win, when suddenly… he sees a beautiful woman in the crowd. She’s stunning–gorgeous! He stops, distracted and fully taken by her beauty, thus giving the minions the opportunity to bop him on the head, knocking him out… Perhaps later we learn that she works for the villain? Perhaps the villain was well aware of the lead’s weakness for beautiful women? In any case, it’s a part of the makeup of the character. It impacts the story, influences and turns the story. It helps the writer advance the story. As a result of this scene, you come to know the character’s sexuality and preferences don’t you?
Naturally the reader would be surprised, and perhaps even confused if it were a beautiful man that distracted our lead, so a certain amount of exposition regarding the lead’s sexuality is necessary. Of course, in this example, I’m proposing that the lead is a man, but what if he is a she? She could still be named Indiana, (or Nevada, or whatever) but wouldn’t we need to know that she was a she?
My point is that the sexuality of a character is typical in fiction. It is a part of character exposition. When it’s done well, we barely notice it. It isn’t the subject of the story, but it is a part of the story. Did Nevada’s wife or husband die? Is that why it was so difficult for the wizened professor to get Nevada to accept the mission to travel to Kuala Lumpur? Is that why Nevada has become a recluse? Whatever the premise of the story, in the end it is about the character, and the character must overcome whatever trials, challenges and obstacles that stand between them and their goal. Being gay, and coming to terms with being gay, shouldn’t be the sum of our stories.
Our stories need not be exclusively about being gay. The stories of our heterosexual friends are not exclusively romances; neither should ours be so tragically limited. We should not limit ourselves to coming of age tales, but rather, just as in life, the full scope of experience and life is available to us. So yes, a Starship Captain can be gay, and the story needn’t be about him (or her) being gay. A boat captain, and an action hero, and if you really want to go out on a limb, even a Klingon can be gay. Just as is true with our character’s heterosexual counterparts, it is what our character does with all of who they are that make them a good and even beloved character.
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