Why Does it Matter if a Character is Gay?

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It’s a fair question, I suppose. It’s a fair question for those who feel that their own sexuality is somehow unimportant or is some manner disconnected from their identity. It’s a fair question for those who feel that anyone’s sexuality is an aberration or distraction from their true being. I for one don’t feel that is the case, but in this age where the mere mention of a difference between us is held up as an example of someone’s political agenda, I understand how it could seem to be a part of that and how, in order to protest the many agendas that may or may not exist, it might seem appropriate to label sexuality irrelevant and just move on.

It’s no one’s business after all, no one needs to know what you do in the bedroom, alone in the dark or with a partner, unless of course you socialize or somehow interact with other people—say at your workplace, where someone might ask you what you did over the weekend. A heterosexual woman might reply that she went to a winery with her husband. She might go on to share that he drank too much and she had to drive home. This sort of sharing is a part of normal human interaction. We use pronouns sometimes. She might not have meant to declare her sexuality, but she did—just as certainly if a man had said the same words.

Captain Kirk’s sexuality was pretty clear—a woman in every port, but imagine if it were a man in every port. Would that offend you? Would it justify the sentiment that gay men are promiscuous? Would it serve an agenda like that? What if Spock were gay? That would certainly alter the impact of Nurse Chapel’s feelings for him. It wouldn’t change that aspect of the story—Nurse Chapel’s unrequited love, but it would deepen that aspect of the story wouldn’t it? I think it might root and even ground it in a way that might even be considered profound.

Certainly if both Kirk and Spock were gay, perhaps friends, or perhaps lovers, that fact would deepen the impact of “Plato’s step-children” doing what they did. Forcing Kirk to kiss Uhura the way they did would intensify our revulsion at the violation of their free will. After all, Kirk is gay! How would it confuse the issue if Kirk and Spock were forced to kiss one another? Would it matter more or less if they were already lovers? What if they were both gay, but just friends? Wouldn’t that bring up an altogether different set of complications?

So yes, it matters if a character is gay. It matters because our sexuality is as much a part of who we are as any other aspect of ourselves. It matters in our characters too. I think it is a good idea to replace the assumption of heterosexuality with a broader perspective where sexuality is concerned. It’s a necessary transition in fiction and it is a reflection of what we must do in real life if we are to truly care for our fellow humans. I suppose there’s an agenda at work in that. But you know, learning to care for one another isn’t a bad agenda as agendas go. It’s better than the alternative.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this thought. If you are tempted to ask if it matters whether a character is gay, why not make a list of other aspects of character that may or may not be worth your attention. Does it matter if the character is a human or alien? Does it matter if the character is male or female or tall or short? In the end it’s all a matter of perspective and that’s the purpose of having characters in our stories in the first place, isn’t it?

-Jonah

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