Friday, May 25, 2012

On gay characters in fiction: a first look

Omar Little - Man, I was so annoyed when he got shot. So very, very annoyed because he was my favourite character out of The Wire.

For this post, gay is simply men loving men. I'll look at lesbian relationships another time as tackling them all at once would mean writing a thesis rather than an essay.

Throughout the history of literature gay characters have been included but their rise in popularity and acceptance has occurred only fairly recently, largely due to the growing acceptance of and demand for equal rights for all homosexual couples. As society gradually changes its ways so to our representation of homosexual individuals and couples changed, the representation of gay characters along with them.

These days homosexual characters aren't written with subtle innuendo, coloured with mild suggestion only the clued in will understand or openly ridiculed and vilified. Nowadays homosexual characters are written and represented far more boldly and receive general acceptance for it. Only when the content of popular fictional pieces becomes rather explicit with regards to sex scenes do you find an uproar occurring, such as when the gay sex scene in Torchwood aired.


Other than the soldier background, actually quite original in characterisation.

Such outrage shouldn't really occur given that the show is for adults, what with it having sex scenes and graphic violence included, and any adult watching it should be accepting enough by now to either enjoy the scene, not mind the scene or disregard it however they please without making a fuss. But there does, and likely always will, remain those who live in fear of one thing or another and some people being afraid of homosexuality or seeing it as against a belief system isn't something that surprises me. As mentioned before religion was never, in any form, the fairest when dealing with anyone not of the heterosexual male type of the particular society following the religion. Outsiders are not welcome and for some reason it is seen that they deserve to be messed with or condemned. It is all a bit rich for me...

But while gay characters are being represented far more boldly there are, as you find with the representation of women, stereotypes or moulds for them. And like most stereotypical or moulded characters there is only a touch true about them, most of what is used to create these characters being quite unrealistic. Still, the inclusion and free representation of gay characters in fiction does help to promote general acceptance as long as they aren't made out like golliwogs were for black people.

The interesting thing about gay characters in fiction is that the vast majority written are concerned with love and relationships. Romance is king in the world of gay fiction, which is an interesting reflection on the state of our current acceptance of gay romance as well as the concerns of gay readership. It has to be noted though, that many gay works are produced by females and are intended for a female audience. This just shows that females are often far more accepting of gay love and relationships than males. Call us saps but we do love seeing a male heart melted, whatever the reason. Oh, and there's the titillation factor. Twice the hunk (it is just the reverse of heterosexual men enjoying lesbian porn except often not quite so explicit sex-wise).


Wallace Wells is a brilliant gay character for while he's fickle with his loves and crushes he is pragmatic, a voice of reason, long suffering and just plain funny.

So here are some of the stereotypical gay characters often used, for better or worse. They are used with an eye mostly towards general acceptance of lifestyles and loves that have not been generally accepted until recently than anything else. Sometimes they are often used to show the way, as it were, to those young men who are struggling to accept their own homosexuality.

  • The pretty boy - either joins with the plain (devotion and humility) or with another pretty man (contest for affections until a balance is found).
  • The effeminate boy or man
  • The cross dresser - may be labelled 'she' and act like a woman (all about identity and identification). Or the cross dresser is dressing as such only for pleasure and a pastime (no identity issues included).
  • The metal worker or builder - tough man with a heart of gold, simple and honest and straightforward with his affections.
  • The muscle bound - purely for the sexual appeal.
  • The bear - Big and hairy and possibly muscle bound, like the metal worker or builder he is a man with a heart of gold but he isn't necessarily simple minded.
  • The mentally disturbed - the equivalent of a woman who overly desires sex due to abuse as a child. A rescuer/controller is required as his partner.
  • The tough gang or yakuza member - finds he has that one soft spot for that special person.
  • The introverted businessman - shown love and light by an carefree, likely younger, man. Or, shown love and sexual adventure by the boss and on the way shown how to conduct business more successfully.
  • The teacher - used for titillation and scandal but love usually conquers all.
  • The host or prostitute - has to choose love over money or a single lover over many.
  • The prince - has to resolve the lack of children and inheritance issues.
  • The beggar/desperate or too free - paid sex and sex in toilet scenes usually occur. Love interest is a rescuer who gets attached to one .
  • The androgynous - close enough to female to catch a heterosexual male's eye leading to this person being the only man the heterosexual male ever love (cue sexuality crisis).
Job from Banshee - My new all time favourite who beats Omar Little for being more complex, full of character and down to earth.

  • The school boy - discovery, identity and sexual crises, rejection of love for fear or non-acceptance, foolish and awkward approaches to love confessions or relations as well as obsession. Just you general first love issues that any character may feel but with a focus on acceptance and fear over the foolish and awkward approaches.
  • The sexual slave - addicted to sexual freedom and a lack of ties to anyone he finally finds a strong, powerful man to master him, thus finding happiness and purpose in being the focus of one man's overbearing attentions.
  • The rejector - he fears himself, his urges, his love's presence and any sexual urges he feels. Often violent or overly shy as a result. Shown the way by a man with a well-defined identity and strong acceptance of himself if the story is a romance or falls into a pit of despair and self-hatred if the story is a tragedy.
  • The bully - loves to tease the one he loves and often partners with a man or boy who is free with his tears but accepting of such love. There are also the occasional turn around pieces where the bully gets bullied.
  • The cowboy - tough, rough or uncouth man with a heart of gold, alternate version.
  • The soldier - providing scandal, titillation and a touch of the master/slave, the soldier in a heart of gold hidden by regiment and strictness. Often falls for the wild or rebellious new recruit.
  • The lover or anyone worthy of love - often capable of swinging his affections between males and females and causing massive troubles and heartaches with it. Pairs with a teary or soft hearted man who plays on his sympathies enough that he's eventually captured.
  • The lover of straight men - desired the unachievable, the father figure or revels in the 'pity me' heartache. An attention seeker unaware of himself he often meets tragedy before love but love can eventually come his way when that one straight man meets him not for sex but for love.
There are many more but I won't promote underage sex (and I do mean quite underage not just "my birthday's next month" underage) or anything too violent when that violence isn't accepted or wanted (as per any other character typing there are gay characters who love or need abuse).

Another favourite gay character of mine. Belonging almost solely to the Trueblood show and not the Sookie Stackhouse books. He may be more than a tad effeminate but he's all backbone, sarcasm, determination and despair while being one of the few sane characters of them all. In such shows I definitely side with the most sane.

When writing a gay character you might like to explore more realistic characterisation but the stereotypes above aren't bad and do reflect characters similar to those found in any other type of romance or relationship based fiction. There is plenty of room for advancement but the base character traits and relationships have been well explored up to now. The readership will also include a fairly high number of females so be sure to add in lots of emotional turmoil as usually occurs in any romance.

Like any other fiction though, the key to writing gay characters is more about creating believable men, male reasoning and male impulses. Gay men are distinct from heterosexual female characters no matter who the man is sexually attracted to. Even the cross dresser who wishes to be female will focus on the gap between the male and female while the female won't focus on it at all - they already are female. So don't write your gay characters as women because doing such is a mistake worthy of a facepalm.



I'd actually suggest that if you aren't a gay man you do a little research for yourself before tackling a gay character, just so that you can become familiar with genre trends, standard characterisation methods and the types of story lines already explored. From there you can depart from the norm or write according to the current guidelines, whichever fits your story or audience the best.

Note
Like all other types of works, those focusing on gay characters were and are more prevalent in books, comics, anime and manga, their presence on TV taking a little longer. TV is always the last to change.

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