What does a queer person look like? How do we act? Do we all have laser eyes and love our mothers and listen to musicals while knitting? Do we weep while clutching skulls and enacting a gay version of the death of Hamlet? How do you, questioning, questing writer or other creator (or approver) of fictional media, actually end up including queer characters and how do you shape them so that they feel “real” to you and so that the queer people wanting representation do not fall upon you like a flock of laser-eyed, mother-loving, knitting-needle-clutching vampires of vengeance?
If I can manage to stop laughing and find a “read more” image, I will try to give you a place to start, because, oh gentle content creator with good, pure, genuine intent, I know you are tripping on, getting tangled in, and even, all unbeknownst to you, drowning in swamps full of mental blockades you may not even be aware are there.
Spoiler of all not spoilers – queer people are people and we do not exist in some world wholly separate and wholly different from the one you exist in. You cannot simply pop our queerness out of us and neither can you pop us out of the world, no matter how much people try, both intentionally and unintentionally (that is what the whole first post in this series was about, after all). By that same token, there is no unified queer experience, no matter how much you try to refine us down to singular atoms of experience and identity.
Remember that going forward, because if you read and listened to the first post in this series (as well as the framing/master post), you also know, although maybe not yet in the bone-deep, absorbed into your very being type of knowing, that we should not be used as your cannon fodder and your sources of pain and knowledge (often for your non-queer characters and readers/viewers) and Very Special (and, sometimes?, often?, also Very Sad) Episodes/Character Lessons/Etc.
I can already hear you going “But that’s my point! I want my queer characters to feel natural and to happen naturally! I don’t want to make Very Special Episodes!,” and, like I have already said – that will not happen without work and intent and you can still accidentally, unintentionally end up doing that … or working so hard to avoid it while still having it consume your thoughts and the ways in which you think of queer characters and how to add them to a plot that you stall out and simply never end up creating any queer characters.
As much as I jest, and create clever, pointed titles to help get concepts across, I am not actually creating a guide to writing queer characters in the way that people normally want or expect guides. We are far too numerous and diverse and intersectional to pick even a single atom of queer identity and try to write a guide to it. And none of us is a toaster or a piece of furniture with assembly instructions. We are people, as diverse and numerous as stars in the sky and flowers in fields, so all I can do is try to kick down some brambles and blow dust off telescopes for you and gently guide you in directions that seem good.
One of the biggest, most pervasive, and dangerous brambles to kick aside (or attack with some kind of super-powered chainsaw) is the idea that queer people do not belong or would not exist or be in certain situations, environments, places, or settings. To which I say – no. Like I said in the first post in this series, we are always here, even if we are not “obvious,” and, as I said earlier in this post, we exist in the world you do and, also, we ourselves are as diverse and numerous as the stars.
If you think there is some situation (or setting or … don’t make me try to list so many words again!) where queer people (emphasis on the plural) would not be – think, think again, write down what you are struggling with and why and – ask around and do some research. And also – just think like you would for any non-queer character you are creating and coming up with motivations and justifications for. And, just like you would for all the non-queer characters, remember that there are no monoliths in terms of motivations, beliefs, feelings, etc, whether they are things that you read (rightly or wrongly) as directly queer-related or not.
I have no interest in making this about specific pieces of fiction (using illustrative examples is different than some kind of metaphorical duel to the death with flaming swords) but I think in this case breaking something apart into pieces I can discuss is helpful. In part because, again, it is not actually possible, even if I wanted, to create a, or, worse, the guide to writing queer characters, but I can point out and cut through some of the brambles lying in the way of good writing and inclusion.
So, without further ado, it’s time for a round of ‘Oh, that character couldn’t be the queer one, he was married to a woman!’/’Well, it couldn’t be one of the characters in the US military!’/’It’s totally that guy! He paints and likes his mom!’ Aka, I already roundhouse kicked this show for leaving the one almost-canon queer character on the cutting room floor and for teasing but never even giving a Dumbledore-style queer character among the recurring cast and now I’m going to slice and dice people’s assumptions about who could or could not have been queer.
To start with, unless I seriously missed some super-secret all queers bulletin about painting -you cannot guess queerness based on a person’s hobbies. Painting is neutral. Knitting is neutral. Listening to musicals has no inherent value as an orientation indicator. And the state of relationships with parental figures is not a queer litmus test either. Queerness can certainly impact relationships (and I don’t just mean in a Tragic Queers Movie Of The Week way – again, we are diverse people with diverse relationships and experiences), but positive parental relationships, especially ones that you view as crossing gendered lines of behaviour are not Queer Signs From Above. Do not write them like that and do not believe and buy into them like that.
Even people who have experienced the same general situation do not experience it in the exact same way or have the exact same or even similar feelings about it. This is not just true advice for writing queer characters but it is something I want to bring out and emphasize because it becomes so so tempting to go with one particular experience or life event or what have you and, especially once all these characters are massed together, to have it be treated as The One Experience with the One Way of Feeling. And that’s just not the way real life works.
For example, without actually telling you any real-life stories (I do not just mean things that are mine. I also mean people I know or have known), I can tell you that there are many many ways that Attractive Male Lead Who Was Married To A Woman could have been the, or better yet, a, queer character on the sci-fi show I am not naming.
One way (and oh, the number of times I just shake my head or want to thump it against a firm surface because people act like the only “options,” both in fiction and in real life, are homosexual and heterosexual) is that he could be a queer person who is attracted to multiple genders and the relationship we (in this case meaning viewers instead of queer people as it does in the rest of this post series) knew of on the show happened to be a m/f pairing and he simply had not, for any number of reasons (living in a bottle environment with a limited number of people, life-sucking space vampires, suddenly being leader of the military side of an expedition in a different galaxy and having that position repeatedly challenged once they reconnected with Earth, etc etc), expressed any interest that contradicted the assumption that he was not queer.
Which also gets onto the subject of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which … could or could not exist in this universe (although I would not hold my breath regarding someone(s) creating a fictional version of our world at that time, or at any time for that matter, where, gasp!, shock!, it is actually better than our own in some way that directly pertains to queer people and our existence, happiness, and safety because We Must Always Suffer, even when there are space ships and space vampires). If it did exist, then that would be another pivot point where a character’s motivations and decisions, both in the past and the present, could be shaped and changed.
Note that I said another, because one note is not a song of any length and your characters, especially if they are main (or supporting) characters (and hopefully you have gotten the point that you should be making queer main characters and queer supporting cast), should be songs, not singular notes.
I said I did not want to bring up individual works (in the context of how I do not want this to be about individual beefs with individual works of fiction, but, rather, about larger patterns and habits and how to learn from and also unlearn them), but I do want to mention the version of Batwoman’s backstory present in Detective Comics #859.
I recommend reading the entire story arc, both for enjoyment and because it makes my point even further, but the part of Batwoman’s origin that I am going to share here directly relates to Kate’s queerness and to her dedication to service and to the oath she took and to how those factors interplay and result in both her leaving Westpoint and her planned future as a member of the military and in her becoming the superhero vigilante Batwoman. And, in the context of the story as a whole, that is not the singular reason for her becoming Batwoman but it is woven into the cloth of decisions and moments that make up her road to becoming Batwoman (yes, yes, mixed metaphor. sorry.).
I seriously think this section, where Kate is offered one last chance to save her position at West Point and the future military career she has planned for and desired her entire life and turns it down, citing West Point’s own oath, has some of the best pages/storytelling/character in comics I have seen.
And – this is a really good story but it is not The Story and it does not try to be. And that’s what I want you to remember and think of when you get stuck and stalled out or do not even realize you are stuck and stalled out until (hopefully) someone points it out to you or you finally manage to catch it on your own. That you are writing a story about a queer character (not that there should be only one in your story, but that each should have their own story) and that any situation could go any number of ways, with a myriad of different feelings behind the past, present, and future of that situation.
Doing a bit of brainstorming to clear away brambles (feel free to come up with even more and to pick other characters and works, canon queer and not) – What if Kate had done as was asked of her and accepted her continued presence at West Point and her future career at the price of her honour and truthfulness and very sense of self? What would have happened immediately? During the rest of her time at West Point? What about the start of her career? Who would she still meet or not meet? Date? Would she still engage in the self-destructive period we know from the rest of the story? Would it happen in the same way? Sooner? Later? Would she still become Batwoman? When? Why?
By the same token, taking that Sci-Fi Show I Am Not Naming and its Attractive Male Lead (part of a quartet-style main cast, so you are both free and encouraged to try your hand at queer-spinning them too) and seeing how we can spin him being queer (remember, the bramble-destroying exercise here is to do better than the promised but not delivered on Dumbledore-style sole queer recurring character) –
Is he multiple gender attracted? If so (and more than one of these can be true!), did he not want to complicate their situation during the year they were trapped without connection to their home galaxy and home planet by trying to, successfully or not, get involved with anyone on the expedition? Does he (shock! shock!) respect fraternization rules and the spirit behind them? In his view, does the spirit and the letter of the fraternization rules also apply to non-military members of the expedition, especially in that first isolated year? And then later when his position is continually being challenged and contested? Is he concerned about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell if it exists in this fictional version of our world? Is he (also) worried about anti-queer sentiment and his personal safety (and that of any prospective partner(s)), in addition to his position and his leadership and the likelihood that people will listen to him when it is imperative that they do so (space vampires! limited supplies! space vampires!!)? Is the dating pool simply kind of limited and no one tickles his fancy? Is he just not interested in another relationship right now? Does he not engage in casual talk about the appeal of others? What are the (likely multiple) reasons for that?
The above paragraph is still not exhaustive and that big paragraph is simply if we pick the pivot point/branch/etc where the explanation for this character being queer and having been in a m/f marriage in canon and having that marriage have ended for in-canon reasons is that he is multiple gender attracted and, during the run of the show, evidence was not included for attractions other than m/f pairings.
And please note that even if the character were only attracted to other men (in whatever way(s) he experiences attraction), the in canon reasons for the end of his marriage (namely, the large amounts of secrecy and secrets his service to the US military/government required) could still be the reasons for the end of his marriage. Or not. But the point is that they do not have to be Great Dramatic Queer Reasons Of Suffering And Sadness in order for only attracted to men and was married to a woman to both be true. And even if they are (and I don’t mean written in a way that merits my sarcastic, pointed, aggrieved All Capitals), there is no one set of feelings that queer people have during, after, and about that type of situation.
This post is becoming much longer than my previous one but I am trying to shape a big whole for you to learn from and an important part of it is you learning, really learning and taking deep down into your bones, the fact that queer people are diverse, with diverse experiences and personalities and beliefs and decisions and backgrounds and even the ones with some thing in common are not some kind of perfect carbon copy of emotions and decisions and inner life.
It may seem easy and you may nod your head when we tell you this but it is so hard in practice. We do not want you removing experiences we actually have. We want you to make the experiences we have as varied and real as they actually are and the equals, in content and complexity and character role, importance, and genre, as those of the non-queer characters who make up the vast majority of fiction, especially popularly and easily available fiction.
But, I think talking about letting us have the valour and action and fantasy and survivability and triumph and hero’s bliss of the pantheon of non-queer characters in fiction starts to get into the ground I want to cover in my next post in this series (not that the ground is easily, clearly separate between any of the posts in this series, which, I think, is part of the point), so time for all good readers and teachers to rest, relax, process information and, likely, process some sleep and food and drinks.
So, thank you for tuning in to this series and sticking through to the end of this article, and enjoy your day and night and the ways in which you are you, a unique individual, a song no one else has ever sung, a singular star in the vastness of the sky.
Notes: This was a pretty image intensive post on top of being a big post in general, so I am giving all the image credits their own paragraphs. Also, this post is part two of a three part series, with a framing/intoductory post and a third post I will link here. I think I linked the first post enough times in this already though, so I will let this paragraph alone for now. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and, if you can, I would love it if you put a tip in the jar. I enjoy actually getting to eat and I also have my site renewal fees coming up in July and I really want to get to keep writing for you all.
Detective Comics #859 (January 2010), “Go, Part 2,” written by Greg Rucka, art by J.H. Williams III, colours by Dave Stewart, and letters by Todd Klein.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #1 (January 2012), “Liars A to D Part 1: How to Say Goodbye and Mean It,” written by James Roberts, art by Nick Roche, colours by Josh Burcham, and letters by Shawn Lee.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #4 (April 2012), “Life After the Big Bang,” written by James Roberts, art by Alex Milne, colours by Josh Burcham, and letters by Shawn Lee.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #31 (July 2014), “Twenty Plus One,” written by James Roberts, art by Atilio Rojo, colours by Joanna Lafuente, and letters by Tom B. Long.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #32 *(August 2014), “Slaughterhouse,” written by James Roberts, art by Alex Milne, colours by Joanna Lafuente, and letters by Tom B. Long.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #33 (September 2014), “Slaughterhouse Part 2: The Road Not Taken,” written by James Roberts, art by Alex Milne, inks by Brian Shearer and John Wycough, colours by Joanna Lafuente, and letters by Tom B. Long.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #41 (May 2015), “The Sensuous Frame,” written by James Roberts, art by Alex Milne, colours by Joanna Lafuente, and letters by Tom B. Long and Chris Mowry.