Thursday, 5 April 2012

Can you write gay fiction if you are straight?

Maybe the answer to that is no. Actually, I'm not quite sure what Gay Fiction is - perhaps someone could enlighten me. All I read is fiction - whoever it's about and whoever it's written by, I just like a good story.

So, to be clear from the start, I happen to be straight but I have lots of friends, relatives and colleagues who are gay, so I feel as comfortable about putting homosexual characters in my books as I would characters with red, blond or black hair (or no hair at all), characters with physical disabilities, male characters, characters who live in the future or the past or are a different age, nationality or social background from myself. Of course I do. My fiction would be very sad and limited if I only ever wrote about me!

And part of the fun of writing is becoming someone else - tasting the world from a different point of view.

So is there are a problem? Maybe not, but when Charity's Child  first came out in paperback I did get a couple of remarks from people who tentatively and very politely suggested that perhaps I didn't know what I was talking about and shouldn't be trying to write from the point of view of a gay character.

That's the problem, I suppose, if there is one. Joanne, the narrator of Charity's Child, is a young lesbian, as is her friend Charity, though there is also some suggestion that Charity may be bisexual, as you'll discover if you read the book. So the question was, I suppose, 'How can you, a straight person, get inside the mind of a lesbian character sufficiently well to write convincingly with her voice?'

How successfully I achieved that aim can only be judged by my readers. It doesn't seem to me to be much different from my trying to write from the point of view of a man. Which is something that female authors do all the time, and vice versa - sometimes with great success and sometimes not.

As far as I can tell, there's a lack of fiction, especially YA fiction, with gay protagonists, so the more the  better, perhaps... whoever writes it?

Anyway, please tell me what you think, whether or not you've read the book. If you've read it, I'll be especially interested to hear your views.

Best wishes


lizy-expat-writer said...

I have written a book about an abused boy, neither of which words apply to me. It's not necessarily experience that matters - more listening to, reading about, and empathizing with other people.

Anonymous said...

The comment above is very true. But so is the old advice 'write what you know'. I have a close family member who is transgender, and even now, I don't 'get it'. When I think I get it, I get told that isn't the experience said person has. I think it is risky, if you don't experience it yourself. But, perhaps this is what makes me a novice and unpublished.

Well done you, for having written something you have no experience of.

Patsy said...

Of course no one can write about characters who're different from themselves. That's why JK Rowling, the well known teenage male wizard had to write the Harry Potter books and Gene Roddenbury travelled back in time to create Star Trek.

Cat said...

I think being a writer is all about understanding the world you are writing about, I personally don't know any demons or monsters but I have been told all my characters are believable and well-rounded, or not as the case may be.

Writers should be in tune to the world around them and be able to interpret that into their characters. Sure some of my character traits come from me, people I know and situations I have witnessed. But if you are a fiction author as long as what you write is convincing then you have done your job.

Rosalie Warren said...

Liz, I think you are right.

But I take Samperkins' point that it's risky, if you don't understand the experience. There are certian subjects and types of people I know I could never write about. Thanks, Sam.

Patsy, very well put!

Yes, I agree with what Cat says, that character traits can come from yourself, from people you know and situations you've witnessed - but there has to be that magic ingredient, imagination, added to the mix.

James said...

Humans have the amazing ability to imagine, to empathise. Authors even more so.

Gay or straight, we are all human. We have things in common and things that differ. Seeing a character as 'a gay character' or 'a straight character' is no different from pigeon-holing a person in real life into these categories. You immediately lose something about the character, their depth.

We should write the stories that resonate with us, regardless of how different the character is from our real life persona. Otherwise men would only ever write about men and women would only ever write about women... You don't need to be transsexual to be able to write a full cast of characters, do you? :)

Rosalie Warren said...

Well said, James, thank you.

Baggy said...

The only gay fiction I've ever read was by Jay Mandal.

It was a same sex love story and very, very moving.

I felt the tale was given more emotional strength because it was written by Jay - but that's only my opinion.

There's a difference between writing gay characters and gay fiction, isn't there?

Rosalie Warren said...

Hi Baggy. Yes, I have read a story about gay lovers by Jay Mandal too, and liked it a lot.

I'm never quite sure of the definition of 'gay fiction'. Does it depend on how strongly the gay relationship features in the story? The lesbian relationship between Joanne and Charity is a central part of 'Charity's Child'.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a very important definition to make: Gay characters or fiction.

With Gay characters, I guess most would get away with it, as their sexuality isn't central to the plot.

Gay fiction however.....

If you can convincingly portray the struggles gay people go through convincingly then brilliant.

I may sound closed minded, but I know that although they are human too, society gives them more obstacles to overcome.

I agree with Patsy in that you don't have to experience it, but I'm sure it would make it a hell of a lot easier to write!

Tam said...

At the risk of sounding glib, people are people. Love is the same regardless of your sexual orientation, although I expect the prejudices encountered might be different.

My books are about dead teens - I haven't been one of those but think I manage to empathise pretty well. I'm sure you do the same with your characters.

Rosalie Warren said...

I think, as a writer, you find the nearest thing in your own experience and extrapolate from that (as I believe method actors do, too). So I took my experience of being a member of a Christian group who disapproved of being gay (I mean the group disapproved. I approved). In the end I left that church because it became too big a stumbling block. I felt hurt and rejected on behalf of my gay friends. So I suppose I took that experience, and also my experience of feeling 'different' and 'not fitting in' in other groups... and constructed the story from there.

Rosalie Warren said...

Tam, that's a good point! Yes, I wrote about a dead teen, too, though it was from the point of view of her surviving twin sister (in 'Coping with Chloe'). I hadn't experienced losing a sibling either, though I used my experience of losing a close friend when I was young and my mother many years later.

James said...

Ah, but gay people aren't the only ones who have experienced discrimination. If you can't even imagine what it's like being hated for something you have no control over, then you are quite privileged indeed, and I would guess you are part of a small minority.

I mean, if you think about it, the most privileged you can be in Western society these days is a white man. And most people on this planet do NOT fit that description. And even if you are a white man, you may be poor. You may belong to a religious minority. You may carry an accent from a place you've left behind but that marks you forever as a member of a specific geographical group.

Let's face it, you can't win. ;)

I don't see the difference between a story with 'gay characters' and a 'gay story'. I've only read the very beginning of Charity's Child yet (I wish I were made of time and money right now), but let's take that story for example. What is the story about? In the first chapter it's about the young woman who worries about Charity, and their relationship together. Who hasn't worried about a relationship, especially when a betrayal is suspected? It doesn't matter what your plumbing is, I'm sure you can relate.

Sure, you may not be able to write a historical piece about the Stonewall Riots, but neither can I, and I'm as queer as they come. I just wasn't there and haven't done any research into it.

Let's approach it another way. A lot of people in the queer community interpret the X Men comic books as a gay metaphor, and it can be taken that way. I'm not sure that's what the writers intended (I'm pretty sure they didn't) but it resonates with gay readers because of the struggles the mutants go through in order to be accepted by society. They're born different, and because of that they are feared. Guess what? So are LGBTQ people.

I think all of this is easier than we think it is at first glance.

James said...

And this is mainly for Sam Perkins...

Just because your interpretation of what a trans person goes through doesn't match your transgender relative, it doesn't mean it doesn't match any transgender person. Transgender identities are not monolithic any more than gay identities are.

Take a moment to think about it. What is it exactly that you think you don't 'get'? Perhaps if you simply accept that the person's identity doesn't match their physical embodiment, you can go from there. There is a lot about transgender identity that we do not know, that even trans people do not know and have to accept.

Rosalie Warren said...

James, I'm glad you said that. I feel a lot better about writing Charity now.

And you're right. We can all experience being ostracised, overlooked and discriminated against, for all sorts of reasons. I'm just beginning to run into ageism now, as I approach my late fifties... and it's another eye-opener, having got used, over the years, to being female, tubby, northern-accented etc etc etc. (Very proud of my Yorkshire accent, by the way!)

Rosalie Warren said...

James, my comment above referred to your next-to-last comment, not your response to Samperkins, just to be clear.