Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, why wouldn't you?), you can probably guess my politics with little or no effort. As with many of us, I'm slightly more complex than being identified as a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. I identify myself as being a socially liberal, fiscally moderate centrist Democrat. Now, some out there would call me wishy-washy and I'm okay with that. Extremes scare me to death and I like to apply a degree of logic and personal experience to every thought I have, so even though I identify myself as a Democrat, I will gladly cross party lines when need be and have voted Republican on numerous occasions. I tell you this because I'm going to be pseudo-political for a blog post and that is not the intent of this blog. The intend it to be about my writing, not about what I believe, but I wanted to reflect on something I noticed in my writing, directly related to something going on in the country today.

A few weeks ago, President Obama (of whom I am a staunch supporter of, no matter the heat that I will often be given for it) came out in favor of gay marriage. I was remarkably happy. I have long supported gay marriage and believe gay and lesbian couples have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us married folk. (Enter laugh track here.) My purpose here is not to debate this. If you don't agree with me, good for you, move along. We can agree to disagree. I want to talk about writing, not debate ignorance...I mean your personal beliefs.

I've always wanted to write a GLBT character in one of my stories but I haven't. I'm not sure why. I don't want to feel like I'm forcing it. Then I wonder (and get intimidated by) how I am going to treat it. Is it positive? Is it negative? For a straight, married white male, it's somewhat daunting. (John Scalzi just wrote a terrific blog post about being a Single White Male that I'm recommending to just about everyone. It really is like playing a video game at the EASY setting.) How do I approach this without sounding like I'm trying to force it or being heavy handed.

Presently I'm reading Cinda Williams Chima's brilliant Seven Realms series and loving it. So many similarities to what I am trying to do in my writing and yet completely unique. Remember me blogging about fun, well this series is fun and I am green with envy over it. (I won't link to past blog posts, but I think you get my point.) In the second book, Cinda introduces a gay relationship. It's mentioned almost in passing without being heavy handed and it was so brilliantly done, I was, for a moment, insanely jealous. It was a lesbian relationship and considered part of the culture. They were called "moonspinners." There was mention of a religious nation not liking it, but other than that it was presented in a perfectly normal and acceptable manner.Then again, there are aspects of the world that Cinda's built that suggest many of the nations in her world have a healthy respect for women that shows in the story. And I loved it.

I think the TV show GLEE has done a nice job of doing this. (Don't get me started on how GLEE has insulted the HELL out of teachers...that's another post!) They've created TWO different cultures: McKinley High and Glee Club, where the characters can exist in different levels of comfort and ease. In the Glee Club, the characters can be themselves and comfortable, to some extent. In the school, there is an inherent hostility towards anyone that is "different." I have my issues with the show, but the Karofsky episode earlier this season was powerful display of the effects that this pressure has on students.

I had wanted to do something like it for my JAIMAN setting, but closer to another brilliant example of how it can be done well in the genres and that was the television show CAPRICA, where there was polygamy and multiple family units. Gay marriage was acceptable and there were no closets to hide in. It was an aspect of the show I always liked and would have loved to see what they would have done with it had they been given more time.

In fantasy, we can stretch ourselves a little and take issues that affect us today in and out of our work, often explaining it with a simple handwave. It's obviously harder for those writers that write in the real world. The closet continues and too many are forced into it. I just have to figure out how I want to handle it. Do I closet a character because it might make a better conflict OR do I create a more equitable setting where such behavior isn't treated as deviance and more in line with my beliefs?

Heavy thoughts, huh?


zoeiona said...

Nice post, John, but with your YA hat on, you may find things more difficult than you suggest. There have been incidents reported in the blogverse of authors being instructed to "straighten out" gay teenage characters in YA fiction, or not to show them kissing their SOs when a similar stricture was not implied to kisses between straight couples. This is, I guess, where fiction and life intersect in the wrong way. If you can do something about it by having a few of your young characters tell you that they are gay, hurrah.

The settings I... "respect", I suppose, most in terms of handling LGBT characters aren't necessarily those where the gay etc. characters suffer no discrimination but those where the LGBT tag isn't the be-all and end-all of their existence. Clearly, where gay characters are discriminated against, their sexuality is likely to be a part of their story in the way that it isn't for a straight male character... but at the same time, discrimination isn't the one overriding factor. Gay and lesbian characters should have other facets of their lives.

Nora said...

One of the characters in my novel is a lesbian, and I never really planned on it. It just kind of ended up becoming part of the way I thought about her, and it contributed to her rather odd decision making at time. It's never really outright stated and is only relevant in her own thoughts, but even that was hard enough. So hard not to overthink it when you are writing something very different from yourself. (I have the same problem with writing my 17 year-old male POV, too.)