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Remember that story I mentioned in my previous question? Yeah, well one of the characters in it is gay (one of the main characters). But the problem is... They don't KNOW that they're gay until they meet this particular person.

But until they meet that person... How do I subtly hint that a character is gay without revealing that they're actually gay? (And all within a first person POV.)

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As in many such cases, the answer is to do your research.

Speak with people who are gay, and ask them the questions you need. "How did your understanding that you're gay form?" "Was there anything that you later understood, oh, that was actually because I'm gay, that you didn't realize at the time?"

Ask nicely, and listen, and take what they say to heart. This is personal, intimate stuff for them. Understand that they may reveal some of your assumptions as flawed -- for example, they might dismiss or dislike the idea of realizing homosexuality in response to meeting one specific person -- and that they may wind up not liking your book (because any advisers and beta readers are not guaranteed to like your final product, and again, it's a sensitive topic, so tensions can be high).

Ultimately it's on you to figure out how to portray your character, his personality, and his process. If it's in an area you don't know really well, then doing your research is the way to go. Other people can't give you the final details and approach that you'll choose to go with; you need to understand it well enough to be able to choose those yourself.

  • Alongside my ridiculously long answer, I want to salute Standback's answer. This kind of research is always useful for making your story feel grounded in reality, rather than in stereotypes. – manyaceist Jan 26 '17 at 21:31
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My take on this: subtly hinting is a difficult thing to get right in this situation, mainly because you will be working in a verbal medium where you will literally have to spell out what the character feels. It sounds like what you want is to add foreshadowing, so the reader thinks 'oh yeah, that makes sense now!' That would be a challenge in this particular situation, but maybe I can offer you some food for thought.

To illustrate what I mean when I call it a challenge, here's a little example (and I'm just going to go with a young man as the character here for the purposes of my example, even though you don't specify): imagine you try to hint about a character's feelings by having them say 'When I turned around and saw that John had come to the party too, my stomach seemed to fill with butterflies – happy butterflies.' (I didn't claim that this was going to be a particularly good example…) Or 'John wasn't really my friend, but I always felt really drawn to him'.

In real life, a person may not immediately equate 'happy butterfly feelings' with 'I have a crush on this person' because our feelings (and stomachs) do inexplicable things all the time. To a real person, the happy-butterfly sensation could, for example, go mostly unnoticed in a wave of other things they're feeling (maybe they're a bit nervous about the party anyway because they know an enemy of theirs will be there, maybe they're excited because they managed to sneak out of the house without their parents noticing, maybe they're feeling unwell after a dodgy kebab), or they might interpret their feelings as simply being glad to see a familiar face, particularly if they're not enjoying the party.

But because you have to verbalise it, the meaning of these happy butterflies is blindingly obvious to the reader, who may very well consider your character clueless for not getting that same meaning - unless you mislead the reader into suspecting another logical reason for the character's reactions/emotions.

How to mislead the reader? Here are some ideas. Maybe when the character's friends (again, let's pretend the character is a young man) start talking about how hot some girl is, or about their various fantasies, the protagonist gets bored and wanders off. He just feels this conversation isn't really for him. He has no enthusiasm for the topic. 'The guys were boring the crap out of me – couldn't they just give the freaking Cindy thing a rest? It's not like there weren't plenty of other things they could talk about.'

If there are other things going on in the story, the reader could well believe that the character is simply too preoccupied with those events to be interested in trivial matters, for example.

Or maybe you could indeed use the 'happy butterflies' feeling, but the protagonist thinks they're happy for some reason other than having a crush on John (e.g. because they thought John was dead and were freaked out about it, or because they know John has the cure for the super-cancer that they have desperately been searching for (yes, I checked out your other question!)).

That type of approach could 'hide' the protagonist's feelings from both him/herself and the reader, making the 'reveal' work as an 'Oh yeah, of course!' moment.

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Hmm. This is a bag of cats that you need to handle with extreme care. Not any more than any other 'finding myself' story, but...

Alright. A few things that come to mind.

  • Have the protagonist be in a relationship with a girl. The protagonist is obviously close with his girlfriend, and they act like best friends. But he never seems to feel anything romantic for her, and he just can't make sense of it. They kiss, they make out, but it just doesn't affect him like his friends tell him it would affect them. He thinks something is wrong with him, "Why is this only happening to me?" This doesn't need to happen in teens, or even early twenties. People I know didn't figure it out until well into their thirties, because they just never talked about it -- they came from strict and orthodox families, very religious. They married because "that's what men do, marry a woman and settle down to start a family".

  • Another approach is every time the protagonist sees his crush, have him looking at a group, or certain individuals. "The popular kids", or "the nerds", or "his classmates", or "his colleagues". Whatever flavour you favour. This way, the reader doesn't know which one, but knows it's one of them.

  • Perhaps this is the protagonist's first crush. He doesn't understand what's going on, or even identifies the butterflies. He just feels happier around this one person. They make him smile, laugh, forget the things that usually bog him down. Could be a beautiful friendship, and maybe the protagonist thinks so, too. That is, until he start daydreaming bout his buddy. Until recurring dreams of them standing at the alter. Until, during a game of football, his buddy and him take a tumble and one lands on the other. The sparks are suddenly electric, the urge to taste his lips consumes him -- whether he understands this is irrelevant.

Hope this helps ^_^

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Write it the same way you would write any character feeling an immediate attraction to any other character. Only make gender an issue if it's relevant to the narrative.

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