22

I had this idea for a story/novel that I was very excited about, but also very worried about. The idea had a plot where the character development plot and themes all grow and go together, something I love, and think makes the best stories and that I've been striving for (this is what I am excited about).

However, two of the main characters are bisexual men who fall in love, and I know that lots of people are angry about women writing those types of characters. I'm not trying to appropriate or fetishize anyone, the love story is a big part of the plot, but there are plenty of other plot elements and themes; there's also a female lead character who isn't part of the relationship it all. There is some of the "forbidden love" theme that people take exception to — it's there because they are trying to succeed in the late 60's and it's a family issue. But they also come out part way to their mothers and siblings and friends, most of them. It isn't the point of the story, just a small piece.

I could change one of the characters to female and make it work though I would have to change the plot quite a bit, and both characters are based on 4 guys I know, but maybe I should just to avoid pissing people off.

  • 17
    Hi! The really important thing here is to understand why people are angry about women writing bisexual men. It's not merely who writes what, it's the sense that those writers are getting important stuff wrong, in a harmful way, sometimes because they're shaping bisexual relationships into something that's sexy for straight women. When you know what they're angry about, you'll know something about how to avoid doing that thing. :) – Standback Oct 31 '18 at 20:07
  • 2
    You might find this more general question, How do I know if a concept is sexist or not, helpful. :) – Standback Oct 31 '18 at 20:08
  • 1
    Gonna quote a line from one of the answers to the question @Standback linked, which I think it is immensely important to keep in mind: "You're not going to please everyone -- but at the same time, don't write hurtfully out of mere ignorance." – eirikdaude Nov 1 '18 at 13:58
  • 1
    As a note, something to think on is the amount of research you've done on the topic, and some struggles you see them facing. If you're able to recognize when some of your words are misinformed and can change them accordingly, that can help make your book mean something, especially to the underrepresented. – Anoplexian Nov 1 '18 at 14:21
  • 1
    Hey, I think I've already answered some of these questions, but I've already asked myself this. Mostly I want to write it because 1. I adore the characters and people it's based on 2. I love the development of character in tandem with a plot 3.the plot. It is partly based on real people I know, so that feels realistic. I did research on tropes. I'm down with doing more research. Yes, they are shown as being attracted to women. Also like I said earlier their Mom's are okay with it ( though slightly worried about how their Dad's would react) and their siblings are totally supportive. – worried writer Nov 5 '18 at 15:45

11 Answers 11

39

Each writer is of one gender, and one sexual orientation, and in order for their stories to reflect real life, they have to learn to write from the POV of other genders and other sexual orientations.

Don't be sexist on yourself, male heterosexual writers have written about homosexual males and homosexual females. Heck, people write convincingly about prostitutes, hit men, rape victims and serial killers and master thieves that they have never actually been. And medieval wizards, extra-terrestrials, kings and warriors.

Don't be afraid of writing what you want and what you think makes your story the strongest. Changing one of your characters might make your story feel unrealistic, because other characters in your book would not react the same to a female, and the character in question might react differently as a female, and these disparities can make the plot feel forced or unnatural.

My advice is leave it alone, and don't worry about selling to an audience that judges you on anything other than the quality of your writing and the quality of the story.

You might lose some sales to the judgy, but you would likely lose MORE sales by straining to fit a woman into the role of a bisexual male, and forcing the partner as a heterosexual male instead of a bisexual male. I believe the necessary changes in mindset and attitude (and presumably the loss of social tensions) would make this "not their story" anymore. The story was written for and belongs to two bisexual men in love, not a heterosexual couple in love.


EDIT: I see many suggestions about getting bisexual men to read your book and tell you what they think. That can be difficult, if you don't already know any! For most of us it is hard enough to get family to read our books and provide feedback, much less strangers we also want to qualify by gender and sexual orientation. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe Facebook has a group.

As an alternative, I would suggest reading bisexual authors that perhaps have written about bisexual relationships; that is much easier to search for on the web. Here is a list of about 200 Bisexual Writers, not all of them recent. But you could check out their pages and see what they've written, and perhaps learn from it. If they have any bisexual characters, their first-hand experience would help you understand what they felt was important to portray and write about. Not to copy them, but to get an idea of how a bisexual character thinks.

  • 2
    I would like to add that one of my all-time favorite book series is about a distant-future empath, a few robots arguing the equivalent of theology, and... well, I could go on, but I'll just say that in the 1900s there's no way someone could have experienced that. So +1 for the idea that people don't just write about themselves. (P.S. I'm intentionally not naming names of authors or books, as some of what I've said could be a spoiler. Even if you recognize them, please don't name them.) – Nic Hartley Oct 31 '18 at 22:53
  • Thank you. I do have people who might be readers, but I will also read from the list. – worried writer Nov 5 '18 at 3:52
17

So, you are concerned about representing a minority in your story, because you do not belong to that minority. Following the same logic, men shouldn't write about women, WASP Americans shouldn't write about anyone of different religion or skin colour, and only people with disabilities should write about people with disabilities, preferably with their particular disability. That's not right, is it? We want diversity. If we follow the above logic, we appear to be getting the opposite.

Do not be afraid to give people representation. Indeed, consider the example of Les Misérables: Victor Hugo was neither an illiterate worker condemned to hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread, nor an ex-convict whom society wouldn't let rebuild his life, nor a young woman with an illegitimate child. He was a rich and famous, privileged, white male writer. But his book made a real difference, in public awareness and in legislature.

  • Thank you. I've just read so much hate at people that tr to write diversity. I remember hearing an NPR story that mentions a YA author that wrote a positive story about Muslims and wasn't Muslim. Her book went from beign nominated for a award to selling nothing because peopel were so angry at a Non Muslim writign abotu Muslims. She was lambasted and vilified. I think seh got some small partof the novel wrong. – worried writer Oct 31 '18 at 16:38
  • 8
    @worriedwriter "people were so angry" Correction: a small minority of people on the internet who make it their business to get angry at things got angry. Never let the various shrieking mobs on the internet dictate your actions. – eyeballfrog Oct 31 '18 at 22:34
  • 1
    @sudowoodo I don't know. I mean, minorities should absolutely have a voice, it's definitely sad if a minority member's story can only be heard when told by a WASP guy - I can't argue with you there. But at the same time, I'm rather happy when somebody who isn't a Jew realises that we Jews exist, and includes us in a story, you know? Otherwise it feels like we only matter to ourselves, and for all the rest of the world cares - we might as well not be there. – Galastel Nov 1 '18 at 1:10
  • 4
    @Omegastick Stands for "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant", apparently. – F1Krazy Nov 1 '18 at 7:00
  • 1
    @Omegastick we didn't make up the term, you know. White Protestants of mostly British descent were the most powerful social group in the USA for a very long while. – Galastel Nov 1 '18 at 11:08
11

I know that lots of people are angry about women writing those types of characters. I'm not trying to appropriate or fetishize anyone

There is no clear line here, but you can always "test" your characters and scenes in the same way male authors are encouraged to "test" their female characters – ie: do they have agency, is their sexuality in service of plot/character or just titillation, are they stereotypes/monotypes, is one "good" (rewarded for conforming to society's standards) and the other "bad" (punished for non-conformity), do they talk about anything outside of who they are dating or in love with (Bechdel Test), etc.

I could change one of the character's to female and make it work though I would have to change the plot quite a bit, and both characters are based on 4 guys I know, but maybe I should just to avoid pissing people off.

I understand these are not the main character, but supporting characters, so...

  • How much would it change the plot to keep them bisexual and change both to women?
  • What if they are bisexual male and female, but their "normal" is homosexual (a sub-culture or neighborhood which existed in the late 1960s in many cities)?
  • What if one is homosexual, the other bisexual, and this causes ideological problems within their relationship?
  • What if they both start as bisexual, then drift towards homosexual and heterosexual respectively?
  • What if one is radical, the other conservative? What if one is out and the other doesn't care to be?
  • What if they are different races, religions, or economic class?

I think you get the idea. There are endless ways you could alter them. Each would require a little re-tooling, but does it make any difference to their actual character – what they think and how they approach problems?

The truth is, we don't have any information about these 2 other than they fall in love, and eventually have a coming out scene to their mothers. Needless to say you are going to have to give them more substance than just those clichés, which are modern interpretations of "normal" for homosexuality-only. Why would bisexual men tell their families in the 1960s, when homosexuality could get you arrested, fired, and even force-medicated? Would they even identify with "out" homosexuals, or would they consider themselves a kind of "free love" that doesn't need to be defined?

On a side note, plenty of witch cults and pagan temples were de facto bisexual, at least ceremoniously. Sex magic was just as big in the '60s as any other decade.

I think your heart is in the right place, but based on the brief description I can see where some gay and especially bisexual men would feel you are not representing them as real people, certainly not behaving realistically for the time period.

Create the characters first. Understand who they are and what motivates them as people – especially what makes them different from one other – and then build the relationship between them.

If your characters' arcs can survive gender/race/sexuality/class changes (with minor adjustments) and their motives/actions still make sense, you have nothing to worry about because they are real people first, whatever the gender or sexuality.

But if the character arcs fall apart by changing their gender/race/sexuality/class then you might have shallow stereotypes who are dependent on racist/sexist tropes.

  • 1
    The story arc can be dependent on their homosexuality without them being shallow stereotypes. Because as homosexuals, there can be plot developments that harm them, that would not harm heterosexuals. Like hate crimes, lost jobs, criminal prosecution, or social exclusion. No heterosexuals feel compelled to come out as heterosexuals to someone they love (like a mother or father or sibling) because they feel alienated from those loved ones by staying in the heterosexual closet. They don't have to deal with mother asking them when they will get married and give her grandchildren. – Amadeus Oct 31 '18 at 18:23
  • 1
    @Amadeus It is not impossible for a homosexual couple to have children. Admittedly it's not really possible (yet) for them to have children with each other, but there are a number of workarounds. Also I was under the impression there are many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children who would have to deal with said question. It's come up on interpersonal stack exchange a few times. – eyeballfrog Oct 31 '18 at 22:31
  • 3
    "If your characters' arcs can survive gender/race/sexuality/class changes" - I think you're talking about the characters' arc meaning their personality, growth, etc. while Amadeus may have taken "arc" to mean their plot line? Because I agree with both - the character as an individual should exist independent of their sexuality, even if their sexuality drives much of their story arc. – sudowoodo Oct 31 '18 at 22:44
  • 1
    @Amadeus, You have clearly missed the whole point about making them individuals instead of monotypes and stereotypes. Read Cyn and T.E.D.'s answers. That is the territory you are treading in. – wetcircuit Oct 31 '18 at 22:52
  • 1
    1.Thank you 2. They work as any gender and sexual orientation. 3 They are not steortypical homosexual or bisexual.. part of why they are not completely out is that they are masculine enough that when they introduce each oter as partners everyone thinks they mean writing adn business not noticing they never say that. They are nto sterotypes, but I woudl have to change teh fact taht teh chracters are super sucess driven frm fmialy of orgin, or the tiem frame. Other cahrcters woudl treat them diffrent and ofcourse it would be erasing the real people that the chracters are partly based on.. – worried writer Oct 31 '18 at 23:17
10

I agree with others. Don't change your story to remove diversity because you are worried you can't write those characters. Embrace diversity in your writing and your life. The best way to write a character that is different from you is to meet people and research.

Maybe your character works in a factory. Have you ever worked in a factory? If not, you need to learn more about it. Taking a temp job would be great, though hard. Reading accounts of factory workers is important. And making friends who are factory workers or at least meeting people is second best to you doing it yourself.

The next step is a Sensitivity Reader. Find someone to read your work and flag anything you messed up. For example, I'm Jewish and am writing a book about Jews and Jewish themes. But one of my characters is a Baptist (who married a Jew). I wrote a scene with her talking about faith with a couple Jewish characters. I thought it was fine. My Jewish spouse thought it was fine. I mean I've done interfaith work, I should know this, right? My writer's group went, uhhh, that's a bit off. I also took it to an Christian Evangelical friend of mine who helped me fix it.

You're gonna mess up. You're gonna be tone-deaf about things sometimes. People will correct you (if you're lucky). Keep the diversity and be open to learning more and meeting more people and owning up to mistakes. That's all any of us can do. Each and every one of us is not a member of various (and numerous) diverse communities.

8

The reasoning behind why some minority group people have an issue with people outside of their minority group telling stories about them is that in a lot of cases, the majority gains recognition that the minority cannot. Especially given the fact that the minority telling their own story will be more authentic, the majority voice is still often the only one heard. This can make us feel like our voices are being stolen. They are our stories, dammit! Let us tell them! And listen to us, while you’re at it!

I’m not entirely in agreement of this, but this is how I understand the sentiment and I think it is important to recognise. Am I also a little tired of stories about female homosexuality written by straight men? Sure. Do I wish I could see more of my favourite LGBT fiction by LGBT folk gaining recognition in the mainstream? Absolutely. But I am not angered by it, unless I think the particular representation is directly harmful. I am happy with all representation that is thoughtful, realistic, and fair.

Also, it’s important to note that many of the same people who ARE angered by it are often perfectly happy for you to write minority characters. It is just minority stories they’d prefer you didn’t tell. Stories entirely about the issue that this group is facing first hand. For example, if you’re writing a story entirely about male bisexuality and the struggle of these two characters, it is much more compelling if you have some experience in the matter. It’s not impossible for you to tell an authentic story like that, but it takes a lot more research and care. However if you are simply writing some secondary characters who are bisexual and the issue is not the main focus of the plot, it is usually well received once you give them a fair representation.

So do your research. Know the negative stereotypes to avoid. Be mindful to the communities and individuals you are representing. And go for it!

  • So, you think I should change them because they are major characters? Their relationship is only 1/5 of the plot, but they are 2 of 4 primary characters. – worried writer Oct 31 '18 at 23:29
  • @worriedwriter I can't tell you what to do, I'm just giving the perspective of those whom you are worried about. 1/5 of the plot doesn't sound to me like you are writing a story about the struggle of two bisexual men, though, even if they are primary characters. So nothing to worry about imo. – sudowoodo Oct 31 '18 at 23:57
  • It's more like 1/4 of the plot, but yeah I think it is more about society and family of origin issues or equal parts about those things. I mean romance and love is great and important but it certainly doesn't feel like whole life or even the most important part. I don't know what is for sure really (It all matters I think), and I'm not really into those kind of books.I am partly wrting for myself, but not to get off. Anyway, thank again. – worried writer Nov 1 '18 at 0:39
6

Why worry about what some might think if changing the gender of a character damages your story. Write it as you want it and, provided you don’t hit people over the head with a 2x4 when it comes to gender and orientation, most should be fine with it.

You are writing the story you are writing, so write it.

I remember reading a book where the characters were homosexual and, until the author hit me over the head with it, I was enjoying the read. Make it part of who they are, but not who they are and you will be fine.

5

I'm seeing a lot of encouragement here (which is great) but not a lot of practical advice (which seems weird).

The main issue with people writing characters of historically discriminated minority groups they aren't themselves a part of is that of ending up, in ignorance, perpetuating hurtful stereotypes. This can not only be in how those characters behave and what their motivations are, but in how the world around them treats them. As someone who hasn't lived that experience, there are a lot of everyday things they have to live with that you are likely just blind to. Its not your fault, any more than its a color-blind person's fault they can't tell red from brown.

This should not be pooh-poohed away, and you are quite right to be concerned about it.

However, this differs from the problem of representing any behavior only in degree. As many other answers pointed out, nobody writes exclusively about careers and activities they themselves have engaged in either. Most crime writers were never themselves murderers or FBI Agents. Tom Clancy was never a spy. So it makes sense to handle this problem the same way a responsible writer of any fictional work handles their writing about unfamiliar subjects: research, and experts. Go find yourself some actual bisexual men and pick their brains. Run the drafts by them for sanity checks.

  • Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement, but I am back to being concerned. I ha have been asking BI and gay friends.. and so far.. oen siad yeah.. mm maybe.. and another siad mm I have to think about it... and oen said YES DO IT (one that read it) shrugs shoulder I'm supposed to start wrting tomorrow – worried writer Oct 31 '18 at 23:32
  • 2
    @worriedwriter - Again, its not a matter of if you should do it, but if you are committed to doing it well. – T.E.D. Nov 1 '18 at 12:39
2

Give your story the Chekov test: Is this particular gender and sexuality configuration necessary and does it actually drive the plot in a way which isn't possible without it? Or is it a superfluous and distracting detail which doesn't contribute to the core theme or drama.

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." --Anton Chekov

  • Interesting, thank you. The thing is I can drive the plot without, but it is more difficult. – worried writer Nov 3 '18 at 15:33
1

You know, I'm speaking from personal experience here, and I really hope this helps. The one piece I finished in my writing career was about a 6-year old girl living in a pseudo-fantastical world. As a 16-year old male at the time, I considered that story pretty good. Also, while generating ideas for stories, typically the lead is female. I have an idea I'm working on about a lesbian!

My advice is, if it feels like that's what you want to do, do it. Writing is an art, not a science. There's no formula for emotion, and if you think that writing about two anthropomorphic toasters in a fantasy setting is what you're gonna write, write it. Chances are, someone is looking for a story about toaster knights.

  • lol, thanks. I've been writing as is. I'm feeling better. I just don't want to be attacked or misrepresent, or hurt anyone's feelings. – worried writer Nov 2 '18 at 19:55
  • Hey, no trouble. I like to help out in any way I can. You do you, and never forget you're awesome as yourself! – Kale Slade Nov 2 '18 at 20:06
0

Instead of worrying about it just do your best. Though don't assume you're going to get it right. In fact, you're probably better off assuming you'll get everything wrong. It's always a bunch of confused nonsense when someone who is completely outside of the issue attempts to try and roleplay what it's like to actually have it happen to you. You're an alien, and nothing is gong to line up.

It's the reason male writers are so terrible at writing female characters. It's the reason the reverse is also true. Not telling you what to write, or not write, just pointing out that perhaps it's impossible for a snake to know what it's like to be a bird, and likewise impossible for a monkey to know what it's like to be a fish. It's not that we can't imagine what it's like, it's simply that our imaginings are always like Picasso paintings, a weird ACID trip version of reality that at first glance might look like a person, until you stare at it and realize the nose is on backwards and sideways.

Anyway best of luck, and I'm sorry if I utterly failed to be helpful.

  • 1
    It's okay, thanks for trying. Anyway, I've read plenty of good male writers and good female writers, and I believe that empathy and psychology are things that exist and that humans have more in common than snakes with monkey's, so your comments don't scare me. Howver I will asume that I must listen very closely and research very well because I will be bound to make mistakes without being very careful – worried writer Nov 1 '18 at 13:02
  • 1
    If I thought I could not write about anyone other than myself, I would not write. Writing about myself over and over sounds dull as dirt. – worried writer Nov 1 '18 at 13:25
0

My advice would be to read lots of books with two male characters falling in love. See what is done well and what isn't. I've read a ton of M/M romance and LGBT YA, and when it's written well, I can't tell whether the author is a man or a woman. I'm a woman and I wrote a YA romance with two gay male characters. I know it will annoy some people, and that bothers me a lot, but it was the only book I wanted to write. I have zero interest in writing about straight couples. My agent is not concerned about it being published for that reason.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.