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So today, some of my friends challenged me to write a short story and gave me a number of prompts from which to write, most of which were admittedly not great.

There was one, however, which worked for me. It is a nice, short story about a dude who has a crush on his roommate but doesn't have the know-how of romance to tell him, so he goes on a world tour deal to try and understand romance. There's also a nice twist ending but that's not relevant.

The problem I have run into is that, well, a lot of the story revolves around LGBTQ+ people and romance, two subjects which I am not well versed in at all. As such I worry that I may write things which are, accidentally on my part, offensive, an issue made quite serious by the fact that at least half of the group identify or have identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

This story is quite a tough subject for me to crack, so I really want to get things right with it. How can I write this story without offense?

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    This is not an answer because there isn't one. You can't. See American Dirt. If you have a story you want to tell, tell it anyways. Do your research, talk to people that are LGBTQ+, and make sure you're faithfully representing humanity. You can't control other's reactions to your work. – Kirk Feb 19 at 18:30
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    While not specifically about LGBTQ+ people, this famous quote by Dorothy L. Sayers seems quite pertinent. – Ilmari Karonen Feb 19 at 23:46
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    In my experience, the most unbelievable aspect of your character is that someone has a roommate but enough dollars in his bank account to take a world tour on the fly because he has the hots for his roomie. The homosexual attraction isn't the problem, it's the economics of the situation. – hszmv Feb 20 at 16:03
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    @Llewellyn: It's willing suspension of disbelief. I like the summation of the concept from "Dogma" when it's revealed that Jesus had siblings: "Sure, you can believe that Jesus was born of a virgin who never knew a man before conceiving him. That's faith. But if you believe that a married man and woman never got it on, well that's just plain gullibility." (Paraphrased). – hszmv Feb 20 at 18:51
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    Keep in mind that you won't ever make everybody happy. I've added a couple LGBTQ+ characters on my works, and the reaction from LGBTQ+ people I presented them to ranged from "Oh, wow, I love how you wrote this character! They feel so real and relatable!" to "This is disgusting! What a gratuitous misrepresentation!" - for the same character. Just as straight people, LGBTQ+ folks are a very varied bunch and they opinions on the matter will be vastly different about the same stuff. – T. Sar Feb 21 at 11:27
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Don't make them LGBT characters, make them characters who happen to be LGBT.

Write them as if you would write any romance with the only exception being that the relationships is between 2 males or 2 females. This is because straight or gay relationships don't differ so much, it is mostly the peoples reactions/prejudices on those relationships that are different.

And i guess there is what your character can have issues with on how to tell him because he is afraid of how others might react (including the person he has a crush on if he himself is not gay).

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    While I agree that the fundamental relationship dynamics aren't all that different, there are both subcultural and contextual differences that definitely shape how these relationships play out. It's difficult to write for the nuances of a particular subculture if you're not deeply familiar with it. I also think treating same-sex relationships as exactly equivalent to opposite-sex relationships, while laudable, may feel somewhat shallow if the world of the story has any homophobia, even if it's just in the background and not directly seen. – Dan Bryant Feb 19 at 21:43
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    I don't know. As a bi guy, I have to say it's frustrating to see a modern plot where a gay couple is shunned is unrealistic in the modern setting. Most of the time, when strangers approach my boyfriend and I while we're holding hands in public, it's to tell us that we make a cute couple. There are a lot of gay people who have other things they would rather talk about then their sexual preference. I don't mind gay characters, I mind characters who are nothing but gay. – hszmv Feb 20 at 16:19
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    @hszmv, I think this depends a lot on setting; in most parts of the Western world at least, it's generally no longer socially acceptable to be openly homophobic and the general progression is one of acceptance. Transphobia is a bit more in vogue still amongst the population that was previously overtly homophobic, but that's also improving slowly. So, in a modern Western setting not set in a particularly toxic area, you're right, being overtly shunned is much less likely. What you might see, especially if the characters are a bit older, are the scars of past experience with it. – Dan Bryant Feb 20 at 16:44
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    @hszmv that's actually the whole point of my answer. i hate gay characters, not because they are gay but because they are often badly written. Their entire story arc only revolves about them being gay, so does their personality. Kevin from Riverdale for example is a classic gay character, there is literally nothing to tell about him except that he is gay. Aron from The Walking dead on the other hand is a good written character who happens to be in a relationship with a man. – A.bakker Feb 20 at 17:48
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    @A.bakker: Which is why I don't like Romance as a genre, no matter what sexuality of the couple is... the story revolves around their relationship states as the only aspect of the character in the story. – hszmv Feb 20 at 18:47
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I would say to leverage your LGBT friends for feedback. If you have a problem with a stereotype, it might be embarrassing for you if it gets pointed out, or if you accidentally offend someone with it, but it is much better to get it out and correct it than to secretly hold it and not even realize what your own prejudices are. If you have have a bunch of LGBT friends then ask for their help. Ask them to review your work, to point out the flaws and prejudices. If you don't have enough friends to get a good sense of it, or you aren't getting the honest, critical feedback you need then go find some additional LGBT friends. There's an entire community out there to engage. Take part in some pride events, get to know people!

The other thing is to try to remain humble and open for critique. You are going to inevitably bruise some feelings with any topic if you're writing something honest. My suggestions above only goes so far. Don't be lulled into thinking your stereotypes are just gone because you have some friends that approved of your portrayals. It is a struggle, but it is one that worth struggling with.

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    Especially given that it's the OP's friends who have proposed this challenge, I think it's quite likely they're even expecting some biases to come out in the story and are looking to engage with the OP through the process or at least offer some insight in a retrospective after it's complete. Everybody has biases (it's an inevitable consequence of our minds cooking in our own individual subcultural soups) and while it can be embarrassing to have them highlighted, there's a lot of value in understanding our own blind spots. – Dan Bryant Feb 20 at 16:34
9

The often misunderstood adage, "write what you know," is best understood this way in my opinion: write what you know from personal, emotional experience.

Whatever topic we write about, we cannot do justice unless we have personal experience with it or draw deeply from the personal experiences of others.

So in short, if you don't have personal experience as LGBTQ+, then talk to friends who do a lot, and listen really well. Take notes.

You can also supplement your understanding by reading autobiographies, watching interviews, and watching and reading other stories. After or during each, take notes, and compile all these notes into one place for you to meditate over until you are able to have a deep heart-level understanding of others' experiences.

Note that we can never understand perfectly. But we can get really far if we are willing to put the effort in.

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4

I see two options, which depend on the "world" your protagonists live in.

  • In a perfect world, being attracted to a person of the same sex is accepted and nobody bats an eyelid about it. It's just a matter of fact, and then your story is just like a regular heterosexual relationship (or attempt at one): A has a crush on B, does B reciprocate? (Option for love triangles).

    Some books, in particular some set in the future or in fantasy world, just take this approach. You have characters that are in a homosexual relationship that are discussed so matter-of-factly that you could just not notice the "homo" part of it.

    You can have fun with that using otherworldly or ambiguous names, though in English (and probably many other languages, to varying degrees) you would then need to avoid any use of third person pronouns, which is probably difficult beyond a few pages if they are the main protagonists, unless it's all dialogue between them. You could then have a reveal at the end.

  • If however your characters live in the current real world, then you have to deal with the prejudice of people around your characters (of even that of your characters). People may not like it (not like it much, not like at all, hate it, want to kill them for it, it could even be illegal...). The subject of the attention may not like it. Or even the person in love may be torn between their education/religion/upbringing/culture which tell them it's a no-no and their feelings which tell them it's yes-yes.

    The classic (and overused) twist is of course that the subject of the attention initially says no quite vehemently (cue violence) before ending up in a torrid relationship (cue sex scene).

    Depending on the environment, all of this may play a significant role in your story, or just be a somewhat background story. It's up to you to pick which one you want, mostly based on whether the main plot is overcoming this toxic environment (love prevails, cue Romeo & Juliet), or something else entirely.

If your "stereotypes" are related to all of this (afraid of being identified as such, need to hide, violence ensues, etc.), then it's perfectly OK if that serves your story.

If your "stereotypes" are about being camp, effeminate, flamboyant (for guys), or butch (for the ladies), or having an apparent compulsive sex drive or non-stop sex life, or whatever other cliché, well, there are some LGBT people who are, and some who aren't. Like there are straight people who are and some who aren't. Some of your characters may exhibit some of those traits. You probably want to avoid all of them having such traits (especially all the same), but then it may be part of the story (or not) that some have some of them, to varying degrees.

In some cases, the outwards presentation of some people is just a reaction to their environment. Once you get over the stigma associated with your sexuality, you may well go over the top, or have a need for a feeling of "inclusion" in a "community". Others will just barf at that last sentence. So some stereotypes have a reason, and their presentation may be justified in the story. But don't overdo it.

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3

FIRST, consider your character's sexuality in context.

You’re writing a LGBTQ person, but there’s a huge variation of what exactly that looks like. Did your protagonist grow up in a mostly-accepting or mostly-unaccepting area? Are they out to everyone, to just friends, to close family, to no one at all? Do they have a connection to other LGBTQ people or no?

Most of these things won’t explicitly come up in the story--many won’t come up at all--but regardless they’re a good idea for you as the author to understand and have thought through, because a closeted gay man from a strict and homophobic family who’s dated multiple women in the past but never so much as held hands with a man is going to have a very different way of approaching romance than a happily-out man living in NYC who’s had many relationships before and marches at Pride every year.

(This is where I feel “just write someone who happens to be LGBTQ” advice often falls short, BTW, because while well-intentioned it often ends up with characters who feel more like a collection of randomly picked traits than a real person whose life events and experiences shaped who they are. If you're writing a book all about a doctor's experiences in a hospital, you wouldn't just write someone who happened to become a doctor - you'd consider their motivations towards pursuing medicine and feelings about being a doctor as well as the non-doctor parts of their personality.)

SECOND, be aware of stereotypes but not terrified of them.

However much you try, even if you’re very pro-LGBTQ it’s really difficult to exist in our modern landscape and not subconsciously pick up some stereotypes. (Not just for straight people either, LGBTQ people do this as well.)

When you read your finished story through for the first time, keep one eye out on how you’re treating your LGTBQ characters as you're editing. Look for patterns in how they look/behave/feel, and make sure you're okay with all of those and what they say about how you as the author feel about those characters. Is every gay man promiscuous/totally sexless/feminine/ultra-masculine, etc. etc.? Do your lesbians all hate men? Are your bisexuals all promiscuous?

On the other hand, I’ve seen it sometimes that writers with the best of intentions realize stereotypes exist and immediately try to get rid of them to the point of wrecking their own work: can’t have a villainous gay person, that’s a stereotype! Can’t have a gay man wear make-up, that’s a stereotype! Can’t have a lesbian be masculine, that’s a stereotype! And so on and so on, completely ignoring that many people actually have those traits in real life and trying to flatten the broad spectrum of how real people are into a narrow slice of what’s acceptable to write is bad writing.

In reality, LGBTQ stereotypes are so weird and widespread and often contradictory that the only way to never include them would be to write a bland useless nothing of a character with no personality traits and no interesting features. Rather than focus on eliminating stereotypes from your writing entirely, focus on making your characters interesting and human and varied enough that their traits seem natural and obviously a part of their larger personality to the reader.

THIRD, do some research, the same way you'd research anything else you're interested in writing about.

The old adage “write what you know” doesn’t mean “never step outside your comfort zone”, it means “get to know what you write about”. In the same way you’d probably do some research on how a courtroom works before writing a legal drama, you want to do some research on LGBTQ perspectives when writing an LGBTQ romance.

Note that this does not mean “read a hundred memoirs cover-to-cover before you even DARE pick up a pencil, you ignorant fool” - this can take the form of asking your LGBTQ friends for feedback on your story, checking out LGBTQ artists/comedians/authors/poets/cartoonists, researching where and when your characters would have been born and what attitudes about LGBTQ were often like in that time and place, etc. etc. Make it a casual thing, don’t worry about doing Important Learning so much as just broadening your horizons a bit and getting a feel for how different people view the world.

(And, as a bonus, these are all things that will improve your writing even if you never write another LGBTQ romance story again in your life. Getting feedback on your work is one of the best ways to improve, getting inspiration from lots of different artists and creators will help you develop your own style, and research is always the sort of thing that comes in handy when you least expect it.)

Good luck on your story!

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1

I once wrote a short story as a challenge for a contest in high school, for an English Class.

It was about two people - Alex and Taylor.

The story followed the two around a trip to Paris. They visited several places, did romantic couple things, shared a few kisses, spent the night on a hotel, and ended up getting themselves on a rather mundane but fun adventure when they helped a beggar find his way back to his daughter's place, back in Italy.

Despite describing quite a few characteristics about them - hair/skin/eye color, a few mannerisms, a bit of the accent, the shape of the nose, presence of freckles and moles, underwear color, fitness of their body, height, weight, clothing, etc, I purposefully never gave them anything that could indicate gender.

I never mentioned things like breasts or pecs. Never used things like manly/womanly, didn't mentioned usually gendered clothing, like high-heels or bras. Didn't specify any gendered jewelry, didn't talk about their genitals, nothing. I made it on purpose so the reader couldn't, by any means, tell if any of them was male, female, or even trans. It was impossible to even tell if they were hetero, gay, or something else.

I let my reader imagine whatever they wanted for them. If they wanted a lesbian couple, that worked. If they saw Alex and Taylor as a hetero couple, that worked. If they saw the two as two gay males, that worked. If they wanted to see them as something else, that worked, too.

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.

.

Some people still complained about stereotyping, and sometimes even for the lack thereoff.

Some complained the couple was too traditional. Others said I was "writing gays wrong". Some complained about how Taylor was too tomboyish for a girl because "she" liked D&D. Some complained about Alex's methodical obsession with flower morphology being "unlikely for a guy", just because they spewed trivia every now and then about flowers around them.

And yet, when I asked "how do you know Alex/Taylor is a boy/girl?", they couldn't answer.

Still they complained.

The lesson I got from it is that whatever you do, someone will not like something. A lot of people use the invitation for criticism as an opportunity to complain about stuff, even if it is so so minor.

Don't sweat it. Write a story about two interesting characters, and their genital bits will be just but a minor detail.

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0

The letters in the acronym LGBTQ+ are all majorly different things. By the description, it looks like the characters are gay or bi (or bicurious, or pansexual), and not lesbian, transgender, intersex, etc.

I suggest beginning with four questions (for both the POV character, and his crush):

Are they "out"?

Whether or not they're "out" affects everything in an LGBTQ+ person's life: what they can do, who they can talk to, what they can say. There's various levels of "outness":

  1. don't tell anyone,
  2. tell only a few close friends,
  3. tell strangers on the Internet (or only at LGBTQ+ events),
  4. be open, but don't really discuss it,
  5. be open, and discuss it with everyone.

(That is, assuming the character has come to accept being gay or bi.)

Can your character even talk to someone about "this guy he likes"? Or does he need to pretend to be straight at all times? Are they even able to go on a date? Would people assume the character is straight?

What does their family think?

Often an LGBTQ+ member of a family is considered shameful (perhaps motivated by the family's religion)---this embarrassment can override any notion of "blood is thicker than water". Family members may take elaborate steps to avoid having their friends from knowing they have an LGBTQ+ relative. The LGBTQ+ person may be excluded from family events, and kept away from children to avoid "confusing" them. Their family members may block them on social media, like Facebook.

Paradoxically, the family members will often declare themselves LGBTQ+ allies, while actively excluding and opposing their own LGBTQ+ family member. They'll typically pick out some thing the LGBTQ+ person did at some point, and use that as a cover story [i.e., it would not be an issue if they weren't LGBTQ+].

Their family's attitude will have a massive impact on...

Do they hate being LGBTQ+?

Many people hate being LGBTQ+, and would choose (or try to choose) not to be. This brings on self-hate, which leads to depression, self-harm, mental illnesses, even suicide. There's a big difference between a character who is comfortable with being LGBTQ+, and one who truly hates this aspect of their life.

The LGBTQ+ person probably has an aversion to being around children, fearing that random people (or overreacting parents) might accuse them of "contamination", or even being a pedophile. It may get worse if they turn to police and security for help, as they often have the same prejudices.

What are their interests other than being LGBTQ+?

Their interests really could be anything.

This ties in with the previous point: if they hate being LGBTQ+, they're probably not going to get involved in LGBTQ+ organizations and attend LGBTQ+ events.


Stereotypes to avoid...

  1. They're LGBTQ+, and therefore sexually promiscuous and have atypical fetishes.
  2. They're LGBTQ+, and therefore an LGBTQ+ activist.
  3. They're LGBTQ+ because of childhood trauma, or their mother was too affectionate, or their father was too distant.
  4. They don't have children; they're incapable of having children; they accept the idea of never having (biological) children.
  5. Their goal in life is to be LGBTQ+, and nothing more.
  6. Trans = gay.
  7. White-majority countries are less hostile to LGBTQ+ people than non-white-majority countries.
  8. All gay men want to look feminine; all lesbians want to look like men.
  9. Bisexual people are incapable of being monogamous.
  10. The second they come out as LGBTQ+, they have their whole future planned out.
  11. Any LGBTQ+ person understands the experience of any other LGBTQ+ person.

However, bear in mind that it's realistic for some people to believe these stereotypes. Also, 1. and 2. certainly exist, but are rather stereotypical.


LGBTQ+ travelers...

Attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people vary majorly from country to country. What you read online is not necessarily realistic in person.

There's also challenges traveling the world as an LGBTQ+ traveler: see e.g. Advice for LGBTI travellers.

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Chance

Write agendered characters (as far as is possible) then assign genders and orientation to each by rolling dice or flipping a coin.

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    This isn't relevant to OP's specific situation, as they already know the genders and orientations of their characters and want advice on writing those specific characters, but it could be good advice for future readers who haven't settled on those details yet. – F1Krazy Feb 20 at 16:18
  • That's a bit too oversimplified. Like every other character attribute (such as skin colour or height, or indeed sexual orientation), gender does affect the experiences someone makes throughout their life, which in turn affects their personality. (Though depending on the plot, it might work. And it would definitely make for an interesting writing exercise.) – Llewellyn Feb 20 at 18:53

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