2021 has seen more books featuring LGBT characters hit the bestselling lists than any year prior. These books have come in all genres: memoirs, YA novels, erotica, thrillers, you name it. With this explosion in LGBT-centered stories, many authors have a desire to include an LGBT character in their stories, whether as a main character or a side character. However, this can sometimes be tricky. How do you write about a life experience that actual everyday people have while seeming like you personally understand it?
The truth is, writing LGBT characters is pretty simple. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Avoid stereotypes
I could write a whole article on this alone, but here is the rundown: Your character has to have a personality outside of their LGBT identity. No more gay best friend characters whose main personality trait is being flamboyant. The best way to avoid stereotypes is to think about the character’s personality first, and their identity second.
Let’s say that your main character has a gay best friend. First of all, think about what that character’s personality is.
Why are they friends with your main character in the first place?
Have they recently figured out their sexuality, or is this old news to them? How exactly are you going to bring their sexuality up in your story, or is it an irrelevant detail only mentioned in passing?
The important thing to remember here is that, while being gay or trans is a part of one’s identity, it is most often secondary to their interests, hobbies, and personality.
The problem with using stereotypes is that they often take away from your characters rather than adding to them. Plus, most LGBT people don’t fit neatly into stereotypical boxes. A gay man doesn’t have to be super feminine to be gay. A lesbian doesn’t have to be super masculine to be a lesbian. Non-binary people don’t have to be androgynous, and trans people don’t have to fit strictly into gender roles either.
Focus on developing your character’s personality first, then consider how their LGBT identity plays into this. This will make it easier to avoid stereotypes about how LGBT people present and act.
Tip #2: Research, research, research
No, I am not asking you to read a million scholarly articles (yawn), but I am suggesting that you do some searching. There are hundreds of online sources created by LGBT people talking about their life experiences. Read a couple blogs, watch some YouTube videos. Researching the lives of LGBT people does not have to be strenuous, and it will give you a better idea of how to represent your characters in a way that is relatable and respectful.
Social media can also be a good place to learn more about what it’s like to be LGBT. Whether you’re watching TikToks, scrolling Twitter, or browsing Instagram, there are thousands of LGBT content creators who talk about their lives, both the good parts and the bad. Thanks to the internet, we have more access to this information than ever before, with the ability to read about life experiences different from ours.
Another good idea is to watch reviews of other books featuring LGBT characters, preferably reviews done by LGBT people. What about the representation did they like or not like? Was there anything in that book that they considered to be written in poor taste? Keep an eye out for books that received a largely-positive response from the LGBT community. All of this can be part of your research process as well.
Tip #3: Leave out the unnecessary bigotry
You might have read that and scratched your head a little. Never fear, I can explain.
Sometimes, LGBT characters in the media will be discriminated against in the story for no reason whatsoever. If you have an LGBT character who is learning to accept themself, and someone being rude to them is a relevant moment to the plot, then by all means, keep it in. However, sometimes these scenes only cause distress without furthering the plot at all. Your LGBT readers know very well that LGBT people are discriminated against; they do not want a needless reminder in your story.
Tip #4: LGBT people are not more inspiring than anyone else
There is a common idea that LGBT people are somehow more brave than others for simply… existing as they are? Sure, it takes bravery if you live in an area where there is wide distrust or discomfort with LGBT people, but at the end of the day, gay and trans individuals are simply living their lives. There isn’t anything particularly heroic about it.
Some authors will try to make their LGBT characters seem brave or heroic for being LGBT, as they believe this is the most correct thing to do. The truth is, it usually contributes to the idea that being LGBT is inherently brave, when really, LGBT people are normal, everyday people. When anywhere from 4-10% of people consider themselves somewhere in the LGBT acronym, being LGBT isn’t terribly special or brave. It just is.
Overall, writing LGBT characters seems far more daunting than it is. The best thing that you can do as a writer is simply tell a good story. If your story happens to feature LGBT people, do them a service by making them fleshed-out characters with their own personalities rather than shallow stereotypes. Listen to LGBT people when they point out flaws in representation. Most importantly, make your characters the best that they can be, as there is no story without them.