So, much like the rest of the iPhone-using world, I have jumped aboard the Clubhouse trend. I just love a good bandwagon, don’t you? Anyway, I’ve been using my time on the platform to connect with and chat with other writers, and for the most part, it’s been an amazing experience!
Today, however, I found myself in the midst of a conversation, and there is something that I just really feel like I need to get off my chest.
The topic was all over the place, but at one point in the discussion, I said something to the effect of, “I am, among other things, a fantasy author. I have an entirely different world I’ve created, and in that world, things like racism and homophobia do not exist. My thought here, being, if I’m going to create a world that is not our own, why would I fill it with Earth’s problems?”
Another author jumped in to respond–bear in mind, this is why I love this forum–and said something to the effect of, “Well, that sound like you’re trying to create a Utopia and it’s just not very realistic to have no conflict. Utopias inevitably become dystopian society.”
To which this particular room’s creator chimed in with, “Well, I mean there’s nothing wrong with writing escapist, fun fantasy stories. I mean, they’re probably not going to win any Hugo Awards or anything, but there’s an audience for them.”
What the actual hell??
I’ll tell you, I was really quite stunned with this response, especially as the first person to respond is a person of color.
I’ll give you the TL;DR here if you’re so inclined to stop reading:
There is more than one type of conflict that a member of the LGBTQ+ community encounters. Every problem we face is not borne from our identities, and quite frankly, I’m tired of every single story involving LGBTQ+ characters being framed that way.
Now, before I dig too much further into this discussion, I would like for you to take a moment and really think back on the portrayals you’ve seen of LGBTQ+ characters in film, television, and books.
Got them in your mind?
Okay, now how many of those characters weren’t coming to terms with their identity, dealing with homophobic relatives and friends, being constantly bullied, trying not to die of complications of HIV/AIDS, or weren’t in some way, the most thinly painted stereotypes you’ve ever seen?
How many do you have? I can think of maybe five, and that is depressing as hell.
This is largely because we have been written time and again by straight people who think these are the qualities that define us. To say that this is, in and of itself, homophobic, is putting it mildly. This further teaches young LGBTQ+ people that this is their life. This is what they have to look forward to from the world. This is who and what we expect you to be.
To that, I call bullshit.
Homophobia comes from many places, but media plays a massive role. It leaps at us from big silver screens and on smaller screens at home. It creeps from the pages of books. It instructs us that being queer is wrapped in constant pain solely because we are queer.
As an activist who has spent my adult life working toward equity for the LGBTQ+ community, I know that the road is rough. I know that there are countless hurdles, but I also know that we are so much more.
I also know that this type of media is one way of keeping us “in our place.” You see, if they can convince us and the rest of the world that this is the life we live and in many cases, the life that we deserve, then they don’t have to do much more to us. It’s a tried and true method that has been used against marginalized communities for, well, forever.
What boggles my mind most is the general feeling that though there are countless types of conflict that exist in the world of the written word, this should be required for me to use to “make my story more believable.”
You know what my biggest conflict was, yesterday? Trying again to get on a waiting list for the Covid-19 vaccine. Doesn’t have a thing to do with my being gay at all. The day before that, it was making sure my bills got paid, which again, had nothing to do with being gay.
“But you’re talking about writing fantasy!!”
Yes, yes, I am. My two central characters, both male and in a romantic relationship with each other, have a kingdom to rule, assassination attempts to deal with, rogue bandits, long-ago buried secrets from their collective history to make right, and a threat from an interloper from another world who is trying to take over theirs.
Damn, you know what I forgot?
I forgot to throw a ton of homophobia from their own world on them to make it realistic and give people something to connect to in the narrative!! It would be so much better if their parents didn’t want them marrying someone of the same gender, and if they had to prove to everyone that their relationship was just as valid as anyone else’s in the book. Oh, and maybe a good gay bashing while we’re at it. Yeah, that would really sell it to readers.
Oh, and by the way, that interloper brings some of his homophobic ideas with him, but that’s not the crux of why he’s attacking their world. I don’t spend a lot of time on those ideas because he has a larger agenda than just being a homophobe.
When I pointed this out to my fellow author, they didn’t respond at all.
Okay, let me breathe for a second.
Now, as to the second point that was made, it might be hard to believe for some writers but winning awards is not why I’m writing. I have stories that I want to share that I hope people connect with, and if someone were to decide to give me an award for that at some point down the road, no one would be more surprised than I am. It’s not why I’m doing this. That’s about all I have to say on that particular subject.
Look, if you are an LGBTQ+ author and you write stories that dig deep into homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other topics, I applaud you. They’re tough stories to write. I know because I have ideas for some of them, myself.
I do not think, however, that because I am a gay author, I should have to include that in every story I tell in order to be taken seriously. I do not want to be mired in trauma porn for the entirety of my career.
I do not owe my readers homophobia to prove that I am a gay author. I do not owe straight readers homophobia so they understand my characters and their lives. If that makes my work fluffy escapism, so be it.
Quite frankly, if that’s what you require to read my work, then I do not owe you anything at all.