What is Queer or LGBTQ+ writing anyway?
LGBTQ+ or queer writing is simply writing that predominantly explores LGBTQ+ themes, through characters or plot. However, I have started with a definition as I think it is really important to discuss the importance of this kind of literature. Literature is a mode through which writers can focus on an idea and have their readers learn and empathise. That empathy and learning is so important in fighting homophobia in all ages groups and communities. The perpetuation of LGBTQ+ writing can help people come to terms with their own gender or sexual identity as well as that of a friend or relative, or give them a greater understanding of the community which can lead to better legal and social protection of LGBTQ+ rights and lives. LGBTQ+ writing has existed since writing started to exist from Sappho, Shakespeare, Ashberry and Sarah Waters, but still craves new voices and narratives to capture lives and experiences.
Don’t write flags on legs
Not every character has to be a stereotype: we don’t always need more gay best friends, cheating bi-sexuals, the sexually promiscuous, party-mad gay man, or the lesbian surrounded by a clowder of cats. It should go without saying but treat your LGBTQ+ characters with the same dimensional awareness afforded to straight characters and don’t start to write a character’s personality based on their sexual or gender orientation.
Not ever lesbian must die! Ask any queer woman and you will hear TV’s terrible habit of killing off any queer female characters it can get its hands on: we’re talking Tara Maclay from Buffy, Jenny schecter from The L Word (okay, I’ll concede that no one is really mourning this one too hard), or perhaps most infamously due to the blunt execution of the trope ‘Bury your gays’ is with Lexa from The 100. Don’t make the same writing mistakes as a lot of TV shows, and let your LGBTQ+ characters live beyond their sexualities.
Similar to this, it doesn’t always have to be a tragedy or tragic coming out: sexuality and gender identity can be a natural thing and not a plot point. By this I mean not every LGBTQ+ person’s experience comes down to just a coming out, which whilst very important is often depicted as a sad and not happy event but also the only event writers ever talk about. Being LGBTQ+ can just be simply an aspect of a character, not their whole character. Whilst the saddest aspects are so important, LGBTQ+ writing doesn’t have to be a soap opera like Eastenders or an Ancient Greek tragedy every time.
If you’re writing about a gender or sexual identity that doesn’t align with your own then do your research. It may sound obvious but it is so imperative that a writer reads literature or talks to\gets people of that identity to read over and comment on their work. I think it’s good for writers to write about characters who don’t align with their, it allows queer characters into all areas of literature and does not confine them to a LGBTQ+ genre only. However, you cannot expect to fully understand the experiences of someone else and so discussion and learning about the subject you’re writing about is so important, as it is for all areas of literature.
As with all communities there are conceptions and words that are used, researching the sexual or gender identity of your character means familiarising yourself with these ideas to create an authentic and respectful narrative.
LGBTQ+ can be a universal experience
In fact, I would argue that it needs to be universal. The struggles of LGBTQ+ struggles are not universal but a sense of empathy and shared pain needs to be. As does the joys of love and life, these are human values and LGBTQ+ writing is an important opportunity to explore these themes and open up discuss. As well as to write a space for LGBTQ+ characters and narratives to simply exist and be heard. So if you have thought about getting into LGBTQ+ writing then do, explore it, research it, and write it.
Some LGBTQ+ books:
- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – YA fiction about Simon, a high schooler, and his conflict over his sexual identity.
- The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson – Nelson describes the work as a piece of ‘autotheory’, which chronicles her relationship with a gender fluid artist.
- The poetry of Sappho – queer poetry written by an Ancient Greek female poet and found in a variety of translations and editions.
- Queer: A Graphic History written by Meg-John Barker and illustrated by Jules Scheele – a non-fiction graphic novel that explores cultural ideas on sexuality and gender as well as the related history of psychology and biology.
- The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall – a classic lesbian novel from 1928 with the message that lesbianism is nature and queer women deserve the right to exist.
- Maurice by E. M Forster – another 20th century classic based on the relationship between Forester’s friends Edward Carpenter and George Merrill.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – this novel explores bi-sexual and gay men’s experiences and the complications that ensue.
- Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Hetreotopia by Samuel R. Delany – a science fiction book from 1976 that explores where the government cannot regulate individual behaviour leading to individual’s modifying their appearance, gender and sexuality at will.
Some queers writers to check out:
- Virginia Woolf
- Langston Hughes
- David Levithan
- Carson McCullers
- Gertrude Stein
- Minnie Bruce Pratt
- Jeanette Winterson
- Julie Ann Peters
- Allen Ginsberg
- Oscar Wilde
- Sarah Walters
- John Ashberry
- Frederico García Lorca
- Walt Whitman
- Tennesse Williams