Thursday, June 30, 2011

Please Avoid These Gay Stereotypes In Your Writing Or I May Suffer An Aneurysm When I Read Your Book

This post grew out of a discussion I had with Roguemutt on his post yesterday that has to do with his novel, "Where You Belong" which I'm enjoying. However, one of his characters is gay and some of the stereotypes straight writers use when they are writing gay characters are annoying so I thought I'd point them out to you so you could STOP IT! Credit goes to writer Melinda Lo who provided much of the analysis presented here.

1.) The effeminate gay man. For many gay people, the flaming queen is a mixed blessing. I’m not denying that flamboyant, feminine gay guys do exist. In fact, one could argue that they paved the way for many folks to come out of the closet because it is impossible to hide their sexual orientation. It takes a ton of courage to be out as a flamboyant gay man in our culture.

But in many representations of gay men, being effeminate is dismissed as a joke — as something to laugh at or as entertainment. Being labeled as effeminate can also result in physical assault, verbal abuse, and murder. Keep this in mind if you’re writing about a character who is a feminine boy: Understand that living in the world is a more dangerous place for him because he presents as feminine. And if you describe a gay character in feminine terms, ask yourself: Why have you chosen this kind of representation? How does that change him? It’s not just about acting like a diva and being a girl’s best friend.

2.) The mannish lesbian. Similarly, butch women have also been on the front lines of gay representation, because this is what mainstream society tends to recognize as lesbian. But unlike stereotypes of feminine gay men, the masculine woman is rarely seen as something fun or entertaining. Mainstream society often condemns her as unnatural, or as a threatening figure. It also takes a lot of courage to walk in the world as a butch lesbian. To endure taunts and about your lack of femininity; to battle for your right to wear what you want. In the worst cases, those taunts can result in violence. From day 1, it seems, our culture encourages little girls to love the color pink and to want to be princesses. If you don’t want to do that, you challenge a deeply held belief about what a girl is. So if you’re writing about a lesbian who is masculine or butch, keep this in mind: Being butch doesn’t mean that you want to be a man. It’s a different way of being a woman.

3.) The promiscuous or devious bisexual. The stereotype of the bisexual as promiscuous or deceptive is probably less prevalent in YA than in adult fiction, film, or television, largely because this stereotype involves sex. But keep it in mind if you’re writing a character who is bi.

Often, people mistakenly believe that bisexuals have many sexual partners, or that they change sexual partners frequently. Alternatively, they may believe that bisexuals are being deceptive about their sexual orientation in order to trick someone. Even gay people can have the mistaken belief that bisexuals aren’t really bi; they’re just confused about whether they’re gay or straight.

But that’s not true. There is no evidence that bisexuals are any more promiscuous than anyone else. The word “bisexual” does not mean that a person is equally and continuously attracted to people of both sexes. It means that a person could potentially be attracted to people of both sexes. It may be true that all of us are, to some degree, bisexual.

4.) Dead gays. Gay characters created for the exclusive purpose of winding up dead in your fiction. Think of the Star Trek redshirt. Example in film: The Sopranos (only gay character dead). Orson Scott Card also uses gays as cannon fodder.

5.) The Pregnant Lesbian. For some reason, people who write lesbians think they're being incredibly original by having a story about a lesbian couple trying to get pregnant. This has been done exactly 2 million times before. It creates a scenario where, despite not having relationships with men, the lesbians still need men desperately.

6.) Homosexuals as villains. It's been done over and over and over. IT'S NOT ORIGINAL. IN FACT, IT'S CLICHE AND I WISH YOU WRITERS OUT THERE WOULD GET IT THROUGH YOUR HEADS THAT HOMOSEXUAL DOES NOT EQUATE TO EVIL. Here is the short list of films and books that I could think of where this occurs (there is more out there, this took me five minutes to compile). As you can indeed see by my list...yes, yes, yes, yes...this has been done before and is unoriginal.
  • Diamonds are Forever
  • Magnum Force (Dirty Harry movie)
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Detective
  • Freebie and the Bean
  • Mystic River
  • The Boys of St. Vincent
  • The Jackal
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Ace Ventura
  • Braveheart
  • Dune
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Rob Roy
  • A Perfect World
  • The Mexican
  • Tron: Legacy
  • 300
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Casablanca
  • Psycho
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Ender's Game
  • True Blood
  • Where You Belong
  • One Life To Live (soap opera)
  • Desperate Housewives
  • 24 (Fox's political thriller)
  • Austin Powers
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  • Interview With The Vampire
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Disney's "The Jungle Book"
  • Disney's "Pocahontas"
  • Disney's "Aladdin"
  • Disney's "The Lion King" - Scar puts the gay in that pride
  • A Portrait of Dorian Gray
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • HBO's Oz (A prison drama)
  • American Beauty
    Rant over. Have a great Thursday :)


    1. Who's gay in Casablanca? Or The Maltese Falcon? Ace Ventura was more of a transsexual wasn't it?

      And I already said on my blog that I don't consider Frank a "villain" in the sense that you mean.

    2. Peter Lorre in the Maltese Falcon. It is extremely suggestive that he is gay to the point of retiring to a "private lounge" and him sucking on a cane like it is something else.

      In 1942, Warner Brothers released Casablanca, which went on to win Oscars for Best Picture and became known as one of the greatest movies of all time. The primary action centered around a love triangle involving Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, but some saw Conrad Veidt's turn as a swishy SS officer who's hanging around the club as a subtle conflation of Nazism and effeminacy. "He has a certain gay quality," says Farr.

    3. So we're including assumptions? I was just reading a blog article that reminded me that Will Smith is a gay conman in "Six Degrees of Separation." But I guess he didn't actually do any gay kissing; he had them shoot him from behind so he wouldn't have to actually do it!

      Incidentally in my book the "hero" is bisexual. (Possible Spoiler!) So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

    4. You are hilarious, Michael. Where did you get those images? They're perfect. Anyway, I'd have to argue about the Casablanca and say that just because he's effeminate doesn't mean he's gay. I never thought that when watching the movie.

    5. Thank you for this. The number of writers and filmmakers who use Otherness as shorthand for badness and weakness is absolutely shameful.

      For Rogue Mutt and Danielle, I would reply that Michael is probably not talking about "assumptions" here. Rather, there is a whole scholarship surrounding the ways in which characters can be coded as queer. Male effeminacy is one of those ways.

      Those p-back covers are amazing. Wasn't there a documentary made back in the 90s about those books?

    6. MUTT: LOL. I'm at the part of your book where Frankie is missing, Aunt Enid is dead, and Frost's best friend just bought a computer and is telling people in the scientific community about his findings regarding the search for extra-terrestrial life. many cases I'm extrapolating "gayness" from character traits that I've observed on screen or seen in books. That's because writers and film makers oftentimes don't have the courage or time to outright declare it. On the adverse of this are those that cop-out on the heroic side of things. J.K. Rowling comes to mind with her statement that Dumbledore was gay. Really? But not shown in any of her books at all. Additionally, Amanda Hocking has done the same thing in her My Blood Approves series. How do I even know this? I asked her and she responded to me directly and told me that one main character was gay (just not shown to be so). I think it's fair to allow me to draw assumptions based on well-known stereotypes (some of which I pointed out here in this post).

    7. Disney's "The Lion King" - Scar puts the gay in that pride

      OMFG you're effing hilarious. You're quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers, Mike. Your honesty is refreshing.

    8. A gay antagonist? Never occurred to me. You're right, it's been way over done. And today, not a very interesting twist to a story. Bad people are bad, no matter their sexuality.

    9. I agree with Elizabeth, there are plenty of ways to tell if a character is gay, and it's not always about kissing or sex. For ages and ages, it's been enough of a taboo to explicitly show a character as gay, lesbian, or bisexual... it brought about book-bans and such. Gays are typically portrayed as non-sexual or effeminate, and yes as a villain or bad-guy. Lesbians are portrayed as being tom-boy or butch, jaded and cynical. Bisexuals are simply portrayed as sluts. It's only been in the last decade or two that queer people have started to be portrayed as people rather than as their queer stereotype in television and movies. Authors need to step up and let them be real characters, with real lives, and without all the stereotype crap.
      And might I add, that I'm sick of books that perpetuate the crap about queers being "turned" that way due to abuse or molestation... or "cured" by religion and faith. That crap needs to disappear.

    10. I have many close friends who are gay, and I'm with you on all these points. The stereotypes get tired very quickly and I've never seen a stereotype that applies to any of my friends.

      The danger is to see the combination of sexual orientation and casting in a story as a problem. The two are orthogonal and should be treated that way. I think a stereotype comes from how a character is written rather than how they're cast.

      Having sais that, when casting follows disturbing patterns over a period of time with a variety of authors it's clearly indicative of a problem.

    11. I like you Michael and I love your blog. I also agree that we as people have a LONG way to go in terms of human rights, I am further optimistic that we will get there.
      However, I am not sure I agree with your entire list of gay/dead villains and hoping that I am not just hiding from subliminal messages. For instance, I never saw Peter Lorre as gay, I just saw him as, well, “French”… feel free to psycho analyze… and wasn’t Sean Young in Ace Ventura just a parody?
      Anyway, I love that you call it as you see it, it keeps me coming back.
      I’d better go back and watch The Maltese Falcon again; I’ll admit that I saw it at an age when I didn’t know I was supposed to hate people for who they loved.
      ***note: I wrote this comment off-line before reading RM's comments... interesting similarities.***

    12. Tony: Orthogonal...hmmm...I need to look this word up as I have no idea what it means.

      Munk: That's fine...people disagree with me all the time lol. I admit...some of these are really close/iffy calls but there is something there if you look close enough.

    13. Whew. I was nervous there for a minute but I think it will be safe for you to read my book.

    14. Hmm, interesting...I can usually always tell a gay guy, whether effeminate or not,and yep I agree, they're not always the stereotypical that you see portrayed in films etc.

    15. The older movies in your list are an cheapshot though Michael. Homosexuality was so demonized then. They couldn't even really talk about homosexuality properly- look at 'These Three' with Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea which was actually 'The Children's Hour'. It was written by Lillian Hellman with the two women as lovers but they couldn't mention that in the movie so they watered it down and made it practically incoherent by saying the man was having an affair with the woman's friend. It made no sense the way it worked out. And 'Portrait of Dorian Gray'-- well that's a tough one to include isn't it? I'm not sure you can pan him as one of those who is just trying to make homosexuals look evil. He was definitely wrestling with a lot of demons...and considering what Oscar Wilde went through for his own homosexuality he could maybe be given a pass. Great rant otherwise.

    16. Wow - I didn't realize there were so many gay villains. Though, I'd rather have a gay villain stereotype than see another gay best friend in a romantic comedy. They have SO many better things to do than listen to a female protagonist whine nonstop about her boring love life.

    17. This reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun, great movie where gays & lesbians are portrayed with thought and not stereotypes (ok there was just one case of lesbians trying to get pregnant but its important to the plot!).

    18. I've read that approx 6% of any population is gay. Which of course means that those of us living in the south are probably interacting with closeted gay people every day.

      So, as a rule, the only openly gay people I interact with in real life actually do fit into some of the stereotypes you mentioned in your post.

      I'm not dumb enough to think that's representative of all gay people anymore than I think a fly fishing, pick up truck driving, tobacco chewing man is representative all male citizens of the south. People are all over the place when it comes to personalities. Stereotypes are just the most easily identified.

    19. I'm with you 100%

      When I was small, I always knew that there were gay people, but always assumed that they would be like on tv or in books.

      In the end I got a big wake-up call when I met a gay man for the first time and he was nothing like being represented.

      Something that I also don't like about the representation of gay people is how (when they're not evil) they are used for comedic purposes. It's as if movies try to say that you can't take gay people seriously or something. And that's so wrong. The man I mentioned above is a president of a private bank, for heaven's sake.

      And the fact is, if we write gay people in the way that you showed above, we're not exactly helping on tolerance...

    20. I agree with you that gays are poorly represented in the media, but I'm not convinced that some of the characters on your list are actually supposed to be gay. Just because a character makes a feminine gesture or comment it doesn't mean the character is gay. I've met a few feminine straight men (and butch straight females.) Maybe the list represents your own stereotypes of what is gay and what is straight. For example, Scar (if you watch the Lion King sequels) has a female love interest and a son. Maybe not the best example, but it's what jumped to mind first, lol. I've actually always been a little afraid of writing gay characters because it's so easy to do it in a way thats offensive or inacurate. I do wish there were better books and movies out there with gay characters. The stuff on the market now is mostly over the top ridiculous.

    21. Now I'm going to have to go through that list of films and see if I can find the gay villains. Dangit. I never noticed most of them. Okay, well, Dorian Gray, obviously -- but Oscar Wilde was gay, so doesn't that sort of change the WHY about putting in a gay villain?? Hmmm... I'm no expert on this.
      Now, I disagree with you on Rowling's making Dumbledore gay. I feel like he love relationship, whether it was sexual or not, was very, very clear in the 7th book where we get his backstory. Even if Rowling had said nothing about it, it would've been clear to most of us that Dumbledore was gay.
      You forgot one famous piece of classic literature with a gay villain, though: Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson uses all the catch phrases of his day to hint that Hyde is gay, and there can be no doubt that Hyde is the villain.

    22. PS. Thanks for joining up on my blog. :)

    23. So many words in this post. Could you please post more gif's of kittens?

      Just kidding. Great post.