Going Over the Rainbow: Lesbians

GoingOver theRainbow (1)

It’s been a rough year for fictional lesbians and not a great one for the rest of the MOGAI population either.

I don’t have any new words to say about Orlando that haven’t already been spoken. I can only move forward and hope this series inspires you to write even more queer characters so that many more people can read your stories and see we are human too. That’s my greatest hope.

So lets just jump right into today’s subject.

Lesbian: A woman who is primarily attracted to other women.

Developing a Lesbian Character

So, how might you go about creating your own lesbian character? These questions might help you discover why your character has chosen this identity for themselves and how it impacts their life and relationships.

  • How do other characters react to your character’s orientation? How does your character react/respond to these reactions?
  • How does the society in your story react to lesbians? How does this affect your character? What assumptions do others have about lesbians/your character?
  • When did/will your character realize that they were attracted to females? How does/will your character think/feel about this? Is the realization because of a specific event, a gradual understanding/coming to terms, etc?
  • How does your character express their gender, whether by choice/effort or naturally… in terms of presenting, passing, self-image and comfort? Do they express their gender a certain way in the hopes of finding other lesbians? What challenges/opportunities does this present them?
  • How does your character tell people about being a lesbian (if they tell people at all)?

Writing a Lesbian Character

As with writing any character, their sexuality is just one part of their whole identity. When writing your lesbian character here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You can have your character specifically state they are a lesbian. This will help the reader understand where your character is coming from. Having other characters react and ask questions will help mitigate an info dump. Many readers will reject a queer coded character unless it is specifically stated, but this is your decision to make.
  • Before writing a coming out story think carefully about whether or not this is your story to tell. Every person’s story is different and if you yourself are not lesbian this might not be your story to tell.
  • Do let your character have close intimate non-sexual/non-romantic relationships with characters of all genders. Being lesbian doesn’t mean your character will be attracted to every woman they meet. Be clear on character intent and watch wording to avoid confusing your reader.
  • Try to avoid making your character lesbian simply as a plot device. It should be an integral part of who they are, not a quirk.
  • It might be best to avoid having them be a so-called ‘butch lesbian’ as this can perpetuate harmful attitudes toward femininity and can promote the idea that lesbians want to be men. If you choose to write a ‘butch’ lesbian please be careful of using masculine stereotypes for their characterization.
  • Be very careful about having your lesbian character die, suffer tragedy or mental illness as this is an incredibly harmful trope and should be handled with the utmost care.
  • Be mindful of the character’s ‘gaze’ or how they describe other characters as they can end up seemingly sexually attracted to people you didn’t intend and can lead to reader confusion as to their sexuality.

Things to keep in mind:

Lesbians face unique challenges in modern society. As women who love women they are often fetishized, made the butt of tasteless jokes, and given little personal agency in media. Their stories are commonly portrayed as inherently tragic, as nothing more than close friendships, as a woman who simply hasn’t found the ‘right’ man, or as men-hating extremists. These stereotypes are incredibly hurtful and far from the truth. It is your responsibility as the writer to make certain your portrayal, while true to your story, doesn’t reduce your lesbian character to a stereotype or trope. Always keep in mind that you are writing a whole, complex person, not just a sexual orientation.
Additionally, if a term seems like it might be offensive, please err on the side of caution and omit it. Terms like ‘gold star lesbian’ and ‘dyke’ should not be used as they can be incredibly offensive. Dyke is a term reserved for intra-community use. Please refrain from using it if you are not part of the community. 

On ‘butch’ lesbians reecepine of Tumblr says:

There are privileges and disadvantages to lesbians passing for straight in the heteronormative world and in the LGBTIA+ community. An obvious advantage is safety. A disadvantage is femme invisibility (source), hence desperate queer coding which tends to lean towards masculine expressions (short hair etc.).

But often you can’t choose to pass or to be butch. It’s fairly common for pre-pubescent children to demonstrate gender nonconforming behaviour, but there is a strong association between high-level gender non-conforming activity and people later IDing as transgender or homosexual. It happens, it is stressful and it attracts corrective behavior modifications and abuse, from childhood onwards. Meaning a lot of lesbians don’t conform to gender norms and never have, and have been criticized their whole lives for that. I was assigned female at birth, have been socialized as female, and ID as cis. I’m (usually, relatively) feminine-presenting but have naturally masculine mannerisms, so I can pass for ‘not butch’ only if I go out of my way to act, and dress in what feels like a costume. My natural state of behaving, though, doesn’t mean I want to be or am trying to be male.

Tropes:

Tropes are tropes for a reason and none of these are bad in and of themselves, however like a lot of tropes they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and thus should be used cautiously. Bury Your Gays is one of the most prevalent and one to be avoided.

All Lesbians Want Kids | Ambiguously Gay | Bait-and-Switch Lesbians | Bury Your Gays  | Butch Lesbian | Cure Your Gays | Dude, She’s a Lesbian | Girl-on-Girl Is Hot | Girls Behind Bars | Hide Your Lesbians | Lesbian Cop | Lesbian Jock | Lesbian Vampire | Lipstick Lesbian | Psycho Lesbian | Rape and Switch | Schoolgirl Lesbians | Token Lesbian

Lesbians in Fiction

Lesbians have been written about since the 2nd Century and have been a constant fixture in human society all through the ages.

Wiki List of lesbian fiction

Famous Lesbians in History

Sappho of Lesbos

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey

Mabel Hampton

Barbara Gittings

Jane Addams

Gladys Bentley

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Eleanor Roosevelt

Lilli Vincenz

Jerre Kalbas

Barbara Jordan

Marie Antoinette

Virginia Woolf

Florence Nightingale (speculated)

Further Reading

avoiding-lgbtq-stereotypes | definitions | safe-zone-resources/truth/ | sexual orientation study guide | Civil Rights and Orientation | Theories About Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Sexuality | Wishlist for Fiction | Am I a Lesbian? A Journey of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification | Are Feminism and the Transgender Movement At Odds? | Gender Trouble 

Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? How would you handle writing a lesbian? Have you ever written one? If you haven’t, would you consider it?

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