Going Over the Rainbow: Gay Male Characters
With the end of a tumultuous and tragic Pride month there are more concerns than ever about how gay men are represented in media. So how can you, as a responsible author, help dispel many of the harmful stereotypes that lead people to commit horrible atrocities? By accurately and sensitively writing gay men. Please allow me to offer a few words of advice on this.
Gay/Homosexual Male: A man who is primarily attracted to other men to the exclusion of other genders.
Developing a Gay Character
So, how might you go about creating your own gay 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 gays? How does this affect your character? What assumptions do others have about gays/your character?
- When did/will your character realize that they were attracted to males? 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 gay men?
- How does your character tell people about being a gay man (if they tell people at all)? If their coming out to their parents had a negative impact has this changed how they approach others about the subject?
Writing a Gay Character
As with writing any character, their sexuality is just one part of their whole identity. When writing your gay character here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You can have your character specifically state they are gay. 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 a gay man 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 gay doesn’t mean your character will be attracted to every man they meet. Be clear on character intent and watch wording to avoid confusing your reader.
- Try to avoid making your character gay 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 ‘flaming gay’ as this can perpetuate harmful attitudes toward femininity and can promote the idea that gay men want to be women. If you choose to write a such a character please be careful of using feminine stereotypes for their characterization.
- Be very careful about having your gay 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:
Gay men are increasingly the subject of queer experience appropriation, infantilization and fetishization in stories. The popularity of the ‘slash’ (M/M) genre has perpetuated some very harmful stereotypes, tropes and the continued fetishizing of gay relationships. It has also led to the stereotype of white cis-gendered gay men being the default ‘gay’ seen in media. This excludes gay men of other races and gay trans men. Please always keep in mind you are writing a person, not an orientation.
Tropes are tropes for a reason and most of these are not bad in and of themselves, however like a lot of tropes they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and thus should be used cautiously. Some of these are problematic in and of themselves and should not be used without extreme caution and sensitivity. These tropes are marked with an asterisk.
Agent Peacock | All Gays Love Theater | All Gays Are Pedophiles* | All Gays Are Promiscuous* | All the Good Men Are Gay | Always Camp | Ambiguously Gay | Anything That Moves | Armoured Closet Gay | Badass Gay | The Bear | The Beard | Big Beautiful Man | Bury Your Gays* | But Not Too Gay | Camp Gay | Camp Straight | Cast Full of Gay | Closet Key | Club Kid* | Coming-Out Story | Cure Your Gays* | Depraved Homosexual* | Everyone Is Gay | Experimented in College | Faux Yay | Flying Under the Gaydar | Forced Out of the Closet | Gay Aesop | Gay Best Friend | Gay Bravado | Gay Conservative | Gay Cowboy | Gay Groom in a White Tux | Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock | Gayngst | Gym Bunny | Have I Mentioned I am Gay?: | Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?* | Hello, Sailor! | If It’s You, It’s Okay | Lover and Beloved | Macho Camp | Magical Queer | Manly Gay | Nobody Over 50 Is Gay | Sissy Villain* | Transparent Closet | The Twink | Word of Gay: Word of God*
Gays in Fiction
Gay men have been written about since the 1st Century and have been a constant fixture in human society all through the ages. A list of books featuring appropriate and accurate representation of gay men is a subject for debate.
Famous Gay Men in History
Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? How would you handle writing a gay man? Have you ever written one? If you haven’t, would you consider it?
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