As a high school teacher, I watch my students declare who they are, often without fear and frequently cheered on by classmates. As National Coming Out Day has come and gone, I think it’s only appropriate to be the role model I wish I had as a kid. I am gay.
To be honest, I haven’t pondered how this impacts or affects my writing. I’ve never gone out of my way to be defined by my sexuality. However, in writing I find I tend to write what I know, and I thought it only appropriate to address this facet of my life present in my writing. I decided easiest to write responses to the questions I’ve been asked over the years.
Do you think there are difficulties in being a gay author?
Honestly? I haven’t come across any at this point. I’m sure for larger authors, there is the typical gossip surrounding their personal lives, but for me, nobody has brought it up. I think because of my audience, if it does come up, they will most likely accept it and move on. I like to think if the Science Fiction community is willing to deal with interspecies relationships, gay characters are no problem.
Have you met any objections from readers?
I grew up in a small town in northern Maine and the idea of being gay was definitely persecuted. However, as I wrote, “I.Am.Maine” and talked about growing up in Maine, my readers surprised me. There were several stories about being gay, being bullied, and falling in love in a town that shunned same-sex relationships and my readers would write me with, “Glad to hear you’re happy.” I feel there was a transition in the decades between when the story started and where the town is now. I think as I grew up, so did the views of my readers. If there were any objections to my casually discussing my sexuality in my childhood, not one of the many readers mentioned it. It was a fear I dealt with when writing the book and I decided to gamble. I won. It was a victory that will stick with me and reminds me that people are inherently good and willing to go along on my journey.
Do you write gay characters into your writing?
In Suburban Zombie High, the only gay character is Victor. He’s modeled after my perception of the military when I was a kid. His being gay is in juxtaposition to the ideal image he has of being in the military. He finds his definition of gay changes over the course of the book. When he comes back for the sequel he understands the irony of being gay and being in the military and has no problem poking fun at himself. His friends accept him with their jokes and it is simply a characteristic of his overall person.
In my Children of Nostradamus series, during one of my edits, as I was giving more back story to a character, I discovered he was gay. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I was shocked. He defies many stereotypes and out of nowhere, there is a flashback to his boyfriend leaving him which turns into the catalyst of his journey. Now as I’m writing the sequel, I find it being explored even more and it spills over into the dynamic with his comrades at arms.
Because I haven’t had the need to write the sexuality of my characters for the plot I’ve avoided it. However, I finally decided that by avoiding the topic I wasn’t doing them justice, I was trying to dodge a potential bullet. As I try to diversify my character’s ethnicities and cultural upbringings, I feel this will be another think that helps readers connect to the characters. I wish there had been more when I was younger, even in passing.
Do you think there is difficulty in writing gay characters?
Yes. When writing a straight character, I can assume that 90% of my readers have an experience to draw on and weave into the character. However, for a gay character, I think it requires a bit more explanation, and for those fearing the backlash, it has to be slowly introduced. We assume the characters we read are like us, to find out differently can be jarring. I also think we rely on reader expectations, and to have a character who doesn’t fit their preconceived notions, it can be met with disdain. Creating a character who is different from the reader and doesn’t fall into a neatly defined category or stereotype requires the writer to do more work which can be difficult if it’s something we’re trying not to focus on during the story.
Were there any series you read that feature gay characters?
My mom once brought home a book by Lynn Flewelling called Luck in the Shadows. She had it signed by the author and I decided to read it being a devourer of Fantasy at this point. It wasn’t until the second book you discover the main character is very open about his sexuality. Later the two characters begin a romance. I was stunned to believe there were gay characters in literature, especially in the Fantasy genre. While I had read books that alluded to a character’s sexual orientation, she simply presented it without pomp or circumstance. I always appreciated the manner in which she handled their relationship. Later I would read books by Poppy Z. Brite who I fell in love with in the horror genre as she features gay main characters, both good, bad and everywhere in between. Her descriptions while brutal and often times horrific, were a break away from any stereotypes I could imagine. It showed me there was a vast array of rich characters out there that I did have things in common with.
While I’m not sure how it will pan out in my writing down the road, I’m happy to have overcome my own insecurities to the point where I can write them into a book. I’m hoping as I move forward with my current series I can find the balance I need as a writer to feel I’ve done my gay characters justice within the context of the story.