As you can see from the title of this piece, I’m going to take a specific trip into the world of tropes, namely those that apply to LGBTQ+ characters. Several of the editors and writers who contribute to A Murder of Storytellers either fall under this umbrella, or have written characters who do, or both. While this may not apply to you, it could in the future, and you don’t want to get it wrong. That’s the fastest way to alienate a good portion of readers.
To give the TL:DR of this article, people who identify as LGBTQ+ are as varied as those who don’t identify the same way. You should treat them as if they’re real people.
Now, for those of you who’ve decided to stay for the full ride, I’m going to go into some tropes that should either be avoided, handled differently, or turned on their head.
· The Token Gay: This is the only gay person in a story, usually thrown in to show how “diverse” the cast of characters is or how “with it” or “woke” the author is. The Token Gay is usually written by non-LGBTQ+ authors, and it is usually male. Why? Because the character gets to be The Bitchy Queen™ or The Sassy Queen™ who tells it like it is. The Token Gay is also the primary comedy relief in a piece and is written way over the top to fill this role. The Token Gay may also have a tragic storyline that is introduced for the sole purpose of helping the main character either be a savior for The Token Gay or to help the main character realize their life isn’t as bad as it could be.
· The Bitchy/Sassy Queen™: Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of Bitchy/Sassy Queens™. The problem with using them in writing is that this tends to be the only gay male representation. Why does Steve have to be The Bitchy Queen™? It’s just as likely that Steve curses like a sailor and is more rugged than a lumberjack. Don’t relegate all of your gay male characters to The Bitchy/Sassy Queen™.
· The Coming Out Story: This is exactly what it sounds like. The plot/sub-plot focuses on the LGBTQ+ character coming out and dealing with all of the consequences of that act. These stories tend to focus more on the negative aspects of coming out. However, if they focus on positive aspects, those aspects are usually so bright and cheery that they would make The Bitchy Queen™ puke. These stories are usually made for a mainstream audience, and they’re written so people can feel good about themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, these stories definitely have their place. However, if you don’t want to come across as unenlightened or pandering, The Coming Out Story should be far away from your LGBTQ+ character’s experience.
· The AIDS Story: There is absolutely no denying that HIV and AIDS have had a major impact on the LGBTQ+ community. While HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it was when it emerged in the 1980s, its ramifications are still being dealt with today. The problem with The AIDS Story is that it relegates mostly gay men to a dismal demise after a gut-wrenching story. It’s depressing as hell, and it’s been told a million times. I’m going to let you in on a little secret—just because someone identifies as LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean they’re going to contract HIV/AIDS. The AIDS Story is demeaning, and at this point, it’s become a cliché. It’s been done. Don’t try to repeat it. Just don’t. Especially if you’re not an author who has HIV/AIDS. You don’t understand the condition or experience even a fraction of what you think you do.
· The Confused Lesbian: The Confused Lesbian is the woman who gets propositioned by the dashing, handsome male lead character, but she tells him she won’t have sex with him because she’s a lesbian. The male character then makes it a mission—even if it’s a side mission—to prove that his penis is all The Confused Lesbian needs in order to swear off all women for eternity. There are some LGBTQ+ women who like penises. They are not The Confused Lesbian. They are bisexuals. The Confused Lesbian is the surest way to upset and demean lesbians. If a penis makes a woman realize she’s bisexual, great. Otherwise, keep penises away from your lesbian characters unless they’re attached to male characters who respect lesbians and don’t feel the need to “cure” them.
· Skyler/Skylar/Schuyler: No matter how the name is spelled, this is the gay character who every gay man wants to get with. Skyler is hot. Skyler has a great body, and a great face, and great hair. Skyler is the epitome of sexual prowess. Everyone wants Skyler, and everyone wants to be Skyler. If you think I’m making this up, watch almost any predominantly gay movie and see if Skyler isn’t the object to obtain.
· Depressed/Suicidal: Mental Health issues are not to be taken lightly. While it is true that a large portion of the LGBTQ+ community deals with mental health issues, not all of us do. This is a topic that needs to be handled delicately and from a position of understanding. Don’t have your LGBTQ+ character(s) dealing with mental health issues just to make them “more interesting.” There are far better ways to do that. Now, if you want to treat this topic with the care and consideration it deserves, that’s fine. Just don’t do it because you need to have a character dealing with an internal struggle.
This list could go on and on, but these are the primary tropes that authors deal with when writing LGBTQ+ characters. Understand that this is not an attempt to dissuade you from including these characters in your stories. It is, instead, an invitation to make your characters more fully human and functional as something other than a one-dimensional representation of a vast array of people whose stories deserve to be told with dignity and respect.