Hetero/Homonormativity

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http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity

LGTB characters are finally being presented to public audiences; they unfortunately are always put in a role that focuses on their normal adherence to nuclear families just like the rest of us. Is this wrong? Are we leaving traditional institutions in place instead of questioning them, and only making visible what we think is acceptable?

Welcome to the uncle Tom theory of gay relations. Welcome to hell

Yeah.

I agree. What more is there to say. :P

I don't like the idea of an Uncle Tom theory though. There's nothing wrong with showing gay people in nuclear families, or living "normal" lives. That is, after all, what many gay people have fought hard for the right to do.

But I think it's also worth showing that some of the non-normative aspects of being gay are pretty awesome too.

Gay people getting married, adopting kids, always dressing conservatively, having dinner parties with their straight friends, adhering to traditional notions of masculinity/femininity etc is not homonormativity. Homonormativity is when those gay people start accusing cruisers or leathermen or queens or stone butches of "letting the side down".

evilthecat:
Yeah.

I agree. What more is there to say. :P

I don't like the idea of an Uncle Tom theory though. There's nothing wrong with showing gay people in nuclear families, or living "normal" lives. That is, after all, what many gay people have fought hard for the right to do.

But I think it's also worth showing that some of the non-normative aspects of being gay are pretty awesome too.

Gay people getting married, adopting kids, always dressing conservatively, having dinner parties with their straight friends, adhering to traditional notions of masculinity/femininity etc is not homonormativity. Homonormativity is when those gay people start accusing cruisers or leathermen or queens or stone butches of "letting the side down".

Yeah, I agree with this. The end goal of all this equality business is that everyone is free to do what they want without being shat on (to a degree; there shouldn't be total freedom, obviously). Not that everyone is free to adhere to one standard. Some gay men can mince and be feminine, whilst others can act masculine and "bro-y" (for lack of a better term).

AtenSet:
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity

LGTB characters are finally being presented to public audiences; they unfortunately are always put in a role that focuses on their normal adherence to nuclear families just like the rest of us. Is this wrong? Are we leaving traditional institutions in place instead of questioning them, and only making visible what we think is acceptable?

Welcome to the uncle Tom theory of gay relations. Welcome to hell

Let me ask you this then: Are not non-normative lifestyles caused by rejection and oppression? If you look at the gay scene pre-90s what you are looking at is a people having non-normative relations and counter culture, but it seems to me a direct reaction to the oppression that they dealt with and the inability to have the normative dream. Now, even those who are not oppressed and rejected may reject the normative lifestyle, but we can see that they are minority and have nothing to do with gayness. Heteros living in group homes, or having open marriages, or who choose to stay childless 100% exist. As such, the term heteronormative is silly and its a rejection of the many gay people who always wanted to have a normative lifestyle but society refused them that.

So I leave you with three points:
a) Gays who whine about the heteronormativity would have most likely been normative to begin with if they had grown up in a gay-friendly world
b) Some gays who would have had a non-normative lifestyle regardless of the acceptability of their existence in society are now upset because their non-normative community is getting smaller.
c) You will soon see that the post-gay gay movement built of gays who were born into an accepting society and who could marry and have normative lifestyles are going to be the majority of the community, and that they will be looking for role models on TV that represent who they are.

I'm not sure I understand. This sounds a lot like how black people get flak from their peers for being "too white" just because they have a good education and a decent job.

Are you saying that gay men who don't mince around wearing sequins and feather boas are "doing it wrong?" Because I don't think that's what "heteronormativity" means.

Because I thought homosexuality was about being attracted to one's own gender, not about living up to gay community's expectation or standards of behavior.

In short, there's a difference between "acting heterosexual" and "acting normal." And if being gay is "normal" then gay people should have no problem with acting "normal."
If someone chooses to act... abnormal, for lack of a better term, that's all well and good, but it has nothing to do with their sexual identity, and they shouldn't judge others just because they choose a different lifestyle which happens to coincide with that of the majority... who incidentally happen to be heterosexual.

I think people are missing an important part of the OP, where the word "always" is used.

There is nothing wrong with that depiction of gay people, but if that (or any other, really) was the way they are "always" depicted as, that's a problem.

I'm not sure that is the case though.

So a gay guy who isn't heteronormative would be what exactly? Like camp or effeminate or something?

I think those kind of characters are dying out in the media because they'd just be branded as a lazy stereotype, regardless of how good or realistic the character is.

maxben:
Heteros living in group homes, or having open marriages, or who choose to stay childless 100% exist.

And the fact that it's possible to do so relatively unmolested compared to various points in the past has nothing to do with heteronormativity?

Let's take the example of cruising. Let's say you took every straight man in the world into a parallel universe where society as we know it worked very differently and where there was absolutely no shame, stigma or social consequences for some things which would have consequences here, and we give each of those men a choice.

"Hey guys, if you want we can take you back to your own universe and you can live there. You can live a normal life, you can get married, have kids, grow old together, have affairs, whatever..

..or, you can stay here in this universe. You will never have to get married and noone will ever expect you to, instead you can have a community of friends who treat you like family and if you ever want sex you can just go out and get it with no strings attached just by going to the right place or dressing in the right way.

..and then, if you ever want to, or if you ever do meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with for some reason, we'll keep the dimensional wormhole open and you can hop back through anytime."

Do you not think some people would say "hell fucking yeah!"

I mean, you're right that non-normative "gay lifestyles" only exist because gay people were marginalized, but does that mean there's nothing valuable in those lifestyles? Nothing which could possibly be valuable to anyone? Are they utterly abject lives full of misery and despair, or do they occasionally reveal a freedom from social norms which is admirable or even enviable? Might straight people not follow by choice where gay people were once forced by circumstance?

Might that normative expectation that everyone will live a certain type of life not change, as it arguably already has done in the case of the examples you noted, and is accepting the non-normativity of gay people not a part of the process of accepting non-normativity in straight people as well?

Hmmm, reading through the posts in this tread I can't make up my mind whether "normativity" is more like some sort of a gilded cage, or simply a stereotype.

I mean, depicting gay people the same all the time, that's simply stereotyping them. But is some gay people treating other gay people as "too straight" because they're not flamboyant, or something, actually a thing? That would then make it a bit of a gilded cage, I suppose, but I'm not sure if that's a thing.

Vegosiux:
But is some gay people treating other gay people as "too straight" because they're not flamboyant, or something, actually a thing?

Well, there's always some people doing that in any group. How many, how loud their voice is, I couldn't tell you, and I doubt you'd find unbiased sources about that easily.

AtenSet:

LGTB characters are finally being presented to public audiences

It is becoming quite a fad, but no they have been represented for a long time now. I am not well versed in gay media, but think of things like the Rocky Horror which came out in 1975.

Being gay, and promoting them is a pretty big fad that has been around for quite sometime and is only gaining popularity. Not that I am against them in anyway, I just hate seeing people like Macklemore cashing in on it, and people eat it up like it is revolutionary everytime.

Ya'll like Morgan Freeman right? (well maybe not in recent years) well he's got a nugget of wisdom I find hard to articulate without sounding like a pompous ass:

Flutterguy:

It is becoming quite a fad, but no they have been represented for a long time now. I am not well versed in gay media, but think of things like the Rocky Horror which came out in 1975.

As much as I love Rocky Horror (which is a great deal), I'm not sure it's the best example to use. Of the gay (or bi) characters in it, Dr. Frankenfurter is a manipulative alien psychopath, and Rocky himself is essentially created to be a sex toy.

Silvanus:

Flutterguy:

It is becoming quite a fad, but no they have been represented for a long time now. I am not well versed in gay media, but think of things like the Rocky Horror which came out in 1975.

As much as I love Rocky Horror (which is a great deal), I'm not sure it's the best example to use. Of the gay (or bi) characters in it, Dr. Frankenfurter is a manipulative alien psychopath, and Rocky himself is essentially created to be a sex toy.

Not saying it is a great example, however I'm not exactly versed in gay history and it was the oldest example of a gay or bisexual i could think of in media. They are around and have been since atleast the psychedelic movement.

Flutterguy:

Not saying it is a great example, however I'm not exactly versed in gay history and it was the oldest example of a gay or bisexual i could think of in media. They are around and have been since atleast the psychedelic movement.

They've been around, certainly, but (like many gay people themselves) were often forced underground or outside of mainstream media. Gore Vidal wrote a novel with a gay protagonist in the 40s, for example, but it sparked a scandal before it even hit the shelves, and he was blacklisted.

So... outrageous caricatures of gays and lesbians are bad because they present homosexuals as counterculture and "not normal", but conversely, depictions of wholesome, straight-acting people who "oh, by the way, happen to like something different in the bedroom" is bad because it sidelines gay culture?

Is this not the very definition of "damned if you do, damned if you don't"? And we wonder why not many writers are brave enough to tackle meaningful homosexual characters. Yeesh.

In the words of Seymour Skinner:

Batou667:
So... outrageous caricatures of gays and lesbians are bad because they present homosexuals as counterculture and "not normal", but conversely, depictions of wholesome, straight-acting people who "oh, by the way, happen to like something different in the bedroom" is bad because it sidelines gay culture?

It may seem like that from this thread, but I've honestly never seen any criticism of gay people being depicted just like everyone else. I read gay-related blogs, used to go to LGBT society stuff, never heard it even once.

If this is even a thing, it's a molehill-sized thing.

Batou667:
Is this not the very definition of "damned if you do, damned if you don't"? And we wonder why not many writers are brave enough to tackle meaningful homosexual characters. Yeesh.

It's not nearly as hard as you make it out. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say if the writer does two little things, it's trivially easy:

1) Research by actually getting to know a variety of gay people, spending time with them, and learning what they are like as individuals.

2) Write your gay character(s) to be depictions of themselves as full-fledged people, not representations for gay people as a whole.

If you can do those two things, I think you'll probably not go far wrong. No promises that someone won't criticize your work, but that's always the case in the creative arts.

I don't think it's really the case that not many writers are brave enough to tackle meaningful homosexual characters.

evilthecat:

maxben:
Heteros living in group homes, or having open marriages, or who choose to stay childless 100% exist.

And the fact that it's possible to do so relatively unmolested compared to various points in the past has nothing to do with heteronormativity?

Let's take the example of cruising. Let's say you took every straight man in the world into a parallel universe where society as we know it worked very differently and where there was absolutely no shame, stigma or social consequences for some things which would have consequences here, and we give each of those men a choice.

"Hey guys, if you want we can take you back to your own universe and you can live there. You can live a normal life, you can get married, have kids, grow old together, have affairs, whatever..

..or, you can stay here in this universe. You will never have to get married and noone will ever expect you to, instead you can have a community of friends who treat you like family and if you ever want sex you can just go out and get it with no strings attached just by going to the right place or dressing in the right way.

..and then, if you ever want to, or if you ever do meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with for some reason, we'll keep the dimensional wormhole open and you can hop back through anytime."

Do you not think some people would say "hell fucking yeah!"

I mean, you're right that non-normative "gay lifestyles" only exist because gay people were marginalized, but does that mean there's nothing valuable in those lifestyles? Nothing which could possibly be valuable to anyone? Are they utterly abject lives full of misery and despair, or do they occasionally reveal a freedom from social norms which is admirable or even enviable? Might straight people not follow by choice where gay people were once forced by circumstance?

Might that normative expectation that everyone will live a certain type of life not change, as it arguably already has done in the case of the examples you noted, and is accepting the non-normativity of gay people not a part of the process of accepting non-normativity in straight people as well?

Sure, a few would, and a few will say yes and only regret it afterwards when they realize what they've done. I think the majority of people have a basic urge to create basic family groupings. But beyond that, let's consider what you are saying. Is there anything admirable about non-normative lifestlye? No, and there is nothing admirable about normative lifestyles either. They just are. The problem is the people who put moral worth to those lifestyles. Notice that if no one does anything and we live in acceptance, the majority will naturally choose to live in normative households and the minority will choose the non normative, so what is the point about moralistically defending the normative lifestyle? Not only is it meaningless because there is no morality there, its counter intuitive as that kind of oppression drives people to the non-normative and causes them to mistakingly give it moral worth.

All I am trying to say is that you folks who like your lifestyle, have at it. However, do not expect the rest of us to join you, do not tell us that your lifestyle is more valuable or more authentically "gay", and don't be surprised that the majority of the community is moving forward into this brave new world.

For full disclosure, I say this as a bi man in a relationship with a gay man.

Is it wrong that the writers and directors behind fictional media make use of their artistic freedom of Expression, to depict things in according with their vision?

Obviously not. The wrong lies with sorry sods who crave the approval of mass marketed mainstream fiction for everything they do, unable to muster up any desire or personality of their own, lest it be handed to them by HBO. And the independent gays who already enjoy acting outside "the societal norm" probably do so in part because it's outside "the societal norm" anyway.

Silvanus:

It may seem like that from this thread, but I've honestly never seen any criticism of gay people being depicted just like everyone else.

Ditto, at least not in real life. I think the internet has this lensing effect that makes fringe views appear as prevalent as moderate ones. I've never heard anybody say "check your privilege" in real life either, or most of the other "buzzwords" that get slung around online.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

It's not nearly as hard as you make it out. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say if the writer does two little things, it's trivially easy:

True, that'd make for very realistic characters. It'd also probably make for a horribly disjointed or dull book/movie/drama or whatever. A character's value is usually defined more by what they bring to the narrative and how they drive it along, than how accurate a depiction they are of a "real person". In fact I'd stick my neck out and say that realism and nuance in characters hinders good storytelling, and the most successful characters are, if not exactly one-trick ponies, then two- or three-trick ponies. Basically; tropes exist for a reason. That's no justification for falling back on outdated or offensive stereotypes, sure, but characters in media tend to have at best two or three notable characteristics - and if "gay" is one of those characteristics, expect that to at least partially define the character's role in whatever work of fiction they're in.

Batou667:

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

It's not nearly as hard as you make it out. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say if the writer does two little things, it's trivially easy:

True, that'd make for very realistic characters. It'd also probably make for a horribly disjointed or dull book/movie/drama or whatever. A character's value is usually defined more by what they bring to the narrative and how they drive it along, than how accurate a depiction they are of a "real person". In fact I'd stick my neck out and say that realism and nuance in characters hinders good storytelling, and the most successful characters are, if not exactly one-trick ponies, then two- or three-trick ponies.

This would go a good way toward explaining why most published entertainment is utter shit.

I'm sorry, I'm rejecting your premise entirely. There has never been a single story ever told that benefited from the writer being ignorant of the subject matter, nor any story worth telling that required the characters depicted to represent the entire population.

This doesn't mean of course that every story depicting gays has to be a gritty, fantasy-free serious drama. But it has to be believable, and that believability will be enhanced by the author knowing what the hell they're talking about.

You claimed that writers weren't brave enough to tackle meaningful homosexual characters. I say that's hogwash, and I want to see some evidence backing up your claim. It's no more difficult to write good gay characters than it is to write any other character.

maxben:
I think the majority of people have a basic urge to create basic family groupings.

What's a "basic" family grouping?

maxben:
But beyond that, let's consider what you are saying. Is there anything admirable about non-normative lifestlye? No, and there is nothing admirable about normative lifestyles either. They just are.

If there's nothing admirable in them, why does anyone try and live them?

We're not talking about some magical transcendental value here, but the value which people themselves place on things.

maxben:
The problem is the people who put moral worth to those lifestyles. Notice that if no one does anything and we live in acceptance, the majority will naturally choose to live in normative households and the minority will choose the non normative, so what is the point about moralistically defending the normative lifestyle? Not only is it meaningless because there is no morality there, its counter intuitive as that kind of oppression drives people to the non-normative and causes them to mistakingly give it moral worth.

Sorry. Where did this whole question of moral worth come from?

I can make choices which are valuable to me without imbuing them with some kind of abstract moral worth.

maxben:
However, do not expect the rest of us to join you, do not tell us that your lifestyle is more valuable or more authentically "gay", and don't be surprised that the majority of the community is moving forward into this brave new world.

Fine.

Just don't be surprised if, when all is said and done, your "brave new world" isn't as hetero as you currently want it to be.

evilthecat:

But I think it's also worth showing that some of the non-normative aspects of being gay are pretty awesome too.

The non-normative aspects of being straight are also fairly awesome. I mean I think the perception is that gays (specifically gay men) are all about doing weird butt stuff wearing leather while us normal straight guys do not weird not butt stuff wearing cotton polo shirts. The truth is, there's just as many straight people doing all kinds of butt stuff wearing all types of leather.

Strawman McFallacy:
The non-normative aspects of being straight are also fairly awesome. I mean I think the perception is that gays (specifically gay men) are all about doing weird butt stuff wearing leather while us normal straight guys do not weird not butt stuff wearing cotton polo shirts. The truth is, there's just as many straight people doing all kinds of butt stuff wearing all types of leather.

And?

Heteronormativity is about how heterosexuality functions as part of a normative standard of sexual behaviour. Gay men doing normal, not butt stuff wearing cotton polo shirts would still not meet the societal standard of normal would they? That is why, over the past century, people have been sent to prison, chemically castrated, forced into psychiatric treatment or just straight up murdered for being gay whether they did weird butt stuff wearing leather or not. Because the non-normativity of being gay was itself was objectionable. The term "homosexuality" or "gay" or, perhaps most revealing of all "queer" already implies a judgement about whether someone is normal or not.

The notion that gay people are more fetishistic, less sexually normative or more likely to be non-monogamous is a pejorative stereotype. It is not actually particularly true and never was, but it was nonetheless used as a stick to beat gay people with because being gay is not normal and because these other things are also not normal, so obviously they go together.

But by the fact that this was a pejorative stereotype, by the fact that it was used as a stick to beat gay people with, we can also determine something about how sexual "normatility" functions as a standard, which is extremely relevant to straight people too.

That is the basis of the concept, that maybe actually this whole notion of normativity is kind of arbitrary, and perhaps, just perhaps, if there's nothing wrong with being gay then maybe there's nothing wrong with other forms of non-normativity as well.

evilthecat:

Strawman McFallacy:
The non-normative aspects of being straight are also fairly awesome. I mean I think the perception is that gays (specifically gay men) are all about doing weird butt stuff wearing leather while us normal straight guys do not weird not butt stuff wearing cotton polo shirts. The truth is, there's just as many straight people doing all kinds of butt stuff wearing all types of leather.

And?

Heteronormativity is about how heterosexuality functions as part of a normative standard of sexual behaviour. Gay men doing normal, not butt stuff wearing cotton polo shirts would still not meet the societal standard of normal would they? That is why, over the past century, people have been sent to prison, chemically castrated, forced into psychiatric treatment or just straight up murdered for being gay whether they did weird butt stuff wearing leather or not. Because the non-normativity of being gay was itself was objectionable. The term "homosexuality" or "gay" or, perhaps most revealing of all "queer" already implies a judgement about whether someone is normal or not.

The notion that gay people are more fetishistic, less sexually normative or more likely to be non-monogamous is a pejorative stereotype. It is not actually particularly true and never was, but it was nonetheless used as a stick to beat gay people with because being gay is not normal and because these other things are also not normal, so obviously they go together.

But by the fact that this was a pejorative stereotype, by the fact that it was used as a stick to beat gay people with, we can also determine something about how sexual "normatility" functions as a standard, which is extremely relevant to straight people too.

That is the basis of the concept, that maybe actually this whole notion of normativity is kind of arbitrary, and perhaps, just perhaps, if there's nothing wrong with being gay then maybe there's nothing wrong with other forms of non-normativity as well.

Okay, I'm not sure what you interpreted my post as because that sure was a long reply addressing things I never said. I mean agree with everything you said so not sure what's going on...

All I was saying that there is often a misconception that there is a difference between the sex lives of gay couples and the sex life of straight couples. While I only have my varying subscriptions to porn tumblrs as my empirical data, it seems like everybody is doing all kinds of things regardless of sexual preference.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

This would go a good way toward explaining why most published entertainment is utter shit.

I'm sorry, I'm rejecting your premise entirely. There has never been a single story ever told that benefited from the writer being ignorant of the subject matter, nor any story worth telling that required the characters depicted to represent the entire population.

This doesn't mean of course that every story depicting gays has to be a gritty, fantasy-free serious drama. But it has to be believable, and that believability will be enhanced by the author knowing what the hell they're talking about.

You claimed that writers weren't brave enough to tackle meaningful homosexual characters. I say that's hogwash, and I want to see some evidence backing up your claim. It's no more difficult to write good gay characters than it is to write any other character.

I see where you're coming from and I even share in some of your frustration, but don't shoot the messenger; I didn't decide things were going to be this way.

I'm sure you understand that many types of storytelling are heavily reliant on tropes, and hopefully you understand why as well - a narrative isn't real life, nor would we want it to be, so unlike real life a narrative needs direction, structure, a pattern or rhythm, closure. To drive that along you need characters who the audience can connect to readily - the parts of their lives that are presented are invariably linked in some way to the narrative. Non-essential details can be omitted - and when they're not, and the story is put on pause while characters ramble about the minutia of what they had for breakfast or what their favourite colour is, that's when you get the tedious sections of Tarantino movies that everybody fast-forwards through.

To illustrate, and because I can think of precious few examples, part of the reason Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books is a good character is because he's never defined by his sexuality. He's an old man who fulfills the sage/mentor archetype within the context of a piece of children's/young adult fantasy fiction - nobody needs, nor particularly wants, to know what goes on in his bedroom. It's never directly alluded to in the books. The fact that J K Rowling later on made it explicit that Dumbledore was written as homosexual is an odd and almost meaningless footnote to the character - and the books wouldn't have been improved one iota if that factoid had been tossed nonchalantly and apropos of nothing into the story.

I basically agree with you that "It's no more difficult to write good gay characters than it is to write any other character" - in that there are very few genuinely believable and fleshed-out characters of any sexuality, gender or race out there, and especially in film and video games where tropes are used as even more of a narrative crutch. But we have to remember that in the real world homosexuality is a minority trait, and therefore any character is straight by default - and if a character is gay, it's sure to be either linked to the narrative or be a defining trait, or else it's an irrelevant distraction. Hardly fair, I suppose, but it's yet another concession to the nature of fiction. Sexuality is also a "hidden" trait as opposed to the overt traits of sex and race. A black Heimdall or Perry White works with very little explanation. A gay Heimdall or Perry White would need a lot more effort.

Can you think of any counter example, i.e. well-written gay characters who aren't caricatured or defined by their sexuality? I really can't think of any.

Batou667:
Can you think of any counter example, i.e. well-written gay characters who aren't caricatured or defined by their sexuality? I really can't think of any.

Off the top of my head? Batwoman. She's a lesbian, but that's usually not relevant when beating up supercriminals.

Batou667:
But we have to remember that in the real world homosexuality is a minority trait, and therefore any character is straight by default - and if a character is gay, it's sure to be either linked to the narrative or be a defining trait, or else it's an irrelevant distraction. Hardly fair, I suppose, but it's yet another concession to the nature of fiction.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with this. Sticking a minority in is a conscious act away from the norm in our culture.

...

I'd also add that there isn't the existing wealth of minority characters to draw from, the way there is with the "default", which people can't help but be familiar with.

Batou667:

Can you think of any counter example, i.e. well-written gay characters who aren't caricatured or defined by their sexuality? I really can't think of any.

thaluikhain:

Off the top of my head? Batwoman. She's a lesbian, but that's usually not relevant when beating up supercriminals.

Hrmmm, I'm going to give it a shot, actually. Hard mode is on, so I'm not allowed to look anything up to remind myself.

*Inigo Montoya (DC comics)
*Ser Loras Tyrell, Renly Baratheon + Jon Connington (A Song of Ice and Fire)
*Daemon Blackfyre II (The Hedge Knight)
*The boy from the wealthy school in 'Gentlemen and Players', by Joanne Harris.
*Albus Dumbledore!
*The huntress, from 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman. Word of God on that one.

...Can't think of any more from literature. Sorry for the distraction.

Silvanus:
*Albus Dumbledore!

There's arguments over whether or not that one should count, it that it's never mentioned in any way in the books. If you didn't hear about the interview Rowling gave, you'd never know.

thaluikhain:

There's arguments over whether or not that one should count, it that it's never mentioned in any way in the books. If you didn't hear about the interview Rowling gave, you'd never know.

Well, I've often disputed that it never came up in any way in the books. It actually informs the Grindelwald sub-plot quite a great deal. It's never explicitly stated, no, but that's usually not considered necessary for straight romantic feelings in fiction.

The relationship between Ser Loras and Renly Baratheon is not outwardly stated in the books, either, but informs a number of plotlines nonetheless.

I'd also add the long-dead prisoner who occupied the cell next to V in V for Vendetta.

Batou667:
I'm sure you understand that many types of storytelling are heavily reliant on tropes, and hopefully you understand why as well - a narrative isn't real life, nor would we want it to be, so unlike real life a narrative needs direction, structure, a pattern or rhythm, closure.

When I was younger I studied writing and believed I was going to be a writer. Yes, I know how tropes work.

To drive that along you need characters who the audience can connect to readily - the parts of their lives that are presented are invariably linked in some way to the narrative.

Exactly. And this can never be aided by the writer portraying the character as gay but not researching gay people. Nor by using the gay character as a stereotype to represent all gays. I disagreed with your claim that writers weren't writing gay characters because they were afraid to do so, that writing gay characters was especially dangerous because they would get complaints for writing outrageous or conventional gay characters. I don't see how the direction you've taken this post supports your claim.

To illustrate, and because I can think of precious few examples, part of the reason Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books is a good character is because he's never defined by his sexuality. He's an old man who fulfills the sage/mentor archetype within the context of a piece of children's/young adult fantasy fiction - nobody needs, nor particularly wants, to know what goes on in his bedroom. It's never directly alluded to in the books. The fact that J K Rowling later on made it explicit that Dumbledore was written as homosexual is an odd and almost meaningless footnote to the character - and the books wouldn't have been improved one iota if that factoid had been tossed nonchalantly and apropos of nothing into the story.

And not to sound rude, but what's your point? I think it's fairly likely Rowling did some research on some gay people and didn't intend for Dumbledore to represent all gay people. So... clearly it's not that hard to write an acceptable gay character.

But we have to remember that in the real world homosexuality is a minority trait, and therefore any character is straight by default - and if a character is gay, it's sure to be either linked to the narrative or be a defining trait, or else it's an irrelevant distraction.

Which doesn't imply that authors are afraid to write gay characters. Rather, it implies that authors tend to not know how to write gay characters. Which is why they need to do research.

Can you think of any counter example, i.e. well-written gay characters who aren't caricatured or defined by their sexuality? I really can't think of any.

My argument is not that well-written gay characters exist; my argument is that it isn't hard to write them.

Let me put it another way- I play miniature wargames and paint miniatures. The overwhelming majority of people in that hobby are white men. And not coincidentally, the overwhelming majority of miniature figures are painted to be white men. Every once in a while on other message boards some troll or someone utterly ignorant of the hobby will come on and claim that the hobby is racist, that everyone is intentionally painting figures white in order to create an all-white future. Now maybe that's true for a very small number of people in the hobby, but most paint their armies white out of unthinking habit. We are white, so we don't even have to look in the mirror to see a model of what our skin looks like. We go with what we know, and end up with hundreds of little Caucasian men fighting wars. When most people try to paint non-white skin tones on figures, it goes two ways: Either they research the real skin tones of people and put some work into it, or they grab their nearest pot of dark brown and go to town. The former group tends to produce excellent figures. The latter group tends to produce lazy, clumsy figures that look like caricatures. I once tried to paint up a squad of GW Imperial Guardsmen (actually Tau human Auxilliaries) to be a multi-racial unit. I wanted different shades of white, a couple guys with African-black skin, and an Indian brown skin tone. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could make them all look different. It took a while to research the tones on-line and get the shading and high-lighting right, but to date these are some of my best-looking human figures. Now I'm working on a unit of Chinese light infantry for Infinity. I had to repaint their faces like three times because they never came out looking right- they always just looked like pink men with black hair. So I went online and studied some photographs with a Photoshop color picker eyedropper and only then was I able to create something passable. It wasn't hard, it was just an extra step that required me to set aside my arrogant position of "I already know everything I need to know to make this work."

The smaller number of good gay characters isn't because writers are afraid to write them as you claimed (with the implication that it is the fault of gay people being too picky about how they are depicted), it's because people tend to fill their creative works with what they know, and what most people know best is people just like themselves. It only takes a little effort to make a character that is interesting, but most writers are too disinterested in making the effort to step outside of their comfort zone.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:
I disagreed with your claim that writers weren't writing gay characters because they were afraid to do so, that writing gay characters was especially dangerous because they would get complaints for writing outrageous or conventional gay characters. I don't see how the direction you've taken this post supports your claim.

Ah, ok. Seems like I misunderstood your previous post.

I think it's fairly likely Rowling did some research on some gay people and didn't intend for Dumbledore to represent all gay people. So... clearly it's not that hard to write an acceptable gay character.

What makes you think she had to research gay people? They're neither a particularly alien and inscrutable set of people, nor do they present a homogenous collective, so setting off with pencil and notebook and the mission "Discover what gay people are like" would surely have been a fruitless task? (No puns intended). Do you suppose she "researched" the lives of ginger people to be able to write Ron Weasley and his family?

Also, as I pointed out before, Dumbledore is only a "good gay character" in the same trivial sense that he's a good literary depiction of a Sagittarius, or a left-hander, or somebody with a peanut allergy: none of the above is ever mentioned in the story and affects neither his character nor the story arc in any way. It's all well and good to ascribe qualities to him post-hoc, but I don't think we could say with a clear conscience that J K Rowling has "written a good gay character" as she actually didn't write a single word about that side of his personality (aside from a few oblique references which still make sense without the knowledge of the characters' relationship).

My argument is not that well-written gay characters exist; my argument is that it isn't hard to write them.

With respect, if you think they're easy to write, then why don't we see more of them? The current zeitgeist is ripe for a well-rounded gay character who is neither a stereotype nor ostensibly-asexual-but-we're-told-they're-gay. It'd be a lucrative niche, if nothing else. I don't think "more research" is key, I think part of the problem is the inherent limitations in our literary conventions and, by extension, society in general. It's normal to be straight, it's notable to be gay. If a character is gay, that's one of their trait slots already filled; it limits the rest of their persona. Possibly a very skilled writer could manipulate the setting or tone to readjust the viewer's expectation of what is normal - kind of how Star Trek made space exploration the backdrop of the show to enable a greater range of character relationships and interactions - but in a contemporary mainstream setting, they'd have their work cut out for them.

Batou667:
What makes you think she had to research gay people? They're neither a particularly alien and inscrutable set of people, nor do they present a homogenous collective, so setting off with pencil and notebook and the mission "Discover what gay people are like" would surely have been a fruitless task? (No puns intended). Do you suppose she "researched" the lives of ginger people to be able to write Ron Weasley and his family?

Literary research isn't scientific research. Notes may be useful, but good writers tend to be good observers. It may well be that Rowling knows some gay people and closely observed them.

Also, as I pointed out before, Dumbledore is only a "good gay character" in the same trivial sense that he's a good literary depiction of a Sagittarius, or a left-hander, or somebody with a peanut allergy: none of the above is ever mentioned in the story and affects neither his character nor the story arc in any way. It's all well and good to ascribe qualities to him post-hoc, but I don't think we could say with a clear conscience that J K Rowling has "written a good gay character" as she actually didn't write a single word about that side of his personality (aside from a few oblique references which still make sense without the knowledge of the characters' relationship).

I guess I need to say that I'm not really all that concerned about whether or not Dumbledore is a "good gay character", because I've only read as far as the Order of the Phoenix and don't really care to read further. I don't know much about him, I was just accepting your assertion at face value that he is a "good gay character".

With respect, if you think they're easy to write, then why don't we see more of them?

For the same reason we see so few good black characters or good Muslim characters or good female characters or hell, even good male straight white characters. We live in a society that voraciously consumes media, and the signal-to-noise ratio of good characters is not very good. Publishers want media that is easily-consumed and can be milked for years. Media that the audience has to think about just isn't going to get the same publishing support as media that is shallow and superficial.

It'd be a lucrative niche, if nothing else.

Would it? I mean, Brokeback Mountain seemed to do well, but I don't see many publishers chomping at the bit for more gay characters unless they specifically publish for a gay audience.

I don't think "more research" is key, I think part of the problem is the inherent limitations in our literary conventions and, by extension, society in general. It's normal to be straight, it's notable to be gay. If a character is gay, that's one of their trait slots already filled; it limits the rest of their persona.

Like I said, I wanted to be a writer so I studied writing. This is the first time I've ever heard anyone propose that characters have a limited number of "trait slots". I'm just not going to believe that without some evidence.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

I guess I need to say that I'm not really all that concerned about whether or not Dumbledore is a "good gay character", because I've only read as far as the Order of the Phoenix and don't really care to read further. I don't know much about him, I was just accepting your assertion at face value that he is a "good gay character".

He's a good character. I'd be hesitant in calling him a good gay character, for the reasons I already mentioned.

This is the first time I've ever heard anyone propose that characters have a limited number of "trait slots". I'm just not going to believe that without some evidence.

That was my own, speculative, hand-wavey way of trying to explain myself. I do feel that there's a limited number of traits a character can have before they start feeling overloaded or extraneous to the story (because as I keep banging on about, characters exist to serve the narrative as a whole, and not vice versa - let's not make the mistake of confusing them for real people, as much as they might resemble them). However, that's my appraisal as somebody who has a mostly amateur interest in English Lit (at least past Primary School level), so if you feel it's unreasonable please feel free to disregard it. It's not key to my main argument anyway.

To recap my main point, since sexuality is a non-surface characteristic, I think it is more difficult to write a good gay character - moreso than even good female or nonwhite characters. Sex and race are physical traits and are immediately visible - so, the fact that character X is a black, female fighter pilot can be established instantly - whereas sexuality only becomes evident in contexts that might never arise in many types of narrative. And yeah, I think that places writers of gay characters in a catch-22 situation - they can make the character overtly gay, and risk accusations of stereotyping, or they can downplay that trait and effectively dodge having to portray a gay character, which is disingenuous and adds nothing to the story.

Vegosiux:
Hmmm, reading through the posts in this tread I can't make up my mind whether "normativity" is more like some sort of a gilded cage, or simply a stereotype.

I mean, depicting gay people the same all the time, that's simply stereotyping them. But is some gay people treating other gay people as "too straight" because they're not flamboyant, or something, actually a thing? That would then make it a bit of a gilded cage, I suppose, but I'm not sure if that's a thing.

I'v been called out on being too much into the hetero normative by some other GLBT-persons on occasion. The fact that me and my wife both are content with living a fairly standard life as a married couple (albeit a same-gender marriage) and emulating much of what is normative for hetero couples apparently irks some people. Apparently we are supposed to "shape our own identity" or some such. So yeah, it definitely is a thing even if I haven't encountered it too frequently.

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