By Samuel Bastille
Picture yourself reading a fantastic love story between two people — queer people — and really enjoying it. The story is rich, the characters are complex and you’re really enjoying yourself! Now, as you turn to the next page, imagine you stumble upon something a little less than fantastic: a slur. You may be uncomfortable, and you’re right to be; slurs are horrible words that carry weight and can really hurt the people that they are directed at. While these poisonous words have no place to be tossed around freely, they are important to queer narratives since many queer people have been affected by them.
LGBTQIA+ literature, and the language or ideas that come with it, can be a bit of a challenge for writers, especially if they themselves are not a part of the community. If you are trying to write a queer character or narrative, there might be some fear or apprehension around language, ideas and more. I am here to clear some things up and give you a list of helpful guidelines so you can orient yourself in the right direction!
Let’s talk about language; say you’re writing a story and you want to portray the struggles of being queer and growing up. While it might seem like you need to use slurs to portray an accurate — let’s say bullying — situation, you might want to ask yourself the following questions before proceeding:
Are you queer? If not, maybe rethink your word choice. Does this word affect you? If it is a word that is directed at you, it is your choice whether to use it or not; reclaiming words or using them to educate is very different than someone from outside a group using a harmful word. Does the use of this word further the story or contribute an extremely important piece to the story? Personally, I have a few stories about growing up during which I was put down by slurs, and so if I were to write about a character like me, these words would solidify a formative moment in my character’s life.
Like language, tropes and “character types” are also something to watch out for when writing queer narratives. In your consumption of media and literature you may have come across the very “femme gay guy,” “butch lesbian,” “promiscuous bisexual,” “lipstick lesbian” or even other “classics” not highlighted. Some common tropes include the overly feminine gay guy falling for the hyper-masculine jock or the queer villain. Before writing a queer narrative, a quality check is in order; you might wasn’t to ask yourself some questions before continuing:
If you aren’t queer, have you shown your writing to someone who is part of the community (preferably multiple people)? How did they feel? If they showed any apprehension in reading, maybe you should revisit your writing. Do any of your characters seem larger than life, or flat enough to fit these “types” of queer characters? Are you adhering to a trope in a negative way? Again, these might be some red flags signifying a much needed change.
Something else to note is the fact that not every queer person will totally agree on everything or share the same ideas; just because I am queer does not mean that I represent the entire community.
Now, these guidelines are are not here to scare people away from writing queer narratives; the world needs queer stories and queer characters, but those that represent us well and those that are accurate and genuine. Thanks for reading, y’all!
Now go out there and write — mindfully!
Samuel Bastille is the Long River Review literary events coordinator and a poetry panel reader. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.