1. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Help with LGBTQ characterization

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fitzroy Zeph, Nov 18, 2014.

    My female protagonist, it turns out, is bi-sexual. I didn't know until I started to write some backstory. Such is the way of writing. The current version is so much better than my original storyline that I would never dream of trying to make a straight woman fit into the role. However, I am, for good or bad, a straight white male, who has no biases, but admittedly can be uninformed or at least too stereotypical in thought.

    In an effort to try and not make my character a parody of who I want, I seek the help of those who would know better. Story time is the present, but the scenes that matter all take place while she is in university. That would be in the 80's and would be in Canada, likely UBC or such. Her lover is gay and seduces her, although my character makes little or no effort to tame the demons telling her this may not be the best idea.

    At that time, would two women friends hold hands if one of them was distraught or otherwise? Would they ever do so in public? Would lesbian women of that era be at all identifiable by dress or mannerism? Short hair? Behavior, or dress etc. I'm obviously looking for descriptive tags I can employ that aren't offensive or parodic in nature. Thanks.
     
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  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing is, anybody *could* be gay -- you can't always tell just by looking at them. Now, yes, there are effeminate men, and men who have a certain walk or way of carrying themselves that often leads people to believe they are gay, and most often they are. Similarly, there are lesbians who are "butch" or carry themselves in a more typically masculine way that also leads people to believe they are lesbians and frequently they are. However, there are many gay men and lesbians who do not have these outward appearances or ways of carrying themselves, and you would not likely guess they were gay unless they told you or you saw them in a sexual act with someone of the same sex. So, I don't know that you have to, or even want to describe these gay people in these ways.

    I can tell you that in colleges in the 1980s, being gay was not like it is today. Gay people, for the most part, were only beginning to come out of the closet, and there was quite a bit of stigma associated with it, particularly as this era was at the height of AIDS hysteria and the beginning of the epidemic. (It made no difference to most people that lesbians were actually the group least likely to get AIDS.)

    So, I believe, in general, there would be a much larger effort to hide a same-sex attraction. Women have not endured quite the same level of stigma as have men in this area, and because women are more likely to show affection -- maybe holding hands when they are not romantically involved than men might, I don't think you have as much to worry about. That is, they might think about holding hands and whether that might make people conclude they were gay, but might not worry as much about it as 2 men would.

    I'd think that here would be much more of a focus on keeping the homosexuality a secret then than there would be today. But as far as the "looks," they're not so much different than today.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was at UBC in the '90s... close enough?

    I'd say two women holding hands in private might happen, if one was QUITE upset. Pretty much the same level of intimacy as a hug, but b/c it's usually more prolonged, it would maybe be more intimate.

    If I'd seen two women holding hands in public when I was at UBC, I would have assumed a sexual relationship between them. If they were white women, at least. Some Japanese women/girls in Vancouver had a different way of acting, so if I saw two Japanese girls holding hands I might have thought they were just being cute. (There's probably some anime/manga/yaoi-friendly term for this kind of 'cute', but I don't know much about that subculture).

    In terms of visible markers of being gay - the butch/femme distinction is far from universal, but if you're looking for a way to make your lesbian character more clearly, publicly gay, you could have her playing the butch role, which could certainly involve 'mannish' clothes, hair, and mannerisms. I'm pretty sure 'butch' is an acceptable term for referring to women who present like this, but please, anybody, correct me if I'm being inadvertently offensive.

    If you want your character to blend in, that'd be fine, too. I knew several women from that era and location who I was around for quite a while before I knew they were lesbians.
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with chicagoliz (she posted while I was writing), but I would comment that Canada's a pretty liberal country, and UBC's in a pretty liberal city. I didn't see much blatant homophobia while I was there, that I recall. I had at least one openly lesbian prof, and I wasn't in Women's Studies or any other department you'd expect to be gay-friendly.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I meant to qualify that I was in college in the U.S., which yes, is not as liberal as Canada. Plus I was at a college that was relatively socially conservative. (Not actually super- conservative, and not religious, but very middle-upper class, and was in a relatively conservative area.) LBGT groups were not a huge presence on our campus, although they did exist. Certainly a school known for being more liberal would be more open. But again, it's still the 80s -- even the 90s, I would say, had more acceptance of LGBT issues, which gained even more acceptance by 2000. The leap from 2000-2010 is still astounding to me, and I think it would be easy to forget just how off-the-radar gay issues were in the 80s. I mean, back then, there were still many people who thought that they didn't know any gay people. Coming out as gay was a huge deal -- huge.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that coming out was a big deal - it's still a pretty big deal today.

    I guess what I was getting at was that a lesbian probably wouldn't have been worried about violence, or large-scale shunning, or getting fired or any sort of systemic homophobia. She certainly might have still worried about interpersonal relationships, family reactions, etc - all the stuff she'd have to worry about today, too!
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, but it was even bigger then. Lesbians could certainly have been worried about violence, though. There were men who would beat up lesbians they found threatening or rape them to somehow make them straight (which goes on today in some parts of the world, even here). But, yes, I'd say they probably had it easier than gay men, with all the attacks on their masculinity and validity as a man.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Instead of UBC, she could go to SFU, and then her member of parliament would be a gay man!
     
  9. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks Bayview and chicagoliz, you bring up lots of excellent points, of which many could be plot ideas.

    Regarding "butch-ism" and its linked attributes, are butch women, IF they are lesbian, generally more aggressive, either through their mannerisms or sexually? I understand that gay men exist on a continuum from the very effeminate to the very masculine and that their respective roles within relationships track those same characteristics. Is it safe to say women, in general, are similar? I can only imagine that there are an infinite number of iterations to these relationships.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're close to right on the 'infinite number of iterations' idea.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I probably need to disclose that I don't happen to be a lesbian, so I can't comment on any dynamics that might be unique to them. I can say that there has been more study of gay men and more biological bases established for homosexuality in men than have been found in women. It seems that sexuality in women in general is more complex than that in men, and that even the enjoyment of sex itself has a huge scope of "normal" in women, including even having very little enjoyment or desire for it at all. (As women don't have to want sex in order to participate in it, and the sexual desire itself is therefore not as large a component in survival as it is in men, just as far as the mechanics involved.)

    So, I would say that the dynamics in any gay or lesbian relationship would be as varied as the dynamics in any straight relationship.

    In other words, I don't think that the relationship itself would be so different from a heterosexual one. I've heard that gay male couples have more sex than straight couples, on average, but whether that would be true for any particular couple is an open question. I do not know whether lesbian couples engage in sexual acts more or less often than do straight couples. There might be some research on that issue, but I haven't seen any (nor have I sought it out).
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd also be very careful about stepping into stereotypes here, especially as far as aggressiveness. I mean, in thinking of some famous lesbians, probably one of the more famous lesbian couples right now is Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi. Portia is not a woman who, when I last saw her, anyway, is one who I'd automatically guess "lesbian" if I saw her. Ellen, on the other hand, I might. But I wouldn't characterize her persona as "aggressive" -- at least not as far as the public image she conveys. I know she's written about her experiences and her life, so if you want ONE lesbian's experience, that might be a place to start investigating.

    I know a few lesbian couples who are raising children, and in two cases, one of them is working full time and one of them is staying home with the kids. In one instance, both women have similar "looks," and if I were giving a description of them, they'd sound the same. In the other couple, the one who works full time is not someone I would have guessed were a lesbian had I not known her. So, I don't think you can base very much on outward appearances. (Interestingly, the gay male couples I know who are raising kids have both parents working -- I don't know if that's just a fluke based on the people I happen to know or if there's any more widespread dichotomy as far as a stay at home parent in same sex relationships.)

    Like Bay, I hope I'm not being inadvertently offensive to anyone, as far as my observations about appearances. I don't intend to be, but I think as we all know, intent does not always mean that one is not offensive.
     
  13. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    So far as I can see at this point, I just need to characterize the individual that fits with the story's direction. I need someone slightly to moderately aggressive, and not my protagonist, but her lover, or the scenes won't work. I guess just like any other story, the person needs to fit the situation. What I'm trying to do is attach a few behavioral and appearance tags to her that won't make her look phoney or too stereotypical-- in other words, offensive to others. The reader needs to sympathize with these two at this point or the story fails.
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're exactly right, Fitzroy. It's just a human issue, not a gay issue. Also remember, someone can be aggressive but still likable. Those are not mutually exclusive. And aggressive can be good if it's in pursuit of something noble or good, or if it's understandable.
    Give both of those characters a piece of yourself. That'll make them human. People will be able to sympathize.
     
  15. Vifibi
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    Vifibi New Member

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    I think the biggest mistake a lot of straight, white, male writers commit when trying to write people different from themselves (and vice-versa, I'm quite certain) is to assume there is this big difference of thought, ideology, or even nature. What really defines a person's personality is upbringing, being gay or not is just a detail. Write her like you'd write any woman.

    But I disagree on "Give both these characters a piece of yourself." A good character needs not be reflected on its creator. If you make her unique with enough characterization enough, she can be the exact opposite of you and still be likable and produce catharsis on the audience.
     
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  16. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even people who are in many respects your opposite can share *something* with you. A love of Froot Loops cereal. Only having coffee in a particular mug each morning, a hatred of St. Patrick's Day, only drinking Lemonade at room temperature -- whatever it is. The exact opposite wouldn't be a human.
     
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  17. NinaW
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    In my experience the butch women don't tend to be aggressive at all, but that's just going off of friends. But then people are people. Are most of the men you know aggressive just because they've got short hair and don't wear skirts? It's the same with women. If they have aggressive mannerisms there's probably a reason. Did they grow up somewhere rough where they had to scrap with other kids to defend themselves? Did siblings force them to toughen up? Were they bullied? Are they just spoilt brats that blow up if they don't get what they want? You said you're story is set in 80s, I'm too young to give a proper opinion on that but homophobia isn't just violent. It's all the little snide look you get off people walking down the street, it's people huffing "do they have to do that in front of the kids?" when you're just holding hands and talking and it's people not giving you a job just because they know you're not straight. All of that adds up. In some people that gives them a rough "so what if I am? What are you going to do about it?!" attitude and in others it makes them meek and mild and desperate to avoid being noticed. Other's still brush it off and seem totally unaffected by it.

    As for in relationships I don't know a single gay couple, male or female, that even vaguely conforms to gender roles. There is very rarely a "guy" and "girl" in the relationship. Things like house work tend to get split in a more egalitarian manner, you're just as likely to see a 100% femme wielding a hammer to get something fixed as you are the butch of the relationship if there even is one. For lesbians in specific, the problem almost every normal lesbian couple has is money. The gender pay gap doesn't magically disappear for lesbians. In fact it get's a little worse. I can't imagine it being any better in the 80s. I'm not sure if that'll be relevant to your story considering your gay characters seem to be students, but it helps background I guess.

    Wow, that was longer than I meant it to be. I hope it's helpful.
     
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  18. Revilo87
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    Revilo87 Member

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    Given that today we still have many lgbtq people who still take their time to come out, some waiting until even after college, and that many of even the out & proud choose to be discreet in public, I could only imagine that in the 1980s the need to keep it on the down low would be even greater.

    As far as girls holding hands, I know that when I was a kid girls held hands all the time, but I would say that became very seldom by middle school and girls never really held hands at all in highschool or college unless they had something going on
     
  19. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure this is true for some lesbians. But as I said, in the early nineties at UBC being gay really wasn't that much of a stigma. I'm sure there were frat boys or similar types who didn't like it, but I certainly saw gay couples holding hands and snuggling on campus.

    I'd say the author could write it any way the plot demands. If the character needs to be ashamed, there was almost certainly some social pressure in that direction. But if the character needs to be out and relaxed about it, I wouldn't find it surprising to read.
     
  20. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a quick note for clarity, I mean aggressive to be more defined as • pursuing one's aims and interests forcefully, sometimes unduly so: an aggressive businessman.
    Than something physical as in pushy or hot tempered or such.
     
  21. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the clarification. That is helpful. I do, though, still think that your character can be both aggressive in the sense you mean, as well as likable --and again, depending on what those aims and interests are, may be even more likable because of it.
     
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  22. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's very likable. I have actually fallen in love with her.
     
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  23. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uh oh -- if she's gay, though, you've got no chance ;-)
     
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  24. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may have to re-write her to a bi-sexual.
     
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  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I doubt there is a connection between being lesbian and being very goal-oriented... ;)

    It might be useful to get opinions on being homosexual in Canada in the '80s. There might be blog posts about the subject out there, and I'm sure people would be happy to share their experiences and tell their life story. The threat of some men reacting aggressively or unnecessarily lewdly to two girls dating might be quite realistic, and even if it was acceptable, I would imagine that the first time going public hand-in-hand is no cake-walk and sends plenty of butterflies flapping around in the bi's stomach. On the other hand, it can feel exhilarating to give a middle finger to society, so to speak, if there's intolerance and hatred present.

    This depends on the individual, but I heard that it can be a bit stressful to date a bi-sexual. The lesbian might feel paranoid also about the men around them, like you would feel about men buzzing around your girl when the relationship is still young and when you're still young yourself. It's not similarly secure than when two lesbians are dating, 'cause to them the only "threats" are other women, and the chances of them being interested aren't necessarily very high. Another point was that you're afraid of it being just a phase, a college experimentation of sorts, and the call of a normative apple pie relationship grows too strong eventually. But this is just one person's opinion.
     
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