1. Rick n Morty
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    Rick n Morty Active Member

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    Writing LGBT themes without feeling forced

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Rick n Morty, May 19, 2016.

    Putting this in the characters subforum, since this usually applies to characters, but if you think it belongs somewhere else, please move it.

    So, the current decade has had a great influx of LGBT characters in films and cartoons, even ones aimed at kids, like ParaNorman.

    The thing is, sometimes people put in LGBT themes in their works for no reason other to be gimmicky or to pander to social justice warriors, and it ends up being just another form of tokenism.

    A good example, in my opinion, is the one that helped start it all: Korra and Asami getting together in the Legend of Korra finale.

    Keep in mind that I've only watched the first couple seasons of Korra, but I've heard a lot about this. Who doesn't? Anyways, in the first two seasons, I do not remember Korra being attracted to other girls. Only to guys. So it feels kinda last minute, as if the creators just wanted to throw in a lesbian couple for no reason other than to be progressive.

    So, what is, in your opinion, a good way to put in LGBT themes in your work (especially if they're not the main focus) without it feeling forced or gimmicky?

    In my opinion, a good way to do it is to not draw too much attention and to treat it as a natural, normal thing.
     
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, there was actually a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink as regards Korra and the possibility of her batting for the other team. Her crap record with fellahs, for me, started to feel like a real arrow pointing in the direction of Korrasami. Though, tbh, the fandom was pretty sure that if anyone was going to "come out of the closet", it would be Bolin. ;) When Korra was "happening" I ran a fanpage dedicated Bolin in his LGBT mode called The Other Bolin Boy. ;)

    [​IMG]

    I'm not going to tell you how best to write an LGBT story-line because I don't think it's right to force my view of that on anyone. I personally tend to write stories in "worlds" where LGBTness is a normalized thing, so I just tell a story that happens to star two guys who are together/end up together/get broken apart by circumstance/whatever. I don't write stories about being LGBT. I think we're past that.
     
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  3. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Okay, here's what you do, you title it "Uncle Tom's Corset" and then...

    Don't listen to me, ever, just write what feels right.
     
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  4. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fun fact: straight themes almost always feel "forced and gimmicky" to me.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    IKR? :whistle: :-D
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Just write it. If you don't want it to feel shoved in, well, I don't think there is a shoved in. LGBT people are around the place. We show up when we show up. Do white characters ever feel like forced appeal? Married men? People notice the unusual more, and so it ends up with sometimes unfair standards. If the character is LGBT then that's who they are, there's no other reason you need. If you want to make it matter to the plot, go ahead. If you want to make it a theme, to have a LGBt related story, go ahead. And honestly I get sick of LGBT characters always being either directly plot relevant, or side characters. There's so few incidental LGBT main characters.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2016
  7. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    It's funny you mention ParaNorman. I really liked that movie (being a child sucker for horror-themed animation), but a throwaway line at the very end of the movie joking about how the jock guy had a boyfriend was gimmicky to me. No effect on anything, just a one-line gag at the end so people would be talking about it when they walked out of the theater, without wanting to actually address the point any further (which arguably could have been highly relevant in a movie about adolescence and isolation)? If a gimmick is "a method or trick that is used to get people's attention or to sell something" then that's gotta be one, eh? But hey, that's not the story they wanted to tell, and that's fine.

    Honestly, I've never understood where people are coming from when they claim that inclusion of a gay character seems 'forced'. No one's complaining about straight characters' orientations seeming forced (well, I am, but), but when you have a couple gay or bi characters or lord forbid a trans one and apparently you're pandering. Like having a cast of all straight cis people isn't pandering to straight cis people, hahah.

    I don't think it's that the writing is bad or the plots are forced. It's just that people largely aren't yet used to seeing lgbt characters without going into the movie/book/whatever knowing they're going to be there because it's essentially marketed as a 'gay movie' or what have you. It catches them off-guard so it seems like it came out of nowhere. In cases like Korrasami (disclaimer: I never watched LoK myself so this is rampant hearsay), I know a ton of gay and bi women especially picked up on implications that they were into each other that other fans just didn't pick up on, because they hadn't been conditioned to recognize what that might look like - particularly coming from a kids' show where, of course, things had to be toned down.

    The only remedy is just to keep writing these characters until people get used to it. I'm not worried about people who think I'm pandering, because I'm not writing for them; I'm writing for people like me who've been starved for characters like them. So I guess my advice is "write well and just don't give a shit"?

    Anyway, like Wreybies I tend to just write world where a character being gay/bi/ace/trans just isn't an issue. My escapist fantasies :p
     
  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think you raise a point here that's my central argument. If you write it well, it doesn't matter. It feels shoe-horned when it's bad. It doesn't when it's good.
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    A university course that I did (around 1980) raised the fact that a group of psychiatrists were asked for a definition of a mentally-healthy person, a mentally-healthy man, and a mentally-healthy woman.

    The definition for a person and that for a man were identical. That for a woman was materially different. How about that for closet sexism?

    If you're writing a strong female character, just make her a strong character who happens to be female, don't try to make some kind of statement...unless that's the point of the story.

    And my point is that you should do the same for an LGBT character. Unless it matters to the plot, why even mention it?

     
  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    :superagree::superagree::friend::friend:
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest you not write LGBT themes. You don't seem to have a good opinion of them, so--why do it?
     
  12. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    You have a point there, person who actually writes this stuff. (Ps I've been thinking I want to read some of your Shelter series. It looks good.)
     
  13. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    Wait, Korra and Asami are a thing now? I thought that was still a shipping pipe dream.

    Just for reference, sexuality can be rather fluid. I mean hey, I've had nothing but girlfriends, but I've also had very politically incorrect thoughts on Barack Obama (it's the strong chin).

    There's really no such thing as a forced concept, only forced characters. I've never been afraid to throw LGBT characters into the mix, and they just so happen to be like all of my other characters. Being gay is part of them, not all of them. We, as people, are the sum of experiences and various philosophies placed by teaching and bitter life lessons. Why shouldn't our characters be any different?
     
  14. Rick n Morty
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    Rick n Morty Active Member

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    Wow, this thread seems to have gotten...mixed reception, to say the least. I'll see if I can elaborate a bit more.

    I am NOT homophobic, and I am NOT saying that LGBT characters shouldn't be featured in fiction. What I AM saying is that there's a thing called tokenism. You know all those female or minority characters in earlier works that are shoehorned in just for the sake of diversity? That can apply to LGBT characters as well.

    If you want to have LGBT characters, fine. Just make sure that their entire personality isn't based on being LGBT, and put some depth into them. Also, be careful revealing a long-established character as LGBT, especially if the character showed zero signs of it (like the Korra thing mentioned above).

    With that said, the above-mentioned tip is very easy to do, and I really hope no one still thinks I'm homophobic.
     
  15. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Look, calm down, you're not mad at one dimensional LGBT characters, you're mad at bad writing. Any character can be written badly, i do it to every kind almost every day.
     
  16. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everybody likes you a lot, Rick...

    This issue - often raised on WF - and people, sometimes they answer in new or interesting ways - for curiosity and for pleasure...cept for our @Shadowfax - the man orbits, trapped in a university of 1980. We all feel so terrible for him, if only we could ride unicorns together, rescue him, that is my pledge..
     
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  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had to turn off my "Ignore Content" filter to find anyone accusing you of homphobia--and then I still couldn't find anyone accusing you of homophobia.

    But if you think some people are including LGBT themes "for no reason other to be gimmicky or to pander to social justice warriors," then surely the answer is to not include LGBT themes unless you really want to and think the characters or ideas enrich your story. If everyone does that, problem (assuming there is a problem) solved.

    You still might not like the characters. You still might think they're acting inconsistently (or whatever your issue was with whatever the series was that you haven't watched but nevertheless object to). But sometimes writers just create characters you don't like because you don't like their characters, not because of a desire to be gimmicky or to pander.
     
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  18. Earp
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    Earp Active Member

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    Seems to me that LGBT tokenism is as wrong as gratuitous sex in fiction. That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any sex in your stories, or that some (or all, I guess) of your characters shouldn't be LGBT. I would (and do) approach a character's sexual orientation the same way I would his or her hair color or ethnicity - if it didn't matter to the story, I wouldn't bother to mention it, unless I thought I needed to flesh out the character's description (and I rarely do). I've long thought that too many fiction writers inflict far too much superfluous information about their characters on the reader.
     
  19. Rick n Morty
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    Rick n Morty Active Member

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    Another trap to avoid falling into is stereotypes. Making your gay guy really flamboyant and having a high-pitched voice with a lisp, or making your lesbian really butch.

    A good example: if any of the ponies in Friendship is Magic come out of the closet, I hope it's not Rainbow Dash, due to her tomboyish personality, blue coat, and rainbow mane and tail.
     
  20. Nicole-tan
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    Nicole-tan Member

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    Well, in my story the two have a working relationship and it slowly develops into a lesbian relationship. It's more of a side element than a central theme. I think that if you keep it subtle at first and build it up you reduce the risk of making it feel forced or out of place.
     
  21. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write a story either:
    About discrimination, and have the characters by LGBT, this is the harder method and has you tackle the theme head on.
    That happens to have an LGBT character.
     
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  22. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    I get your point, OP. I'm just gonna throw my 2 cents here. If writing a minority character feels forced to you, like you're just doing it to fill an obligatory quota, don't write them.

    Context also has a lot to do with this. A LGBT character in 2010s America isn't the same as, say, a LGBT character in 70s South America. When I was a kid myself, invisibility of queer people was a major thing; I didn't even met any until later on in my life. So if you're writing a story that's set in past decades and/or a third-world country, chances are LGBT characters are still in the shadows or not explicitly out anyway.

    I've never watched that show, but I know what you mean. Sudden Sexuality can be so annoying. I get the concept of sexual fluidity and it can be well-written, but most of the time it's so poorly-handled that it feels like the creator is pandering to their fanbase.
     
  23. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    I kind of get the point from the Legend of Korra example.
    (I watched all of it - and recommend it)
    Korra develops as a tomboy character since the first season.
    Her love life is a key element in the thrill of the animation.
    She is apparently caught up in a love triangle, what makes fans root for one of the two male MCs to end up with her.
    The finale then, is a huge eye-opener after all the ups and downs of her love life - which is given a huge emphasis for a children's cartoon (if you do consider it a children's cartoon).
    In this example, it did seem like a LGBT theme was used as a gimmick.

    As for my opinion, I don't see how you would use the theme without making a statement about it.
    It wouldn't necessarily be something forced.
    But have it clear to yourself the message you want to convey through such a character.
    Whatever the message is - if not clear to you - it could have an undesired effect in your plot.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
  24. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Here's my advice: if you're afraid to write about it for any reason, simply don't write about it. It's better to write about something you feel confident about than go, "Aaah! I gotta write about xyz even though I don't think I should/I want to for XYZ reasons!!" Readers will know if you're confident or not through your writing.
     
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  25. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    And that's really the only thing you need to worry about: research "LGBT stereotypes," both in general and fiction-specific, and don't do that.

    Or rather, don't only do that. I had to rewrite a great deal of my Doctor Who story when I found out that "promiscuous bisexual serial killer" hit a whole bunch of stereotypes in one swing, but the character herself didn't end up changing at all because I realized that examples aren't stereotypes, patterns are stereotypes.

    The problem wasn't that my bisexual character was promiscuous and/or a serial killer, the problem was that 100% of my bisexual cast was a promiscuous serial killer. This problem was easily solved by making one of my other characters bisexual and setting him up with one of the other guys in the story.

    Would you like me to link a post where I talk about a few of the other changes I made to the story so as not to perpetuate the "bisexual = promiscuous and/or evil" stereotypes? (Warning: it is very very long ;) )

    I can't believe I'm talking about My Little Pony on a respectable writing site, but oh well: if any one of the characters came out, then that would be an issue, but if two or three did, then there wouldn't be a problem with your reference point being one of them.

    I wonder how people would react if I treated heterosexuality the same way in my stories ;)
     
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