The other day I was listening to a brief interview with Blake Skjellerup about an article he wrote advocating for gay athletes. During the talk, the interviewer made a comment that I hear a lot from people — she said, trying to be sympathetic to his cause, that he was an athlete who “just happens to be gay.”
Well, yes. We all “just happen to be gay,” if we’re gay. But the way it tends to be said — and, like I say, I hear it a lot — is that it should just be a tiny, insignificant part of the whole that makes us. And it’s meant in a supportive way, that there’s more to us than just being gay and people should see that. And that’s true.
However — and here’s where I stop speaking for all gay people, because I can’t — I don’t agree with the way saying that lessens the fact that I’m gay. Yes, there are other aspects to me as a person, but being gay is a huge part of it. I write about being gay, I want to help educate people about being gay, I want to support the young people struggling with being gay. It’s a conscious part of every single day of my life.
So yes, it’s good for people to see that there are other aspects of me, but let’s not simply discount that part. It makes me who I am.
It’s the same with writing. If a story has a gay character, but it’s not completely about them being gay, then people say the same thing — the character “just happens to be gay.” I don’t know if that’s true, either. When I create a character, it’s a conscious choice to make them gay — or straight, or anything else — just as it’s a conscious decision to make them male or female. And if I make that choice, there’s generally a reason for it. I don’t (usually) write by accident.
There’s another side to that conversation, though. There’s a side that says that then, if you make the decision for a character to be gay, it needs to be important, have something to do with the theme, or what you’re trying to say. I think this is just as faulty a belief.
We’re past the time when any story with a gay character has to be about being gay, about — I don’t know — isolation and loneliness and prejudice and all-too-often death. (Okay, I’ve written that story, too.) About coming to terms with being gay with no other plotline.
It’s just as acceptable to write a story that has a gay character, a gay protagonist, without them being gay having anything to do with the plot, with the theme. After all, there are thousands of books where a character being straight has nothing to do with the plot or theme. It just means that the romantic subplot is with a character of the opposite sex.
So when I write a gay character, there’s a reason I’ve made him gay — so don’t belittle that choice. But don’t insist that it’s a defining choice. Gay characters can walk a line between the significance of them being gay and the normalcy of it being the case in amongst everything else the book is about. There are other things we do besides being gay — but being gay is a huge part of what makes us who we are. And that goes for any character.