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An Inordinately Long Article On Writing Sexual Orientation

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Tue Apr 08, 2014 2:59 am
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eldEr says...

An Inordinately Long Article About Writing Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities

Our world has recently reached a place where LGBT+ (the full acronym includes lesbian, gay, bi, pan/poly, transsexual/gender, questioning, and asexual individuals) people are being recognized, to some extent, in the media. Everyone's favourite cis, white, flamboyantly gay man appears in multiple movies, books and television series, with the occasional addition of a butch lesbian or a white trans woman. Good enough? Not quite. Generally speaking, the people playing and writing these characters are undereducated, and there's very little allowance for variety. Many groups within that acronym are barely known by the world, and many have very little representation in the media, if any at all.

However, groups that had no voice a decade ago are making themselves known, pushing their way into mainstream society with sharp elbows, perseverance, and a megaphone in each hand. Naturally, this is leading the world of artistry into a position of curiosity and ally-ship. So this question has been posed: how does a cis, heterosexual ally go about writing a character who is not cis and/or heterosexual?

Step 1
Write them as a person. I've written a couple character help articles in my lifetime, and I've read hundreds more than that, and I always stress this point. It seems to be largely overlooked by people who write these guides, and I want to stress it a little more.

Write your LGBT+ character as a person.
Write your LGBT+ character as a person
Write your LGBT+ character as a person
Write your LGBT+ character as a person

As long as that's been fried into your brain, you're now prepared for Phase 2.

The White Cis Gay Man and the White Cis Butch Lesbian

Cis, white, flamboyantly gay men are a thing, and the media loves them. And by 'them,' I mean they love a cis, white, flamboyantly gay man with no personality outside of glitter, fashion, and femininity. This type gets more screen-time than any other character on the not-straight spectrum, and by all means, write your cis, white, flamboyantly gay man. But please, for the sake of all that is holy, remember that they are
a) not the only type of queer out there and
b) should have a personality outside of their queerness (in other words; their flamboyant homosexuality should be a trait and not your character's deciding factor).

The exact same thing applies to your white cis butch lesbian character. Also, most of the "butch" lesbians I know have an impeccable fashion sense and do not walk around dressed like drunken skater boys. Skater boys, yes, but they work the look tastefully. Buzz cuts are allowed, but many do style their hair in other manners. Also, butch lesbians do not always go for hyper-femme lesbian girls (I mean, some just so happen to prefer hyper-femmes, but seriously, not all of them). They have rounded personalities and quirks and strengths and flaws of character, just like any other character does.

You're now prepared for Phase 3:

LGBT+ characters who aren't ~*FLAMBOYANNNNT*~ or butch

The straight gay and the femme lesbian - we've all seen them sprinkled throughout the media before. But usually the "straight gay" is put there strictly to counter the "flamboyant gay" and the "femme lesbian" is put there strictly to counter the "butch lesbian." Also usually, these two types get together with a character of the opposite type (respectively).

Which is totally fine, but also not the only way it's done. Guys, if you have a gay man who likes sports and killing things and the blood of his enemies smeared all over his war banner, that's cool. You don't need to stress how straight he seems in comparison to "those other gay guys", because, whoa, it's not actually that important. A man is a man, and if that man is gay, that man is gay, and, as I've repeatedly stated before, he's going to have his own personality. That personality probably has pretty much nothing to do with his sexuality.

If you have a gay girl who likes flowers and pink and fights the world's darkness with eyeshadow and lipstick, that's lovely. You don't need to stress how girly she is in comparison to "those other lesbians," because, whoa, it's not actually that important. A woman is a woman, and if that woman is gay, that woman is gay, and, as I've repeatedly stated before, she's going to have her own personality. That personality has pretty much nothing to do with her sexuality.

(Wait, are we noticing a pattern here?)

As for bisexual and pansexual characters: it's an unfortunate truth that biphobia is currently more wide-spread than homophobia. Even within the LGBT+ community, there are members who have mixed feelings. Nonetheless, your bi/pansexual character follows the same rules as your gay or lesbian characters. The rule being: there are no rules! They're a person, and all people are different, and your bi/pansexual character should be no different.

Got that down? Sweet. Phase 3:

the T of LGBT+

Transgender. This is a massively complex subject, and requires tons of research aside from this article. Why? For one thing, the hormones and medical procedures that may be involved.

The gist of things? A trans person is a person whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, e.g. a woman whose birth certificate says she is a man.

Note: a cisgender/cis person is a person whose gender does match the sex they were assigned at birth, e.g. a woman whose birth certificate says she is a woman.

note Important to Grasp: Trans women are women and trans men are men. A trans woman will likely use feminine pronouns, and a trans man will likely use masculine pronouns. Even if you're writing a scene before your character was publicly out of the closet, outside of the dialogue of other characters, you should use your character's true pronouns (sometimes called "preferred pronouns," e.g. "she/her/hers" for a trans woman). Do not misgender your characters.

Additionally, a trans man who likes men is considered gay, and a trans man who likes women is straight. A trans woman who likes women is a lesbian, and a trans woman who likes men is straight. A trans man or woman who likes different genders of people is bi- or pansexual.

So, what's there to know about writing a transgender character? Pretty much the same thing I've been repeating throughout the article. They're a person. They need a rounded personality just as any cis character would. On the other hand, there are a few more things to be aware of, in this instance.

Oppression here can be a tad bit different - it's often overlooked despite its tendency to be more outright violent. There are fewer laws protecting transgender people, and more fighting against them. The cost of medical procedures (such as hormone treatment and gender confirmation surgery, which I'll talk about a tad bit more in a moment) is incredibly high in most countries, and are, unfortunately, not covered by many health insurance plans.

These medical procedures, especially hormone treatments, should be researched in-depth before writing a transgender character. I won't go into detail here, but some key phrases to research up on are:

- hormone blockers
- estrogen treatments for trans women
- testosterone treatments for trans men
- gender confirmation surgery surgery (previously called "sexual reassignment surgery" or SRS) (note: for both trans men and trans women, top and bottom surgeries are available)

Note: Not all transgender people will undergo gender confirmation surgery or even hormone treatment. Whether or not they do may depend on where they live, their financial state, and whether or not they feel like they need it. In addition, hormone treatments may make surgery feel unnecessary: estrogen aids in breast development, so trans women may opt not to get top surgery. Trans men will often have top surgery but avoid bottom surgery because it's not nearly as beneficial (you'll see why as you research it more thoroughly).

Phase 4:

More on Gender

The terms "transgender" and "transsexual" are often used interchangeably, but transgender people are not necessarily transsexual. That is, "transsexual" is a term that applies strictly to trans men and trans women who opt for gender confirmation surgery, while transgender is a looser variation that can include people who do not get surgery and may also include people of genders outside the male/female gender binary. This last group of people may instead use terms like "genderqueer" or "non-binary."

Note: "genderqueer" and "non-binary" are terms for specific identities but both are often used as an umbrella term for the gender entire spectrum.

And what, pray tell, does "genderqueer" mean? It simply means that someone does not identify as strictly male or strictly female (and this is what the "other" gender option is for when you sign up for YWS!) There are a few solidified terms here that I'll define for you:

agender/gender neutral: A person who does not identify as any gender (note: in some cases, an agender person may lean slightly male or slightly female, or have moods in which they lean one or the other: at their core, though, they're still pretty gosh-darn neutral).

androgynous: A person who identifies as both genders simultaneously. Some days they might feel a little more like one or the other, but generally speaking, they're consistently both.

genderfluid: A person who identifies as all the genders, but on a spectrum. One day, they might feel feminine. The following week, they might feel masculine. The following four days, they may feel agender, and the next ten days, they may feel androgynous. It depends entirely on the person in question, and there's no set time limit for gender moods.

intersex: A person born with genitalia that doesn't fit with typical male/female binary genitalia. This person may identify as intersex or may identify using any of the other terms discussed here.

Still, there are plenty of people who don't identify with any of those terms, and thus state that they simply fall under "genderqueer" or "nonbinary."

If these people are not boys or girls, which pronouns do they use? Well, we've scrounged up some handy-dandy gender-neutral pronouns! The following links will bring you to examples of said pronouns and will show you (basically) how to use them:

Some people also opt to use singular-they, which has been in use in English for centuries and was recognized by Merriam-Webster!

Now that all that's out of the way, I'd like to state one very important thing:

Biological sex is completely irrelevant and unimportant.

If your story is about a non-binary individual who isn't out of the closet yet, and thus their friends/parents/strangers use gendered pronouns, then it's totally okay that your reader knows their biological sex. If the story starts with a non-binary character who's out, and has friends who use their pronouns, biological sex is completely irrelevant. Unless there's a necessary plot point in which the reader just so happens to discover which organs they have, then nobody needs to know what they've got in their pants - and if you're not genderqueer yourself, it's better not to use this as a plot point.

Your character's genitalia is no one else's business. However, harassment isn't abnormal. People tend to demand to know what gender genderqueer people "really" are (to which the answer is: whatever gender they identify as). But many genderqueer people use some methods to present more like their true gender:

- tucking
- binding

(You'll see why I don't describe said methods in detail here once you research them.)

Also note: Being non-binary in a world that really prefers the binary can be gruelling. And some non-binary people are okay with gendered pronouns and like gendered things. That's not a big deal. Some people use more than one name, or more than one set of pronouns, or just flat-out don't care what pronouns are used. There's no unacceptable way to be non-binary.

I really hope I don't have to repeat my "they should be a well-rounded character like everyone else" ramble here. Should be common sense by now.

Phase 5:

More on Sexuality

Basically, the same rules for building their character apply here. Just some definitions of terms:

pansexual: 'pan' means 'all.' Therefore, a pansexual person is someone who is attracted to all gender identities. However, a person may also identify as pansexual without being attracted to all gender identities.

polysexual: 'poly' means 'multiple' (or something like that). Therefore, a polysexual person is someone who is attracted to multiple gender identities, but not to all gender identities. This term has generally been folded into pansexual at this point, but non-binary individuals may also use it to describe sexual attraction to, well, whatever their preferred gender(s) is (are).

bisexual: Most people reading this one are probably going "uh, everyone knows what being bi means," but I'm going to throw it in here that there are people who use 'bisexual' as 'attracted to two genders,' and not necessarily 'attracted to men and women.' A bisexual person may be attracted to men and genderfluid people, or agender and androgynous people. It all depends on the person. It can also be used to say that someone is attracted to their own gender and another gender. Some people may also identify as bisexual even though they are attracted to more than two genders.

asexual: (nicknamed: 'ace') No, this does not refer to someone who is attracted to/believes they can reproduce with themself. Asexual simply means that this person does not experience sexual attraction. I'll go into more detail on this in the next section, along with:

aromantic: A person who does not experience romantic attraction.

Phase 6:

Asexuality and Aromanticism

Asexuality is, as I put it, a person who doesn't experience sexual attraction. This does not mean that they don't experience romantic attraction, or that they'll never get married or be in a relationship or show any interest in dating. Also, it does not necessarily mean that they're repulsed at the idea of sex. Asexuality is a spectrum, and it depends entirely on the person. Some asexual individuals are sex-repulsed; others are totally indifferent. Some desire it, but don't feel attracted in such a manner to anyone in particular. Others may lack sexual attraction most of the time but feel it sometimes.

Also under this category:

demisexual: A demisexual person is someone who doesn't experience sexual attraction to a person until a deep emotional bond has been formed first.

grey asexual: A grey-A person is someone who rarely - but not never - experiences sexual attraction.

There's nothing wrong with being asexual. It's not a matter of libido or sexual health (in fact, many asexual people have high libidos), and it's not a disorder. Nor is it the result of a traumatic sexual experience. It's a valid sexuality that ties into a person's identity.

Aromanticism, then, means someone that doesn't experience romantic attraction. And guys, let's make it very clear here that this does not mean that they're incapable of forming very meaningful, strong bonds with people. They're not unfeeling robots - which is, unfortunately, all too often how they're portrayed in the media. Their bonds are platonic instead of romantic, and loving someone doesn't necessarily involve being in love with them. Some marry, simply because they feel close to a person, and some date out of convenience or social expectation, or just for the fun of it. Still, others prefer to have no partner. Aromantic people can also experience sexual attraction. And, like asexuality, aromanticism is a spectrum!

demiromantic: People who experience romantic attraction after they've known someone for a long time, and know them well.

There are people who are both asexual and aromantic, and they're referred to as aro-ace. However, people can be asexual but not aromantic or aromantic but not asexual. The two identities don't always go together!


To Tie it All Up

All in all, then, you write your non-cisgender, non-heterosexual character essentially the same way you'd write anyone else. With flair and personality and individuality, without or with stereotypical makeups (as long as the stereotyped traits are traits and not the entire character, you're fine, boo). You give them a voice, a background, a future, a role.

Also, just a note: don't overlook the LGBT+ people of color in this world. It's not enough to have white members of the community represented - we need everyone. Racism takes its toll on representation in the media, too, and the combination of the two can lead to some nasty mishaps. Don't stick to gay men from the suburbs. Throw them all over the place. In fantasy novels, in historical fiction, in realistic teen dramas. Mysteries, suspense, horror, thrillers. And please, leave writing "LGBT+ issue novels" to actual LGBT+ people. We don't need more gay niche books. People are people, and people deserve a place in mainstream media.

Additionally, some cultures have specific roles and terms relating to LGBT+ people, and I would strongly suggest researching that if you're writing a character from a specific cultural background. These cultural aspects are especially prominent in terms of gender, as gender is more societal construct than anything else.

Can you make LGBT+ characters villains? Uh, duh.
Can you make them incredibly messed up? Heck yeah.


Don't make them villainous or messed up based on the fact that they're not straight or cisgendered. Ideally, you'll also include multiple LGBT+ characters, and not all of them will be villainous or messed up.

Recommended Resources

- TVtropes is full of useful stereotype information. A character who falls under a trope type isn't bad. A character who is completely, irrevocably that trope with no other traits, on the other hand, is.

- tumblr has a massive LGBT+ community and heaps upon heaps of resource blogs. Their social justice department can get a little extreme, so be warned, but otherwise, hit it up!

- Dude: Google. Seriously, as far as medical procedures and whatnot go, Google's the bomb dot com.

- Your local Pride center! Many communities have one. They're always happy to chat it up with an ally, and it's a good place to find information and ask questions.

Feel free to ask questions here, or PM me on the site if the questions are more personal. I don't bite, and curiosity is encouraging.

got trans?

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Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:42 am
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Auxiira says...

*worships this post*

That said, France doesn't have Pride centers and their organisations are very much gay/trans centred, with very little other representation ;-; (France can also be incredibly homophobic, for those who think it's an incredibly accepting country)

What would you say about other forms of attraction (off the top of my head, aesthetic and sensual)? I'd assume they follow the same "guidelines" in terms of orientation?
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