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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 GBLT&c (that acronym is exhausting to write out in full, but includes: gay, bi, lesbian, pan/poly, transsexual/gender, questioning, and asexual individuals. Some add another A for 'ally') 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 the 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 stretch this point. It seems to be largely overlooked by people who write these guides, and I want to stress it a little.

Write your GBLT&c character as a person.
Write your GBLPTQA character as a person
Write your GBLPTQA character as a person
Write your GBLPTQA 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 actually have a personality outside of that (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:

GBL&P-portion characters Who aren't ~*FLAMBOYANNNNT*~ or butch

The straight gay and the femme lesbian- we've all seen them sprinkled out within 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," and, usually, these two types get together with a character of the opposite type (respectfully).

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 GBLT&c community, there are members who have mixed feelings. But nonetheless, your bisexual 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 GBLT&c

Transsexuality. This is a massively complex subject, and requires tons of research aside from this article. Why? To put it simply: the medical procedures that are (usually) involved.

The gist of things? A trans woman is a woman born with a penis, and a trans man is a man born with a vagina.

Note: a cisgender/cis person simply means a man born with a penis or a woman born with a vagina

note Important to Grasp: Trans women are women, and trans men are men. A trans woman will use feminine pronouns, and a trans man will use masculine pronouns. Even if you're discussing a scene before your character was publicly out of the closet, outside of the dialogue of other characters, you should use the corresponding pronouns. Also, 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 both men and women, two genders, or their own gender and another gender is bisexual.

So, what's there to know about writing a transsexual character? Pretty much the same thing I've been repeating throughout the article. They're a person, and 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, and has a tendency to be more outright violent. There are less laws fighting for them, and more fighting against them. The cost of medical procedures (such as hormone treatment and sexual reassignment surgery, which I'll talk about a tad bit more in a moment) is incredibly high in most countries, and are, unfortunately, not included in a lot of health insurance plans.

These medical procedures, especially hormone treatments, should be researched in-depth before writing a transsexual 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
- sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) (note: for both trans men and trans women, top and bottom surgeries are available)

Note: Not all transsexual people will undergo SRS (I've never heard of anyone not undergoing hormone treatment, but it would depend on where they live, their financial state, and whether or not they feel like they need it, technically). Oftentimes, top surgery is unnecessary for trans women, as estrogen aids in breast development. Trans men will often have top surgery, but avoid bottom surgery because it's not nearly as beneficial to them (you'll see why as you research it more thoroughly).

Phase 4:

The &c of the acronym - Gender

The terms "transsexual" and "transgender" 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, and transgender is a looser variation. Meaning, it's another, more politically-correct, ally-friendly term for "genderqueer."

Note: "genderqueer" and "non-binary" are politically correct terms for specific identities, but both can also be used as an umbrella term for the entire spectrum.

And what, pray tell, does "genderqueer" mean? It simply means that someone does not identify as strictly male or strictly female (and 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."

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."

So wait. If these people are not boys or girls, which pronouns do you 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: ... over-diets ... the-lgbtqa

So, now that that's out of the way, I'd just 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 and 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. It's really just nobody else's business. However, harassment isn't abnormal. People tend to demand to know what gender they "really" are (to which the answer is: whatever gender they identify as. Duh), and once you know a few tricks of the trade, you'll know how your character can effectively combat guess-work:

- tucking
- binding

(you'll see why I don't describe said tricks of the trade in detail here once you research them).

Also note: Being non-binary in a world that really prefers the binary is kind of a little bit on the gruelling side. Also, 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:

The &c of the acronym - 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.

polysexual: 'poly' means 'multiple' (or something like that). Therefore, a polysexual pereson is someone who is attracted to multiple gender identities, but not to all gender identities. This term is often also used by non-binary individuals to describe sexual attraction to, well, whatever their preferred gender is.

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.

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. It's 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.

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 every experiences sexual attraction, but does on very rare occasion.

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. It's a preference 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. These bonds are merely platonic, 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.

Demiromantic people, then, only 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 we've affectionately dubbed them "ace-aros".


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: Guys, don't overlook the PoC GBPLTQA folks in this world. It's not enough to have white members of the community- 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 "GBPLTQA issue novels" to actual GBPLTQA people. We don't need more gay niche books. People are people, and people deserve a place in mainstream media.

Also, some cultures have specific roles and terms relating to GBPLTQA 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. Adding mainstream gender identities to fantasy worlds is one way of putting a fresh, inclusive twist on things! ;)

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

Just don't make them villainous or messed up based on the fact that they're not straight or cisgendered, and you've got yourself a deal. Do what you want. People are a spectrum within spectrums. If you're truly worried about people taking things the wrong way, toss in another character of the same orientation and stick them on the side of good.

Recommended Resources

- 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, on the other hand, is.

- tumblr has a massive GBPLTQA 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! Pretty much every community will have one, and if yours doesn't, I pity the state of its social constructs. 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?
You read faster than Usaine Bolt sprints xD - Deanie 2014

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