Writing While LGBTQ+
Amber explores the process and experience of writing LGBTQ+ fiction, and questions why the topic isn't discussed more.
As an aspiring writer, and someone who is deeply passionate about everything to do with the LGBTQ+ community, I myself have written my fair share LGBTQ+ fiction. Last summer, I finished creating an anthology, containing of a wide array of LGBTQ+ related pieces, ranging in various contrasting styles. As some of my proudest creations, there’s no doubt that I want these works to be considered on a professional level. On the other hand, I have written many pieces of a similar nature just for fun; LGBTQ+ writing has steadily become a passion.
Yet, in all truthfulness, I haven’t been exposed to a great extent of LGBTQ+ materials. As a creative writer, I long for them as source of inspiration. The few texts I have managed to engage with—critically and emotionally—have moved and inspired me to the point where my general outlook upon the world has been considerably altered. This has subsequently pushed me to look beyond conventions and consider life differently.
A book I read about two years ago which persists to resonate with me is Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Something about its conceptual depth, its enigmatic interwoven narratives, its clever and meaningful extended metaphors and the vastly human tone which is constant throughout the entire narrative, powerfully evoked my emotions. You know a book is meaningful when it makes you cry.
I suppose what really gripped me was the harsh reality conveyed within the book’s harrowing overtones. In my own life, I was able to come out to my close family freely, without any painful drawbacks. Luckily for me, the people who I deeply value in life didn’t express any form of negativity or hatred. But, after engaging with Jeanette’s narrative, I was forced to confront the fact that there is a real and very common alternative to the support and care which I received while coming to terms with my own sexuality.
I suppose the authenticity of the pain emanating from Winterson’s words was what really opened my eyes, a central factor in terms of generating a large extent of my insight into the real issues faced by tens of thousands of people across the world. This extraordinary book inspired me on a considerable level, eventually prompting me to write my own anthology of LGBTQ+ related pieces.
Within my own work, I glanced upon issues from unconventional angles, creating pieces which aspired to appeal to not only members of the LGBTQ+ community, but anyone enduring turmoil due to a lack of acceptance, regardless of their gender or sexuality.
The piece which I am currently most proud of in this anthology of is titled ‘Heterophobia’; this is a short piece of prose which poses the enigma: what if heterosexuality was regarded as a sexual minority? Whilst creating and refining this piece, I had a lot of fun challenging and expanding my writing abilities. I played with language and register, flipping societal conventions in order to reinforce the severity of the hatred and prejudices which continue to exist around us. I also strayed from my comfort zone whilst writing this piece, by presenting a second person narrative voice which strived to portray a personal and direct tone.
As well as obtaining a sense of pride and refreshment from being able to freely express these authentic LGBTQ+ issues, which are absolutely deserving of a platform in today’s society, as a creative writer, I also gained a lot of valuable skills from working on this project. Essentially, it enhanced my imagination, equipping me with new writing skills that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
However, as I reflect upon LGBTQ+ writing as a whole, I must stress that certain ways in which LGBTQ+ writing is currently expressed within our society is something that worries me.
As I mentioned previously, I haven’t actually come across a lot of major LGBTQ+ works, especially ones which feature a central protagonist who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Luckily, at the time of creating my anthology, I found this within Winterson’s work, but after finishing the book I struggled to find a similar source of inspiration for my writing. Unfortunately, I have endured a worrying amount LGBTQ+ texts which fail to authentically represent their LGBTQ+ characters. An extensive amount of contemporary texts feature an LGBTQ+ individual as a sub-character, seemingly placed there simply due to their sexuality alone; something which I perceive to be unnecessary and actually quite diminishing.
Similarly to many other writers, I had to teach myself how to write my LGBTQ+ characters. This is where the main problem with Queer representation arises; LGBTQ+ writing isn’t being brought into the classroom with enough in-depth context. In fact, in high school, LGBTQ+ history wasn’t brought to my attention at all, leading me to find out about it for myself.
This perhaps due to a variety of reasons, one being that despite positive progression, our society still has a long way to go in terms of understanding and acceptance. Same-sex marriage wasn’t fully legalized in the UK until 2013, and whilst many do accept and support the LGBTQ+ community, they may not maintain a full understanding of what some people have had to endure simply to be accepted.
Similarly, it’s easy to forget that many members of the LGBTQ+ community, much like myself, fortunately haven’t had to go through quite such a tough time. This can be tricky for writers to grasp, with many opting to portray a wildly eccentric and overly dramatic coming out story filled with loops and turns and cliché twists. To overcome this, it is important to remember that, as a writer, you should depict your character in a way which feels natural in terms of how you want them to be presented. You don’t have to reinforce a deep LGBTQ+ issue if it contains no relevance to your intended plot. This will make your character come across as authentic and most importantly, human, regardless of their sexuality.
Perhaps a reason why LGBTQ+ writing is rarely taught as a formal course is due the fact many prefer to stay within their comfort zones. If teachers don’t specialise in it and if students have no former knowledge of it, then undeniably it’s hard to take a step towards exploring it in-depth.
From a writer’s perspective, I think that being able to write an authentic LGBTQ+ character will stem huge benefits in terms of your overall writing ability. You’ll be able to explore a wide range of genres from LGBTQ+ perspectives and creating characters who are perhaps vastly different from yourself will enhance your character building and development skills.
After all, stepping out of your comfort zone is what being a good writer is all about.
by Amber Martin