Updated: Apr 14
Today I’m discussing LGBT+ representation in writing with Aña Anne, a fellow writer who has lots of queer representation in her works and is an awesome advocate for LGBT+ rights. The conversation evolved into making points about how important representation is, how we can better our writing by making it more diverse, and lots of passionate feelings about the topic at hand. A big thanks to Aña, for this was her idea!
Aña: Hey y’all! It’s lovely to be back. I’m very excited about this discussion, as it hits home for me a lot. As a queer women myself, representation means the world to me, and I’m happy to teach the ins and outs to as many writers as possible. Thanks as always for inviting me, Lev!
Lev: It’s always a pleasure to have you on the blog. Why don’t we dive right in?
Why is it important to have representation?
A: Representation is extremely important in many ways. For queer and transgender people, it means having a model, a reflection of themselves to look up to. When admirable characters are all straight and cisgender, it can feel alienating to those of us in the community. For those who aren’t in the community, representation helps normalize our identities and lifestyles. Without stories, a medium that we can all understand and relate to, people in the community are seen as weird, as other.
L: Representation for every kind of character helps too. I want queer heroes, but I also want queer villains and sidekicks and couch potatoes and parents and background characters. It is so important to understand that queer people can be anyone, that it fleshes out a world you are creating.
Also, please, you need to have more than one queer character in your story. Having a “token gay” is not accurate representation. Having lots of representation will make your work both more accurate and fulfilling.
What constitutes representation?
A: Representation, to me, is an accurate portrayal of people or peoples in a certain community. That means people of color, people with special needs, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and so on, but it doesn’t mean making us token and/or stereotypical side characters with no story-line. That is just called saving your ass and giving yourself diversity points, which doesn’t do anything for anyone.
L: Diversity is an organic and wonderful thing...don’t add in one character and call yourself diverse. How is your story going to possibly benefit from that? Look at the world around you and capture the bigger picture.
What, for example, is an accurate representation, and what isn’t?
A: In this regard, accurate representation is the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters that aren’t stereotypes, have their own personalities, have their own story-lines, have their own backstories, are relatable, have human emotions, and if they have a romance, they get to kiss their s/o. There is a lot more, but basically—gay people are human. And no, this does not mean erase their identities.
Inaccurate representation is when a writer makes a queer or transgender character (in this instance anyway) less than. By this, I mean the character is either an emotionless stereotype only there to marginalize LGBTQ+ people, to make us seem ridiculous, for comedic effect, or to give diversity points. Or, almost worse, when a writer takes an LGBTQ+ character and rips them of their identity by making them seem straight or cis. I will elaborate on this in a moment.
L: Queer people have a rich culture and history, which definitely should be shown and explored, but at the end of the day...just portray them like you would anyone else. Accurate representation comes from writing relatable people and not giving into stereotypes.
A: Definitely. I think that’s all any of us want, to find a character we can connect with and understand, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.
What are some ways we can change the norms of LGBT+ representation?
A: Please, normalize the things we do. Normalize Queer Straight Alliance at schools. Normalize queer people having their own fucking personalities. Normalize kids who are transitioning. Normalize trans people.
L: Yes, that is so important! The LGBT+ community has so many identities and orientations that deserve normalized representation. We need more bisexual, more pansexual, more trans, more asexual, more demisexual...you name it, we need more representation. Actually, I find myself yearning to include more representation in my own writing, to find a voice for everyone. I can’t wait to create more characters across the rainbow, in a myriad of different works. Everyone deserves to see themselves in an awesome character.
What is some advice do we have as queer writers?
L: Don’t be afraid to reach out. Whether you are queer or straight or whatever, look to others
for understanding. Be original with your LGBT+ characters. Tell stories about sweeping romances that have queer, happy endings. Create queer characters that don’t have a love interest. Create queer characters that aren’t attracted to one another. Write stories of small-time folks or swashbucklers or politicians that happen to be queer. Craft tales of under-represented people doing amazing, or perhaps ordinary, things. Be respectful, be understanding, and most of all, be creative.
A: Hey, there are queer and trans people everywhere. You don’t have to write a boyxboy book to have LGBTQ+ representation. I want gay pirates, I want bisexual demons, I want asexual detectives, I want non-binary elves. If you aren’t an active part of the community, I highly recommend you do your research on pronouns and labels and community drama.
What is sexualizing and why does it need to be avoided?
A: Sexualizing is when a writer purposefully puts characters (often queer) in a sexual situation purely because they find it arousing. We are not your sex toys. Our intimate love is not for your entertainment. You can find it hot or sweet, but please don’t create characters simply to make them sleep together because “oh, two guys together is so hot”. That is disgusting and disrespectful.
L: I think you said it perfectly.
What do we want to see more of?
A: Queer woman, transgender people, people of color, people of color in the community! The
other day I looked for books with lesbian romances in them for an hour and I could only find two. Representation is so important to me as a queer woman, and the fact that it is so difficult to find books with girls like me in them… It hurts. A lot. I just want to read about two girls falling in love, because I want that in my future. In fact, because of the lack of representation and general taboo around love between women, I didn’t even think women could love each other until I was thirteen. I don’t want another questioning little girl to go through that.
L: I totally agree. There needs to be more queer woman stories out there. In fact, I can't remember the last time I read a wlw story...that's a depressing thought. So as writers, it is our duty to create these stories, the stories that we want to read and that others can see themselves in.
What are some good examples in media?
L: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston has amazing representation. Actually, in 2021, I believe she is having a wlw story come out. (No pun intended.)
Also, the TV show Black Sails has a lot of queer representation. And also...pirates. So it's
awesome. And of course, Brooklyn Nine-Nine does an amazing job bringing diverse and accepting and deep characters to the screen. Further below in the discussion, we’ve compiled a list of awesome pieces of literature and media that have LGBT+ representation.
What must you always keep in mind when writing these characters?
A: They’re just people, treat them as such. I personally really love it when a writer makes a character noticeably LGBTQ+ because that makes me feel seen, but it isn’t “required”. Also, there are a lot more of us than you might think.
L: Being queer is just one piece of the puzzle. For instance, I'm queer, and I'm fond of naps, I like learning about things, I can't dance, I'm American, I have brown hair, I have three cats...there are many pieces to creating a person. I love when a character is proud of being queer, or it is visible, but it can't just be their whole personality. If my whole personality consisted of me being bisexual, then I would be quite boring.
What do we find annoying in representation today?
A: I’m tired of being ridiculed for being queer, like I’m some sort of monster or rebel for loving someone. I’m tired of flamboyant gay men being the butt of the joke. I’m tired of my trans brothers and sisters and siblings being seen as clowns. Or not being seen at all. I’m tired of lesbians being some mystical creature, only ever acknowledged when being made fun of or being sexualized. God, I’m tired of women only being able to love women when it’s hot! I’m tired of queer characters who don’t care about being humiliated. I’m tired of there only being one of us, when there are hundreds of thousands out there. I’m tired of our culture and history being ignored. I’m tired of queer and trans people never getting the supportive family or happy ending.
L: I find that when there is representation, there just isn’t enough. That isn’t being selfish. We see cis/straight stories every day, and that is great, but we deserve to have our stories told as well. I know that this whole discussion has been about including more representation, but I cannot stress that books and movies and TV shows need to have more than one gay character. Let's be main characters and love interests and villains. It's getting better, but come on, this is 2020. We can go all in with representation. It’ll be okay.
What is something about us and our lives as queer women should people know?
A: Nearly all of my friends are queer. Not because I sought them out, but purely because they just ended up being that way. It is so much easier to come out nowadays, at least in my city, and I am blessed for it. I am out and proud and no one cares. It is rare to get bullied for being queer in most places, but it is a lot more risky if you are trans. Also, my best friend and I are both queer women, but we have never been together. Never will be. We see each other as siblings. Just because two people are gay doesn’t mean they are automatically going to hook up.
L: I love being bisexual and being who I am, but it’s really just another part of me, like my height or skin color. It’s part of me, but it is not my entire personality.
Queer sex, let’s talk about it.
A: Hey, queer people have sex and it is just as beautiful and important as straight sex. And no, we don’t do it for your enjoyment. If you’re going to write it in to your story, do your research. Especially on lesbian sex… It’s a whole thing. Please, normalize this.
L: Exactly, just like any other topic you may not know about, do your research. It’s natural and it’s normal. Lots of people have to get their rocks off. (Though some don’t.) As always, just be smart and respectful about your writing.
Queer love, let’s talk about it.
A: Queer people fall in love too! Women fall in love with each other, men fall in love with each other. Men and women fall in love with non-binary people, and vice versa. Non-binary people fall in love with non-binary people. People love people and there are a thousand ways to do it. Remember, sexuality is a spectrum. Oh, also—It’s really hard to get in a relationship with someone if you are strictly gay or lesbian! There are less options than you might think, it’s not easy. And it really sucks if you fall in love with someone who is straight, keep that in mind.
L: As Lin-Manuel Miranda once said, "love is love is love is love is love is love". Duh.
The community and what you should know about it:
A: Many, but not all, people who are trans or queer find solace in the community. We go to GSA/QSA, we follow LGBT+ accounts on Instagram, we feel connected to other queer or trans folks. Also, keep in mind, not all LGBT+ people like being called queer. I say it as a general term, but some people don’t want to take that word back. On the other hand, some gay guys call themselves faggots. Some lesbians call themselves dykes. This is up to you to decide whether or not your character will take back a certain word and use it as a Medal of Honor, or if they refuse to. Again, do your research, especially if you are doing a historical book! LGBT+ rights and history goes way back and changes a lot, please try to be as accurate as possible.
L: Right. I refer to myself as queer, but I do know some people that still feel uncomfortable with it. It all depends on the person (or the character.) Also, I write historical fiction with lots of LGBT+ characters, and it is really important to look up what life was like back then, in regards to rights, terms used, and people of influence. Also, remember, you can write queer characters in any era!
Trans politics, let us inform you.
A: Now, I’m not trans, but let me just say this: It’s really hard to be transgender, especially right now. Their rights are constantly being threatened, their social lives can be dangerous to navigate, and their home lives are probably worse. Do research and be well informed. Please, try to talk to real life trans people and get their take on things! Sometimes articles don’t cut it.
L: This doesn’t just apply to modern-day situations. History has been hard on trans people and their fight has stretched over the ages. Learn a little something about the struggle and get the most accurate information possible.
Transitioning, let’s talk about it.
A: Please, normalize transitioning! Whether a character is going to transition, is transitioning, or already has—it’s all normal! Most people start early now, but transitioning at any age is valid!
L: There are lots of resources and people you can talk to about it. Just reach out!
What you should ultimately take away from this:
A: LGBT+ community members are people. That’s all we are. We have different personalities and pasts and relationships and ways of looking at the community. It’s up to you to design them in your character, please don’t let us down.
L: Representation matters! Your writing won’t be realistic without it. It won’t be fruitful or fulfilling without it. Everyone deserves to be heard and seen and that, my friends, is that.
List of Awesome LGBT+ Representation
Crier’s War (book)
Her Royal Highness (book)
The Meaning of Birds (book)
We Set The Dark on Fire (book)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (book)
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret (book)
Leah on the Offbeat (book)
These Witches Don’t Burn (book)
The L Word (show)
Queer As Folk (show)
Call Me by Your Name (book + movie)
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (book + movie)
Six of Crows (book)
I’ll Give You The Sun (book)
We Are Lost and Found (book)
Ziggy, Stardust, and Me (book)
This is Kind of An Epic Love Story (book)
Boy Meets Boy (book)
The Song of Achilles (book)
The Starless Sea (book)
A Darker Shade of Magic (book)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (show)
One of Us is Lying (book)
Black Sails (show)
Like a Love Story (book)
More Than This (book)
Carry On (book)
Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe (book)
Literally every Adam Silvera book
Schitt’s Creek (show)
I Wish You All The Best (book)
Love and Other Curses (book)
Red, White, and Royal Blue (book)
Labels & Lingo
Lesbian: Someone who identifies as a woman who loves and/or is attracted to only other women.
Gay: A term (usually used to describe men) which means a person who is only attracted to their same sex.
Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both men and women
Transgender: A person who was assigned a certain sex at birth, but identifies and often presents as a different gender (this can also be an umbrella term for non-binary people, genderfluid people, etc)
Ftm: A term for a transgender person who was born female but identifies as male
Mtf: A term for a transgender person who was born male but identifies as female
Pansexual: A person who is attracted to people regardless of sex or gender.
Non-binary: A person who does not identify with the common gender binary, often using pronouns like They and Them.
Genderfluid: Someone who alternates the way they present and identify in their gender.
GirlxGirl: A romance between two women
WLW: Women Loving Women
BoyxBoy: A romance between two men
MLM: Men Loving Men
Cis/cisgender: Someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Cishet: Someone who is cisgender and heterosexual
Gender: The gender a person identifies and presents themselves as.
Asexual: Someone who does not feel sexual attraction
Aromantic: Someone who does not feel romantic attraction
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