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« Women in SF&F at Fantasy Cafe | Main | dead air and other goings on ... »

it's not about sex, it's about love ... and why all this matters

I know I said I would be quiet this week, working on The Garden, but a couple of things have surfaced that have me thinking, both about SFF in general and within the context of my own novel.

Last night Doug Hulick tweeted a link to Ari Marmell's blog where Ari talks about some of the reactions to Saladin Ahmed's Salon article on race in Game of Thrones (if you haven't read Saladin's post, you can find the link in Ari's post--both articles make for worthwhile reading). Then this morning, we were chatting on Twitter about the sexposition scenes in Game of Thrones and the strange reasoning that Hollywood seems to entertain--to wit: we must have sex scenes to engage our eyes while the characters divulge the boring bits of exposition.

One thing Ari talked about was stepping outside our comfort zones as authors to portray people of different races and cultures and sexual orientations. I think we should. I can only speak from my own experience in writing The Garden.

You see two of my characters of in The Garden are gay, and when I first started this novel, one of those characters was a very minor character and a very stereotypical gay man. I'm almost ashamed to admit that now, but if I don't tell you where I began, you won't truly understand how I reached this point.

This brings me to why all this chatter about race and gender is so important. While I was working on my character sketches for these characters, I happened upon some blog posts about the lack of competently rendered gay characters in novels, especially in SFF. The more I read, the more I realized that my character was exactly what these people hated to see, and they very clearly articulated why they found a lot of the gay characters offensive.

Sometime around this same period, Dark Scribe magazine did an interview with several gay horror authors (The Fear of Gay Men: A Roundtable Discussion on the New Queer), one of whom I had met online and whose work I greatly admire. I emailed Robert Dunbar, explained the situation, and Rob set up a place for me to ask questions. Then he did the most generous thing of all and asked some of the fine gentlemen who participated in the Dark Scribe interview to answer my questions.

Other members of the online gay community showed up and were very generous with both their time and their honesty. One thing they said, over and over, was that they were tired of seeing gay characters being all about sex. They said (and rightly so) that gay people are whole, complex people with many passions and many loves--that there was more to being gay than sex.

In short, they taught me many things and directed me to some wonderful resources. My character Diago went from being a frivolous stereotype to being a much darker character, but he has reason to be dark, and in that darkness, he will eventually find his light.

I don't know anything about being a gay man in the 14th century, but I do understand what it means to have people treat you badly because of who and what you are. I know what it means to be shut out of "polite" society, and all I can do is translate those feelings of loss to Diago and Miquel.

To honor all those people who took the time to answer my questions, there will be no sex in this novel. This is a story about love, and sex is not always about love. Love is about acceptance and thinking beyond yourself, and those are the themes of The Garden.

Writing The Garden has taken me way outside my comfort zone, but it's been a worthwhile journey. I've seen things and understood love from an entirely different viewpoint. Hopefully, I've translated all these things accurately, and if I haven't, I hope people will at least appreciate the fact that I tried.

Of course, if I hadn't read those posts on gay characters a few years ago, I never would have undertaken my journey the way I have, and that brings me back to why Ari and Saladin's discussions on race are important. If just one author reads these articles and takes a moment to redefine a character or situation in their own novel, then those posts are a success.

And if one author stretches his or her boundaries, then maybe more will try, and maybe, just maybe ... before you know it ... we can translate that beautiful world of acceptance into a reality.

And that is why all this matters.

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Reader Comments (5)

Unless authors extend their boundaries and comfort zones, readers certainly never will.
GREAT POST!!!! It IS all about the love and not just the sex. Romance should be portrayed equally no matter what our color, creed, or sexual orientation. I'm happy to see more authors showcasing diversity in their books.
April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Bonilla
Teresa, have you ever read Jacqueline Carey? I love that her world, Terre de Ange, has an invented religion based on the primary tenet "Love as thou wilt." Many of her characters are gay or bisexual, and there's plenty of sex depicted, but one of the elements I love about her work is the utter normality of her characters' sexuality, whatever it is. Ultimately it is all about love.

Great post, and thanks for the link to Ari and Saladin. My own work addresses issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation, so I'm keenly interested. Lots to ponder.
April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVaughn Roycroft
I have heard many good things about Carey's work, and while she is on my to-read list, I haven't been able to get to her stuff yet. (My to-read list ... OY!)

The other thing is my world isn't a made up world and takes place during the 14th century, and there were places where I couldn't make things nice and create the ideal climate for my characters to be free. I think that has been one of the most difficult things for me: balancing real-world prejudices against how I feel. I've really felt like I was wrestling with this manuscript in more ways than one. I think this book actually warrants a foreword. ;-)

Good luck with your work! I think the best way to understand one another is try and write a story from someone else's point of view.
April 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterT. Frohock
I had the same concerns about the gay characters in my own novel, which is why I ran it past a gay friend, and also toned down the campness of one of the gay characters once I got to know him better. I don't find them to be far outside my comfort zone, as I prefer writing men anyway, but it's easy to fall into stereotypes in the first draft, especially with minor characters. But then that's what the second draft is for, right?

And yes, there's sex in my books as well as love, but more because it fits the "seedy glamour" (as Mark Chadbourn put it) of Elizabethan London than because of the sexuality of the characters.
April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Lyle
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