Writing Lesbian Characters

First of all, a huge thank you to my readers who have helped make All The Pretty Things a huge success. Rae and I would be nowhere without you all.

Now that thanks are out of the way, let’s get on to talking about writing.

So, mainstream media is slowly seeing an introduction of more and more lesbian characters. On the whole, I think this is a good thing. When I was a teenager, I often felt angry at the lack of lesbian characters in mainstream media because I had nothing to relate to. In reality, there were quite a few. The television shows Degrassi and South of Nowhere were accessible for me, though late in the game considering I was entering young adulthood before these shows moved anywhere within my sphere of knowledge. And at the same time, those shows still did not really have a “lesbian” character. They had female characters that exercised their right to heteroflexibility from season to season. To be fair, I hear South of Nowhere ended on a better note concerning it’s “lesbian” characters.

Still, this whole conundrum points to a sticky situation with the inclusion of lesbian characters into shows, mainly that most of these main character are not true “lesbians”. And then we get into the whole discussion of the fluidity of sexuality – down with labels! And yes, this is all good, but at the same time, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when I am hard-pressed to find within the mainstream media a good example of a straight-up lesbo couple, or just two women in love. I think the best example that comes to mind is the long-standing relationship between Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who.

But am I even entitled to push for the inclusion of more lesbian characters in mainstream media? Why can’t Rizzoli & Isles be a couple? Why not Myka and Helena? Why can’t we indulge in these feels rather than tease? I know lesbians only make up a small portion of the population, but I believe less than 1% of television characters represent a healthy homosexual dynamic, and while many dramas present a certainly less-than-healthy heterosexual dynamic, there are still vastly more well-written, wonderful heterosexual couples that I adore, and all I’d like to see is perhaps a handful more to add to my Vastra/Jenny ship, the only canon pairing of a lesbian couple I think I absolutely love, and one of those happens to be a lizard woman from the dawn of time.

My coauthor recently told me how she just wanted a film company that took the summer blockbusters and replaced all the sexy main male characters with sexy female characters instead that did the exact, same thing. A little unrealistic, I know, but I think this desire brings to light a very important concept. Having “lesbians”, or just two women in a  relationship, does not necessarily make the romance function any differently from the heterosexual counterparts. Perhaps that is what I’m getting at. It’s not that the entertainment industry needs more girls kissing, it’s that it needs more genuine relationships. Knock off these shallow, 3-5 episode teasers where a female character has her “lesbian” phase.

Come to think of it, Willow and Tara and Xena and Gabrielle were also good examples of two women portrayed in a relationship. While the romance was muted with Xena and Gabrielle, there was a definite, serious treatment of the relationship, and the same goes for Willow and Tara, side characters in the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

But these characters have been retired from the media scene. We need new characters. We need to keep pushing the envelope. Lesbian characters, like every other character from any walk of life, deserve a spot in media. Any character that breaks the norm deserves a spot, and not a fleeting appearance. I’m just pushing the lesbian thing because I happen to be plugged into that scene. I think it largely informs the way I write. I create fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi novels with lesbians in them specifically because I want more books to read with these exact situations in them.

And of course, none of this is to say that something is no good without a lesbian character. There are works of literature, art, and media that I adore with no mention of lesbian characters whatsoever. The writing is just good enough on it’s own. These movies and stories can be thought-provoking, deep, wonderful, and loved for their portrayal of the love between a young couple regardless of any one person’s gender. But when it’s all said and done, I’m not always going to read or watch the deeper stuff. Sometimes I just want what everyone else has. I want the entertainment factor. I want plain. I want predictable. I want a silly romcom or 20-book sci-fi series that I can consume like junk food. And maybe I want it specifically because the audience that caters to light lesbian reading is so small. Maybe denial of a genre has made me long for it more. Or maybe I see it as a point of pride to achieve integration into the mass market of media.

Like this rant? Hate it? Leave a comment!

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6 thoughts on “Writing Lesbian Characters

  1. Love this piece it’s very real and well written. And you’re so right about shows like Degrassi, Buffy and Xena. Curious have you ever read the series Y the Last Man. It’s very interesting, it’s a graphic novel series about a world where there are no men left except for one. I highly recommend it!

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