I am going to ask a question that I find difficult to answer, not because I am trying to challenge anyone, but because I genuinely want to hear what some people think. This is not a rhetorical question, this is a real question I think needs to be discussed in both the book world and in the film and television world. While this isn’t aimed at Book Twitter, I got into thinking about this because of reading discourse on queer diversity in the Book Twitter world.
The first and most important question I’ve really struggled with is related to the idea that we need more explicitly queer characters that state their identity or orientation. There’s this idea in both books and in other media that this implied queerness is just a cop-out and we want characters to verbally state their sexuality at some point. My actual question here is, “Does this risk lowering the standards of writing?”
Let me explain: In books, film, TV, ect, one of the most important rules of writing fiction is to not treat your audience like they’re stupid, and to ‘show it, don’t tell it’. I’m one of those people that really wants to KNOW what the sexual orientation of characters are because it’s just so rare still to have queer characters. However, I’m also a big fan of GOOD writing practices, and often when writers find a way to get their character to explicitly say, “I’m bisexual” or whatever, they end up having something so terribly contrived that it drags the audience out of the story. Nobody likes writing where it feels like the author is explaining something to the audience because they’re too stupid to pick up on the context clues, and there’s a serious risk of that happening in many cases.
Yes, there are definitely cases where it fits into the story to explicitly state a character’s sexuality, but more often than not, it doesn’t fit in good writing. A good example of this would be something I wrote once that won’t ever get published where this character, in a conversation, just ‘casually’ gives the other person their Tragic Past when it really did not fit the situation at all. It was so contrived and terrible, but it managed to inform the audience of the whole bisexual backstory of the character.
My biggest worry is that, with this new “SAY IT OUT LOUD!” representation demand in fiction, it’s going to make so many more situations like this. We’ve all read some story where there was a token queer character who explains their queerness just for the sake of having someone queer in the story, and it’s so cringe-worthy, isn’t it? I once read a book where there was a non-binary character that was a fucking SIDE CHARACTER and they had like two whole pages of explaining their ‘Xie’ pronouns to the protagonist and basically giving a lesson on being non-binary and then THEY WERE NEVER IN THE STORY AGAIN! It was so pointless and clearly token queer character, and I have this really frustrated feeling that with the demands for diversity, more and more people are going to start sticking token queer characters who have several pages of preaching on their gender or sexuality just so people can be sure to check that box. That sort of thing is something terrible for QUALITY writing.
I want queer characters more than you could probably understand, but I’m entirely against sacrificing quality for diversity. It’s the same reason a lot of people get on my case for giving queer films bad ratings on Chelsea Loves Movies (even though I DO give Queer Films a leg up by only comparing them to each other). I want quality diversity, and I won’t sacrifice my standards just to see more people like me on the screen or on a page.
My other difficult question is related to my own issue there, because I have to ask, “Is enjoyment of non-explicit relationships that are expressed the same as heterosexual couples (ie, their relationship can be implied, not explicit) a bad thing, because it allows people to get away with never making good on queer character relationships?”
I’m a big fan, in every medium, of normalizing queerness and not making it something that needs to be pointed out. It’s the only way I WANT to watch/read/consume queerness in fiction. However, I’m also aware that we might not be to the point yet where that’s enough, because I’m sure that there are people who use this as an excuse for ‘subtext’ and never delivering on the implication. Other times, people get really upset over some writer not delivering when I feel like they did deliver absolutely adequate confirmation of the relationship that I felt they were always working towards portraying.
Because I’m so torn on this topic, I want you guys to discuss this one with me. Comment, tweet me, and I would say DM me but I want this to be a public discussion, so try not to do that if you can help it. This is one of those places where I find myself really struggling because what I want in quality leaves gaps for chickening out on going there. What do you guys think?