The Challenge of Diversity, part 2 of 5

[ Part One: Race ]

Sexual Orientation

Once again, oopsies in the area of sexual orientation are often a case of accidentally carrying over stereotypes from the world around us into our writing. I like to think that no one sets out to be offensive, but there are certain things that don’t necessarily occur to us if we haven’t run up against them personally.

  1. No token/magical gay men. For that matter, let’s go further and extend this to queer characters in general, regardless of sex or specific orientation . . . but it seems to come up most for gay man. This one follows the same rules as the token/magical character of color. Just don’t do it.
  2. Avoid stereotypes. Not every queer man flames. Not every queer woman cut her hair short and chops wood in her spare time. An acquaintance of mine complains that women find out he’s gay and immediately ask him for fashion advice. He points to his close and says “How the hell would I know?”
  3. Sex is more than just penetration. Sounds easy when I put it like that, but at some level, most of us are conditioned to believe that sex is about a man and a woman, and sooner or later, the man is sticking something into the woman. Whether you’re writing queer main characters or simply including them as part of the cast of your story, don’t imply that somebody has to stick something into somebody else for it to really “count” as sex. Mouths, hands, and toys are still sex.

    If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if it would still be “cheating” if your partner did that with someone else. For most people, that puts it in an entirely different light.

  4. Nobody has to angst over it and nobody has to be on top. Once again, it doesn’t matter if it’s main characters or minor characters, having somebody ask “Who’s on top?” is cringe-worthy every time. Likewise, just because you’re writing a queer character doesn’t mean that character has to have a coming-out crisis during the course of your story.
  5. Avoid offensive slang. This one sounds easy, but if you don’t have much exposure to the queer community yourself, certain things may not even occur to you. Once again, your editor will try to help you out. If you’re not sure if a slang term is considered offensive, Google it. “[Term] slang offensive” will usually get you some general consensus-type answers. Also, you want to be aware of context. “Gay” may not be considered an offensive term, but saying “That’s so gay” is.

    And as always, there is the exception to the rule. If you’re writing dialogue for a character who would speak in offensive slang terms, you should absolutely use that language to be true to the character’s voice. But be aware that you’re probably branding that character as either ignorant or a bigot, and be sure it’s right for the character.

  6. Not being heterosexual does not automatically mean homosexual. “Queer” may be considered to encompass a whole range of things, including bisexuality, asexuality, being non-gender-conforming, and others.

About April L'Orange

April L'Orange is a hard-working editor and author of science fiction and fantasy. She began life as a terribly serious little old woman and has been growing younger ever since. When she's not writing, she can often be found painting bits of her house or beating back the yard with a machete. She and her husband currently live in upstate New York, where they are owned by three cats and the Squirrel Mafia. She's published short stories in anthologies available from Escape Collective Press and Pink Narcissus Press. For more information, please visit

Posted on December 8, 2011, in Readership, Research. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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