Six Signs Your Story Is Queerphobic

We’ve talked about racism and sexism before, but bigotry against non-straight folk is just as important. Most storytellers know not to use blatant stereotypes these days, and yet queerphobia persists. To prevent these toxic messages from creeping into our work, we have to search for queerphobic tropes and remove them from our stories. We’ll start by focusing specifically on problematic depictions of sexual orientation. We’ll cover transphobia in another piece, so it can receive our undivided attention. Without further ado, here are six common signs that your story may be queerphobic.

1. Everyone Is Straight

Korra blushing at her soon to be girlfriend Asami. This blush was welcomed by many.

The first hurdle queer folk have to face when browsing media is simply finding representation. Even now, when queer characters are clearly permissible, many stories have large casts that are entirely straight. This happens even with well-intentioned storytellers who don’t think of themselves as queerphobic. Making a character queer is seen as a statement, something that shouldn’t be done unless it serves the plot.

But being queer isn’t a statement; it’s just who people are. A character’s sexuality or gender identity doesn’t have to be linked to the plot. Storytellers have been casually demonstrating straight romances and sexuality for as long as there have been stories, and it seems natural to us. We all know that a character mentioning their heterosexual partner doesn’t have to be a major part of the story, and we need to apply that same nonchalance to queer characters. In fact, if you’re straight like me, it’s better to avoid stories that revolve directly around a character’s queerness, because it’s easy to make a mistake and send the wrong message.

Does your story have a lot of romance? Including queer romance is easy, I promise. Just follow the example set by Laurie J. Marks’ Fire Logic. The protagonist of that novel has a touching romance with another woman, but Marks focuses on how the lovebirds are kept apart by an evil army, not that they’re both women. If you’re more of a TV person, then Legend of Korra has your back. In that show’s final season, we see two characters of the same gender fall in love, and the emphasis is on the struggles and hardships they’ve been through together, the same way it would be with a straight couple.*

When queer folks aren’t represented in stories, it reinforces the idea that they are strange or rare in real life. That’s something we need to get past.

2. The Villain Is Queer Coded

Scar from the Lion King. Scar is also coded as a Leninist revolutionary.

Queer coding the villain is a tradition as old as Disney. Okay, it probably happened before Disney, but that’s where many of us were introduced to it. This is the practice of giving the villain queer-associated traits in order to make them more threatening. From Scar in the Lion King to the Shadow Man in The Princess and the Frog, to Jafar in Aladdin, our childhood cartoons have built an association between queerness and evil.

Coding villains in this manner is a self-perpetuating cycle. Queer traits were seen as scary by the straight majority, and so they were put onto villains. Now these traits are seen as scary because we associate them with fictional villains. And so the cycle goes on, reinforcing itself with each iteration.

As you might imagine, associating people’s identity with evil doesn’t have great outcomes. In real life, queer folk are often seen as dangerous or degenerate in some way. This leads to laws discriminating against queer couples who wish to adopt, people losing their jobs when it’s discovered that they’re queer, and a whole host of other problems. Queer coding villains doesn’t force people to be queerphobic in real life, but it reinforces their existing prejudice.

This isn’t to say your villains can’t ever be queer or have queer traits. Villains are a vital part of storytelling, and they should represent all groups of people. But queer heroes must come first. If you make your protagonists openly queer, then if you have a queer villain, it won’t seem like they are a villain because they’re queer.

Once we have more queer heroes, it’ll still be important to avoid problematic descriptions. The Lion King stands as such a clear example of villainous queer coding because Scar is slight and effeminate, whereas Mufasa* is big, gruff, and hyper masculine. Even if Mufasa was canonically gay, the story would read as a confrontation between traditional masculinity and queer femininity.

3. The Comic Relief Is Queer Coded

Lefou from Beauty and the Beast. Lefou doesn’t make jokes because he is the joke.

If villainous coding is one half of a coin, comedic coding is the other. Instead of using queer-associated traits to make a character scary, it’s done to make them ridiculous. Beauty and the Beast’s Lefou is a classic example. In the cartoon, he’s coded as the stereotype of a gay man fawning over a hyper-masculine straight man. His comedy is derived not from any jokes he makes, but because it’s supposedly amusing to watch him debase himself. The live-action film keeps this dynamic, except with the slightest hint that Lefou might actually be gay.

Like queer coding villains, this is a self-perpetuating cycle. Queer traits are seen as funny because they deviate from the norm, so they’re used to make a character comedic. Later, even when those same traits are no longer considered extreme deviations, they’re still seen as funny because comedic characters have them.

Note that there’s a big difference between using queer coding to mark a character as comedic and having a funny character with queer coding. Lorne from Angel is a clear example of the latter. His flamboyant style is obvious queer coding, but he’s funny because he makes funny jokes, not because he dresses fancy.

Coding queer traits as humorous makes queer people objects of ridicule. It’s degrading in the same way it’s degrading to make short men the butt of constant jokes, and it isn’t a business that storytellers should be involved in. Queer people have enough trouble getting their issues taken seriously, being seen as inherently comedic only makes that worse.

4. Being Queer Is Turned Into a Joke

Kara from Supergirl. I may be an alien with laser eyes, but a lesbian? That’s just ridiculous!

This problem is similar to comedic coding, except more blatant. Instead of simply implying that queer people are funny, some stories will use queerness itself as a joke. Recently, storytellers have developed a bad habit of joking about the possibility that a character might be queer. In the first episode of Supergirl, Kara is trying to tell her friend Winn about her superhero persona. As she struggles to find the words, Winn preempts her with “Oh my God, you’re a lesbian.” Cue Kara awkwardly explaining that no, her secret is that she’s Supergirl, not that she’s queer. The scene is played for comedy, because isn’t the possibility of a lesbian superhero hilarious?

Supergirl’s joke about Kara being a lesbian is especially mean spirited, because queer superheroes are even rarer than queer protagonists in general. A lot of people would have really liked to see a lesbian Supergirl, and the writers dangled that possibility in front of them before snatching it away. Fortunately, the show does eventually have a touching story about Kara’s sister Alex coming out, but that doesn’t justify opening with queerphobia.

In real life, being queer is not only serious, it’s often dangerous. Queer people all over the world face violence for who they are, and turning that identity into a joke is insulting.

As I mentioned in the previous section, none of this means queer characters can’t be funny, but the comedy shouldn’t come from their queerness. If you want a queer character to be funny, write them the same way you’d write a funny straight character. That’ll be hard work, like any good comedy, but it’s worth doing.

5. The Romance Baits Queer Audiences

Stiles from Teen Wolf. Maybe in another six years they’ll let him kiss a dude?

It’s no secret that queer audiences are badly served in representation, especially when it comes to onscreen romances. Some storytellers are aware of this, and they want to turn queer demand into viewership, but they aren’t willing to actually show queer relationships in their work. They might be scared of backlash from bigoted fans, or their own prejudices might get in the way. Either way, this is called queerbaiting.

For a real-life example, you can’t do better (or worse) than BBC’s Sherlock. The first season in particular is full of hints and jokes about how Holmes and Watson might be into each other, until the writers rush to reassure us that they’re both straight.

Lest you think this is a British problem, American TV loves queerbaiting too. MTV’s Teen Wolf has a handful of queer side characters, but the main cast has remained entirely straight. That hasn’t stopped the writers from dropping hints that Stiles, everyone’s favorite snarky detective, might be bisexual. This has been going on for six years now, and yet Stiles has only ever shown serious attraction to women. That doesn’t mean he’s not bi of course, but it shows pretty clearly that the writers won’t ever commit to it.

Queerbaiting is offering something you know people want and then refusing to deliver. It’s a cynical ploy to build a bigger audience without taking any risks. Once upon a time, these kinds of hints were necessary because censorship wouldn’t allow for openly queer characters, but we’re past that now. If you want queer audiences to see themselves in your story, write queer characters. If you have characters you know are straight, just leave them that way. Don’t make a show of queer representation if you don’t plan to follow through.

6. Queer Characters Die

Korra and Asami snuggling. This trope is sad so here’s Korra and Asami again.

There’s a long history of queer characters being killed off at a higher rate than their straight counterparts, and when there are so few queer characters to begin with, this leaves an impression. This happens so often that it’s earned the name “bury your gays.”

A well-known example of this trope is the brutal murder of Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an event that proved season six could contain no joy. But it’s not just late 90s shows; modern TV is more than happy to get in on the action. Just last year, The 100 killed off fan-favorite Lexa in a scene that seemed to intentionally parallel Tara’s death.

There are already so few queer characters in media, reducing the number isn’t a good idea. That’s why killing queer characters is problematic even in TV shows known for killing important straight characters. Straight fans have lots of other stories to go to for representation; queer fans don’t.

This doesn’t mean queer characters can’t ever die in fiction, but first queer representation must be examined from every angle to ensure it’s more than adequate. In The 100, a gay couple was introduced in the same season Lexa was killed off, and a queer woman was briefly featured. The show-runner probably thought that was enough. However, these characters weren’t as central as Lexa. On top of that, while straight love interests were also killed off in The 100, central straight couples got at least half a season of just being a couple before tragedy struck. Lexa was killed immediately after she hooked up with the show’s lead. Even when straight storytellers think they are treating queer and straight characters equally, they often aren’t.

In addition, storytellers must consider how the character dies. Queer characters are often the victim of violence, giving their deaths a heavy emphasis on tragedy. All too often, this is done to create drama for a largely straight cast. These deaths send the message that queer lives aren’t valuable in their own right. Just like central straight characters, queer characters should die heroic deaths that emphasize their power and virtue.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but keeping watch for these signs is a good place to start. If you get feedback that your stories aren’t friendly to queer readers, even if you’re following my advice precisely, the best practice is to listen and look for opportunities to do better.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

Read more about ,



  1. Spark

    Personally I only consider the first one to be a problem. The rest are just representation which in my mind is a good thing.

    I think you also completely misinterpret the Supergirl joke. It’s not a stab at it being wrong if Supergirl is a lesbian, it’s a joke about her being unavailable and Wynn’s infatuation. Compare it to the joke “Omg, you’re married aren’t you”. None of the jokes are particularly funny, but they both stem from the fact of unavailability, not that being married or lesbian is wrong.

    Going after the wrong battles is not productive. Let the writers who try to give good representation do their thing and let’s not give them impossible missions to have a certain undefined percentage of queer villains, queer romantic baits that is impossible to live up to. I’d be really mad if queers weren’t represented among villains or among bait relationships that fail. Those things are core to plots, and queers should be represented. Pushing an opinion about what percentage that representation should be from all the screen writers as a collective is – I’m sorry – a Don Quixotic endeavor.

    • Cay Reet

      Really? Only villains and comedic reliefs in children’s stories with a lot of reach are queer (or queer coded) is not a problem? Show me one Disney movie where the main character is gay or lesbian.

      And the whole ‘bury your gays’ trope is just as bad, as is baiting the audience (which includes LGTB+ people) with a possible representation onscreen, just to never pull through with it – or even turn it into a joke. ‘No, you don’t finally get an openly queer superhero, that was just a joke, ha ha ha.’

      • Bill

        The “bury your gays” trope has clearly outlived its usefulness, but there was a time not that many decades ago when it fit the experiences of most American queers — to come out of the closet was fully recognized by the queer community as a type of suicide.

        At the time, for a queer to survive without having to leave the U.S. for some exotic hideaway would have been angrily rejected by most LGBTQ audiences as insulting fluff, an absurd optimism that seemed only to demean the genuine struggles and lethal dangers of contradicting the heteronormative majority.

        To see a queer character die onscreen at least acknowledged the reality of the queer experience.

        To see a queer character die nobly or as a hero was an eagerly embraced positive image.

        I agree that this has not been true for several decades, and the trope should have been retired long, long ago.

        But for anyone claiming to be an ally to remain ignorant of the trope’s place in history is even more offensive than the trope itself.

        • Patroclus

          Then you are very unaware of the tropes history…

          Actually, Bury your Gays comes from when the codes of television insisted anyone of particular moral leanings could Only be shown if they also died/were punished as Karmic Justice or were portrayed as a villain.

          It was unlawful to show happy, living gay people because that implied you could be happy and alive as gay. This did not reflect the queer experience, it reinforced these ideas when we needed them the least.

          Before Hays code, there were several gay and bisexual characters in movies who while not always shown in the most favorable of light, were capable of living out their lives without being the worst kind of villains. The lack of living moral queer characters was never For LGBT, but always against them.

          In fact, one movie blamed a man being murdered on his sexuality. That one almost deserved that fate if you were a “pervert”.

          While the code went out in the 60s, it became a media standby. Also it was believed to be a way to have gay characters but not boycotted. While some movies made it past that and showed tragedy in a queer perspective, the vast majority used it as a karmic stick.

          The truth is we were denied happy endings, and hollywood, always ones to not try a new thing until it broke down, kept using it. Also, it’s been shown in many places that showing all this violence towards queer people also encourages it.Once again, I’m not talking about actual media that showed the tragedy and humanity of the LGBT, but the vast reason nothing positive was shown despite a huge outcry for it, was because the media needed to demonize us.

    • Bill

      ” I think you also completely misinterpret the Supergirl joke. It’s not a stab at it being wrong if Supergirl is a lesbian, it’s a joke about her being unavailable and Wynn’s infatuation. Compare it to the joke “Omg, you’re married aren’t you”. None of the jokes are particularly funny, but they both stem from the fact of unavailability, not that being married or lesbian is wrong. ”

      To be blunt, a lot of this has to do with generational differences in the LGBTQ+-and-Straight communities.

      What I have noticed in my own studies as professor is that if I show a joke to a demographically average LGBTQ+ who is 18 years old, another who is 30 years old, and another who is 45 years old, they will differ in terms of what they might label as homophobic or queer-coding or queer-baiting as well as differ in terms of what they might consider offensive or consider amusing rather than offensive. The same holds true if I show that joke to a demographically average straight-identified group of 18 year olds, another of 30 year olds, and another of 45 year olds.

      If you consider how much has changed in gay-straight relationships over the past half-century — we have gone from treating homosexuality as a mental aberration meriting shock treatment to a recognized sexual option, to the point that we finally have marriage equality! — this all makes perfect sense. Someone who grew up during a time when one’s parents would abandon one for coming out of the closet is going to have rather different triggers and sensitivities than would someone who is growing up during a time when same-sex couples appear in mainstream soup and airline ticket commercials.

      It seems to me that the issue about the Supergirl incident is simply that the series is aimed at a particular age group, a young adult age group which would never think to interpret it as homophobic, but that other age groups might see it this way due to the homophobia of their formative years.

      • Cay Reet

        Unfortunately, there are still kids around who are abandoned after coming out of the closet. The fact alone that it’s no longer illegal doesn’t mean it’s socially accepted everywhere. The further you go into the religious corner (mostly Christianity, but also other religions), the more likely is it for a kid to be abandoned by family and, perhaps, even friends for coming out.

  2. SunlessNick

    Winn preempts her with “Oh my God, you’re a lesbian.”

    It also makes Winn look kinda bad, because he follows with the presumption that oh course that explains why she wasn’t into him. (Of course he doubles down on that something rotten later on, and never really gets called on it).

    Regarding Korra and Asami, I’ve only ever seen season 1, which put me off the show – but the time Asami took Korra out in the racing car *glowed* with romantic chemistry to the point where I couldn’t consider them anything but a natural couple.
    (Though apparently this was before they’d decided to do it – it was even before they’d decided not to make Asami a villain).

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I totally get why season 1 would put you off Korra. Season 2 is even worse, and season 3 is only okay, but season 4 is legitimately really good, and if you can get through the rest I would recommend it. The Korrasami romance is just one element of how good it is.

    • Laura Ess

      Winn has always come across to me as a FanBoy. A Fanboy with incredible technical skills (and an infamous father), but a Fanboy all the same. So perhaps in this instance he’s standing in for a lot of (straight) Fanboys. By the end of season 2 we see Kara in a (cut short) relationship with Mon-El which more or less establishes her credentials as being straight, though she could be Bi.

      I quite liked what they did with Kara’s stepsister Alex. After her coming out as lesbian she has troubles with her relationship with Maggie, which to me is realistic. But they managed to avoid having either Alex or Maggie “killed off”, which would have been a horrible cliche to have. But Supergirl is all about showing women in the positions and situations that men are usually shown in, so maybe in season 2 that was unlikely.

  3. SunlessNick

    Oh, and regarding Sherlock, let’s not forget how the previously described as gay Irena Adler straightens for him.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Fortunately, I *think* that was only something Moffat said in an interview, right? It’s certainly terrible, but just watching the show as I recall it looks like Alder is just bi. Granted there are other problems with her character.

      • Cay Reet

        Adler herself claims to be into women, but she could be technically bi. A dominatrix doesn’t have sex with her clients, so dealing with men in this job doesn’t mean she has to like sex with men at all.

        I still would say that Irene and Sherlock have a similar relationship in the series as they REALLY (read: the story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” not any of the movies) have in the original story. They are equals in mind, she is as devious as he is and can actually trick him successfully. ‘Brain is the new sexy’, as she puts it in the series. Even the suggestion that he saves her at the end of the episode doesn’t mean sexual attraction as a such.

        But, yes, Moffat and women is an unending horrible topic.

        • Nikita

          I think they were trying to imply a sexual/romantic relationship in the series. I think the whole “deep intellectual connection” idea was ruined when Sherlock called her out for being attracted to him as her “weakness”. I think the problematic part(or at least one of them) is that she claimed to be a lesbian earlier in the series but then falls for Sherlock anyway. If they wanted to make the relationship between Sherlock and Adler sexual/romantic, they could have just made Adler bisexual. But instead they had to do the whole “lesbian turns straight for a guy” thing.

    • Space queen Cherry Puff

      Why don’t they just say she’s bi/pansexual

      • Cay Reet

        Why didn’t they just leave her sexuality uncommented? A dominatrix doesn’t sleep with her customers, so it really doesn’t play a role. They went out and said ‘lesbian,’ then suggested she changed her mind and that sucks.

  4. AndrewR

    You forgot “Characters who come out as gay in second or later seasons/books after previously being in happy heterosexual relationships”.

    Not only does this seem to show a lack of courage by making sure the show/story has enough of a following before adding “controversial characters” (not that queer characters should be controversial but this trope indicates they must be) but by making the character “Totally Gay” rather than Bisexual (despite having been shown to have been attracted to the opposite gender before hand) it adds to Bi Erasure.

    It also adds to the idea that sexuality is a choice and that people can switch from one to another later in life.

    • Ninyv

      “It also adds to the idea […] that people can switch from one to another later in life.”

      Well, it happens in real life so why not in fiction too?

      • Cay Reet

        In most cases, those who ‘switch’ later in life ignored or hid their homosexuality before for society’s sake. It’s not switching, it’s coming out and living the way you want to live.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        So, just to be clear, people can absolutely switch sexuality, gender, and sexual preferences and still be valid.

        As Cay Reet pointed out, a gay person might pretend to be straight in order to avoid bigotry. Alternatively a person might be straight for a while, then realize they’re now only attracted to people of their own gender. That doesn’t mean they were wrong before, they were straight then and they’re gay now.

        Unfortunately, it’s very easy for media to erase bisexuals when portraying this. That’s why it’s important to have characters who are clearly bi.

        • Rivers

          The important thing when trying to show a fluid change in attraction is to actually show it was a fluid change in attraction rather than the writers being too lazy or forgetful to put together a cohesive narrative.

          If you go from straight to gay in two seconds but it’s glossed over as if the character was always gay (without any coherent or reasonably implied explanation for previous actions), then it contributes to bi erasure.

          If the character was in the closet or they’re attraction changed, the narrative needs to show that. It’s lazy writing to do otherwise.

    • Sophie the Jedi Knight

      I agree with you. True, a character can be interested in a guy in book one and a girl in book two, but when it’s clearly just so they can rush up some diversity it was done purely to satisfy audiences and not in a good way. Saying a book or two (or a whole series, like Riordan) later that a character is not straight when that was implied all along (straight crushes, straight relationships, etc.) is just irritating. Yes, it can be realistic at times, but it’s usually clear when it was done to check “queer character” off a list.

  5. Lin

    Quite like the Malec-ship in Shadowhunters (the TV-series, I haven’t read the books so I can’t say anything about that).

  6. Laura Ess

    I also get annoyed at characters who seem to be queer as an “afterthought”, as if making them so adds a bit of extra spice to their character. J.K. Rowling’s declaration that Dumbledore was gay, at a convention and after he died in that series, seemed like just an afterthought.

  7. jane

    Isn’t the term ‘queer’ in itself derogatory?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      “Queer” has been used as a slur in the past, and no doubt still is by some people, but as a whole the community has reclaimed it as a self identifier. It’s much more practical as an umbrella term to cover people who are not straight than the somewhat unwieldy and ever expanding acronyms.

      • Rivers

        It also doesn’t have a lot of the same community baggage as the other terms tend to have.

      • jules

        Respectfully, saying the community as a whole has reclaimed the word is an exaggeration. Especially given the recent wave of people using the word to id despite not being a part of the LGBT+ community (i.e. BDSM, straight people who do anything remotely GNC, in some particularly egregious cases Pedophiles, ect.(and note every example has to do with sex, further exemplifying that non-LGBT+ people believe the whole of being gay is sex or sex related)) Personally, every time i see that word i flinch. i will never be able to extricate it from the experiences i’ve had, or from the inherent meaning of the word.
        some people in the community id as such, and i respect that. but i dislike the word being thrown around like it wasn’t and isn’t a common slur, and more so by straight people. Your choice to title this article as such as opposed to signs your story is homophobic” doesn’t make sense to me. Every example was homophobia. Just to be clear, this isn’t an attack, i’m only trying to say my piece.

        • Adrienne Ladd

          So I want to hop in here and also state that queer is aplicable to gender as well as sexuality. Sometimes we use terms like genderqueer to represent this but queer by itself is as valid.

          on topic though, I find that queer is primarily been reclaimed by the younger members of the community that is LGBTQIA, since our acronym has gotten a bit long. queer just works as an unbrella term as well as so many don’t know which of the things we fall under more closely, and in some cases it is easier to just say you are queer than having to explain what being ace is.

      • Laura Ess

        I quite like QUILTBAG as a light-hearted alternative. What’s QUILTBAG stand for? An acronym for…
        Trans (Transgender/Transsexual),
        …and coined by Sadie Lee. This ha NO baggage at all!

        • AK Nephtali

          Thank you for introducing me to this! QUILTBAG is now my new favourite acronym.

  8. GY Haney

    I can get down with the general premise of this article, but I’ve never once heard anyone allude to Scar being a queer character, especially not with the sole evidence of him being “slight and effeminate.” He’s Jeremy Irons. He’s British AF. He COUNTERS Mufasa in size, demeanor, and method. That’s what good villains do. They want the same things the hero wants only they’ll get it by different (often ruthless) means. They use their strengths. Mufasa’s is his size and raw power. Scar’s is his cunning. This is a very typical trope. In my mind, whatever the sexual preference of this talking lion might be (since the context of the movie doesn’t actually give us any clue whatsoever), he’s a wonderful villain, a true Shakespearean gem.

    Not trying to be a dick at all (seriously), but aren’t you also “coding” Scar by stereotyping him? I can’t help but think that there might be a lot of rugged and masculine queer dudes wondering why a dude is assumed queer because he is “slight and effeminate” or oddly resembles Prince. In the same token, one of the most effeminate guys I know is a heterosexual. Let’s maybe take what’s given in the story and work with that rather than inferring a bunch of other stuff into it based on the perceptions we take to the story. I think that’s what we’re all after, really. Better understanding.

    • Cay Reet

      ‘Slight and effeminate’ is often coded queer. Which is the point, since Scar is not queer, but he’s shown in a way that suggests it. Same goes for Jaffar, too. Both do not show any queerness, but they are coded in a way in which most people (especially those who despise queerness) would put down the ‘typical’ queer person. No, there is no typical queer person, but that doesn’t stop predjudices any more than there not being a typical woman or a typical man stops predjudices about how a man or a woman should look and/or behave.

    • American Charioteer

      I have to agree with you and Dana. Disney has had plenty of stereotypical masculine villains: Gaston, Hans, the Huns. Even in the same movie as Jafar we have the tough-guy palace guards. To not also have an assortment of physically unimpressive male villains would suggest only strong men can be bad.

      Furthermore, characters like Jafar and Scar who are physically slight but clever and manipulative just make for more interesting villains than a one-dimensional ball of muscle. This isn’t something Disney invented, either: Shakespeare’s Richard Plantagenet and Iago are some of the greatest villains in literature, with traits similar to Jafar and Scar. The modern idea of the effeminate, exclusively homosexual male didn’t become common until after Shakespeare’s time, so it’s hard to call his villains “gay-coded.” Even trickster characters from myths around the world tend to follow a similar template: weaker but also cleverer than the heroes. When writing it’s villains, Disney was just sticking with what works.

      • Cay Reet

        The problem with villains like Jafar and Scar is that there is no ‘good’ version of them in the Disney movies. Princes don’t look or act like Jafar and Scar. They might look like Gaston or Hans (who originally was meant to be a hero), but not like the less ‘normative’ masculine characters. You only see the body-type of Jafar or Scar as evil, not as good.

        Effeminate has been coded gay long after Shakespeare (beginning of the 20th century and slightly later, I’d say), so pointing out that at that time it was different isn’t changing anything.

        • Bill

          Yes, but there are ‘good’ versions of them outside Disney.

          A classic example would be some of the more recent incarnations of Doctor Who.

          • Cay Reet

            What is more likely to be watched by kids in their formative years? Modern Doctor Who or classic Disney movies?

      • American Charioteer

        There is no ‘good’ version of Iago or Richard Plantagenet, either. Nor does ancient myth have ‘good’ versions of weak, cunning tricksters (mythical characters famed for their cleverness, like Theseus, Gilgamesh, and The Monkey King, were still the epitome of masculinity and relied more on strength than wit). Even Christian eschatology (a major basis for Western literature) pits a cunning Devil against an all-powerful God destined to win in the end. I pointed out that modern gay stereotypes are relatively recent to show that this trope doesn’t have homophobic roots. Strength=good and Cunning=bad is a timeless trope that Disney uses because everyone uses it.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        So an issue I’m seeing here is that we’ve started including “cunning” in the list of traits that make a character queer coded when it isn’t. There are lots of traditionally masculine heroes who depend mostly on their wits.

        Aladdin is actually one of them. He’s clearly a cunning hero, not a strong hero, but he’s not at all coded queer the way Jafar and Scar are.

        • American Charioteer

          I don’t understand what makes Jafar and Scar queer-coded, if it isn’t their weakness or their manipulative behaviour. It could be their gestures and manner of speech, but again if you watch a performance of *Richard III* or *Othello* you’ll see villains acting very similarly. Jafar seems to be modeled of off Shakespeare’s Iago, as their roles are quite similar and Disney even kept the name Iago for Jafar’s bird.

        • American Charioteer

          Furthermore, in American literature aristocrats are almost always villains. Jafar, Scar, the Duke of Weselton, and Governor Ratcliffe are clearly meant to be aristocrats, and some traits associated with aristocrats may be what you see as queer coding (refinement, elegant attire, snobbishness, effeminacy, aversion to labor, weakness, and a high, quiet voice and high-class speech). I don’t think the queer-coding was intended by Disney at all, they were just continuing nearly universal tropes that have no root in homophobia. If one were trying to queer-code Scar, Jeremy Irons is about the last voice actor they’d pick.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          If you want to understand what makes Jafar, Scar, and other Disney villains queer coded, I’d recommend reading what other people have written on the subject. This is a decent primer:

          Of course there’s always Ursula, who was based off Divine, a real life drag performer. But most cases aren’t so literal.

          • American Charioteer

            Thank you for sharing that article Oren, and writing this one.
            I still don’t think that Disney had any idea their villians would be seen as queer-coding. I think the problem is that traits once associated with cowardice and avarice have become associated with gay men (largely through attempts to portray them that way), and most of popular culture (including Disney) don’t do anything to fight that image by providing explicitly queer characters.

          • American Charioteer
          • Cay Reet

            So you do agree that the traits which are often used to define villains have also been put on gay men by people who don’t like gay men.

          • American Charioteer

            Yes. I just don’t think the problem is active homophobia: Disney never considered that their villains might appear gay-coded. I think the problem is passive homophobia: Disney NEVER CONSIDERED that their villains might appear gay-coded, because they rarely consider anything about the LGBT community. Passive homophobia is really just ignorance, which is why representation is important.

  9. dana

    I don’t get the Lion King thing, or saying that a skinny male character represents as gay. Maybe if they had given him more characteristics, like a softer voice. There’s nothing wrong with being skinny. The key difference between the two wasn’t the size, it was that one was corrupt and the other wasn’t.

    I get what you’re saying, (1. don’t put stereotypes onto your characters 2. don’t use queer stereotype tropes as a negative) good points and things to be aware of – I’m sure some do it without meaning to – but maybe it’s just me being naive, I think some of your examples are a stretch. Sorry.

  10. Nikita

    I agree with this article. The reason I think a lot of these tropes happen however is because media companies are slowly trying to introduce the idea of having gay people in fiction. For example, queerbaiting and giving small roles to queer characters to me, seems like an attempt to slowly introduce queer people in fiction without causing major backlash. I am not saying it’s right or that the above article is wrong, but that’s how I’ve always interpreted those motivations.

    All of that being said, I think another harmful stereotype is the idea that homosexuality between women is threatening to men. I’ve seen this in tropes where men are upset that a past love is with a woman now, or that a very domineering, threatening female character is also a lesbian. I also get annoyed when all bisexual people portrayed in media are very promiscuous, which seems to imply that bisexual people can never commit to a relaionship. Not that promiscuity is bad, but it paints the entire group of people with only that one trait.

  11. Tony

    For a few positive examples to contrast with these tropes, look no further than Orphan Black.

    Felix is funny not because he’s gay, but just because he’s a funny guy. And a pretty badass guy to boot.

    Also one of the queer characters APPEARED to die, but they fortunately brought her back in the next season and gave her a happy ending with her same-sex love interest.

    It would’ve been nice to see more of Tony Sawicki (the transgender LEDA clone), though. At least more than a single frickin’ episode.

  12. Becca

    It horrifies me how much I love Supernatural as a Bi+ female and still can see every single one of these red flags in the show. I don’t watch it for its queer representation though so… … I have mixed feelings about this because I love that show, on the other hand, it horrifies me how queerphobic it is.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s okay to enjoy flawed media. We all do it, and frankly there is no perfect media out there. The important part is that we recognize the flaws, even in things we love, and demand better.

  13. William S Moye

    I think in time this problem will sort itself out because those who are gay are now more accepted in the community (thank Ra) and are going to be creating more demand for those types of stories and creating those types of stories themselves.

    I am straight but if I were to write a gay man as a character, I’d write it like a straight man who happens to like guys. I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay man but I’m guessing it can be just like being a straight man except for who you like.

    I think trying to make that character sound or look gay would come across and ignorant, insulting and insincere on my part, and I have no desire to intentionally hurt anyone –except for a little heartache from a good story.

  14. Marzipan

    In writing, I find it problematic to write in LGBTQ characters just for the sake of it. In life, I don’t see people as their sexuality, so I tend to think of all my characters as flexible depending on how their sexuality might develop the plot. I’m not going to mention it unless it’s relevant, and sometimes it might not be relevant until book 3. I think that writing (and reading) layered characters is more important, and feels more natural than shoehorning them into specific boxes, when we don’t identify with people just based on a single characteristic. It’s the same way I won’t mention a character’s ethnicity unless it’s relevant or descriptive.

    I disagree with what you said about Buffy’s Tara. It had to happen to move Willow’s character along, and she ends up with Kennedy, a Slayer. The only thing Tara did differently to other characters is not come back from the dead.

    The Supergirl thing, that’s more Wynn being petulant, and it’s a nod to real life, where conversations like that really happen. For a straight guy who likes a girl, it is kinda worst case scenario.

    Doesn’t anyone else see the opposite side to the cunning, slim, ‘effeminate’ villain trope, as the geeky, nerdy, four eyed bumbler hero who wins the day and gets the girl because he’s smart and sometimes brave? Atlantis’s Milo anyone? Or Daniel Jackson from Stargate (mainly the film)?

    • Cay Reet

      It’s not about making someone gay for the sake of gayness. It’s about making someone gay simply because it won’t hurt the story. If you want a male character to fall in love with a female one, you don’t make the male character gay. But if they don’t fall in love at all, what would be the problem in having that character be gay? It doesn’t matter whether he doesn’t fall in love with a guy instead of not falling in love with a gal.

  15. Jason Stone

    Just for the record I am also straight however I do find this article reads like a manifesto….if every writer worried about conforming to this list (and others like it we would have even more paint by numbers tick box works than we already do.

    I am reminded of a comment the Producer (or writer) of Starsky & Hutch said in a documentary retrospective 20 years ago or more…”Whenever you put ANY perceived minority character in a major TV series sooner or later SOMEONE will complain it’s a strerotype”.

    The only thing on your list that really annoys me is the “bury your gays” trope which has always fed into the notion that gay characters are disposable or tokenistic. It also all contributes to the historic idea that a gay lifestyle is undesirable or miserable..not messages that should be sent out bearing in mind historically what LGBT have suffered with….I also think you have a point (overstated a little maybe) about Queer Coded Villains (the gay traits having become established as “stock villain(ish)” over the years.

    But I really think your complain about being queer being beyond a joke is problematic ..It depends ON THE JOKE. But whenever ANYONE says someone or something is sacrosanct and should not be subject to humour I get concerned…the point about the Supergirl joke being comparable to the “OMG you’re married” comment (as featured in the Tim Burton 1989 “Batman” movie (and others) has been made, however I think your points about Sherlock in particular are unfair…..

    Mark Gatiss who writes Sherlock IS gay and whilst I do not think that necessarily makes him bullet proof when it comes to such criticism, I have always considered the running “I am not gay” gag to be a reference to the historic questioning about Sherlock and Watsons relationship (even when the original Magazine stories were published in the 1880’s and certainly in more recent decades). Lets be honest if two unmarried men of their age cohabited for so long eyes WOULD have been raised in the real world and in more recent times it is not at all rare to find people presuming such things about same sex cohabitants.

    Concentrate upon being fresh and surprising in writing ..let other people make their own judgements.

    • SunlessNick

      if every writer worried about conforming to this list (and others like it we would have even more paint by numbers tick box works than we already do.

      If this list is paint by numbers, then the things it calls out can only be more so.

      • Jason Stone

        The list is obviously not painted by numbers but my point was that as a writer or any kind of creative person you cannot spend a lot of time or thought worrying about what is going to offend this or that particular group of people then that is going to stimy your vision.

        • SunlessNick

          Offence isn’t really the point (especially how many people get offended at art that embraces diversity).

          The point is twofold. First, that a continual stream of queerphobic art does do actual damage to LGBTQ people’s lives – most individual pieces aren’t going to do a measurable amount themselves, but they *will* be part of the sum that adds up into that stream – and the sanctity of your vision doesn’t change that.

          Second, queerphobic tropes (and racist and sexist ones) are the norm – the autopilot. Going against them is the more creative choice, and can take you to creative places you might never have considered otherwise.

        • Bill

          You’re right, Jason.

          However, you can then take a look during the initial phases of revision (or the initial phases of outlining) to notice whether any unfortunate but popular offenses had somehow made their way in without your noticing.

          After all, if every time you sit down to paint, your roommate keeps chanting “polar bear”, one day you will discover you have included a polar bear in your painting without even your realizing it. The same holds true if you sit down to write and you do so in a country in which certain unfortunate tropes continue to hold currency.

          At that point, you can decide to change them, decide to play with undercutting them or deconstructing them, or decide to leave them in — but no matter what your choice, at least it is a conscious choice.

  16. Bill

    I have to take serious issue with both your instances of so-called “queer coding”.

    One could argue that Scar or LeFou is presented in a fashion that might reference feminophobia — the fear or vilification of males who do not conform to gender normative ideas of brutish masculinity — or that Scar is presented in a fashion that might reference anti-intellectualism and the modern American prejudice against grace, eloquence, and sophistication.

    (One could also argue that Scar is a parody of “The Great White Savior”, as he is the only member of the privileged lion race to have anything to do with the oppressed hyena race, and he eventually “rescues” the hyena race from their poverty when they could not do it themselves…)

    But to argue that Scar or LeFou is coded as queer is to argue that queers are characterized by an inability to display masculine traits, by a certain effete nature, and by a submissive cunning.

    I think most queers would find this a deeply offensive stereotype. Queers can be as masculine or as feminine in the course of their day as anyone who is not queer; queers can be as rough-hewn or effete as anyone else and are no more or less oriented that way than are people who are not queer. Yet your use of queer-coding operates off just such a stereotype!

    As for LeFou, you indulge in a nasty misandric and homophobic vilification of intense male friendship. It reminds me of those people who insist that Frodo and Samwise are clearly gay because they refuse to believe that straight men can feel close to anyone who isn’t giving them sexual favors.

    Most healthy adult males remember a time in their lives when they had felt hero worship for an older or more powerful male friend, and many healthy adult males remember a time in their younger days when they had felt hero worship for someone who hadn’t deserved their admiration, someone who turned out to be a bully but they couldn’t perceive the abuse because they were blinded by their adulation.

    This is what LeFou brings to mind for most healthy males of any sexuality: not a queer-coded comic relief at all but instead a comic relief that provides the catharsis of laughter about those times when we felt admiration for someone who turned out to be nothing more than a bully.

    To call this same-sex friendship an example of queer-coding demeans the reality of homophobia that still harms queers to this day as well as giving ammunition to the current antipathy against male-male friendship.

    • Cay Reet

      “Queers can be as masculine or as feminine in the course of their day as anyone who is not queer; queers can be as rough-hewn or effete as anyone else and are no more or less oriented that way than are people who are not queer. Yet your use of queer-coding operates off just such a stereotype!”

      This is actually the point. There are exactly two types of gay characters you get in media as gay characters: the somewhat effeminate one and the butch one (who usually at first is in denial and was an asshole at some point). The queer coding goes back to a media code from the 1930s which stated that gay characters weren’t allowed to have a ‘good’ ending or be shown as good people (because of Christian morals). So they became victims, laughing stock, or outright villains. And since villains with an effeminate air were often queer then, the effeminate villain still is queer-coded. Realistically, every character who is not part of a heterosexual love affair can be queer in a story: the hero, the heroine, the villain (hopefully not typecast), the hero’s (or heroine’s) best friend, the next-door neighbour, the green grocer, everyone. But they are not, because people still think that you don’t make a character something else than the norm unless it’s relevant.

  17. Kathleen

    I am firmly for the accurate representation of the queer community in all media but I have to disagree with your examples of queer coding (a term I’d never even heard before reading this article). I’ve seen Lion King and Aladdin multiple times as a young adult and as a socially aware adult and never once remotely thought about the sexual preference of either villain. Honestly, I think you’re grasping at straws. There’s probably much better examples out there for you to draw from. For one thing, both of those villains have perfectly valid reasons to be slender. (And a side note – I take offense that slender = effeminate. That means big girls are masculine?)

    Scar’s killing of Mufasa weakened the tribe and made them unable to hunt as much food as they hunted under Mufasa’s reign therefore, all of them were more slender because they were effing hungry!! Jafar is a mage and if you’ve played any RPG ever, or heard about RPGs, mages are notoriously “glass canons.” They’re slender because they don’t engage in physical combat. Now granted, they could (and maybe should) be all fat from sitting around using magic for everything and not exerting themselves but that’s a whole different discussion. The fact is, their body type has zero to do with their sexual preference.

    Again, I staunchly agree that much of mainstream media is either purposely or accidentally misrepresenting pretty much every non-white-guy character but those two examples are awful choices for examples. Find ones that are actually committing that crime and can’t be explained with simple logic.

    • Cay Reet

      It’s not about Jaffar or Scar being gay. It’s about them being coded to look effeminate, compared to the ‘regular’ male. It’s about giving the villain physical traits which are gay coded (without the traits having anything to do with the sexual preference) by the media. And, yes, that means for a lot of people that physically strong women are masculine. It’s stupid, but a lot of coding character by looks is stupid.

      Yes, mages in RPGs are often shown as slender and physically weaker. They’re classic damage dealers who can’t take much damage themselves (since a lot of RPGs rely on the Tank/Damage Dealer/Buffer combination). Novels and movies also include regularly-build, athletic, or overweight mages (the wizards of the Discworld nearly all are overweight, for instance). The main point is that compared to the strong tank (warrior or paladin), both the damage dealer and the buffer will look weak. But some buffer types (like thieves and rogues) also have physical attacks and will look more athletic than thin, while mages often are so restricted to magic that they can’t make use of physical weapons, which mean they have no reason to train their bodies.

      Jaffar isn’t necessarily slender because he has magic. Madame Mim, for instance, is also an evil magic user in a Disney movie, yet she’s overweight (as is sea-witch Ursula). Jaffar could have every body type from slender to fat, it would have no influence on his actual ability to do magic, yes he’s set up as an effeminate type.
      Scar might be more slender to explain why he’s not the ruler (the stronger lion rules), but his facial features (as far as they can be compared to those of a human) are also effeminate and could still look different while he’s more slender than his brother.

      Disney villains are often coded to be ugly – or, at any rate, less attractive. For women, that often means being old or overweight or both. For men, it does sometimes mean being effeminate, because society deems that unattractive for men.

  18. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    I remember a book once that had an exchange a bit like this:
    “I have to tell you something.”
    “Are you gay?”
    “No. I mean, yes, I am, but that’s not what I need to tell you!”

  19. fwuiojfw

    I have tried to write some story but abandonned (not known what to write in the next chapter, found a lot of flaws, and gave up and tried to write something else). In that story I have a human boy who is transracially adopted by two elven sisters. I wonder whether is adoption by two unmarried sisters is good, or it’s better to change them to lesbian couple?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      My instinct would be to make them a lesbian couple unless you have a reason not to. There’s nothing wrong with two sisters raising an adopted protagonist, but that trope is fairly common in fiction, while openly lesbian couples are still frustratingly rare.

      • fwuiojfw

        > but that trope is fairly common in fiction

        Could you give examples, please?

    • Laura Ess

      I think it would all depend upon the nature of Elven biology and culture. For example, I believe there’s Himalayan culture where there’s no marriage as such. Rather, adults find a mate from another family and child is raised by the family of the female in the coupling. The male returns to their own family group to help raise the children of their sisters. Under a system like that, it’d be perfectly reasonable for two sisters to raise an adopted son. Physical and emotional intimacies are probably more likely to occur between people of the same gender in the same family. The big taboo might be having either with members of their family of a different gender. Also, someone from such a family who was trans might be frowned upon, since if they physically modified themselves they might not be able to mate.

      Another possibility arises from my trip to Phuket a long time ago. Gender in that society is indicated about the speaker by themselves. For example to say HELLO is “sah wah dee khaa” if you’re a woman, and “sah wah dee khrap” is you’re a man. What if, in Elvish society relationships were handled the same way in language? Maybe there’s a different ending to a sentence (in Elvish) depending upon whom you speak to. It would mean that marriage is decided by the speaker, where the parties use a mutual sentence end (implying too a possibility of poly marriage).

      Just a couple of ideas.

  20. LiliesAndRoses

    Also wonder about using the words “gay” and “queer” in their literal meanings (“Have a Gay Old Time” on TV Tropes), completely unrelated to sexuality.

    • Cay Reet

      If you’re using them in a time setting where they still only had their literal meanings or in circumstances which make it clear that ‘gay’ means happy and not homosexual, for example, you should be in the green.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I’d even advise a more cautious approach than Cay is here, especially for people like me who aren’t gay or queer, as it behooves us to be extra careful.

      In most cases, using the archaic meaning of any word is just gonna confuse readers, and in the case of sensitive words like gay or queer, it can be offensive as well as confusing.

      Even if you’re writing in a historical time period, I don’t usually advise it. Sure, in that time those words meant different things, but so did lots of words. Are you really committed to making characters speak with historically accurate dialects? In most cases that’ll just make the text impenetrable to a modern reader.

      That’s why stories usually go with the conceit that characters are speaking their own language or dialect, but the story is translating it into language a modern reader can easily understand, and in that context an isolated use of certain words in their archaic meaning will seem really out of place.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        An exception might be something like a character from the past being transported into the modern era, so you use the character’s historical dialect to set them apart from other characters. But as Cay said, if you’re gonna do that, they need to have more than just the archaic meanings of gay and queer.

  21. Dvärghundspossen

    I think the Supergirl example is interesting because it highlights how different people can interpret the same thing in very different ways. I’m bi myself, and struggled to come out (even to myself) because of a background with lots of homophobia – and yet I’m in the camp who didn’t think of the joke as homophobic, and it didn’t strike me it could be interpreted that way. I just thought that ok, Kara has this ENORMOUS secret she wants to share, she’s an alien with superpowers and Superman’s cousin, that’s HUGE and really hard for her to reveal, but Winn assumes all the fuss is about why she’s not into him.

    But I guess there’s an important lesson here, about how something that seems innocent to you might seem really problematic to someone else? And that you might fail to see how something is problematic EVEN IF you belong to the relevant marginalized group?

  22. Amaryllis

    5. If (in completely non-human setting) characters aren’t human, but look similarly to human women (“female-coded”), is it a good idea to show romance or romance-like relationships between them? Does gender matter, and if it is, is it better to have it or not?

    Also, what should be considered if the characters don’t have genitals?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      All things being equal, there’s no reason not to show romantic relationships between aliens who are all female or male coded, like the Gems from Steven Universe. On it’s own, that sort of thing is likely to be the sort of queer rep people want to see. Of course it could be done in an exploitative way, like how Mass Effect’s Asari are often portrayed as “hot lesbians making out to turn boys on,” which isn’t good, but that can happen in any sort of queer rep. As for not having genitals, unless the mechanics of how they perform intimacy are important to your story, I don’t think you need to worry about it too much at all.

  23. cerabobble

    I was wondering if one specific depiction of a gay person was harmful and fell into a trope. SPOILERS for “Five Feet Apart” the movie (and probably the book).

    FFA has a gay character named Poe. This is treated very well for most of the movie. He is established as gay in his first scene when another character comments on his boyfriend. He is given the rant about how it is unfair to burden a partner with the bills and emotional costs of cystic fibrosis (the three main characters all have CF). He talks about how he’s excited to go meet the parents of his boyfriend.

    But then Poe dies, in what looked like to me a clear-cut example of “bury your gays”. Right after he expresses hope about meeting his boyfriend’s parents. Specifically, after being confined to his room, his hospital (he’s in the hospital for complications related to cystic fibrosis) call button goes off. The nurse finds him on the ground, not breathing, and he doesn’t revive. The focus in the scene is on how it affects the straight female lead (Stella), as she sees how her condition (she has CF too) can kill without warning. This ups the stakes, showing how death by complications is something that can happen to an established character.

    But the mitigating thing here is that no one gets a happy ending. The straight male lead (Will) leaves to an almost certain death in order to keep from giving Stella his deadly bacteria. Stella loses her first love to a certain death and has to live knowing that her condition will kill her. The main nurse, the only other main-ish character, loses a patient. If the story seems to be saying that no one will have a happy ending, is it okay that it killed Poe? I have been mulling this over since seeing the movie, and would like another opinion.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I haven’t seen this film so I can’t say for sure, but it certainly sounds like FFA is burrying it’s gays, if not as blatantly as some other stories. Even if the other characters get sad endings, it seems that none of them die on screen, and that Poe’s death is mainly used for the arc of a straight character. Even if the other characters did die on screen, this would still be a case of Minority Dies First.

      • cerabobble

        Thanks for the reply, that makes sense. None of the other characters die, to clarify.

    • fabsolutely

      I have seen the film, and it’s a blatant example of Bury Your Gays. As soon as Poe got introduced, I knew he was just there to be killed off, and when he finally expressed hope for a gay happy end with a guy we never get to see onscreen, I knew it would happen on the same day.
      At the end of the story, the straight characters are still alive, and they still have a chance to find happiness with other love interests. Poe is dead. It doesn’t get clearer than that.

  24. Amaryllis

    I’d like to ask a question. I write a story with a married male main character who irreversibly becomes a woman. What should be considered in this scenario (other than avoiding obviously sexist and transphobic tropes)?

    Also, what do you think about shapeshifter-shapeshifter relationships and human-shapeshifter relationships and “Shapeshifters Do It for a Change”?

    • Laura Ess

      That sort of story – where a married man becomes a woman has long been a staple of transvestite fantasy tropes. The classic one is where the husband is “forced” into the change which horrifies them (and the wife) initially, but eventually they find life as a woman much more enjoyable and the wife discovers that she loves the “new woman” better than her old husband.

      I came across that sort of story a lot when I ran a group called “Chameleons” back in the last century in Perth. Back then the terminology was different and the members referred to TVs and TSs with an assumption that there was a fundamental difference between the two. The wisdom back then was that “going full time” would sort a person out – the TVs would be bored with that after a week, and the TSs would realise that they weren’t TVs after all. Back then of course the term genderqueer hadn’t been coined yet and transgender had still not caught on. I mention this here because the expected result of the process was based on the member’s perception of how things worked and possible outcomes.

      If you’re writing a story where “I write a story with a married male main character who irreversibly becomes a woman.” I think you need to examine your assumptions in detail. For example, the male is married to who? A hetero assumption’s going to be be to a female, but here in Australia (and the USA) marriage is no longer gender specific, so they might be married to another male, or intersex person. That changes the story in certain ways, but you need to figure that out. Also, there’s a jump in your terminology as well. Your brief description can be interpreted as a change in gender rather than sex, “male to woman” sort of implies that and might be more correctly described as “man to woman” with each being gender roles associated with males and females in the society in the story.

      But that may simply be a a grammatical error on your part – I’ve encountered a number of men who always refer to women as “females” – and you meant Male to Female instead. That’s a different story because we’re referencing physical change over gender change, and once again the issues might be different depending who they’re married to. What if say, the society they exist in has been all-male for generations, and it’s maintained by some sort of genetic manipulation phobotnum via a cloning process (though science would suggest that clones will be female rather than male) and “pure females” are unknown to them. That’s like the MOCLANS in THE ORVILLE (see
      who repress females of their species and physically alter female babies to appear as male.

      So, lots of details you have to work out before you know where you’re going with the story. If you don’t work them out you’re more likely end up with a story full of stereotypes and cliches.

      • Sam Victors

        Have you ever heard/read the myth of Tiresias?

        Tiresias was an ancient Greek seer, who was turned into a woman for a period of time, by Hera because of a bet she had with Zeus on who which gender enjoyed sex the most. When Tiresias turned back into a man, he proclaimed that he enjoyed sex as a woman.

        • Laura Ess

          Oh yes, read about Tiresias in highschool via Bullfinch’s mythology. . Not the only sex changing figure in mythology.

  25. Bel

    So, I know this is an old post (although still completely relevant) but I’m quite new to Mythcreants and wanted to ask something.
    Would it be okay to use sexuality like this:

    Bob: I have something to tell you.

    Andy: You’re gay?

    Bob: I’m a vampire.

    Andy: …

    Bob: Also, yeah, I’m gay.

    It’s sort of using it as a joke but it also isn’t queerbaiting because Bob actually is gay.
    Would that be okay?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      With the caveat that I, a straight cis man, cannot say with certainty that something isn’t queerphobic, I’d say that what you’re describing is a clear subversion of the queerphobic “are you gay” joke. The character actually is gay, and you’re making fun of a queerphobic trope, so my instinct says this isn’t a problem.

      • Bel

        That makes sense, thanks

  26. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I’ve removed a couple comments, both for degrading the idea of queer representation, and for obviously trying to skirt our comments rules, which constitutes a pattern of bad behavior.

  27. MU

    So telling a story where all the characters are straight is hateful somehow? So if I write a story with specific characters in mind, and none of those characters happen to be “queer”, not because I’m “queerphobic” but because it just doesn’t fit the character or the story, that somehow makes me a bad guy? Ridiculous. It’s this kind of tripe that has turned so many people off of this movement. In a world where equality was a reality, no one would care whether a story’s characters were straight or “queer” or whatever the hell else you want to call it, because sexual orientation would be non-issue. Insisting that all stories must have a queer person in them is just as bad as insisting that no stories should have queer people in them. It’s just the other side of the intolerance coin. If you want true equality, stop obsessing about your gender and/or sexuality and get on with your life. If you act like there’s something unusual about being queer, why would you expect others to not to?

    • Cay Reet

      ‘In a world where equality were real’ is exactly the point. Diverse casts can help create such a world, but we don’t have it right now.

      In addition, if you have good reasons to make all of your characters straight, you should do so – but that is only the case when it’s important for the story that any and all of your characters are straight. Otherwise, how will it hurt your story if the best friend of your MC is LGTB+, since they don’t have a romance? Diversity often means having more options on the whole, it’s not a bad thing.

      The most interesting use of a character who was made gay for a reason other than romance for me is the guard of the black OPS site where Jamie Moriarty is kept in season 2 of “Elementary” – he’s gay because she’s incredibly good at seducing people and a gay man will not be interested in a woman.

    • SunlessNick

      Insisting that all stories must have a queer person in them is just as bad as insisting that no stories should have queer people in them. It’s just the other side of the intolerance coin.

      No, the other side of the coin from insisting that no stories should have queer people in them would be insisting that no stories should have straight people in them. But literally no one insists on the latter, which is why is didn’t occur to you in your comment.

    • Ace of Hearts

      Setting aside all labels and accusations for a moment, I have to ask you: what do you think it means for a sexuality to “fit” a certain character?

      LGBTQ+ people are not defined by their sexuality and have a personality just as diverse as cishet people. No one is asking you to write a GAY MAN who does GAY THINGS such as BEING GAY. But you can write a sidekick to your hero who is a competent fighter, has a passion for painting even though he’s not good at it, and has an arc about overcoming his self-doubt and insecurities… and just happens to be gay.

      So if changing a character’s sexuality would not affect the story in any way, take a moment to ask yourself why you are so uncomfortable with doing that.

      • Tifa

        Very well said! Thank you.

  28. Kit

    ‘If you make your protagonists openly queer, then if you have a queer villain, it won’t seem like they are a villain because they’re queer.’

    I’d add the caveat that if a villain is queer, there should be a protagonist of the same ‘type’ of queer as a counter. Having a gay man on Team Good won’t serve as an effective counter to the villain if said villain is a lesbian, bi, or trans – it’s very possible to demonise certain identities even if you have good representation of others. It’s a nuanced topic, though – writers just have to use their own judgement, and if they have to have a queer villain, make it clear those two things are not linked. (Though I’d be especially hesitant to have a trans villain at all in the current climate. Maybe save that for if/when basic rights aren’t on the line, and once there’s more positive rep kicking about.)

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.