Tone down a gay character?

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EvelynEhrlich
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Tone down a gay character?

Post by EvelynEhrlich » February 28th, 2010, 11:20 pm

Hi all,
I'm writing a Contemporary YA piece, and my dilemma revolves around a side character, Michael, who works in a cafe with my MC (17-year old girl). Michael (29-years old) happens to be gay. He's not over-the-top or stereotypical, in my opinion, and there's a lot more to him than being gay. But one of my beta readers commented that MC's unquestioning acceptance of Michael's "gayness" might come across as preachy to readers in the Heartland. On the other hand, another one of my beta readers said Michael was one of her favorite characters.

Michael has a steady boyfriend of 10 years. He also comments a couple times on how cute MC's love interest is. I think the beta reader's problem is that MC isn't taken aback that Michael comments on how hot her boyfriend is, and that she isn't more uncomfortable with him being gay in general.

So the question is, should I change anything? I grew up in a suburb in Southern California, where this story is also set, and the way MC acts seems to be in keeping with the way people in SoCal are (at least, where I grew up). But tell me if I'm wrong or out of touch, or if I should change it regardless. I could add some internal monologue for MC on the subject (e.g., create a backstory about how Michael was the first gay person she'd ever met, and at first she didn't know how to feel, but now she knows him so well that none of that even matters, etc. etc.), but I worry that that would actually come across as more preachy than not saying anything at all!

Also, a second, much less important question that the same beta reader brought up - she said that it was unrealistic that I had the MC and her friends pitch in to rent a limo for prom. This was standard protocol when I was in high school, but does it smack of well-to-do Left Coast elitism? Will the majority of teens in the rest of the country be unable to relate? It seems like limos are often in prom scenes on The CW and teen movies.

I know I shouldn't necessarily worry about controversy when I'm writing my novel, but (1) I'm trying to be realistic, so if most teens wouldn't just accept a gay co-worker, then I want to make MC more accurate (regardless of my personal opinions on the subject), and (2) I am trying to balance the "art" of writing with the commercial aspects of the publishing business.

Thanks in advance for your input! I hope none of this comes across as offensive to anyone, because it certainly is not intended to be.

craig
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by craig » February 28th, 2010, 11:52 pm

I am by no means an expert... but I am a Youth Worker who is actually a teacher by training and I have a variety of other youth/teen related work experience.

Being an advocate for youth, I LOVE that your MC unquestioningly accepts Michael's homosexuality. With the teens I work with, I am finding that unquestioning acceptance is not really common, but it's not really rare either. As time goes on, sexual orientation will be less and less of an issue. I think it is totally appropriate for your MC to be unquestioningly accepting. I also think it's very cool that you have chosen to not make him the media-stereotypical gay man.

You are the best judge of your writing and your beta readers. Are your beta readers uncomfortable with homosexuality? So is it their own uneasiness that is affecting their reading of the book? What age are your beta readers? Are they anywhere near the age that this YA book is meant for?

I hate it when books get preachy, but at the same time, I love it when they show us what humanity can and should be. I am entirely for unquestioning acceptance.

(I probably wouldn't even put in the internal monologue to explain it -- just put it in. If your teen readers aren't unquestioningly accepting themselves, the concept certainly isn't a difficult one for them to grasp as there are many around them who are accepting.)

And the limo thing? I live in the prairies of Canada -- we couldn't rent a limo for our grad cuz we waited too long and they were all booked up. (So we got a Lincoln Town Car instead.) So, yeah, totally believable.

I think you're doing just fine. I think you need new readers.

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Holly
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Holly » February 28th, 2010, 11:57 pm

You would really have to post your work. Without looking at the writing, it's impossible to tell you if a character seems like a real, complicated person, or if he/she seems to represent an agenda.

The internet has critique websites that allow you to post whole chapters. I would join one, post my work, and get some critiques.

ThinkBlue
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by ThinkBlue » March 1st, 2010, 2:01 am

I'm nineteen and I've lived in SoCal all my life (born in LA--GO DODGERS!, raised in OC).

I think your MC's current perspective is absolutely normal. To most of the kids I know, gay isn't something that needs internal dialoguing because it just isn't a big deal.

Also, the limo is okay since it's the prom. It might be too much for a smaller dance like homecoming, but a lot of my class opted for a limo. Another option is to have your MC/date own a seriously expensive, flashy ride.

Hope this helps and good luck!

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Tone down a gay character?

Post by tameson » March 1st, 2010, 12:03 pm

Arizona gal so still near the elite left coast, but limo at prom was common.

As far as homosexuality, first gay guy I knew, I didn't have any issues with (except i thought it was totally uncool for him to have a hicky contest with the girl his roomie was massively in love with and working to get up the nerve to ask out- he figured he was gay, everyone knew it didn't mean anything, I thought it was still jerky). But on the who he slept with part, no probs. I had a lot of difficulty when some crazy guy stabbed him- that was a an upsetting day. He lived and recovered completely, but it was still obviously upsetting. I think there is a lot more acceptance among the younger generation and each generation is more accepting than the last. So, if it is set now, it is believable. I think a man might have more problems with a friend being gay than a girl would. Girls seem to think, yeah! I get a gay friend! how fun. Guys seem to think more, eh, are you hitting on me?

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aspiring_x
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by aspiring_x » March 1st, 2010, 12:55 pm

ok, i live in kansas, grew up in illinois, and am actually (clears throat so you can prepare yourself) a christian who has no problem with gay characters.
if anyone is going to have a problem with the gay character, they're going to have a problem no matter how you write him.
i think that adding the internal dialogue would make it more preachy,not less.
if the guy's sexual orientation isn't a big deal to the MC then don't make it one. be true to your characters first.

and the limo thing... i thought that was normal. most the kids in high school did that. but that was... eek... ten years ago, so i don't know if it still applies.

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Scott
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Scott » March 1st, 2010, 4:23 pm

Two things, Evelyn:

1) write to your story, not to a portion of proposed sales.

2) any reader who would strongly protest your gay character is probably hiding something and will read your book cover to cover.

EvelynEhrlich
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by EvelynEhrlich » March 1st, 2010, 5:14 pm

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful posts and support. I'm going to stay true to Michael and MC, keeping them exactly as they are, with unquestioning acceptance.

And yes, dammit, MC will have a limo for prom! :)

Thanks again!

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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Nick » March 1st, 2010, 7:53 pm

I can't really judge without reading your work, but in terms of teens just accepting a gay chap. Well, number one, it depends where you are. A teen in Manhattan is more likely to accept a gay man than a teen in Alabama. But there are of course exceptions to every rule. Where I live most of the teens are largely socially left, but I have met quite a few people my age who break that. More importantly, frak the commercial aspects. This is your story. If you think it's fine, it's fine.

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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Erica75 » March 1st, 2010, 8:21 pm

On this topic over the past 20 years, there are no rules. I love Scott's post - go with that. I know people who disgust me, people who inspire me, people who. . .well, make my life either better or worse. That's it.
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PaulWoodlin
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by PaulWoodlin » March 1st, 2010, 10:48 pm

Having a gay man tell a girl that her boyfriend is cute and she says, "Thanks" or "Yeah" is not preachy. If she spends a paragraph thinking about the importance of gay rights or how her parents would be horrified or something, that could be preachy. Simply showing their friendship instead of telling us about it is enough.

Bron
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Bron » March 2nd, 2010, 6:14 am

I agree with everyone saying to leave your the characters the way they are. I think aspiring_x was right in that if people have a problem, they're going to have a problem no matter how you write it. And I don't know where your beta reader grew up, but I'm all the way over in Australia and renting a limo or some variation for a formal (prom) is pretty standard.

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E McD
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by E McD » March 2nd, 2010, 6:51 am

1. Let your gay flag fly.

2. Teenage Virginians rent limos all the time.

Keep the torch lit,
Em
Last edited by E McD on March 2nd, 2010, 4:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Seamus
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by Seamus » March 2nd, 2010, 9:22 am

Same struggle for me. I have a gay character in my WIP. Though he is lovingly portrayed, he is effeminate. In other works, my dialogue drawled heavily, or it giggled with squealing girls. In each case I struggled with stereotyping and I have paused when creating the voices for racially, regionally or ethnically strong characters. I am concerned about offending, even though there is something real about them speaking from their full cultural beauty. I am not gay, not a person of color, not a woman, not from the South and so on. Is this just a question of nuance, or is there a way to tell when you've crossed the line?
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Re: Tone down a gay character?

Post by KappaP » March 3rd, 2010, 4:47 pm

Seamus wrote:Same struggle for me. I have a gay character in my WIP. Though he is lovingly portrayed, he is effeminate. In other works, my dialogue drawled heavily, or it giggled with squealing girls. In each case I struggled with stereotyping and I have paused when creating the voices for racially, regionally or ethnically strong characters. I am concerned about offending, even though there is something real about them speaking from their full cultural beauty. I am not gay, not a person of color, not a woman, not from the South and so on. Is this just a question of nuance, or is there a way to tell when you've crossed the line?
I have pretty strong and definitive feelings on this subject, so here's my two cents:

Don't use a gay character, a female character, a black character just to HAVE one. You know? As a gay myself, I have a huge problem with how movies, tv shows and books toss a cardboard thin gay character out and say "SEE WHAT I DID THERE? I USED A GAY! 10 POINTS!" That bothers me. I think what it boils down to is that gay characters, female characters, black characters, southern characters-- whatever-- are not just gays, women, blacks and southerners. They are first and foremost people. Too many movies, tv shows, books decide that a gay person is one part limp wrist, one part lisp, one part squeals and no part actual human. Your gay character has every right to be effeminate, just so long as he's MORE than effeminate. The key to making a good gay character? Make a good character. And then they happen to be gay. My favorite gay character in modern entertainment is Lafayette from True Blood because hot DAMN is he effeminate but he's also just a dynamite character. He-- apart from his sexuality-- is flawed, interesting, motivated, assured.

That's my opinion. Be true to the humanity of your characters and any smart person won't be offended.
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