Readers have spoken: they want more diversity in fiction. And writers are stepping up, but it can be hard to write about someone who’s different than you. Careful research is the key to avoiding misrepresentation, which causes harm to the very identities being portrayed and creates fallout for well-meaning writers when they’re called out by readers.
For this reason, we’re running a series of posts on avoiding stereotypes in fiction. Written by a diverse cast of talented authors, each post highlights a different people group—the common stereotypes to avoid and how to write those characters realistically. We hope this series arms you with the knowledge and tools to write characters you may have been reluctant to write before—ones that will take your story to the next level.
By: Drew Hubbard
When it comes to LGBTQ+ characters, some people believe that there’s “too many of them.”
According to a report done by GLAAD on scripted broadcast primetime (American) programming in the 2021-2022 season, 11.9% of characters identified as LGBTQ+. Factoring in TV shows (and movies) from across the world, I’d bet money on that % dropping considerably.
Despite the LGBTQ+ community being extremely diverse in many ways (race, ethnicity, age, ability, neurodiversity, gender identity, etc), we still see the same characters and the same stereotypes over and over again. We’d love to change that. So, to give you somewhere to start (and not overwhelm you), here are the 9 WOOOOORST LGBTQ+ stereotypes and how to avoid them.
Stereotype #1: THE PREDATORY (OLDER) LESBIAN
Problem: She’s a lesbian cougar. She has her sights on a younger woman who’s nearly always “straight” and ready to be turned. She’s very controlling, often written to pamper to the male gaze, and thus behaves like a straight man. It’s basically yuk on so many levels.
Solution: Allow older lesbian characters to be in happy, secure relationships. Perhaps she has been in one for years/decades. She could also be single and happy. Or, rather than being predatory, let her be looking to find a woman she can connect with, not dominate.
Stereotype #2: THE PROMISCIOUS GAY
Problem: All this chap is interested in is sex. A relationship sounds too hetero for him. It’s a dated stereotype from a time when being gay was kept secret. You rarely see two men being romantic together, sharing a life together, being monogamous together.
Solution: Gay (or bi/pan/queer) men can and do hold down long-lasting relationships. Yes, this stereotype does have a lot of truth (no slut-shaming here), however, it’s important to show younger people that being gay doesn’t mean you cannot find love and connection.
Stereotype #3: THE DUPLICITOUS BISEXUAL
Problem: Bisexuals are attracted to multiple genders, so of course they’re going to be cheaters, what with temptation everywhere. Vom! Pinning them down to one partner looks like they’re choosing a side, so they must assert their bisexuality card, otherwise it will be revoked.
Solution: Bisexual people can be in happy, stable, monogamous relationships. And—spoiler alert—they are still bisexual. You could literally make any character bi, doesn’t matter if they’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship. Plus, you can show a character being attracted to multiple genders without reverting to this cheating stereotype.
Stereotype #4: THE BODY-HATING TRANS PERSON
Problem: It’s all sadness, all the time for this poor transgender person. Not wanting to identify as their birth gender can only mean they hate their body immensely. All they can think about is removing parts of their body, there’s literally no time for anything else.
Solution: While some trans people do have gender-affirming surgery, many don’t and are still happy with their body. Still, why have a trans character going through a transition at all? Maybe they’ve already done that. Let their plot point be based on the story, not their trans-ness.
Stereotype #5: THE QUEER ONE AND ONLY
Problem: These characters are often quite easy to identify as being written by a cishet writer because they exist alone. They’re the one and only queer amongst all the straights and don’t have any queer community outside of that cishet friendship group because why would they need other queers in their life?
Solution: Queer people find their LGBTQ+ family in real life, so why not have more than one queer? (Hello, bisexuals!) If you don’t want to write multiple queers, then at least have your queer character talk about their queer friends/family/community so the audience knows they don’t exist in a heterosexual vacuum. Some LGBTQ+ people might be surrounded by cishet people at work, but it’s not unusual for LGBTQ+ people to NOT have a single cishet person within their friendship circle. We find people to support and lift us up. Let your characters have that luxury too.
Stereotype #6: THE BROKEN ASEXUAL
Problem: There’s hardly ever any nuance to asexual characters. Despite asexuality being a spectrum, they’re usually shown as broken humans who have had asexuality forced upon them because of trauma or a medical condition.
Solution: Your ace characters can still have sex—that is not unrealistic. But also they can be confident and happy with their aceness. It doesn’t need to affect their every waking moment; it’s just one thing they don’t want/need, and these characters don’t always need to be thinking/talking about how much they don’t want sex. Simple.
Stereotype #7: THE EMOTIONLESS AROMANTIC
Problem: Even though being Aromantic means not feeling any (or much) romantic attraction, these characters are portrayed as being so unfeeling that they can’t even stand having friends. They’re often literally written as aliens or robots. How rude!
Solution: Being aromantic simply means having no or little romantic attraction. It doesn’t mean they have zero feelings/emotions at all. Rather than showing an aromantic as feeling like they’re missing out on romance/love, you can show them as being happy and comfortable with their identity.
(It’s worth pointing out that although some people identify as both Asexual and Aromantic, many people identify as just one of those and NOT the other.)
Stereotype #8: THE ANDROGYNOUS NONBINARY PERSON
Problem: Being nonbinary means different things to different people, but of course enby characters are often shown as dead-centre between traditionally masculine and feminine. No nuance. No fluidity. Just an androgynous display at all times, from clothes to appearance.
Solution: Nonbinary people don’t need to show they are enby in their clothes and looks (I mean, what is the “norm” of any particular gender anyway?). They may also change it up depending on how they feel on a certain day, so rather than an enby person using just they/them pronouns, they might mix it up with other pronouns, too. There’s literally nothing stopping you making any character nonbinary. There’s no ‘one way’ to portray one’s nonbinaryness.
Stereotype #9: THE OVERSEXED PANSEXUAL
Problem: Pansexuals are attracted to the person, regardless of gender or gender identity, so obviously they are attracted to every single living human being and thus are always looking for the next hookup. Plus, there has to be that one joke about being attracted to pans. YAWN!
Solution: Pansexual people are all about their openness to be attracted to the person, so why not concentrate on that? Focus on the love a pansexual character has to give rather than focusing on their libido, which is very boring and quite insulting.
As with writing any character that is unlike yourself, your best resource is talking to that community. You can reach out to LGBTQ+ people on social media to ask for their advice. And there are many online resources you can consult. Here are some good places to start.
- Bang2write! has many articles on writing diverse characters. Lucy V. Hay has even written an entire book on the topic.
- My newsletter, Pride Reads, has monthly tips, advice, and surveys from members of the LGBTQ+ community discussing what they do and don’t want when it comes to representation.
- You could also seek out a sensitivity reader. Different from a beta reader, sensitivity readers will concentrate on the potentially problematic aspects of the story, advise you on what could be an issue, and suggest how you could bring more authenticity to the characters.
Other posts in this series:
Avoiding Female Character Stereotypes
Avoiding Religious Character Stereotypes
Avoiding Mental Health Character Stereotypes
Avoiding People of Color Stereotypes
Discussion is encouraged, but please keep it courteous. Let’s not call out authors for past mistakes, and let’s do keep an open mind. By listening to and respecting each person’s experiences and perspectives, we can better write the stories and characters readers want to see.
Drew Hubbard is a screenwriter and soon-to-be-novelist who runs ‘Pride Reads’ – a monthly LGBTQ+ writing newsletter for all writers who want to create better LGBTQ+ characters and stories.
He also offers a script feedback service and sensitivity reads. Find him on Twitter or Instagram.
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Leiana Day says
What I got from this is that ultimately, people are complicated creatures who cannot simply be described by how they look, what they wear, or who they choose (not) to marry. Interesting article. It really is ufortunate that so many writers fall into diminishing their characters into merely a collection of labels and stereotypes. They’re missing out on the originality and nuance that is humanity.
That’s exactly it. It’s the nuances that really bring characters to life. Knowing where to start, or in this instance what to avoid, gives writers a solid place to start to at least get that first draft done.
Deborah Makarios says
So much of writing characters well seems to be remembering that one label does not a character make. People are people, whatever else they are.
As Dorothy L Sayers said when asked how she’d managed to write such believable dialogue between men alone, “I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.”
Exactly. I find people are sometimes reluctant to write lgbtq+ characters because they think they can’t, or shouldn’t. Be we are still humans, like everyone else.
Mindy Alyse Weiss says
So well said, Drew. Thank you for this post…and resources to help authors write authentic characters who are unlike themselves.
‘When it comes to LGBTQ+ characters, some people believe that there’s “too many of them.”’ I am so tired of those people that rant about how forced the “woke agenda” is in every TV show or film where a black/women/LGBT character is the protagonist, or they are portrayed in a positive, proactive light. It’s time we watch and read new perspectives, the old ones are really getting old.
About the list of stereotypes, it’s me or some of the items are white hetero man fantasies and psychological projection? Ha, ha!
Great post, I learnt some stereotypes I didn’t know.
Haha. You’re not wrong. Thank you. Glad you found it useful
BECCA PUGLISI says
“I think writers sometimes forget how much power they have with their words.”
Thanks so much for being part of this series, Drew!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
This is such great advice. It really comes down to “people first.” I hope one day we get to a point where that doesn’t need to be reiterated. But one of the most important starting points is portrayals in fiction, film, media.
Thanks so much for bringing all of this together to help us all write stronger diverse characters!
My pleasure. I hope people find it useful as a starting off point to better lgbtq+ representation.
Lucy V says
Great stuff here, Drew. As a bisexual myself I can attest ‘the duplicitous bisexual’ trope has real world consequences when people ONLY know us from this one version – not just from hetero people, but gay too. We need to literally change the story to make people appreciate people don’t fit into the same old boxes.
Drew Hubbard says
Absolutely. I think writers sometimes forget how much power they have with their words. Our stories can literally change hearts and minds, and that power could be used for so much good if writers just took time to think about the impact of their stories and characters.