My First Gay Character And Why His Story isn't About Being Gay
I have been writing the Queen of Magic series since I was in high school, but it wasn't until I was in my early days of a college attempt that it started to get a little...gay.
I knew Salaire didn't give a fuck about her sexuality. In the book's final version she only comments on her queerness once - it's just not important to her. Valeros I also knew was queer. Sex worker or not, he was not terribly concerned with appearances in a lover. I used to play "Just My Type" and have a little laugh to myself about how it was very much his sexuality.
Like turning over stones, I slowly unraveled these pieces of my characters' identities. But early on, there was only really one whose identity felt...heavy.
A gay story?
Baar, one of the werewolf twin guards Salaire (and I) loves so much, is gay. He's a teen gay boy of color from a culture that is...not cool with queerness (understatement).
At the time, I thought I was straight. I knew it wasn't right to write a gay man's story as a straight woman. Have people done it before? Yes. Does that mean I can, should, or have to? No.
But after realizing it and seeing the impact it had on his life, how could I ignore it? It felt much, much worse to hide it for the sake of not overstepping than to just find a way to do so respectfully.
Still, I wanted to do right by Baar and by countless people who can relate. It wasn't long before I realized Baar's story in the Queen of Magic series wasn't about being gay. His story was a love story. A journey of acceptance, appreciation, gratitude, and hope. A story about learning to love himself.
Baar is my character who struggles the most with depression, anxiety, and even self-harm. He lives in a constant state of fear, withdrawn as a form of protection. Seeing him start to relax around this new community of nonhumans reminds me too much of seeing the same experience in myself.
I decided that I wasn't going to shy away from his queerness, but that still wasn't the point. His experiences are about more than who he loves or has sex with - it's about a lifetime of fear, abuse, self-protection, and self-loathing. Something I think a lot of folks with CPTSD can relate to.
Why write queerphobia at all?
Why write sexism, abelism, racism, or any form of discrimination however fantasy-fied it is?
Stories are how we make sense of and interpret reality. It's always fair to want a break from reality via fiction and to seek out or create fiction meant to be a safe space. It's also fair to want to dig into these issues with respect and humility via fiction, to express them in a way that feels a little more detached than real-life, to process them in the safe space of our own minds and imaginations.
To remove Baar's queerness feels like erasure. So does erasing the queerphobia he experienced. While I appreciate and support characters whose queer identity is "the point", being gay isn't "the point" for Baar. It's being "othered", targeted, abused, afraid, rejected, and learning to repeat those experiences internally forever. Then learning to stop. It's about the CPTSD experience that far too many people can relate to. Approaching adulthood, realizing how fucked up you are, grieving who you could have been, then learning to accept who you actually are.
In Queen of Madness, Baar is most terrified about Salaire finding out he's gay. He isn't aware that Salaire herself is bi. He doesn't seem to register that her ex-partner is pan. He never imagines that her defense of her ex's sexuality could extend to him.
In truth, Baar isn't afraid Salaire will reject him for being gay. He's afraid she'll reject him for who he truly is. As if he'll give her that hidden piece of himself, and she'll suddenly decide she hate the whole puzzle once it's in place.
The scene I wrote a million times
There is a scene in Queen of Madness from Baar's perspective where he stands on a beach, feet in the ocean, and thinks. I worry about this scene a lot. Will it get the point across? Will readers understand? Is it too slow or dull? It is too ambiguous? Is it just plain dumb?
I've re-written it more than any other scene, except maybe the first chapter of the first book. I wanted to get it just right. I hope readers will connect with its final version and the emotions behind it as much as I did.
Queen of Madness is coming October 24th, so if you want to see more of Baar's experience stay tuned for release.