Everybody involved in media, whether it’s writing books, movies or even lore for video games, knows that characters are what truly makes a work good. Strong characters can carry a poor plot, but not even the best plot can save a piece of writing from static characters.
A static character is one who remains the same throughout the story. When a character undergoes experiences that change who they are as a person and what they believe in, they become a dynamic character. It’s called character development and it’s vital for any piece of writing. The characters are what truly gets a reader hooked on a story, and it’s often those characters that cause a reader to return to the work time and time again.
Media lately has been slowly introducing more and more LGBT characters. From children’s television like “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” to video games like “The Last of Us,” many writers are attempting to appeal to a larger demographic by bringing in those LGBT viewers. Often, the LGBT characters are nothing more than queer-baiting — hinting at a character’s sexuality rather than saying it outright. Queer-baiting is used to draw in LGBT viewers because it was the only form of LGBT expressionism that was allowed on some television networks, but as the corporations stay greedy and see the benefit of having LGBT viewers, we’ve been getting more and more LGBT characters.
And that means more LGBT storylines.
The most common storyline that LGBT characters are given goes as follows: they realize they’re gay or transgender, they come out to/are outed to their family, their family doesn’t accept them, and later down the line they learn to love themselves. And I am so, so tired of it.
The simplest reason is that people read books as a form of escape. Readers naturally want stories about characters they can relate to, but they don’t necessarily want to relive their trauma every time they try to scratch that itch. Some people read fantasy novels because they want to imagine themselves in a world free from the burdens of modern life like 9-5 jobs. They want to see themselves in the quirky protagonist and think, “That could be me.” When an LGBT person reads a book about another person in the community, they want to escape from their own situation, see a happy LGBT person, and think, “That could be me,” too.
More seriously, whenever every LGBT character undergoes some form of trauma, it enforces the idea that suffering is an inherent part of being LGBT, which is a dangerous concept. The belief of that idea leads to the turning of heads when an LGBT person is suffering and needs help the most. It also has a negative impact on the young LGBT people who see that message and believe they deserve to suffer simply because they’re LGBT. Trauma is not part of an LGBT person’s identity.
The normalization of LGBT trauma also leads to issues within the community itself. One of the biggest reasons gatekeepers in the community exclude bisexual and asexual people is because of a lack of suffering. They believe that since bisexual people and asexual people are straight-passing, they don’t actually belong in the community because they haven’t suffered the same amount of trauma as the rest of the community. That’s incredibly messed up. First of all, being straight-passing isn’t a get out of jail free card for trauma. Bisexual and asexual people can still suffer just as much as a gay or transgender person. It also begs the question that if a gay or transgender person hasn’t suffered due to their identity, are they still apart of the community? Obviously, the answer is yes. But to those gate-keepers, maybe not.
I do think it’s necessary to tell the stories of those who suffer homophobia and transphobia. It’s important to have pieces of media that people can relate to on a personal level, and it’s important for younger LGBT kids to learn how to handle those kinds of situations. But it’s also incredibly important for the happy stories to surface more often. Young LGBT people need to know that it’s not always bad, and that things get better. LGBT people who don’t suffer because of their identity need to know that their lack of suffering doesn’t invalidate their LGBT experience.
Trauma, or lack thereof, doesn’t make or break your identity. You do.