Straight and white are the default settings.

June 6, 2012 Gay and Lesbian, Writing Comments (2) 259

The Philadelphia Writers Group workshopped the first two chapters of my book this weekend. Without giving too much away: The narrator, a gay man, is a reporter sent to interview a famous and very attractive hero. He’s more than a littleĀ smitten, which the hero notices and uses to his advantage. What surprised me during the review is how many people called my attention to the fact that the narrator was coming across as attracted to the hero.

To be fair, nowhere in the chapters submitted is there anything that clearly states the narrator is gay. The story is told first-person, and his sexuality is revealed through his physical attraction to the hero, and to another character in the scene. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head, but I didn’t think it was terribly subtle, either. I was more than a little surprised that no one seemed to figure he was gay. Instead, they mostly assumed the physical attraction was either (a) a non-sexual admiration, or (b) accidentally coming across attraction.

In no way do I intend this as a slight on my fellow writers. A few of us had drinks after the workshop, and we talked about how straight readers just tend to assume all characters are straight, unless it’s clearly stated otherwise. Even when confronted with what is clearly a physical attraction to another character of the same sex, their reaction was to assume a mistake on my part, rather than interpret the character as gay or bisexual. They also remarked that they also assumed all the characters were white – which both harkens back to the ugly controversy that erupted in response to the Hunger Games film adaptation, and also brings up a science fiction trope that I’ve tried hard to avert in this book.

It’s just a bit fascinating that readers assume all characters are “like them,” even when they’re being fed frequent information that indicates otherwise. Sexuality is something I tend to play with a bit in my writing, and this book is no exception – there are very few characters who can fairly be described as anything but bisexual. After some thought, I’m happy overall with the response I got – if a reader finishes chapter two thinking “this character is coming across kinda gay,” that will only be cleared up in chapter three when he talks a bit about his life.

2 Responses to :
Straight and white are the default settings.

  1. Hey now, I knew he was gay/bi. Frankly, I’m surprised that anyone in the group would assume he was straight given the clues in the text and also the fact that we’ve met you and you write non-straight characters fairly often. And you plugged the story in Toll Road that day, too.

  2. Sonia Lal says:

    Sounds like you were explicit enough. Can’t imagine why it wasn’t clear.

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