A few weeks ago, my wife was listening to her newly downloaded 80’s playlist while housecleaning. In the middle of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” she lunged toward the stereo and cranked down the volume. Confused, I asked her what was wrong. She replied that there was a “bad” word in the song, one that we wouldn’t want our kids to hear. I racked my brain trying to recall the lyrics (30 years is a long time), but was stumped. “Are you sure there’s a bad word in that song?” I asked.
I didn’t remember it until I heard it again. That other f-word, the one used by Brits as slang for a cigarette. Because of a growing culture of tolerance, as well as the more educated company I’ve tended to keep in recent years, it had been so long since I’d heard that word used that it had dropped completely out of my lexicon. Hearing it again was exactly like hearing the n-word. (I should point out to those unfamiliar with the song that the word was used in the context of parodying blue collar attitudes toward the band.)
That got me thinking about how much attitudes toward the LGBT community have changed since I was kid, growing up in a small Midwestern town during the Reagan era. The pervasive homophobia, reminiscent of Red Scare hysteria, has actually subsided to the point that gay rights advocates are gaining ground even in conservative states. That the Mormon Church finds itself exerting its full power in Utah to tamp down momentum for legally recognized same-sex marriage is a battle no one could have foreseen in the 1980s. Skye Wyatt, a young woman in Texas (of all states) won a settlement against her high school for outing her without permission. National support of gay rights in the United States has been increasing exponentially as a younger generation comes of age.
At the same time, the rest of the world is experiencing a savage backlash against the LGBT community, partly due to the perception that it is a uniquely “American” phenomenon. Dozens of African nations have passed legislation outlawing homosexuality, radical Islamists have intensified persecution of suspected gays, and Russia is oppressing its own gay community under the transparent guise of protecting children. There are literally refugees fleeing genocide against LGBT people. It is indeed as much a civil rights issue as racism or sexism.
So what does this reality have to do with fiction?
Attitudes toward other demographic groups only change through growing familiarity and understanding. Visibility and normalization, though at times triggering temporary backlashes, have cultivated lasting tolerance. Not by changing the hearts of established bigots and homophobes, but by fostering understanding among the young and open-minded. Fiction can play a role in changing perceptions of LGBT people through introducing readers to interesting and sympathetic characters who happen to fit that demographic profile.
At the moment, there don’t seem to be many popular novels featuring LGBT protagonists. Admittedly, I’m not an avid reader of commercial or popular fiction, so I might be missing something. It’s disappointing that the only pop fiction LGBT character that comes to mind is Jame Gumb from Thomas Harris’s “Silence of the Lambs.” Not exactly a flattering representation of the transgendered. LGBT characters are often portrayed positively in literary fiction, but these stories are almost always about the character’s LGBT-ness. The character is invented for the topic, with a didactic message, rather than inhabiting a gripping narrative. And, well, let’s face it: who reads literary fiction these days anyway?
This is my official invitation to other authors to fairly represent the LGBT community in their fiction. It’s obvious that we need to include characters of diverse races and cultures to make our fiction a reflection of the real world. But we also need to remember that anywhere between 5 and 15 percent of the general population (whatever race or culture) are LGBT, and should likewise appear in our fiction. Not as two-dimensional stereotypes, and not as heroes or villains, but as complex and nuanced human beings. By including such characters in general or genre fiction, we can contribute (in a small but meaningful way) to an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance rather than hatred and oppression.
C.D. Sweitzer writes fiction spanning the genres of gothic horror, paranormal mystery, and magical realism as well as literary short fiction. Early influences include Poe, Lovecraft, and Tolkien, with studies of contemporary writers completed at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently resides with his family in North Carolina, where he spends much of his time fending off teeming hordes of rabid wolf spiders.
A collection of short fiction portraying the awkward attempts of three different men to reconnect with nature and spirit. In “Coltsfoot,” a suburban police officer stakes out the new subdivision to solve a rash of vandalism and discovers an unexpected connection to his past. “Totem” tells the story of a discontent husband and father who seeks his spirit animal in a backyard vision quest with unforeseen consequences. “Serves Me Right” follows a Buddhist blues musician in Salt Lake City who finds Enlightenment in the place he least expects it. Ranging from absurd to sublime, these stories explore Man’s disconnection from the natural world and his fumbling attempts at reconciliation.
“A collection of short fiction portraying the awkward attempts of three different men to reconnect with nature and spirit.”
The Winters discover that ghosts are being summoned from far and wide by the necromancer Victor Morgen for an unknown purpose. Stefanie follows clues from her traumatic past to solve the mystery of the Shadow Man, threatening to sabotage the coven’s efforts. Tensions within Greenwillow ratchet up as Lisa, poisoned by jealousy, unleashes the grimoire’s dark magic against one of her own. Meanwhile, Nina Locke is drawn irresistibly back to the underground depot where her haunting began.
The alliance formed to oppose the necromancer begins to crumble, and the stakes are raised for Greenwillow as visitors from the netherworld arrive. Lisa turns to the mysteriously departed Ian Kenley’s research for guidance. The Winters begin a descent into madness as a result of their increasingly frequent astral projections, Stefanie grows more enigmatic, and Kasumi returns from Japan with a grim agenda of her own.
When Charles Preston vanishes after attempting to banish the supernatural phenomenon at its source, Greenwillow is finally compelled to take direct action. Disguised as ghosts, Kat and Lisa descend into the Incarnator’s world to uncover the secret of Gorgothon. One by one, the other members of the coven are forced to confront the Shadow Man. But will it destroy them before they can unravel its secrets?