The fantasy genre has plenty of problems. Fantasy tropes can be so overused that they become comical, such as the idea of The Chosen One or the stereotypical races such as elves and dwarfs. Many fantasy novels struggle to break barriers and create something that is truly original within the genre.
I don’t even want to start writing about how women are treated in fantasy novels. There’s some amazing, strong women protagonists out there, but too many stories use women as props, or use them just for a romantic storyline.
And I cannot tell you how sick I am of reading a summary of a novel that sounds amazing when the line “and then she met a mysterious man” pops up. It’s enough to make me put the novel back about 95% of the time.
When it comes to queer representation in fantasy, you see a couple of things (listed in order from most common to least common).
There is no mention of queerness at all. Like, AT ALL.
There’s a queer side character, but they’re mostly just there.
There’s a queer character who has their sexuality explored, usually in a coming out subplot.
There are queer characters and they just are.
I’ve written about queerbaiting before and when it comes to shipping, I can have a lot of fun with it, but that doesn’t give people the excuse to constantly write it without ever creating a queer character.
In fantasy, characters fall in love with robots. Through time travel, they fall in love with their own children. They travel across dimensions, sleep with characters that aren’t human, and fight armies off, entirely on their own.
So why exactly is it so hard to get some decent queer characters?
Of course there has been progress. A lot of media has introduced queer characters in recent years, and there are some amazing fantasy books out there that feature LGBT characters.
But in this day and age we still see a lot of media that shys away from having a protagonist, or even simply a main character, who is queer because they don’t want to be seen as “that kind of media”.
What kind of media? Because I can tell you, us queer people are tired of queer stories being all about us being queer. I want more queer stories where sexuality simply is. There are plenty of books out there about coming out, and that’s great, but we need more books where being gay isn’t a plotpoint. Our entire existence isn’t about being queer, and we need characters that reflect that.
And don’t get me started on the bury your gays trope. It makes me too angry. Too often we get amazing queer characters that are quickly killed off. And yes, in fantasy a lot of characters die, but queer characters die a lot and it has created an association between queerness and tragedy. For a long time growing up I would Google queer media before consuming it because I was tired of watching people I related to die.
Fantasy is all about exploration. In fantasy novels we explore new worlds, new races, new societies, and new ideas. If we can explore topics like that we should be able to explore sexuality and gender.
And no, you can’t say a character is gay after the book series is over with no references to it in the text. You can’t tell me across the entire wizarding world and all of Hogwarts that we couldn’t make space for a single queer character. And now, Dumbledore’s sexuality will not be explored in the Fantastic Beasts movies. Plus The Cursed Child had its own queerbaiting, and it sucks that a series I love so much has such a blatant problem.
When I think about queer representation in the media and in books, fantasy is falling behind. And though there are some great queer characters out there, none of the Big series seem to have any. Look at Avengers. With so many characters don’t you think at least someone would fall under the queer umbrella?
I don’t buy the idea that commercial book publishing won’t take queer characters. Sure, marketing a book about coming out in this day and age may be a bit tougher, but there’s no reason for a publishing house to reject a book just because a character is queer. Plenty of straight people will still read it and with more queer visibility and the demand for queer visibility, this argument doesn’t make as much sense to me as it would have a decade or two ago.
We need more queer representation in fantasy novels, especially in YA fiction. It’s not only that queer people want to see themselves represented. We want everyone to acknowledge that we exist, and that we have something to offer besides tropes and coming-of-age plots. Queer people are just people, and more of them need to be seen in this genre.
Visibility is so important for so many reasons. I want more bisexual characters. I want more ace characters. What about trans stories that don’t focus on the story of being trans? The LGBT community is huge. We shouldn’t still be fighting to get noticed in the media.
I can’t imagine I’ll ever write a novel without queer characters. I’m bisexual, I have a wife, and most of my friends are under the queer umbrella. Frankly seeing nothing but hetersoxuality in novels is jarring to me, simply because I am so used to seeing queer people in everyday life.
This month I’m participating in #LGBTWIP and you can find tons of amazing authors working on projects that feature queer characters. Our voices are getting out there more than ever, and I can’t wait to see what the future of the fantasy genre looks like with people like us in it.
Have any queer fantasy book recommendations? Let me know in the comments!