Writing a non-explicit gay relationship as a straight author

In my WIP In the Service of Mrs. Claus, I’m currently working on a chapter prominently featuring Hercules.

In this story, Hercules is the head of a mega corporation. When he is gone, the ownership of the company falls to Philoctetes, who in mythology inherited Hercules’s weapons after his death. In addition, Philoctetes is listed in some sources as one of Hercules’s numerous male lovers.

Because of this, my plan is to depict the two of them as a committed couple. None of the relationships in my game have anything explicit in them, or really anything that romantic. There’s a genderfluid character who has history with an asexual character, and Mrs. Claus is married to the deceased Santa, and that’s pretty much it. So I’m not going to be writing caresses, sighs, or steamy scenes.

Anyway, my question is, what traps do straight writers often fall into when writing gay couples, and what should I do to avoid them? For instance, my plan was to make Hercules a very sturdy, broad, hairy man with a lion-like beard, and to make Philoctetes a slim, tall man with fluid gestures, kind of two polar opposites of maleness. Is this something that’s okay, or is it a tired stereotype?

Similarly, I imagined developing their relationship mostly along the lines of them being ‘partners’, the way Lemony Snicket does with Charles and Sir. Again, I have no clue if this is good or bad.

I appreciate any suggestions or help anyone has. I wanted to include this relationship as I feel that it most accurately represents Greek and Roman mythology surrounding this character.

8 Likes

To be honest as a gay boy I am always a bit confused about the need to have stereotyped characters, and believe me you’re absolutely amazing just to think about this stuff… why don’t you try to build the characters around their life and not around their sexuality.
Is Hercules a very sturdy broad man with lion like beard? Make the reader understand that it’s not because of the stupid bear/daddy stereotype but because that’s how the character would be even if he was straight. Same goes for the other NPC.
Make them real, don’t make them “gay”. Make them alive, give them personality and not just sexual preferences.
Hope I managed to help you a bit, thanks for asking the question anyway! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

19 Likes

I would solicit specific testing from those of the community, who are qualified, to go over the material in question. It would be a more focused testing group that would be focused on issues and concerns that are important to them and of a concern when reading such material.

@idonotlikeusernames would be a person I’d really try to recruit as an example of the person I’d be focused in on for my closed testing session.

There are also professional sensitivity readers - I think one even advertised a few weeks ago their availability.

6 Likes

I always tell authors(if they ask me), to write a gay relationship like you would a straight one since there isn’t much of a difference.

There aren’t really many traps since every gay couple is different but I guess one could be making the couple’s relationship toxic but that should be pretty easy to avoid.

(sorry if I read your comment wrong)

3 Likes

On that issue do note that I, and Mara too on occasion brush up against sensitive issues that are (still) dealt with much differently in the US than in the EU/the Netherlands/Spain, so for tailoring to a US audience you might indeed be better off with a professional who is (more intimately) familiar with the relevant history and cultural sensitivities of the USA.

Not at its core, but society makes it much more different than it needs to be. Ideally, gay relationships should be just as pedestrian and boring as their straight counterparts. It depends on your fictional society how they end up when filtered through its culture. Note that such things are also obviously true for straight ones, the dynamics are very different between say Iran and the Netherlands.

8 Likes

This is all extremely helpful. I will certainly take the focused testing advice.

And I will also take the ‘don’t force it’/pedestrian & boring advice. It’s so much easier for me to focus on how their relationship impacts the story than on the relationship itself. I’ll dial stuff back a bit (although I do think Hercules should be a burly guy! This is the statue I always think of when I think of Hercules: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnese_Hercules . I don’t have a compelling reason to make Philoctetes femme, so I’ll just write him as he comes).

I appreciate anyone else’s input, and I’m grateful for those who’ve already chimed in.

5 Likes

I second that ! I’m not a gay boy…but a lesbian . and I write my stories centered around Lesbians , and honestly…just write the character . The trap is not to make them stand out cose they are gay , but you should write them like you would write anyone else . Be them male or female…

5 Likes

That’s exactly what I meant!
And I know it could be just me being like that but I always felt that most of the stereotypes are a reminder of how disfunctional things were in the past, where you had a chance to experiment with sex and relationships too old because you were too scared to give it a try. That brought many questionable cliché into existence… I think in 2019 we could start considering that people are just that: people! And it doesn’t matter much if someone is a male or a female in terms of how his personality grows(at least ideally, we’re talking about narrative not news report)!
So just make the two NPC the way it makes sense in your story and in your mind. The fact they are in love with each other will make them gay, not a beard or daddy issues :joy:

3 Likes

yeah pretty much…

There are many stereotypes outta there .

Y’know what I do to stereotype ? They piss me off…so I crush them in my story :sweat_smile:

exemples of stereotype…would be like : Making a couple where their greatest and only quality…is the dynamic in there . One is submissive…and one is dominant . Or the term ‘that one is the one who wear pants!’’ …whatever tha heck that mean (often used with females- lesbian and hetero ‘‘seem like the wife is the one who wear pants in the house!’’) .

as far as I know , there is no magic trick . Just how you see your characters , they will grow and change with the story .

4 Likes

First of all, I appreciate you writing a gay couple in a prominent place in your story, and also making this thread to ask for input.

I would say, generally speaking, the biggest advice will be “you can write their relationship much as you would write a hetero one”; love is love no matter what, and every relationship will be different, just as all humans are, but you can write this as follows from who the characters are. But, sure, there are some things that are good to be aware of.

Context: I am another gay guy; also summoning my boyfriend, @ParrotWatcher, who tends to have a lot of useful thoughts about gay representation and suchforth :blush: He also has options about Greek myth, which may or may not come in handy :thinking:

I’d also note, there have been a lot of threads about similar topics in the past. (You could just do a forum search for the word “gay,” really :thinking:) I would particularly recommend looking at same sex relationships as probably the most directly relevant to your interests here. (It’s more about writing relationships that the main character is in, but there should still be pertinent stuff.) That thread did include a post in which I talked about a few ways that being gay can affect romance in ways that aren’t just based on society, but I don’t really see any of these coming up in your example.

So, these basic descriptions are fine, but one thing to be aware of is that depictions of gay relationships do often fall into portraying one as “the man of the relationship” and the other as “the woman,” which is pretty reductive even for hetero relationships (people don’t fit pigeonholes) and especially so when they’re literally both “the man.” So while you certainly can have one be more burly and one more fluid, just be aware that this won’t necessarily translate into every other aspect of their personalities and relationship dynamics. For example, maybe Hercules is the one who hangs around the kitchen in an apron.
(Like, I mean… I expect people would generally consider @ParrotWatcher a fair bit more masculine than me, but he’s also the shyer of us two, and sometimes I feel rather protective, etc. :thinking:)

There can be a tendency for depictions of gay men to either make us all really stereotypically feminine, or go so far in avoiding it that any feminine characteristics are completely pushed aside, so it can be quite nice to depict a bit of both as you would be in this case. I’d just advise not exaggerating it too much; most people have a lot of traits that aren’t too strongly related to how masculine or feminine they are, just various other quirks or interests, so those are always good ways to characterize someone. I guess, just don’t try too hard :sweat_smile:
(Describing them as going for polar opposites in masculinity feels like pushing them a bit much into being types.)

Now, for these guys in particular, also… I mean, it is Hercules you’re talking about, so I would expect him to be a pretty significantly musclebound he-man type anyway :muscle::triumph: That’s something you can write just the same with him in a gay relationship as a straight one.

I’m not sure I understand what this means… could you explain? :confused: (I haven’t read Snicket.)

9 Likes

Your comments have been very helpful. I’ll definitely try to make it more nuanced!

I’ve already made some changes in what I plan to do going forward, but to answer your specific question about Lemony Snicket, this article could be helpful:

I believe when he references Snicket portraying Sir and Charles as partners he means as business associates who’s relationship is not overt.

This. As a bi guy, I tend to find that relationships are pretty similar regardless of gender (aside from the obvious sexy bits :sunglasses: ). Just make them people; there’s no need for an ultra masculine / feminine dynamic. That said, I really like the idea for these characters. Can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Edited for clarification: There’s nothing wrong with the more stereotypical masculine/feminine gay dynamic. I mean, it does happen. Frequently. But if that’s how these characters are, just remember that they’re people beyond those stereotypes is all. Maybe just don’t make Philoctetes too swishy? lol

1 Like

Out of interest, when you say “non-explicit” in the title, are we talking “no explicit reference to the fact that they’re a couple”? Because one problem with writing gay characters or pairings is that the automatic assumption is that any character or pairing will be straight unless otherwise stated. This means that a straight couple and a gay couple could act in exactly the same manner, but while the straight couple would be seen as obviously a couple, the gay couple wouldn’t be, so it’s often necessary for gay couples (or characters) to be explicitly defined in ways that straight couples (or characters) aren’t. :thinking: Obviously this doesn’t mean you should write their whole characters around being gay, as other people have commented, but you could have, say, a wedding photo in a prominent location, or something similar.

Well, sadly, one problem with Greek homosexuality is that it did generally fall into the “masculine guy and feminine guy” roles (and Herakles/Philoctetes would definitely have); the only couple I can think of who weren’t necessarily in those roles were Achilles and Patroclus. :thinking:

:flushed:

This is true, but I generally feel that if a writer is including a (potentially harmful) stereotype, it’s often useful to include characters who don’t fit the stereotype as well, which would require having another, non-stereotypical, gay couple (I mean, in my mind, people should be including as many gay couples as possible :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ).

7 Likes

Very insightful!

You asked about “non-explicit”. I mean there isn’t any sex in the game. A lot of CoG have sexual encounters (such as Choice of Robots), but this game doesn’t contain anything like that. I included that information in case it changed the answers.

I appreciate the insight!

1 Like

Oh yeah, you can do exactly whatever you’d do to show a straight couple being a couple… which can be as simple as someone saying “my husband” (sort of like I just summoned you as my boyfriend :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ).

Oh yeah, they had the erastes/eromenos dynamic (lover/beloved, basically)… but if you’re doing a more contemporary take you don’t have to do that too closely… but also just, you can have a partner who’s more conventionally masculine (with Hercules as a character, I think that’s inevitable), but it need not define everything about them. You can just consider ways that they vary a bit.

If you really want to go all out, if they’ve existed all the way since then, you could consider how they felt about the roles of their original time, and how they think about that in terms of their present day existence, but that could be going into a bit extra depth :sweat_smile:

Aw, swishy can be fun :stuck_out_tongue: depends how you do it, really :sweat_smile: it’s just sometimes I feel like more feminine gay guys can get swept under the rug when people want to avert stereotypes… but there’s always more to someone than their stereotype :persevere: and there’s a big difference between “this is basically a joke campy character” (not that I think Brian_Rushton would do that) and “this is a character who has some feminine mannerisms.”

(I guess that still comes down to “don’t make him too”.)

(But yeah, I do agree with your post :slight_smile:)

:kissing_heart:

Yeah, that always helps :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Edit to add:

I see you’ve mentioned that you were referring to lack of sexual explictness, but I guess one thing to note as far as the “partnership” thing goes, is that gay relationships are often shown in more that sort of businesslike way rather than as much of the romantic side. This may fit, given the way the main character is meeting them, so I guess just consider: if you had a hetero couple in the exact same narrative role, would you be depicting them in the same way? If so, that’s fine really. But if you’d be showing them as a bit more explicitly coupley, then you can do the same for gay people too. It’s just there are a lot of depicting where gay relationships are left as being more subtext, or where even when they’re acknowledged, they’re far chaster than the heterosexual relationships are allowed to be.

7 Likes

I think anyone in a relationship with Hercules will necessarily be the “little guy” in their relationship. You know, because Hercules is an archetypal symbol of the absolute human peak of masculinity and strength that cannot be surpassed.

First way you might play around with this: his boyfriend is actually a pretty fit guy, just not compared to Hercules, and there might even be a dynamic there where the boyfriend feels like all the hard work he does to keep himself fit and healthy is pretty much ignored, and why does he even need validation from other anyway? Except he does, everyone does, and Hercules alone can’t give him that validation, and –

Second way you might play around with it is that although Hercules is a symbol of masculinity, that doesn’t mean that he can’t decide what that means for himself. There’s nothing that says that Hercules can’t sit down to read a book, do some painting, play a bit of Harvest Moon on his DS, whatever. And he could absolutely be attracted to people who embody more traditional modern views of masculinity: thick beard, rough hands, dirt under their fingernails, stiff upper lip. Or someone who also doesn’t necessarily follow the stereotypes of masculinity.

Even considering the restraints of portraying a character like Hercules, you still have a tonne of freedom.

3 Likes