Relatable Gay Characters

Published by Lucas Dale on

I recently finished reading Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, and I’ve fallen in love. The worldbuilding, the magic system, the characters, everything is just ugh. I cannot recommend it enough! The book isn’t without its faults, of course; nothing is perfect. However, there is a single character who captured my heart above the rest: Jesper. You can probably guess why.

When I read Six of Crows, I hadn’t read a book with any queer characters in over a year. As soon as Jesper and Wylan first appeared in a scene together, I got a feeling, and when that feeling paid off I genuinely almost cried. I honestly don’t think I realised how important representation was to me personally until this moment, and it’s got me thinking.

Just over a year ago, I read Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, an LGBT+ book with a gay protagonist. And yet, I find myself relating more to Jesper and Wylan than I ever did to Simon. Thinking back to other books I’ve read, I noticed something funny. Alec and Magnus in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series were fine, but I found Lord Dannyl from Trudi Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy far more compelling.

Why is this? How come I relate to gay characters in (non-urban) fantasy more than I do gay characters in contemporary fiction?

The obvious answer is that a fantasy world is far more removed from our one, therefore it’s easier to project different experiences onto it. I am British, so a novel set anywhere else in our world will feel distant to me. A novel set in another world, however? That’s distant to everyone, and by the same logic it’s also closer to everyone. A contemporary, more own-voice novel reflects a much more specific experience.

Throughout Simon vs. my one and only thought was ‘are American schools really like this?’ The book picked up in the second half, but it was still very strange for me to read. I’m neither American nor a drama student, and I’ve had an wholly positive experience coming out, so Simon felt very far from me.

But then, there are plenty of other, non-LGBT+ contemporary books where I feel every single thing the characters feel, despite never having gone through what they have. How come?

My take on it is that relatablilty falls into a kind of uncanny valley. Simon vs. was almost close to home, and perhaps that closeness is why it felt so very distant. With fantasy, I don’t read it expecting to see my life mirrored in one of the characters’. With gay books especially, the desire to see someone like me is the main reason I’ll read them.

I hope my ramblings made some kind of sense. It goes without saying that neither fantasy nor contemporary books are better than one another, I just thought I’d explore what was on my mind. If you liked it, let me know and I’ll ramble again. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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