The Representation Game

The Snakkubus

The Snakkubus, who does not particularly represent anyone

One thing I’ve come back to over and over in the past decade+ is how to approach LGBTQ+ representation in dark fiction. As a queer woman creator, I’m very conscious that the media I work in do not include a lot of major characters like me… and that most such characters that do exist are extremely recent. There was no bisexual Starfleet officer. There was no transgender Princess of Power doll.

My most visible work has been in horror-romance. This genre presents unique problems for improving representation, because so many of the characters, including protagonists, are bad people. There is absolutely the danger that when you introduce a queer vampire character, that you’re saying “she is frightening because she is queer” or even “her queerness highlights her evil.”

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but long experience (and some mistakes!) have taught me that the biggest trap is centering a character’s bad qualities around the elements that most set them apart from the straight, cis characters that we’ve been taught to accept. For example, you don’t want to highlight the menace of an evil leader by having her hit creepily on another character of a similar gender.1 Similarly, you shouldn’t center a trans woman’s story or gimmick around the “surprise” that she has masculine physical characteristics.2

Centering a queer or trans character’s role in a story around their queerness or transness is tempting, because their “exotic” nature looks not just a ready-made plot hook, but an interesting human element to explore. However, this others the character in a way that can be alienating, and which perpetuates the idea that people like the character are exotic, that they are other, and that they are taboo. That _we_ are taboo.

Representation is important, but handled poorly, it can be yet another kind of attack. That’s not something that the people being represented (or their allies) should have to accept in fiction. And it’s not something that a creator who has empathy for the people whose stories they’re telling should do.

  1. One example of the predatory bisexual is Intendant Kira from Deep Space 9.
  2.  I’ll simplify “masculine physical characteristics:” no shock penis!

One thought on “The Representation Game

  1. One simple solution is to take the PCs out of the romantic/sexual equation. So, the vampire is a lesbian. She was turned by her lesbian lover, who was a vampire. She also, in turn, has a female lover childe. But at no point does she hit on the the female PC. Sure, she’s attracted to women, but that doesn’t mean she’s attracted to *you*.

    Just make random NPCs be SAGA. Just describe the barkeep as having clearly masculine features but wearing a dress. When the PCs try to make something of it, just have the barkeep give them a long-suffering sigh and move on. Have one of the locals call the PC an idiot, and say that they don’t put up with that kind of hate around here. And then, you know, quickly get back to the plot. You don’t have to put your “tokens” squarely in the spotlight in order to make them effective.

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