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What is LGBTQ+ fiction?

Not really a genre in its own right, what exactly is LGBTQ+ fiction? Does any book that features LGBTQ+ characters automatically make it a queer book? I’d argue not.

For me, and I’d love to see your definitions in the comments below, an LGBTQ+ book must feature a diverse cast but the main character or characters must be LGBTQ+. For a long time, LGBTQ+ characters were relegated to the supporting cast: the gay best friends. And that’s not good enough! LGBTQ+ people need to be at the centre of their own stories.

For many, LGBTQ+ fiction has to feature sex.

This is simply not true and can be harmful. Writing about a character with a non-heterosexual sexuality does not mean you have to write sex. Thinking that LGBTQ+ stories have to feature sex can be harmful to the community, even if you think you are being inclusive.

A lot of bookshops (remember, support your indie bookshop!), will have a prominent rainbow-based display stuffed full of queer books. But I said that LGBTQ+ fiction is not a genre. That’s because LGBTQ+ stories can be, or at least should be, found in every genre: from crime to fantasy everything in between! There is not one place or moment in history where an LGBTQ+ person cannot be found so writing about queer characters is essential.

Take the “Lammys”, the Lambda Literary Awards, that honour LGBTQ+ writing. You will find categories for every genre.

While it is true that LGBTQ+ characters can feature in any genre, there are likely to be some similar themes. Love and acceptance of that love are, of course, quite likely. But there are also likely to be themes of persecution or discrimination, developing understanding, legal issues and mental health. A lot of these will develop based on the time period of the piece, although sadly, even in the current period LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination.

That is why LGBTQ+ fiction has to elevate LGBTQ+ characters: to make them the heroes of the stories. (Of course, we can have LGBTQ+ antagonists, but that is something that would need to be handled sensitively and with balance. I’m sure you all know which high-profile writer I am referring to.) By placing lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people and the heart of the story, you are allowing people to connect with a character and see themselves in literature, something that has been missing or hidden for some.

Anyone can write LGBTQ+ fiction, but I feel it’s important to highlight authentic voices. Queer writers are best placed to tell authentic stories and there has to be space for LGBTQ+ writers to tell their own tales. Anyone can write LGBTQ+ fiction, but it’s important that it is authentic. If you are not from the community, an authenticity (or sensitivity) read is important. You can also ask questions, interview people and take time to find out about the community.

Remember, too, that LGBTQ+ fiction contains writing from a very broad spectrum. It’s too easy for us to go straight (ahem) to lesbian, gay, bi and trans characters, forgetting the queer, enby, aromantic, pansexual, demisexual characters (I’ve missed out lots here, but you get the point!).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – and I make no apology for it – LGBTQ+ writing is important. Growing up in a time when access to LGBTQ+ writing was limited, I know how alienating it can be. By writing stories with authentic LGBTQ+ characters and putting these characters at the centre of the story, writers are working to creating a far more accepting and inclusive world. That’s what LGBTQ+ fiction is.

Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.

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