Books with queer characters in are much more common these days than they were in my teens, when I was poring over Anne Rice’s vampire stories, teased to beyond an inch of my life by the homoerotica, and how tantalisingly close those novels came to being a big queer riot.
I’m glad I grew up on that vampire craze. I enjoyed the homoerotica, and the historical romp. I suspect more recent rescue fantasies would have left teenage me a little cold. But, Lordy, I wanted someone to get it on. Not in a fleshy, mortal, sex-fest sort of way, because y’know, Vampires don’t have to do that. That’s cool. Tab A need not be inserted into Hole B, per se. Gothic is all about metaphors for our desires and fears. But going all the way emotionally, that’d have been satisfying. I’m not looking for a happy ending. Just a relationship. It can be nasty, fucked-up, and damaging. But don’t tease me, and then not come through.
I’ve noticed there’s a little strain running through literature of writers who kind of want to feature queer characters, but maybe feel a bit coy about it. G.R.R. Martin does this with Renly and Loras, The Knight of Flowers. What were they doing together in that tent? As neither of them is the point of view character, we’ll never know. And when Renly dies, Loras is heartbroken. But as everything has happened off screen, you could be forgiven if you blinked and missed it. Some people think this is subtle, or tasteful (hmm), but given there’s a twin brother and sister getting it on in the opening chapters of the first book, I’d say maybe Martin isn’t all that fussed about subtlety. I think what’s happened here is that strain of coyness creeping in. Should I or shouldn’t I have a queer character? Maybe if I sneak one in, no one will notice. To me, it comes across as a writer who hasn’t quite made peace with their subject matter, and is particularly noticeable in this case, when so much else is explicit.
The final one is a bit trickier. Harry Potter. As my partner says, no matter how much I might want retro-flashbacks to Sirius and Remus having angsty teen goth sex in the Shrieking Shack, to the strains of Joy Division and The Smiths, these books are not for adults. However, I don’t know about anyone else, but my teens were populated in a good part by me and my friends having a bunch of crises about our sexuality (and in some cases, gender). It’s hard to believe, out of two generations of teenagers, that the only person who’s queer is the headmaster, and then mostly off-screen. It’s cool that he is, don’t get me wrong. But it does feel a little bit like a half-measure.
I’m a geek at heart. I care about genre fiction. I want to read about queer characters having grimdark adventures, or immortal angst, or wizard powers. I enjoyed reading all these books, but it’d be great if, when people think they might want a queer character, they just go right ahead and embrace that notion. I know how it goes. You can tie yourself in knots as a writer, worrying yourself about representation, and what you can get away with, and how people will react. People will tell you that fewer people will buy your books if you fill them full of queer characters. Then again, surely we’re past the point where we have to sneak queer in under the radar. To quote Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.