But They're Straight! or The Problems of LGBTQ+ Shipping
So we're faced with the all too common problem that we think two characters have fabulous chemistry and we want to write them as a couple, BUT the media is all too heteronormative and our favourites are two boys or two girls or another non-heterosexual scenario. What can we do?
The good news is we have so many, many options.
First of all, let no one tell you who you can and cannot ship as a couple. Fanfiction is all about subverting the media, be that in a small way, like adding an extra scene, or in a huge way, like taking the characters and putting them in a completely new universe. Pairing or multi-pairing the characters is just another aspect of this we can enjoy.
Love is love. If we are true to the characters and whatever relationship we put them into, they will be recognisable.
We don't actually have to justify our choice in making characters LGBTQ+ at all, we can just write them that way if we want to — just go Alternative Universe (AU) and say, this is how it is, deal with it, to our readers. For shorter stories this can often be the easiest way forward and it can work for longer fiction too. However, there is often that nagging doubt about working from canon that we just can't shift.
Let's look at Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy for a moment. Both are shown to be heterosexual according to the books, especially when taking the epilogue into account. However, Drarry is one of the most popular pairings in the fandom and even Tom Felton (Draco in the movies) ships it.
First of all, let's look at some of the non-magical options we have for the fundamental shift in character reaction and possible scenarios that make it make sense.
• He's bisexual/pansexual and either hasn't bothered to investigate boys because it's too complicated, or comes to this realisation during the story.
• He's always been gay, but has been repressing it because his relatives/society are fundamentally homophobic.
• He's always been gay, but never actually realised because his life is so bizarre he just assumed at least in this he could be what his upbringing led him to believe was normal.
• He's demisexual and is only attracted to those he has already formed close bonds with, and having to work together for some reason lets him see Malfoy in an entirely different light.
• He's bisexual, but hasn't bothered much with boys because he's well aware he's supposed to continue the Malfoy line.
• He's gay, but Voldemort is homophobic as well as everything else, so he's always been taught to play it straight.
• He's gay, the whole school know he's gay, but Harry hasn't noticed because he's a little bit oblivious to such things.
• He's gay/bi, but it isn't seemly for purebloods to flaunt their sexuality and such things are only mentioned when arranging marriages.
There are so many possibilities. Sexuality can be fluid, discoveries can be made and fanfiction lets us go to places the original creators are often too confined by contracts, or afraid to investigate.
The secret to writing any character is to know them, and the secret to changing a character is to take what we know and write in the gaps.
For example, what I did above with some of the examples for Harry was to take the fact he was brought up by abusive, rigidly middleclass, conforming relatives and work with that to give him reasons for hiding parts of his nature. All characters have these nuances we can subvert to our cause.
Male characters do not suddenly have to wear pink and carry a feather boa to be gay. Female characters don't have to cut their hair and wear dungarees to be lesbian. People are people, not stereotypes.
Of course if you want Draco to leap out of the closet in leather with a silver and green net shirt, feel free, just make sure there's a reason for it ;).
The creator(s) of a character may have a detailed idea of exactly who that person is, but all the details never reach the audience, be it via text or screen, because that would make for a really terrible story. Our opportunities lie in what we are not told.
The next question we need to ask ourselves is why do these apparently straight characters come together?
Some of my favourite tropes include:
• Fake dating, i.e. we must pretend to be together because there has been a misunderstanding, we're undercover, or one half of a couple is being pressurised by their family etc.
• Stuck in a cabin/cave/locked room etc.
• Oh look, there's only one bed that we must share and our unrequited love demands to be requited.
• Forced to work together even though we hate each other.
• You are dying, therefore I shall declare all these hidden feelings ... oh, you didn't die after all ... yay!
Never underestimate a trope. They may have been written by many people before, but the wonderful thing is that everyone writes them slightly differently.
Then, of course, for your supernatural/magical/sci-fi fandoms there are a host of wonderful other options for taking straight characters and making them not-so-heterosexual.
• Harry Potter/Fantasy – magical creature blood, spells that awaken sleeping feelings, magical bonds;
• Dracula/vampires/werewolves – blood bonds, buried vampire/werewolf heritage, creature heats, mate bonds;
• Sci-Fi – alien heritage, computer implants, VR overload;
• Superheroes – side-effects from superherofication (yes that's a word now ;)), clashing powers, telepathic connections.
So many delightful possibilities, so little time to write them all.
Yet another option is to go completely Alternative Reality (AR) like the ever popular ABO (Alpha/Beta/Omega) trope where the whole structure of society relies on differing physical characteristics that are sometimes overcome by biological urges.
So simply put, to make a straight character LGBTQ+ is just the same as pairing up a heterosexual couple that aren't canon, ask a few questions:
• Why are they drawn to the person we wish to pair them with?
• Why have they not acted on it before?
• What makes them act now?
Then we add in the question:
• Why have we not seen hints of them not being heterosexual before?
If we can see the chemistry between two characters we can write it, it is as straightforward as that. Be true to the essence of the characters and putting them in a LGBTQ+ relationship is no different than writing anything with them outside of canon. Have fun, be creative, and remember, consent is sexy.
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