LGBT Canadian Authors Talking About Writing Queerly – Tanya Huff

I want to thank Tanya Huff for once again providing a brilliant and insightful essay. This time Tanya talks about writing queerly, an important question in LGBT writing and speculating about the topic of queerness. Here is her fantastic reflection:


Writing Queerly or Queer Writing by Tanya Huff

Given my age, as far as I know, there was nothing resembling queer culture in Kingston while I was growing up and even if there would have been, I wouldn’t have been one of the queer kids, I’d have been one of the geek kids. Plus, I was already an outlier as far as the other teenagers were concerned: I had no parents, I’d moved around from family to family to family and was currently living with my grandparents — by grade twelve I was living on my own — and in a collegiate and vocational school where the vocational kids outnumbered the collegiate kids about ten to one, I was one of the top ten of the collegiate kids. The school was working class almost exclusively and no one had time for questions of sexuality since most of us had a couple of jobs as well as school work. I had to think for myself as I didn’t have the security to allow social norms to think for me.

It was probably the late seventies/early eighties by the time I acted on my attraction to women as well as men and that came through fandom. 

I’m not even sure what a queer book would be. A book with queer characters? Then all of mine. (except possibly the first two, but I wrote them thirty years ago and haven’t read them for a while and I once forgot I’d used death as a character so you can’t actually take my word for that) A book that deals with queerness as social struggle or culture? Then none of mine. As a personal discovery? Then one of mine. Ish. 

The identity that shapes my writing would be self sufficiency. In all but one case, the sexuality of my characters is secondary to the needs of the story. That one case is, of course, The Fire’s Stone, the only one of my books where the sexuality of the character is an issue — and all of my books have variable sexualities because I have variable sexuality — and which is my coming out book. Well, technically, it’s Aaron’s coming out book. Everyone in the queer community has one — why wouldn’t they? Self discovery is always big. Write it, write it well, and move on. And use the coming out to support the story or the story to support the coming out but don’t leave either dangling all on its own.
If you don’t have to identify as a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri to write about small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri then you don’t have to identify as queer to write queer characters. Imagination plus empathy plus skill. Talent helps but discipline trumps talent in the long run every time. Do your research. Put yourself in the shoes of every one of your characters. And the greatest of these is empathy. And when you’re writing about personal experience, you’re not writing a biography — unless you are — you’re writing about how you connect to the universal — to love, to hate, to truth, to sacrifice, to fear, to joy. How you identify along the broad spectrum of human sexuality is only one of the lenses you look at the universal through.

There’s nothing wrong with a girl gets boy ending as long as that’s not the only ending we ever get. And it’s not, not any more. If you’re reading for the relationship, there are enough romance books out there with alternative relationship endings,if you’re reading for the story there are enough endings where the relationships are just another part of the mosaic; you never have to read another boy gets girl again if you don’t want to. Which, by the way, I always read as girl gets boy. According to studies done in the US and UK some years ago — please don’t make me look up the citation, I have no idea where my notes are — heterosexual women read more than any other social/cultural group — why wouldn’t there be more books out there that make them happy? They’re the ones spending the money.

Media is another matter. We can’t even get the Black Widow and AD Hill having a conversation let alone a cuddle. And the amount of money spent is directly proportional to how conservative the people spending it are going to be. Someday we’ll get a big budget, science fiction, action, tent pole movie where the Captain America equivalent ends up with the Winter Soldier equivalent because non queer people will have learned to see themselves in every relationship, not just the ones with a direct correlation to their own, but today is not that day. Change is constant; work to make sure that the narrow minded don’t control that change.

Remember that creating is about making a “you-shaped door” for your audience. Some people bash big holes in the narrative so anyone can fit through, some people make holes so specific that only a few will fit. If you write one way, own it. If you write the other, own that. Acknowledge that the way you write could limit your audience and realize that if we all wrote the same thing the same way it’d either be a pretty boring or a pretty exclusive world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to fill a niche and everything wrong with being forced into it while yelling, ““Montresor! For the love of God!!” as the last brick goes up. Kick the wall down.

The world has looked through the lens of the hetro-normative culture for a long time. How do queer writers get the world to take a chance on looking through our lenses? Write a good book. Write sympathetic three dimensional characters of all kinds who support the plot. Worry less about isms and more about storytelling. Work to evoke an emotional response. Recognise that if you’re out on the edge of the dominate culture there won’t be too many people out on the edge with you. That’s what the edge is about. Work to keep moving the edge further out. Ad Astra…


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