While writing Deviants, there was one twist in the story that took me completely by surprise. It not only changed the story I was writing – it changed me, as well.
Deviants started out as a story about Simon, a young man who, after being cast out of the remote, rural commune where he grew up, moved to the slums of a city to seek his fortune. While searching for work, he meets Li, a young woman who grew up as a rich Elite. They work together until Simon has to risk everything to save his (estranged) childhood best friend, Jamie.
As a major subplot, I had planned for Simon and Li to develop a relationship that led to romance … but somehow it didn’t seem to work out that way. Li craved adventure and excitement, and didn’t want or need an exclusive relationship with one person. Most especially, she wouldn’t be interested in tying herself to my timid protagonist Simon, whose idea of a good time was sitting at home with his loved ones and not gallivanting around the solar system looking for the next adventure. They might become good friends, and Li might take him out of his shell a little bit while he might calm her down, but they were never going to be happy together as a couple.
Since I don’t like forcing relationships with characters that don’t really fit together (I’m looking at you, Ron and Hermione!), I removed the romantic element from the relationship. I continued writing, and started developing the backstory of Simon’s childhood and how he met Jamie – a refugee slave taken in by Simon’s rural commune.
As I developed the friendship between Simon and Jamie, there appeared some hints of something deeper between them. I hadn’t really given any thought to making my protagonist gay at that point, so it threw me for a loop at first. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go that route, and if I did, how I should continue. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided that the pull between the two characters was too strong to ignore, and I let them out of the closet.
Up until recently, I hadn’t read very many books with gay or lesbian protagonists in them. Particularly during my childhood and teen years, even though I was a voracious reader, I rarely came across a character who was homosexual or bisexual without being pathological or tragic in some way. There was some bisexuality going on in Heinlein’s books, but he usually portrayed same-sex relationships as “good clean fun but still lesser than heterosexual relationships.” Anne McCaffrey hinted at homosexuality among Dragonriders in her Pern books, but it was only a hint, only for male Dragonriders, and not really something that the characters chose themselves.
I did eventually discover The Last Herald Mage trilogy from Mercedes Lackey, and some of the books from Marion Zimmer Bradley. Here were at last major characters who were definitely, unabashedly gay, lesbian, and bisexual. It was like a revelation, even if many of the homosexual relationships were fraught with suffering and tragedy.
After deciding to let my main character out of the closet, I started doing some market research, and discovered that there is a large variety of LGBT literature out there today. It is easily available on Amazon and encompasses almost every genre from classic literature to police procedurals to erotic romance to science fiction and fantasy (as an aside, if you like fantasy I highly recommend Lynn Flewelling). There are not a few tragedies, but also HEA endings and stable, loving relationships. Today, it is possible to find many role models and examples of people in fiction and in our daily lives who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and everything in between. People who are queer, but who are a part of society instead of being outcasts, and who find love and happiness and success instead of pain and tragedy and ruin.
Through this process, I have not only become a proud supporter of LGBT rights, but have discovered that I, too, reside in queer space. Recent developments in society have reminded me of the potential for the pendulum to swing back, so I hope to add to the growing collection of literature with happy gay and lesbian protagonists to tide us through any dark times that might be coming, so that we can make things get better again.