Same-sex relationships in mainstream fiction have taken place largely off-screen, hidden between the pages of somebody else’s story. It’s only in recent years that they’ve been allowed to emerge into the light, even taking centre stage. This journey is happening at different speeds in different genres, but it always seems to go through the same five steps. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s roughly the same five steps that same-sex relationship visibility goes through in real life too…

The Identity Thief

The Identity Thief

Peeking Out of the Closet

One step up from total invisibility, you’ll find same-sex relationships planted with breathtaking subtlety into the background of someone else’s story. Disney arrived at this stage with Oaken’s husband, glimpsed for mere frames over a video feed during Frozen. It’s not much, but it’s the tiniest possible nod at acceptance; the opening of a door that inevitably leads to greater things. Though we’re still waiting with bated breath for Elsa herself to come out as gay.

Schrödinger’s Couple

Also known as queerbaiting. A pair of same-sex characters are implied to be romantically entangled subtly enough that any LGBTQ person will pick up on the clues, but complete deniability can be maintained. The relationship between the two is left completely open to the viewer’s imagination. It’s both alive and dead, depending on the informational status of the viewer. Magic? No, it’s just the mind-bending consequences of queerntum physics.

Marvel are rumoured to have twice cut scenes from films that would have made a character’s queerness explicit (Captain Marvel and Valkyrie), instead leaving those characters’ queercoded behaviour to speak for itself.

Gay Best Friend

Need I say more? The most iconic LGBTQ archetype, the Gay Best Friend is there for the hero to share their romantic woes with; to provide the easy banter and comic relief. Much like their sister character, the Fat Best Friend, the GBF used to be desexualised so that they could support the hero’s romantic endeavours without being a sexual rival. Everyone’s favourite GPF is surely Damien from Mean Girls, though the examples are endless.

GBFs used to be limited to expressing their own sexuality through a constant stream of innuendo, to make up for their total lack of action. But now that we’ve reached an era that will tolerate the occasional same-sex kiss, the GBF will sometimes be allowed their own romantic happy ending. Or even their own string of happy endings, dotted throughout the story.

Romeo and Julian

At last, same-sex relationships are allowed to take centre stage. Alas, these romances are almost always doomed to fail. Now, the tragic star-crossed lover story is of course the oldest romance in the book, and same-sex couples deserve to have this story told as well. But it’s especially common in same-sex romances at the moment, perhaps because you don’t need the warring Montagues and Capulets to provide a motive for the relationship to unravel. The intolerance of society is more than enough.

Sadly, I’ve just written a novel that falls directly into this category. In The Identity Thief, the hero Cass discovers that her mum has started secretly dating the mum of the weirdest kid at school. She proceeds to emotionally torture the weird kid until he snaps, causing everyone to turn against him, and the relationship to collapse under the strain. It’s not quite the same dynamic as the usual doomed romance, but it’s hardly Queertopia yet. Speaking of which…

Queertopia

Much sci-fi and fantasy takes place in a society so far advanced or removed from our own that same-sex relationships, along with a wide variety of other sexuality and gender orientations, are common and unremarkable. Everyone’s just kind of getting along, and living their best life however they please. Iain M. Banks’s Culture series is one of the most celebrated examples, set in a distant future where technology has made the idea of fixed gender or sexuality obsolete.

But we’re also seeing this in more down-to-earth fiction too. Netflix’s Sex Education features a panoply of characters and relationships that don’t fit the hetero norm. Naturally enough, all these characters are wrestling with problems of their own, but these problems have for the most part progressed beyond the simple intolerance of other characters. It’s an optimistic vision for a world that is increasingly looking more like fact than fiction.

Alex Bryant www.alexbryantauthor.com

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The Identity Thief is published on 29th Feb 2020 for any fans of doomed lesbian romances and/or magic.