Categorization can be a useful tool of organization, especially to help people find exactly what they're looking for. Genre, specifically, has become a prominent and effective means of distinguishing interests. Science-fiction, fantasy, murder mystery, tragedy, horror, to name a few off the top of my head. No matter what genre you pick, it tends to follow a theme: The genre relates to the content of the narrative – either the setting (fantasy, science-fiction) or the plot (murder mystery, tragedy).
So it seems strange to me when I see an aisle devoted to "LGBT Fiction" amidst all the genre labels. It also becomes a hassle when I try to find a science-fiction story, or a fantasy novel, with just a few LGBT characters, and find myself immediately redirected to this section. Why?
The answer's unsurprisingly, and disappointingly, simple. "If you want LGBT characters, you want to read LGBT-focused books." The thing is, that implication isn't true at all. I want to read about space pirates, the political tension between changelings and vampires, and body-snatching alien parasites. Just because I want to have a sprinkle of LGBT representation in that story doesn't mean I want a sub-plot about discovering one's sexuality, or coming to terms with a loved one's transition, mixed into the narrative.
Look – including a gay character doesn't mean you have to mix in an entire sequence of a homophobic character gradually realizing, "Hey! This guy's human too!" It's very possible, and very easy, to mention that this particular Andromeda Galaxy Corporal is bisexual, and then move on with the narrative. Or maybe the elven prince was called a princess for the first fifteen years of his life. But I've never seen that kind of thing in books.
I won't deny that it's great to see a section where curious and questioning kids and teens can go explore to try to learn more about themselves. Being able to see ourselves in fiction is a good step forward.
But it doesn't exempt everyone from including those characters in stories where their sexuality or gender isn't the sole focus of the narrative. We don't exist in a vacuum where the only story that can be told with us in it is about our identity or love life. We can be space pirates, and zombie hunters, and alien slayers.
Here's an example of "Gay Characters" vs. "Characters Who Just Happen to Be Gay."
Photo Credit: Gábor Bejó
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Dani always had a penchant for adventure. Her reading was avid to the point of getting her scolded in school, and she began writing once she realized that she had stories to tell too. Writing every day and collaborating with friends across the globe, she has a mind full of worlds that need sharing.