I’ve been wanting to talk for a while about representation and villainry. It’s a bit of a tough one because on the one hand, you are allowed to make a villain who is of color, or gay (or otherwise of the alphabet soup), or whatever other marginalized group. But on the other hand, if you’re sloppy, you villify these groups and these groups have had more than enough villifying. And it can sound like a lot, and maybe even be a lot if your cast is small, to suggest that you just keep the minority ratio at least 1:1 with heroes and villains if you want to have a villain of a minority.
But representation matters. When there’s so much in the media and in politics and religion and on Facebook and wherever else that marginalizes minorities and you get villains but no heroes, people get shot. I mean that’s ridiculous, but it’s apparently the world we live in. It breaks my heart. I want to do anything I can to help change, even if it’s just a little – even if it’s just changing my little corner and the way it represents (or fails to represent) minorities. So. Villain or not, let me go over briefly my perception of how it would be best to write a minority – and take note this is from a white Christian straight cis woman, so if I’m wrong, please correct me. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought and relying mostly on my knowledge in writing, but it’s not like I have experience beyond the “minority” of being female.
So here’s my plain and simple advice: don’t make one part of a person’s identity, no matter how critical, take up their entire identity. Your villain is a person. Your black man or woman is a person. Your gay dude or trans woman is a person. Your X, Y, and Z are all more than just those identity tags. They’re people.
When I think of my gay friends (them in particular more than others of the alphabet soup since the recent shooting victims were gay men, but only, I’m sure, in this moment while it still stings), I am suddenly terrified for their safety. I wish many of them didn’t live in other states so I could hug them and tell them I love them in person. And I think about how much more they are than gay. I think about the hours I spent playing games with So and So, how he introduced me to the culture of Japan and how I’ve come to love it so much since then, how we shared the same love of music and he gave me my first three CDs that I owned all myself of my own music. I think of Other Person’s adoration of gorgeous rocks, and how his sharing them on Facebook is almost making me revert to the rock collecting kid I once was and also that we share views about marriage, about how to build a strong one and love your spouse. Yeah, we’re both married to dudes…but marriage is so special to us in a country and maybe world where it seems like a lot or even most people don’t really get how to do the whole marriage thing very well anymore. I think about Friend I Could Actually Hug and how I can text him asking about the correct pronunciation of “agape” – the Greek word, not the English one – or how funny it is when my kid runs around making wolf noises just the way he taught her.
If it feels like the identities of minorities are in your face, it’s only because, I’d be willing to bet, those identities are ignored and marginalized and villified and despised. I know that I wear aspects of my identity more prominently in places where I feel those parts are rejected until people get used to it and get over it. Luckily, I’ve also never had to worry about being shot over it.
Even if you’re of a religion or whatever that considers homosexuality et all a sin, you still ought to recognize they are still people, that people are to be loved, right? (if your answer is no and you are Christian, I strongly recommend you pause and go read about the ministry of Christ. His example is exactly what I’ve said.) In that case, less is more and probably would have been anyway. While I know that many gay men would like to see the gay hero get a happy romantic ending, you still help with representation without including that. Of course, it’s less useful for representation if his sexuality never comes up, but there are many ways for it to do so – maybe there are homophobic people in your story that can revile him. Maybe instead of having him describe the girl’s pretty green eyes, he can notice the guy’s pretty green eyes. That’s not a romantic interaction. You aren’t supporting the “gay lifestyle” by doing that. You’re just acknowledging they exist. And that’s the point of representation.
If you want to write a villain who is a minority, let their motivation carry their actions forward, not their identity. If they are motivated by their identity, which happens, then fine. But there’s a big difference between a guy who wants to, I dunno, blow up a building because it belongs to a rival corporation and it would double his sales if it wasn’t cutting in than a guy who wants to blow up a building because…man I don’t even know how to tie homosexuality into the motivation here…er, it belongs to a bakery that didn’t sell him a cake, sure. He could be gay either way. But one motivation is all about his being gay.
But y’know. If you wanna write a hero who is a minority, then that’s probably a good rule of thumb too. Because you know, it’s not really great representation if you’re just representing the concept of color or homosexuality or whatever instead of a person who has that identity. And a person is a lot of things.
I’ve talked before about how easy it is to include more color if you just get yourself in the right mindset. It’s no different with any other variables; ask if every character is straight. Or cis (if their gender matches their sex). Or…whatever. Never assume. And if you don’t feel like you want to include a gay guy because you don’t want gay kissing, fine, don’t include gay kissing. It doesn’t have to be a driving part of the plot. Maybe it’s just nice that for once, the good guy can be gay, the good guy can actually be a girl on the inside, the good guy can be black or Asian or Latino, the good guy who shows us all that good triumphs, that we can be champions and defeat our own challenges includes people who aren’t white, straight, etc. Don’t make it a big detail if it’s such a big problem, just include it. Chances are what you’re thinking is necessary is too much anyway. It’s not like your character is going to have to have a totally different personality just because you made him a different color or you made her like women sexually. Don’t make a fuss, just make it a part of your character’s identity.
And honestly, maybe it’s because we make such a big fuss about someone being gay that other people decide to shoot them for it.