Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Professional book editor in the UK discusses the best way to write LGBTQ+ relationships in your romance novel!
Although the LGBTQ+ community is more accepted in society now than ever before (in most countries), there's still a long way to go in literature, TV and film.
Most romantic subplots focus on straight characters who fall in love, but when we DO see an LGBTQ+ couple get together, their relationship can sometimes concentrate too much on their sexuality than them as normal people.
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By no means is there anything wrong with an emotional coming-out story to focus on a particular character accepting who they are, or a narrative that surrounds an important topic, like in It's a Sin, but if the ultimate goal is to normalise LGBTQ+ relationships, we need to treat them as normal. There should be more to an LGBTQ+ couple than their sexuality, just like there's more to a straight couple than theirs.
Straight characters never have to declare their "straightness", so why should writers make a big deal about a gay or transgender character? Unless that character is going through the coming-out process, their sexuality and relationships should be normalised 100%.
For example, one of my favourite shows is Lip Service - a BBC drama that follows a group of women looking for love in Glasgow.
Not only are the characters incredibly relatable and well-written, but the writer never makes a song and dance about them being lesbians. They're presented as a group of women who are funny, kind, troubled, hardworking, hopeless at love, and NORMAL.
As the writer treats these characters like ordinary women who are more than their sexuality, it makes them more so like real people, and their relationships become more realistic.
Like I've said above, there's nothing wrong with a coming-out story or acknowledging that a character is part of the LGBTQ+ community, but it's so important to present that as normal. They're in a "relationship", not a "lesbian/gay/trans relationship".
Another LGBTQ+ relationship I loved happened in The Haunting of Bly Manor, a ghost story that's actually a love story, on Netflix.
Not only do Dani and Jamie fall in love naturally, but they also aren't written as a stereotype.
Quite often, lesbians are stereotyped as "butch" and gay men are stereotyped as "camp", but Dani and Jamie stepped away from that common image.
Yes, some women can be quite masculine and some men can be quite feminine, but that doesn't mean that ALL people in the LGBTQ+ community always fit into those roles society has created.
The "butch" and "camp" stereotypes also come with the stupid question: "Who's the man in the relationship?" as if people can't just accept that two men or two women are together.
You wouldn't ask a vegetarian: "What part of your salad is the meat?" because, surprise surprise, that's ridiculous!
However, what people are really asking is: "Who's the dominant person in the relationship?"
In The Haunting of Bly Manor, Dani and Jamie are written as equals. They both protect each other, and neither of them is more dominant than the other, which in my opinion, is one of the best ways to write an LGBTQ+ relationship.
Video games have also been really good at representing LGBTQ+ relationships in the best way as well.
For example, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, it's possible to romance another character of the same sex AND it's normalised just as much as if you romance another character of the opposite sex. There's no coming-out story to prepare the player or other characters, there's no big deal about them being into women or men, and there's no damaging stereotyping - they're just normal people in normal relationships.
At the moment, I've created a female elf who's romancing another elf called Sera, and their relationship is fun, cute and heart-warming all in one!
So, after all that, what's the best way to write an LGBTQ+ relationship in a romance novel?
1. Make them fall in love naturally just like straight people do. It shouldn't be a big deal that the characters are part of the LGBTQ+ community unless the narrative focuses on a coming-out story or an important topic like in It's a Sin. If LGBTQ+ relationships are always labelled as "lesbian/gay/trans relationships", they will never be normalised!
2. Avoid stereotyping them as "butch" or "camp" because it's damaging to the character and harmful to their relationships. No LGBTQ+ couple wants to be asked who the "man" is in their relationship, but lethal stereotypes only bring about those sorts of questions.
3. Similar to point 1, but avoid making their sexuality the only thing about their relationship. Yes, you may write about two men, women, transgender or non-binary (etc) people in a relationship, but there's so much more to them and their love than that.