Recently, I picked up The Cruel Prince, a book that made it clear the sexual orientations of the characters did not matter. There were LGBTQ+ relationships in the background, and homophobia was only referenced after the characters entered the human world.
LGBTQ+ characters are vital in any novel (be on the lookout for a post explaining why!), but fantasy has a choice with homophobia. Most books set in the real world do not. Most LGBTQ+ people have to come to grips with homophobia, whether that be upsetting news about the consequences of being LGBTQ+ in another nation or living in an unaccepting area themselves.
So, how do you write it?
On one hand, religion is the root for homophobia amongst many families—Christian, Muslim, Hindu. It’s so easy to demonize the religion doing that, though, and with vulnerable minorities, the situation becomes an ethical grey area.
I tend to stick to the unofficial laws of OwnVoices—if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t zero in on it authentically. For example, I’ll forever write about the homophobia in Hinduism (and how hypocritical it is considering the gods are LGBTQ+ themselves, but that’s a post for another day), but I wouldn’t feel right writing a Muslim character dealing with religious homophobia because that’s not my story to tell.
For example, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a riveting read about a character dealing with homophobia born out of being Muslim, which creates a predejuced society. Sabina Khan writes it to a deadly extent, going as far as to show mistreatment, forced marriages, and the death that can come with being Muslim and LGBTQ+. But she can write that because that is her story to tell. There’s nothing wrong with a non-Muslim author focusing in on that story, but you do have to think about the book community climate at the moment and what people want to read and who they want to read it from.
If you do choose to write a story or give yourself a side character that does experience or perpetuate religious homophobia, do yourself and your audience a favor and balance it out. For every homophobic parent, there is a religious institution willing to help. There are LGBTQ+ people of faith that can hold on, so show that just as much as you show the homophobia.
Give your homophobic characters or societies arcs if you can. Hopeful arcs that mirror what can be. The idea of unaccepting parents owning up to and unlearning their prejudice is so important, and something young readers may need. Being LGBTQ+ isn’t about cishet people, pride isn’t about cishet people, but for so many LGBTQ+ youth, it’s still important to believe and hope they can be accepted without having to cut ties.
A note here is that you have to have limits for your homophobia. In The Black Flamingo, a gay child is mercilessly bullied by another character until the bully’s brother comes out, and they learn to be better. This is painted in the book as problematic as it is, but the reason a reader doesn’t outright hate the character is because the character was a child at the time of the bullying and they own up to it and apologize.
It’s not fun. It’s not wholesome or sweet, but it is a step in the right direction for the bully, and while I’ve never seen an arc like that taken to a stronger extent, it shows that characters can change.
Homophobia within the LGBTQ+ Community
A few years ago, I stumbled upon this Instagram account that stated that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) were the only real LGBTQ+ identities. All their posts were full of hate, and they were LGBTQ+ themselves. There is also a community of people who identify as “battleaxe bisexuals,” with their own flag and Reddit communities. They claim that pansexuals, omnisexuals, and polysexuals, to name a few do not exist, and that all people who are attracted to multiple genders are bi.
Not everyone is going to be like that. Most prejudice within the LGBTQ+ is subtle. A lesbian telling a bi character that they’re “halfway to being gay.” Nonbinary individuals invalidating those using microlabels. LGBTQ+ people can be exclusive and discriminative against other LGBTQ+ people, and that is something you can include to devastate your characters and get your readers seething at the unfairness of the world.
It can be intimidating to write homophobia, and books that don’t have it or references to it are always a comfort, but it’s still present, in laws and ideologies and sacred texts, and if you’re going to acknowledge it, do so with the same care you’d give any issue affecting a marginalized group.
is a high school freshman in New Jersey. She likes (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and is always up to learn something new! Find her on Instagram at @writing_stoot.