When will it be okay to write gay villains again?

Posted on | September 16, 2011

I was re-reading Diane Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland shortly after reading a forgettable spy novel from the mid 1960’s in which the villain was quite fey and enjoyed threatening the hero with sodomy before death and all that.

Jones asserts that many fantasy parties have a gay wizard (paging Lynn Flewelling), who is always good for a casual footrub and sage advice.

It occurred to me that the whole “gay is villainous” thing swung so far over that the backlash ought to be done by now.  And all characters who interact with one another, at least romantically, must have a sexuality of some kind.  Even the villains.  So, when will it be okay to write gay villains again?  Would it ever be okay to write a gay villain?  Not even Krod Mandoon suggested otherwise.

I suspect the answer is “never.”  Heterosexuality is assumed by default.  Making a character gay is still A Statement, regardless of who’s making it, and not some by-the-by characteristic of the villain.  Witness the recent kerfluffle over gay characters in YA literature; several authors accuse YA agents and publishers of trying to nix even a minor gay character.

You can play a gay character for laughs or seriousness, but it’s still tricky water to navigate (he said, mixing his metaphors the way one mixes crisco & j-lube).  But not villainous.  I suspect the gay villain will not be a part of anyone’s toolbox, at least not in genre literature, for a while yet.


5 Responses to “When will it be okay to write gay villains again?”

  1. Jain
    September 16th, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    I think it’s a little more complicated than that. There’s still a place for gay villains…but only if the author puts in the requisite work to make it clear that the villain’s queerness is a character trait rather than the source of his or her villainy. Usually this works best when the text includes one or more gay protagonists whose presence disrupts the gay=evil message that readers might otherwise draw from the text. (For a relatively recent example, see Mary Doria Russell’s excellent book *The Sparrow*.)

  2. Darian
    October 6th, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    Simple, the Supervillain who is gay has an love interest who discovers the evil masterplan and saves the day.
    Booth are gay but one is evil the other saves the world so things equal out.

  3. Craig
    October 17th, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    I recently reread Dune and I do admit that the portrayal of the Baron Harkonnen still makes me cringe. It isn’t just that he’s gay, it’s how horrific he is. Then again I might still cringe if he was abusing girls rather than boys, though perhaps not quite as much.

    I have to agree that adding depth to the character so their sexuality isn’t the main focus of the character helps a lot. Of course gay rights and LGBT acceptance are in a state of flux at the moment so this is a delicate subject for a lot of people. General acceptance is rising I feel but LGBT characters outside of books are probably on the decline in a lot of areas, especially SF&F.

    Just as one example the change of producer in Doctor Who has cut out all of the great incidental LGBT characters, like the elderly lesbian married couple. (same sex couple in a lasting relationship? Who’d have thought it possible…) I also hear the BBC was unhappy about a gay sex scene in the more mature-themed Torchwood.

    That’s not to mention all the other references. Garak and Dr Bashir in DS9? Or Dr Franklin and Mr Garibaldi in Babylon 5 going undercover as a married couple? I know the guy running the cafe in Eureka is quite camp but he, as far as I know, was never stated to have one sexuality or another. There is still every chance a future series might give him a female love interest, besides he’s a little stereotypical for my tastes.

  4. Donald Beauchamp
    January 13th, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

    One of the reasons I wrote ‘The War Wizard’ was in retaliation for all the gay villains. In my book the heroes are gay or bi and the villains are heterosexuals.

  5. David Scott
    May 3rd, 2012 @ 12:02 am

    Craig, I had two reactions to your post. First, Baron Harkonnen was meant to outrage and disgust on pretty much every level, something carried over nicely in both the David Lynch film version and the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) mini-series iteration. However, with that particular appetite, it wasn’t so much his being gay that skeeved me… it was that one of the young men he lusted for was his own nephew, Feyd!
    Second, with the B5 reference, were you talking about the epsodes where Dr. Franklin & Marcus Cole the Ranger posed as a newlywed couple while they tried to contact the Martian Resistance? Because Franklin’s unease was clearly more directed at Marcus’s completely delighted teasing of the doctor.

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