authentic gay characters

A New "Homa-Sexshul" TV Show: The New Normal


When I tuned into the newest TV show revolving around gay characters last night I wasn’t expecting much. To be completely honest, I’ve come to expect the typical, like the gay couple on Modern Family or a character who is some middle aged divorced woman’s best gay friend. Nothing wrong with either of these examples if done well, but it does seem to me that the mainstream public loves to watch limp-wristed gay men lisp and flit nowadays as much as they used to enjoy watching that hideous old stereotype where people of African descent tap dance in Shirley Temple movies.

Maybe were are evolving, because I finally felt as if I could relate to the characters in The New Normal last night. There seemed to be a balance this time I don’t see often. It’s usually all about the dark depressing emo types or Perez Hilton types. But the gay couple on which TNN revolves around were examples of gay couples I know in real life, and gay couples to which I could relate. And after a lifetime of not seeing anything like this, it’s nice to be indulged for a change.

From Wiki:

Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) are a happy Los Angeles couple, with successful careers. The only thing missing in their relationship is a baby. They meet Goldie (Georgia King), a single mother and waitress from the Midwest, who has moved to L.A. with
her eight-year-old daughter Shania (Bebe Wood). Jane (Ellen Barkin), Goldie’s grandmother, follows her family to the city against her grandaughter’s wishes. Goldie decides to become
Bryan and David’s surrogate, and naturally, her family gets involved..[5]

I know it sounds as if it’s stereotypical from this blurb. They live in LA, they have successful careers, blah, blah, blah. But I have to admit that there was a normal balance between them. One is a doctor and no one would even know he’s gay just by looking at him. The other is clearly gay and makes no apologies for it. It’s not only a good example of how opposites do attract in real life and in fiction, but also a good example of how gay couples find this balance and don’t even know it sometimes. In almost every single successful gay relationship I’ve ever seen, this balance is always there. In other words, you won’t see a relationship with two bottoms last very long unless they’ve become codependent on each other and it’s to late to change…that I have seen more than once.

There’s even a little kid who mimics “Little Edie” from Grey Gardens. And she does a great job. When she says, “Mother darling,” you’d swear the real Edie Beale was in the room.

It’s funny, too. The scene where they go out to a bar to recapture their youths was not only real, it’s a great example of how different established gay couples are from the single gay people we see all the time. And again, it’s nice to see a difference.

If you haven’t seen or heard about The New Normal, you can find out more about it here at the NBC web site. There’s a clip and more than a few photos.

I only hope the writers keep the characters and the storyline flowing the way it is now. I’ve seen shows like this start out with great potential and then slip into the same old gay guy on Sex and the City pattern. What I would really find seriously interesting would be to see the writers actually write in a gay character who isn’t a left wing liberal Democrat like so many gay men I know. Now that would truly be a novelty we’ve never seen before.

Gay Characters, Authenticity, and Writing What You Know

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and a few interviews dealing with gay characters, authenticity, and stereo-types. And like all blog posts where authors are being interviewed, I found most to be safe and lacking fundamental information. I get this and I don’t blame them. Most either don’t know what they are talking about and they are winging it, or they don’t want to say anything that might offend anyone and hurt book sales. These days, it seems like everyone is campaigning for something.

The one thing I never see…anywhere in any form of the media…is that the LGBT community is probably one of the most diversified communities in the universe. Just look at LGBT: there are four different categories lumped into one group, and everyone in those four different categories is unique.

As an openly gay man, I base all my characters on my own personal experience. If you read about a grouchy gay man, with effeminate qualities and plucked eyebrows in one of my books, it’s not a stereo-type. It’s more likely a conglomeration of four or five different gay men I’ve known over the years. If you read about a gay republican attorney, with conservative values, who is well-educated, drives a European car, and lives for designer clothes, I based him on my own personal experiences through the many gay men I’ve know who are like this.

I rarely write about lesbians because I don’t know that many. But the lesbians I do know are either butch or lipstick. When I owned my gallery in New Hope, I remember a ninety year old lesbian who used to live in a grand old colonial house at the end of the alley where my gallery was located. We used to call her “Denny.” She and her partner owned an antique shop in Philadelphia for many years. Her partner was soft and feminine, but Denny was rough, level-headed, and masculine. Denny was an old guard Smith girl, who graduated from Smith during the depression. She wound up working at an all girls school in Connecticut, and then retired in New Hope and opened a lesbian book shop. She wore camel hair sport jackets, mens hush puppies, long sleeve shirts with button down collars, and corduroy slacks with cuffs. She had her hair cut at the barbershop and carried a pocket watch. Once, while she was talking to me and had her back to the gallery entrance, a man passing by asked her directions and mistakenly called her, “Sir.”

And I loved her. I used to listen to her talk about her Smith days, and how she gave up a career in advertising to work as a teacher in order to support her family. They’d lost everything during the 1929 crash, and wound up depending on her for the rest of their lives. And when her partner of forty years died, she lived alone in that big old house at the end of the alley until she was one hundred years old.

I didn’t see anyone like my old friend Denny mentioned in the interviews I read about authentic gay characters. All I saw was a bunch of garbage about love and being real and complexities. Blah, blah, blah. One blogger in particular thinks she knows it all, but doesn’t know jack shit. I guess if you talk about anything long enough, and do it with a slant, you actually start to believe it yourself…and you’ll get a ton of other people to drink the Kool Aide and believe it with you.

But for me, it’s more about basing characters on personal experience, through real people I’ve known, that makes them authentic LGBT characters. This is one of the reasons why I’m always open to any challenges regarding my characters. You can’t go wrong if you stick with the truth. And I don’t think you have to be gay to do this. I’ve read many excellent books by straight women who’ve nailed it. I just wish they’d start speaking up more. We need to hear their voices, because there are too many loud voices handing out some very bad advice.