They say, of course, that one should not respond to bad reviews, and I wholeheartedly believe this to be correct. Nonetheless, a recent reader review — on a site that will go unnamed and unlinked here — asked a question:
Is it absolutely necessary to make a gay character these days!? They’re 3% of the population!
The reviewer in question left a four-star rating, which was lovely and greatly appreciated, so this was by no means a bad review. And since the question was asked, I’m inclined to provide an answer. (Note: Very mild spoilers for The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit below.)
I’m going to assume that the character in question is Maj. Gen. Maria Diaz, USAF, 22nd century commander of the DAEDALUS task force. She started off as a colonel in command of a backwater Mars base in The Daedalus Incident, then (quite appropriately) found herself promoted to lead DAEDALUS’ efforts to study interdimensional rifts and, as needed, defend against further incursions.
And yes, she’s gay.
Does her orientation have any bearing in terms of the book’s plot? Not really; it’s simply one facet of her character. She most definitely misses her spouse while she’s off investigating strange things, both on-world and off. Such is the life of any married military officer, especially one leading top-secret projects and giving ultra-mega-top-secret briefings to the President. When things hit the fan and lives are on the line, Diaz naturally spares a moment to think of the person she loves, who happens to be a woman.
That’s it. No lesbian sex, no hitting on other women, no rainbow flags or intersectional feminist philosophizing. That’s just not Diaz; she’s a pro, dammit. A female spouse is mentioned a handful of times in what I believe to be character-appropriate moments. No overt messaging here. It just is.
Now, that 3% figure isn’t too far off — you can click here for a Wikipedia breakdown of various U.S. population surveys of LGBTQ orientations. How does that figure jive with my books?
Off the top of my head, I’d estimate there are at least 40 characters in the trilogy with at least a supporting role to play in the events therein. I wasn’t counting or creating quotas when I wrote the books, but the ratios seem about right.
And that’s my answer to the reviewer’s question. In a series of novels in which sailing ships fly through space, having one gay character in such a large cast is probably the least questionable thing going on. Three percent, represent.
When I think of the 22nd century as depicted in my books, I tend to take the Gene Roddenberry point-of-view because I’m something of an optimist. I want a future in which people of diverse genders, orientations, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds work together in relative harmony. Are they gonna have interpersonal differences? Well, yeah. Humans are humans. But I do believe an acceptance of folks as they are — and respect for how they wish to live, love and worship — is a laudable goal.
So that’s what I wrote — my particular vision of the future. You are, of course, quite free to disagree with this vision. I’m just one guy. (For the record, it’s also a future in which corporations have extra-national legal authority and private armies, so it certainly ain’t utopia, either.)
On a broader note, I believe that diversity has the potential to make all of us better. I have faith in humanity and in our future. We evolve as a society and if you look at our evolution since, say, the Dark Ages, we’ve come a long way. We have more to do, of course. And part of my job as a writer of speculative fiction is to show what societies might look like under different circumstances — whether they be in the future, the past, or in some entirely new world.
In some small way, maybe I get to nudge things along. Even if I’m flattering myself by thinking that, I still take that responsibility seriously.
Yes, I intentionally made Diaz gay — or rather, that’s how she evolved as I wrote her. And yes, it’s fair to say she represents my belief that LGBTQ folks should be seen as equal in society, and my hope that the future will treat them as such. The fact that her sexual orientation is simply one facet of a complex character also speaks to my hope that, one day, this ain’t gonna be a big deal.
(Note: I moderate comments here. You are welcome to disagree, but if you do, I ask that you do so in a civil, respectful manner.)