Well, first, watch this, all the way to the end.
Okay, so. I’m not just saying that gay rights are a civil rights issue, though I believe them to be. I’m saying you don’t have to abandon your morals, but you do have to accept that “morals” are not static and never-changing, either on an individual or on a social level. There have been times when Christianity forbid the reading of the Bible by anyone but priests (“( We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.” — Council of Toulouse, 1229) That’s something we would regard as unthinkable now, in the same way that the vast majority of Christians would regard the idea that their religion expressly insisted on the segregation of the races as unthinkable now — yet, as clearly shown in the video above, it was once considered a moral value and even an intrinsic part of faith by some Christians.
You ask me how I deal with my religious values when writing LGBTQ characters (though I have not written a trans character as of yet, I very much wish to.) In doing so you express an opinion I see a lot and which I find interesting: that there isn’t a faith or a way of being brought up in faith that would mean that there is no conflict between staying true to my morals and writing LGBQ characters. And yet that is the case for me. I don’t have the conflict you have, though I am trying to be sympathetic to it. I was brought up to believe gay rights were a civil rights issue from the time I was born. My grandparents had gay friends, marched for gay rights, so did my parents. I am named for my mother’s best friend, who is gay. My best friend is bisexual. My cousin is FTM trans. I spent my whole life brought up to believe that representing gay and lesbian and bisexual characters in arts and media was a value and to not do it would be against not just my moral values but also my family’s. (I may not always do the greatest job, but I believe it to be a value to try.)
I find this a lot in the negative emails I get about Magnus and Alec, Aline and Helen, the writers of them usually express their outrage about having their morals violated by the existence of gay characters in fiction (most of them believe that books should be labeled to warn that there will be gay characters in them, which is part of why I don’t believe in warning labels on books no matter what the content you object to or how upsetting you find it) and their assumptions as to why I “put gay characters in” which all boil down to:
1) “Shock value.” Because what works oh so well for writers is pointlessly shocking the hell out of their readers? That might work for one book, but it doesn’t work for a series, and it certainly doesn’t work to indicate to readers that you’re a writer they can trust. To get any mileage out of “shock value” you have to write something so shocking that it gets you on TV and even then, it does nothing but make you a sideshow attraction and boost the sales of one book. It doesn’t build a readership. So no.
2) Including raunchy sexy stuff ups sales, so I am doing it for money! Only there are two problems there. 1) Sexy stuff in YA doesn’t up your sales. Look at the big bestselling series and by and large they are sex-free and fairly chaste. Including sexy stuff mostly gets you banned. Including gay characters definitely will. 2) More importantly, I do not, and never will, equate sexual orientation with sexual content. In fact, when I see “a character is gay” included under the “sexual content” section of those parental watchdog sites about books — sites that ostensibly warn parents about content in books that might be troubling for their child — it makes me absolutely furious. I don’t question the right of parents to determine for themselves according to their own values and outlook what their child reads but being gay is not a sexual act, any more than me wandering around being straight is a sexual act. The only reason it’s lumped in under “sexual content” is because otherwise you’d have to create a “will alarm homophobes” section and well, that looks bad.
3) I must be gay. I don’t care if they think I’m gay, but it does speak to an idea that the only people who could possibly want to read or write about gay people must also be gay. It is a sort of explicit dis-acknowledgement that chances are that even if you aren’t gay, you know/love someone who is, or just are, I don’t know, interested in reading about how people actually are rather than a version of the world in which people are erased for not being the default color or sexual orientation or religion or whatever else. As though humans are not capable of sympathy for people who are different from them, when that sympathy is I think essential to being moral, and sympathy begins in understanding. It begins in putting yourself in the shoes of someone different than you, which is part and parcel the purpose of fiction.
There is more, but these strange, involved explanations for why I do what I do come, I believe, from people not able to understand that to me, there is no conflict between my morals and values and including gay and lesbian relationships (not just characters — a gay character who has no on-page relationship is a character whose romantic life is a shadow life: not normative, but hidden) in my fiction. Including gay and lesbian characters and relationships is part of my values. I would feel I was abandoning my morals if I didn’t do it even though it may mean damaging my sales.
To return to addressing the original letter: I think it sounds like you are finding yourself in a place where you are beginning to question aspects of what you have been taught. That is a good thing, and does not make you a bad Christian or person of faith. There are many Christians who have examined their faith and found that it does not in fact conflict with believing that being gay is not a sin, and that gay rights are a value. Befriend those folks, and find out where they are coming from.
Faith evolves as the world evolves and changes. You speak a lot in your email about your upbringing and what you’ve been taught, but much less about what you yourself believe. There comes a time for all of us where we stop and ask if what we’ve been taught to believe is what’s right for us. It’s not a rejection or a hatred of your family and their faith, or of the good things that faith has done for you, to begin to question. Some of the best and most beautiful writing we have on faith comes from those who have struggled with theirs — Saint Augustine, St. John of the Cross, even John Milton — you examine what you have been taught and from that examination grows your faith. We are all imperfect people, interpreting our faith to the best of our ability. Where what we have been taught bumps up against what we feel to be right (as it seems to be the case for you, here) — that is when what is our faith is born, as opposed to “what we have been taught.” That is the dark night of the soul, and that engagement should in the end, bring you closer to God — whatever God is, or means, for you.
Examining your faith and coming to terms with the beliefs that fit your heart can be a lengthy process. Your deciding that you desire not to exclude people when you write is a great start at being a thoughtful writer who gives serious consideration to telling the truest possible stories. However, if you examine your faith and you decide that gay people are sinners, or imperfect for being gay, then you are doing no one any favors by forcing yourself to write about them anyway since that is an exclusionary portrayal. I hope that that is not what happens, and I wish you the best of luck.
This post is kind of incredible -mj