One of the most frustrating and heartbreaking things to encounter as part of the LGBTQ sections of various fandoms is the Straight Until Proven Guilty assumption. It’s as though a character possibly being read as LGBTQ is an accusation that must be defended against, such that all characters are “no homo!” until proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Y’know, so that the authorities and the general public can determine whether or not a character, by virtue of their queerness alone, is or could be a threat to society. I mean, it’s obvious that all us gays are plotting the downfall of civilization and are aggressively recruiting innocent straight people–real and fictional–to spread our gay disease that apparently makes the bubonic plague look like a mild hay fever.
But if you’ve read Ars Marginal for, oh, two minutes, you know that this is some bullshit. For real, what exactly is inherently straight about chasing monsters, driving fast cars, saving lives, or otherwise being amazing and looking good while doing it?
Nothing, right? Exactly.
Sometimes a character being straight is important because there’s some shit that’s really only for straight people.
So, riffing off my buddy Danny Bowes, who gave us 5 roles only white actors can play, I’m giving you 5 types of characters that you can feel completely comfortable labeling as unambiguously straight (and even then, there are exceptions).
1. Outright homophobes
This goes without saying. Characters who genuinely hate and fear us have got to be cisgender and straight. These are the ones carrying the signs that read, “God Hates Fags” and “Adam and Eve Not Adam and Steve,” the ones preaching hellfire and brimstone on LGBTQ people, the ones who want to make sure that we can never get married or be left alone around children. Characters going on about how homosexuality is unnatural or sinful need to be straight. Yeah, there is a trope where virulent homophobic bigots are secretly gay themselves, but who wants to inflict them on the LGBTQ community? Feel free to say this kind of character is straight.
2. Characters who use Mars and Venus to describe gender
Granted, gay men and lesbians are not immune to gender essentialist bullshit like “man equals penis” and “woman equals vagina.” But when folks come out their mouth with, “Men are protectors while women are nurturers,” as though you may as well be talking about different species from other planets, as though that’s how it always is and how it always should be, we’re talking about a firmly entrenched cishet mindset. If a character goes out of their way to spout shit like this, calling them cisgender and straight is not doing any of us LGBTQ folks a disservice.
3. The naively ignorant
Unlike the outright bigots above, the naively ignorant don’t mean any harm, but they can’t keep their mouths shut about how ignorant they are. This is the character who would ask a lesbian couple, “So which one of you is the man?” They don’t mean anything by it, but they just don’t have a clue.
Sure, a lot of LGBTQ folks can have a lot of internalized bullshit with gender and sexuality, but the ones who say that shit out loud and in public with no shame whatsoever? Rest easily in assuming that such a character is a cis, straight person.
I was originally going to put virulent misogynists on there, but that would only confuse people because they wouldn’t know if I was talking about men in general or the entirety of Western civilization. But, nah, dudebros are a special case.
Dudebro culture is based on the idea that women are the ones who get fucked and that being a man means rejecting anything “feminine.” Unlike homophobes who hate gay and trans people because–take your pick–it’s against God’s plan and/or the natural order, dudebros hate LGBTQ people because we threaten their masculinity simply by existing. You know that character who would flip out and scream, “She’s a man!” and have a personal crisis because of it? Nobody’s going to be mad if you use such a character as your poster child for talking shit about the things men, straight people, and cis folks do.
5. Men who watch “lesbian” porn and women who write m/m slash
If you’re LGBTQ and have ever read m/m slash or watched “lesbian” porn, you know why I put this here. Point-blank, that shit is not meant for us.
No matter how conscientious or well-informed the creators are, at the end of the day, it doesn’t come from their own experience of how desire, pleasure, intimacy, or relationships work. When it comes down to it, “lesbian” porn and m/m slash are ideas or fantasies of what happens when two men or two women have sex or form a relationship.
So if a character is a man who’s ga-ga about “lesbian” porn or a woman who can’t get enough of writing m/m slash, feel free to say they’re straight. Just to make it clear: there is a difference between being interested in a relationship or sexual encounter that happens to be between people of the same gender and reducing LGBTQ people to who puts which parts where.
What does it all mean?
Looking over this list, you may notice something. None of the types of characters on this list are marked by where they come from, who they date, what they wear, how they make a living, their political leanings, or any other thing you can tell about them just by looking at them.
You might even be inclined to say, “The only thing these types of people have in common are that they can have screwed up notions about gender and sexuality that come from living in a heterosexist, homophobic society.”
BINGO! That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Conspicuous absence: The character who says they’re straight.
Why didn’t I count the character who asserts their heterosexuality or the one who mentions nothing about their sexuality?
Because the closet. Because Stef Foster. Because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Because Russia. Because “ex-gay.” Because sometimes “the lady doth protest too much.”
Need I go on?
Not to mention, who does it hurt to think of a fictional character as possibly LGBTQ? Nobody, that’s who.
And who gets helped by allowing people to interpret and relate to a character as LGBTQ? A whole lot of people, that’s who.
Besides, straight people have the whole world to cater to their dreams and fantasies. What’s so wrong with letting us have ours?