If I asked someone to name a gay character from a book they've read, I bet that they'd be able to. It's because they stand out, as a rarity - a novelty, almost. Seeing one in a narrative sticks with us, because we think, "Oh! Well, would you look at that?" It's a surprise, because in fiction, heterosexual is the default, the expected state of being for a character.
If I asked that same person, "Name a straight character from that same book," they'd have an easy task ahead of them, because odds are that every other character from that book was straight.
Thinking about it from the perspective of a gay consumer, it can have an acute sense of alienation. I'm normal, I exist; why are there so few people like me in fiction? With regard to statistics, maybe the argument could be made that gay people are a minority compared to straight people. That might be true. But when compared to bisexual people, asexual people, panromantic people, demisexual people, aromantic people, and the countless other non-heterosexual/heteroromantic people, the odds of someone being LGBT+ skyrocket, and it only goes up if you include transgender people.
So I come back to my original point: Why are so many fictional characters so similar in these ways? The go-to cookie-cutter shape for fictional characters is white, able-bodied, mentally healthy, cisgender, and heterosexual.
Being able to name a gay character off the top of your head might seem like a testament to that narrative's diversity, but it's only one step in a towering staircase. Could you name an ethnic character from that same book? How about a character with a physical disability? A mental-health condition? Can you name a single transgender character out of all the books you've read?
In the end, even if you can name characters that fit these criteria, I ask you next to count the white, able-bodied, mentally healthy, cisgender, heterosexual characters. They are the overwhelming majority, despite the fact that encountering someone with all of those traits is actually a lot more unlikely than you'd expect from how prominently they feature in fiction.
The lack of diversity in fiction is glaringly obvious, so why are authors so slow to diversify their characters? Why does it seem so hard to look at those listed traits and change just one out of five?
Photo Credit: Mandie LeScum
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Dani always had a penchant for adventure. Her reading was avid to the point of getting her scolded in school, and she began writing once she realized that she had stories to tell too. Writing every day and collaborating with friends across the globe, she has a mind full of worlds that need sharing.