Op-Ed: What My Characters Taught Me

A fiction author shares how creating a gay charactor for her debut novel made her a gay ally for life.



As a participant in drama club throughout high school and part of my undergraduate education, I knew plenty of people who were either “out” or struggling to define their orientation. Honestly, at the time, I was almost apathetic. Sure, on an intellectual level, I saw no reason for the LGBT community to not be awarded the same rights as everyone else. But it didn’t affect me directly. So, like many people meeting adulthood for the first time, I mostly ignored it. Aside from signing a petition or buying a rainbow cupcake, I walked past with a smile and a nod, encouraging them to fight the good fight. Besides, I’d argue to myself when my pesky conscience got too loud, you have other things to worry about. Women’s rights are under attack. They were — and still are — so for a while I accepted that. I worked with Planned Parenthood alongside the students in our feminist/gender equality group on campus. Yes, I now understand the irony of working toward gender equality without including all definitions of gender and sexual orientation. At the time I figured each interest group would look out for themselves, and their club had more members. They didn’t need my voice to advocate for them.

I lived my life this way until junior year in college, when I started writing Expectations. Now I had a problem: Two gay men took up residence in my head and heart. They yearned to be heard, acknowledged. and loved. My nonchalance was no longer an option. Chris and Aiden forced me to not just read the news of assaults, deaths, loss of families, friends, and jobs, but feel it. Allow it to hurt, while safe in the knowledge that I could never truly know. I’m not going to analyze the psychology of hate crimes by trying to postulate on the why of this terrible reality. Far more qualified people have done so.

These characters demanded to be treated like human beings and receive what was rightfully theirs, no more and no less. Rejection is a familiar concept for most of us, but when Chris’s father violently rejected him, for no other reason than loving another man … no news article could prepare me to write that level of emotion. Robert Frost is quoted as saying, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” By Mr. Frost’s rule, the day I wrote that scene, I earned my readers’ emotions. Chris and Aiden taught me what I claimed to already know, the universality of love, and something I got terribly wrong — every minority group needs the voices of every person with a heart. No longer able to be apathetic, I use any opportunity to counter, through my writing, everyday speech, and actions, inequality and discrimination. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes does nothing to change perspectives compared to having characters who won’t accept anything less than the expression of their truth.


Liz Borino recently completed the first year of her graduate English degree. When she's not applying literary theory to the classics she's writing romance and erotica. Her books can be found on Amazon.com

Tags: Books