//no homo (?): it’s kind of a rant

“You realize you’ll have readers thinking X character is gay, right?” “They’ll have to really stretch to keep thinking that after a while. Besides, I decided I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to sacrifice intimate non-amorous relationships for the sake of slash-happy shippers.” “YOU SHOULD PUT THAT ON YOUR BLOG.”

That was the summary of a conversation I had with Lauren, when we were discussing my novel The Dying of the Light, and its upcoming sequel. There are several main themes prevalent throughout the series, but one of the largest is brotherhood, pure and simple.

Or rather, it should be pure and simple. Unfortunately, Western culture is often too shallow, too hyper-sexualized, and – frankly – too under-educated to grasp the idea of an intimate, non-amorous relationship between two people. It’s the same culture where two guys don’t feel comfortable hugging each other (unless it’s a manly half-hug – you know the one), and two girls can’t hold hands without people assuming they’re lesbians.

(To clarify: I’m not saying gay people are mythical creatures that don’t actually exist. I’m simply stating that – well, neither are intimate, non-amorous relationships.)

I don’t like using the word ‘platonic’ to describe intimate friendships, and I haven’t since I looked up the actual definition of the word. According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are two meanings of the word.

  • of or associated with the Greek philosopher Plato or his ideas.
  • confined to words, theories, or ideals, and not leading to practical action

 

People usually use it in the second sense – but as anyone can see, that’s the wrong use of the word. A ‘platonic’ friendship, in the true sense of the word, wouldn’t be a friendship at all. It would lack action. It would be stagnant.

We call intimate friendships ‘platonic,’ and sadly – the word fits all-too frequently. We’ve become so sensitive that we’ve even created the phrase ‘no homo’ to explain away any intimacy between two people of the same sex. It’s jarring for me, even as an American, because so much of my time is spent in east-Asian culture, where intimate friendships are the norm. Girlfriends hold hands ‘platonically.’ Guys are physically comfortable with each other in a ‘platonic’ sense. People aren’t afraid of touching another person for fear they might be misunderstood.

Lauren told me she was speaking with a soldier who had been stationed in South Korea for a brief period, and he was astonished (and weirded out, for a while) at how physically comfortable the soldiers were with each other. Arms slung around shoulders, hugging, kisses on the cheek – these are normal. And they should be normal.

Without this part of non-romantic relationships, we’ve lost a huge and vital element in any deep relationship. People point to David and Jonathan and say, “They kissed! They were gay!” in spite of the fact their supposed sexual orientation is never mentioned…except marriage. To wives. Who, according to history, loved their husbands very deeply and had no cause to think they weren’t well-loved in return. It’s a strange and uncomfortable phenomenon, and a relatively new one; this idea of stiff, hands-off, two-dimensional friendships.

When Western culture sees two people who are physically and emotionally intimate with one another, it’s hard for them to believe they aren’t romantically involved. In this day and age, it’s practically unheard of.

And I’m sick of it.

I used to be extremely concerned that my characters would be misconstrued as gay. When I first began to write intimate relationships, I didn’t know how to make them happen without coming across in a way I didn’t intend. About a year ago, I threw in the towel. I was tired of jumping through hoops, of sacrificing potentially incredible character relationships and development just so readers wouldn’t think they were gay.

I decided I’d had enough. I simply wasn’t going to worry about it. I wasn’t going to care what readers somewhere, at some point, may think. They could think whatever they liked, and they could be wrong. Slightly less than a year ago, I began The Dying of the Light – which is now rapidly hurtling toward the end (of book one) – and to date, it’s my favorite novel I’ve ever written. It’s the deepest. It’s the most complex. It has a plethora of intimate same-sex relationships that will only deepen over the course of the second novel – and the only straight-up canonically gay character is the villain. (I know, I know. I’ll probably get told that’s discrimination or false representation at some point, but you know what? That’s how I wrote it. Deal with it or don’t.)

I just don’t care anymore. In fact, I’m learning to care less and less about what people might think when it comes to my writing. If someone finds a Paper novel too fluffy, that’s fine. They are pretty fluffy. If someone thinks a book is too dark? That’s also fine; they can go read a Paper book. There’s a line between listening to feedback and jumping through hoops to accommodate readers. (It’s also important to note that, as a Christian author, a huge part of the reason I write is to put forth ideals and themes that are important to me. I don’t fling a big idea into a novel because ‘it sounds like fun’ (and if I ever do, I have Lauren to tell me to hold up) – I do it because I think it’s important, and it helps further something I strongly feel needs to be furthered in the literary world.)

Readers can slash-ship my characters all they want, if it comes down to it, because it doesn’t change anything. I’m no longer afraid of the idea, because, well – the reader isn’t always right. And sacrificing depth for the sake of a potential readership so saturated in shallow, hyper-sexualized Western culture that they can’t tell a romantic relationship from a non-romantic one is frankly not my problem.

There. I feel better now. As harsh as this particular post may have sounded, it stems from a deep exhaustion. An exhaustion brought on by the lack of intimate friendships in current culture, from real-life relationships to those I read (or don’t read) about in novels. I’m tired of seeing an extremely important dimension removed from relationships that suffer for it. I’d like to see more intimate relationships. I’d like to see more people – and characters – tell each other ‘I love you.’ I’d like to see people be comfortable holding hands. I’d like to see this happen more often – because I have it, and I want other people to have it, too.

And if I can’t make it happen more often in the real world, I can make it happen in some fictional ones.

 

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21 thoughts on “//no homo (?): it’s kind of a rant

  1. Preach it! This one goes up with the Harry Potter one I think. In the “yes that is how it needs to be said” category.

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  2. Yes, yes, + yes again. Honestly, I don’t understand the fun in hyper-sexualizing relationships. Personally, I prefer to see things as they are. No filter, no lies, and no “i wish it were so”. I love your writing because it’s exactly that; it’s just honest. I don’t have to worry about, “maybe these friends aren’t written with that pure and simple intention”. Another reason I respect you so much. You say it the way it is and you always have. You don’t care about opinions that don’t matter. Thank you. xoxo

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  3. MIRRI. I literally just had to make a folder in my bookmarks titled “Brilliant Mirri Posts” because I’m constantly bookmarking your posts. It’s gotten to the point that I had to make a special folder for them all!

    BUT THIS. <3 I've been in the same boat. Well, AM in the same boat. Some of my favorite friendships I have in my stories are between two males. Bromance is amazing. But WHYYYY does it have to be interpreted as romance? I envy Asian culture where they're free to express affection without these silly views of it. That's how it's SUPPOSED to be. God meant for us to LOVE one another, to have brotherly/sisterly relationships. ROMANCE IS NOT THE ONLY TYPE OF LOVE. (I apparently need to rant, too. XD)

    This post has so inspired me to just stop caring. If I want to write amazing friendships, then I'm gonna write amazing friendships. End of story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As an aromantic person myself, I write platonic relationships like they’re going out of style. They’re the butter to my bread. They make me feel good about myself, like I’m subconsciously telling myself that “no, although the entire world says that your identity is going to make you die friendless and alone, there really IS more important things in life than romance.”

    Nonetheless, I will admit to this post… baffling me a little. Squinting, I can understand the “I’m worried that people will try to force romantic relationships I didn’t intend” angle. Nonetheless, isn’t that just… what people do? People are always going to find ships. It’s just going to happen. There are entire websites of fanfiction about it. It’s not insulting an author’s story; it’s just what happens. (How many times did eight year old me beg for Harry and Hermione to get together? Doesn’t mean I respect the series any less or that I don’t love who Hermione did end up with.) But all in all, I do see where you’re coming from. I personally write platonic relationships because I’m making a point about platonicism and intimacy.

    However… where this post really begins to feel shaky to me is the specification of *gay* ships. When your worry isn’t “I’m desperately afraid that people are going to try to force romance” but specifically “I’m desperately afraid that people are going to force *LGBT* romance”… well, I’m sure you don’t have bad intentions, but a fear that specific does not come from nowhere, and I deeply suggest that you examine where the roots of that attitude are stemming from.

    (Also! Maybe research the pervasive problem of “queerbaiting”? I think it’s something that you should read some critical articles about; it’s a big issue and with this sort of set-up I think you might want to read about it.)

    Good luck with your story!

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    1. I’m fully aware of queerbaiting and the LGBT community. What I dislike seeing, as a Christian who believes practicing homosexuality is sinful, is straight characters being shipped as gay. (Especially the mindset that I /often/ see that states it’s okay to ship canonically straight characters as gay, but you cannot ship canonically gay characters as straight.) Ships happen. It’s just the way it is – I ship! But this isn’t necessarily about shipping so much as people turning a non-sexual relationship /into/ a sexual one, whether it’s intended or not.

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  5. Oh my gosh, yes. You said it! I wholeheartedly agree. I wrote a story once with two brothers who had fended for themselves most of their lives and took care of each other and I remember being terrified that people would somehow twist their relationship into something I didn’t intend it to be. It took quite awhile for me to get over it. People think whatever they want to think. I hate how intimate friendships are no longer allowed to exist- in fiction or reality. No matter what fandom, there is always a camp that ships two characters as romantic partners instead of the deeply close friends that they are. David and Jonathan was a perfect example. Even in my own life- me and my sister are very, very close- and one time we were holding hands walking in the store and my mom made us stop because she didn’t want people to take it the wrong way. The world is crazy sometimes, I tell ya.

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  6. So this is the first post of yours that I’ve read, and it was excellent!!

    I look at strong relationships in older stories, like LOTR–the incredible friendships in the fellowship–and I have to admit that I’ve been afraid to write friendships like that because *whispers timidly* what if people think they’re gay? I so appreciate your heart in this post!!

    Also! The part about the definition of platonic: thank you so much! I never knew that I was using it wrong!!

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  7. Know that I physically applauded you from my end of the computer screen. I think the other commenters have accurately summed up my thoughts on your post… so I suppose I will leave it at that.

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  8. *applauds* *stands up* *APPLAUDS*

    Thank you! I used to never worry about this until recently. My characters were always just themselves and when they began to be comfortable with each other, they would be more intimate. But recently I realized that some people are going to categorizes some relationships as homosexual relationships just because two guys have a very close friendship or two girls have a close friendship (which does happen in real life, so don’t despair too much :D I still see it happen sometimes, even if outside people misunderstand the friendship). It’s very frustrating that some people do recognize there’s a difference between intimate relationships and romantic intimate relationships. It’s sad actually. For the same reason, I often dislike the term “bromance” for a close friendship between to males because the word implies a “romance” even though there is none. Some times I do default to it in general speech and writing just for clarity, but the word grates on my mind like nails on a chalk board. As does “man crush” or “woman crush.” Just because you admire and respect someone or have a close relationship with them doesn’t mean that you are “in love” or have sexual desires for them.

    Once I did read someone’s question that was similar to, “Can I ship people as friends though? Like I really, really approve of their friendship?” [Or they shipped these friends in an intimate, non-amorous friendship.] I would say yes to that. A friendSHIP would be something you could “ship”. And it’s still a relationSHIP, just in a different manner than what Western culture has begun to take all relationships to be.

    Excellent post! Definitely some things we as writers and the world in general need to take into account.

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  9. YESSSS. So. Much. Yes.
    When I was younger, I was sheltered enough to not even know what ‘gay’ meant. Friendships between men in books were just friendships, like Frodo and Sam. It was a bit of a shock when I joined fanfiction.net and realized that there were people writing them as lovers. Or Legolas and Aragorn. Like, wut?
    It sort of made me more stand-offish about writing male friendships.

    BUT, I absolutely love the idea of an intimate male (or female) friendship.
    Recently, I wrote a Narnia fanfiction about Lord Rhoop after he was rescued from the Dark Island (sort of exploring his path to healing, and to reconciliation with his friends).
    Because I was having them all speak in the ‘noble’ kind of language that Lewis uses sometimes (sorta KJVish without the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’) I found it so easy to speak of ‘love’ in the sense of friendship. Now, they never go up to each other and say, “I love you.” But they do speak of the love they have for each other, using the word love, and it doesn’t sound wrong or ‘gay’ or anything (though of course I’m sure there are some people who might take it that way). They also embrace each other, grasp each other’s shoulders, etc.
    It’s made me feel a bit braver about writing friendships like that.

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  10. Hear, hear!! We lose out with today’s cultural obsession with romantically pairing off any close relationships. Kirk/Spock, Frodo/Sam, Legolas/Gimli – these friendships mean something. And I think men especially get the raw end of the deal in today’s culture. Their real-life friendships suffer because they have to tight-rope-walk American standards and it’s sad.

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  11. Yes, yes, yes, and yes!!!! I have same sex friendships and inter species friendships in my stories, you have put everything I have ever wanted to say about this subject in this post. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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